The Iron KingBy: Julie Kagawa
Ethan turned on me with a hiss, eyes burning yellow, and lunged at my arm. I jerked it back as his teeth, jaggedly pointed like a shark’s, snapped together with a horrid clicking sound. Ethan snarled, his skin the ghastly blue of a drowned infant’s, bared teeth shining in the darkness. I shrieked, scrabbling back, Lego blocks and Tinkertoys biting into my palms. Hitting the wall, I leaped to my feet, turned, and fled the room.
And ran smack into Robbie, standing outside the door.
He grabbed my shoulders as I screamed and started hitting him, barely conscious of what I was doing. He bore the attack wordlessly, simply holding me in place, until I collapsed against him and buried my head in his chest. And he held me as I sobbed out my fear and anger.
At last, the tears stopped, leaving me drained and utterly exhausted. I sniffed and backed away, wiping my eyes on my palm, shaking. Robbie still stood there quietly, his shirt damp with my tears. The door to Ethan’s bedroom was shut, but I could hear faint thumps and cackling laughter beyond the door.
I shivered, looking up at Robbie. “Ethan is really gone?” I whispered. “He’s not just hiding somewhere? He’s really gone?”
Robbie nodded gravely. I looked at Ethan’s bedroom door and bit my lip. “Where is he now?”
“Probably in Faeryland.” Stated so simply, I almost laughed from the sheer ridiculousness of it all. Ethan had been stolen by faeries and replaced with an evil doppelgänger. Faeries kidnapped my brother. I was tempted to pinch myself to see if this was a twisted dream or hallucination. Maybe I had fallen into a drunken stupor on the couch. On impulse, I bit the inside of my cheek, hard. The sharp pain and taste of blood told me this was, indeed, real.
I looked to Robbie, and his grave expression banished the last of my doubts. A sick feeling rose to my stomach, making me nauseous and afraid.
“So…” I swallowed and forced myself to be calm. Okay, Ethan was kidnapped by faeries; I could deal with this. “What do we do now?”
Robbie raised one shoulder. “That’s up to you, princess. There are human families that have raised changelings as their own, though they are usually unaware of the child’s true nature. Generally speaking, if you feed it and leave it alone, it will settle into its new home without too much trouble. Changelings make a nuisance of themselves at first, but most families adapt.” Robbie grinned, but it was an attempt at lightheartedness rather than humor. “Hopefully, your folks will think he’s just going through a late terrible twos.”
“Robbie, that thing bit me, and probably made Mom slip and fall in the kitchen. It’s more than a nuisance, it’s dangerous.” I glared at Ethan’s closed door and shuddered. “I want it gone. I want my brother back. How do we get rid of it?”
Robbie sobered. “Well, there are ways of getting rid of changelings,” he began, looking uncomfortable. “One old method is to brew beer or cook stew in eggshells, and that will make the changeling comment on the weirdness of it. But that method was for infants who’d been switched—since the baby was too young to speak, the parents knew that the impostor was a changeling and the real parents had to take it back. I don’t think it’ll work for someone older, like your brother.”
“Great. What’s another way?”
“Er, the other way is to beat the changeling near to death, until the screams force the fey parents to return the real child. Barring that, you could stick him in the oven and cook him alive—”
“Stop.” I felt sick. “I can’t do any of those things, Robbie. I just can’t. There has to be another way.”
“Well…” Rob looked hesitant and scratched the back of his neck. “The only other way is to travel into the faery lands and take him back. Bringing the real child into the home again will force the changeling to leave. But…” He paused, as if on the verge of saying something, only to think better of it.
“But…you don’t know who took your brother. And without that knowledge, you’ll just be walking in circles. And, if you’re wondering, walking in circles in Faeryland is a very, very bad idea.”
I narrowed my eyes. “I don’t know who took him,” I agreed, staring hard at Robbie, “but you do.”
Robbie shuffled nervously. “I have a guess.”
“It’s just a guess, mind you. I could be wrong. Don’t go jumping to conclusions.”
He sighed. “The Unseelie Court.”
“The Unseelie Court,” Robbie repeated. “The Court of Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness. Sworn enemies of King Oberon and Queen Titania. Very powerful. Very nasty.”
“Wait, wait, wait.” I held up my hands. “Oberon? Titania? Like from A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Aren’t those just ancient myths?”
“Ancient, yes,” Robbie said. “Myths, no. The faery lords are immortal. Those who have songs, ballads, and stories written about them never die. Belief, worship, imagination—we were born of the dreams and fears of mortals, and if we are remembered, even in some small way, we will always exist.”