The Iron KingBy: Julie Kagawa
“You keep saying ‘we,’” I pointed out. “As though you’re one of those immortal faeries. As though you’re one of them.” Robbie smiled, a proud, impish smile, and I gulped. “Who are you, anyway?”
“Ah, well.” Robbie shrugged, trying to look modest and failing entirely. “If you’ve read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you might remember me. There was this unfortunate incident, completely unplanned, where I gave someone a donkey’s head and made Titania fall in love with him.”
I ran through the play in my mind. I’d read it in the seventh grade, but had forgotten most of the plot. There were so many characters, so many names to sift through, people falling in and out of love so often it was ridiculous. I remembered a few human names: Hermia, Helena, Demetrius. On the faery side, there was Oberon and Titania and…
“Shit,” I whispered, falling back against the wall. I stared at Robbie with new eyes. “Robbie Goodfell. Robin…you’re Robin Goodfellow.”
Robbie grinned. “Call me Puck.”
PUCK. THE PUCK WAS STANDING in my hallway.
“No way,” I whispered, shaking my head. This was Robbie, my closest friend. I would’ve known if he was an ancient faery. Wouldn’t I?
Frighteningly, the more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed. I’d never seen Robbie’s house, or his parents. The teachers all loved him, though he never did a lick of school-work and slept through most of the classes. And strange things happened when he was around: mice and frogs ended up in desks, or names were switched around on term papers. Though Robbie Goodfell thought these scenarios absolutely hilarious, no one ever suspected him.
“No,” I muttered again, backing away toward my room. “That’s impossible. Puck is a legend, a myth. I don’t believe it.”
Robbie gave me that eerie smile. “Then, princess, by all means, let me assure you.”
His arms rose from his sides, as if he might levitate into the air. From downstairs, I heard the front door creak open, and I hoped Mom and Luke weren’t home yet. Yeah, Mom, Ethan’s turned into a monster and my best friend thinks he’s a faery. How was your day?
An enormous black bird swooped into the hallway. I yelped and ducked as the raven, or crow or whatever it was, made a beeline straight for Robbie and perched on his arm. They watched me, the pair of them, with glittering eyes, and Robbie smiled.
A rush of wind, and suddenly, the air was filled with screaming black birds, swooping in from the open door. I gasped and ducked as the cloud of ravens filled the hallway, their raucous cries nearly deafening me. They swirled around Robbie, a tornado of beating wings and sharp claws, tearing at him with talons and beaks. Feathers flew everywhere, and Robbie disappeared within the swirling mass. Then, as one, the birds scattered, flying out the open door as swiftly as they had come. As the last bird swooped outside, the door slammed behind it, and silence descended once more. I caught my breath and glanced at Rob.
Robbie was gone. Only a swirl of black feathers and dust motes remained in the place where he’d stood.
It was too much. I felt my sanity unravel like frayed cloth. With a choked scream, I turned and fled into my room, slamming the door behind me. Flinging myself under my bedcovers, I put the pillow over my head and shook, hoping that when I woke up, things would be normal.
My door opened, and the sound of wings fluttered into my room. I didn’t want to look and pulled the covers tighter around me, willing the nightmare to end. I heard a sigh, and footsteps padded over the floor.
“Well, I tried to warn you, princess.”
I peeked out. Robbie stood there, looking down at me, a pained smile on his face. Seeing him, I felt relieved, angry, and terrified at the same time. I threw off the covers and sat up, narrowing my eyes as I stared at him. Robbie waited, hands in the pockets of his jeans, as if daring me to contradict him some more.
“You really are Puck?” I said finally. “The Puck? Like in the stories?”
Robbie/Puck gave a little bow. “The one and only.”
My heart was still pounding. I took a deep breath to calm it and glared at the stranger in my room. My emotions churned; I didn’t know what to feel. I settled on anger; Robbie had been my best friend for years, and he never saw fit to share his secret with me. “You could have told me sooner,” I said, trying not to sound hurt. “I would have kept your secret.” He only smirked and raised an eyebrow, infuriating me even more. “Fine. Go back to Faeryland, or wherever you come from. Aren’t you supposed to be Oberon’s jester or something? Why were you hanging around me so long?”
“You wound me, princess.” Robbie sounded anything but hurt. “And after I made up my mind to help you get your brother back.”
My anger vanished instantly, replaced with fear. With all the talk of fey and faery lords, I’d nearly forgotten about Ethan.
I shivered as my stomach twisted into a tight little ball. This still felt like something out of a nightmare. But Ethan was gone, and faeries were real. I had to accept that now. Robbie stood there, gazing at me expectantly. A black feather dropped from his hair, spiraling down to the bed. Gingerly, I picked it up, twirling it in my fingers. It felt solid and real.