Home > A Deal with the Elf King(9)

A Deal with the Elf King(9)
Author: Elise Kova

It’s the Elf King who heeds me. He rips off Luke’s Keeper bracelet without a second of hesitation. His eyes flash a bright blue, he crosses his arms before him, and then slowly pulls them apart—as though he’s stretching taffy between his hands. Luke goes rigid and he hovers on his toes unnaturally. The king’s fingers tense further, pulling. A pathetic, whining sound escapes Luke as he contorts. Popping fills the air. The townsfolk begin to scream.

“No! Don’t hurt him!” I rush over to the Elf King and grab his arm. He looks at the contact with an air of shock and offense. “I don’t want him dead.” My heart is being torn apart; I can’t bear witnessing Luke being ripped in two. The Elf King tries to shrug me off but I hold fast, digging in my heels. “He must be tried by the Capton Council. He must atone for his crimes as is fair and just.”

The Elf King narrows his eyes at me in a scowl and, for a moment, I think he might ignore me. I don’t release him. What more can he want to take from this town? He already has my life. If I am the Human Queen—and I am, there’s no denying it after that display earlier—he should need nothing more.

“Luke doesn’t matter to you,” I say, my voice thin. “My people will see justice done. You have me, let him go.”

The king releases Luke and he crumples to the ground, gasping. Two Keepers step forward and grab him underneath his arms. They begin to drag him away, Luke begging and muttering apologies the entire time.

None of the townsfolk listen. They glare openly at him, their faces cold and closed.

The Elf King turns to me. “Come, Queen, we must depart immediately. You are needed across the Fade,” he says gravely.

I’m numb from the top of my head to my toes. He grabs my arm, summoning me back to reality. I glare up at him. A thousand objections live on my tongue and yet I can’t muster the strength to say any of them.

Since I was a girl, I’ve been taught the fate of the Human Queen. If I tell him of my duties as a healer, my pleas will fall on deaf ears. If I beg him to let me stay a little longer, I know he will refuse because this is the way of things.

If I refuse to go, my world dies.

“There is no time. You and I must be wed.”

 

 

Chapter 5

 

 

We are to be wed. Me. To the Elf King. I can’t think straight.

“When?” I manage to ask.

“Now. Time is of the essence,” the Head Keeper says.

My attention shifts off the Head Keeper, landing on a man beside her—my father. My ribs collapse on my lungs and I let out a soft gasp of air that chokes into an emotion rawer than tears.

“But—” I start.

“There is no time,” the king says gruffly. “The fact that I was able to come here and use so much wild magic on this plane is proof enough that the Fade is wavering. The lines between our worlds are blurring—which, let me assure you, is something you do not want.”

I seek a flicker of some kindness or resignation in the king’s eyes. But all I see is sheer determination. I wonder if he is enduring this on strength of will alone too. I wonder what he’s hiding underneath his carefully composed surface. Maybe he’s hiding nothing and he is just a man of stone and magic.

“We will do it now,” the Keeper says.

I search in the crowd for my mother, but I can’t find her. Between the brush and the trees, magically created, and the fact that almost all of Capton has assembled, she’s nowhere to be seen. I turn back to my father. His mouth is pressed in a hard line. He says nothing.

He knows this must be done, just as I do. There is no choice.

We march in a large group up to the Temple. I am silent, rigid, walking at the side of the Elf King. I try and keep my head high, but I am tired, so tired. One moment I was in the town square. The next, I’m in the main hall of the temple being anointed with oil, townsfolk surrounding me, the Head Keeper leafing through a giant tome on the altar.

Sunlight streams down through the stained glass behind the Head Keeper. It hits my shoulders, but fails to light up the dark hollow growing inside of me. I’m surrounded—people are packed into the neat rows of redwood pews, carved from the mighty trees surrounding the temple—yet I feel alone. I don’t even have it in me to admire the organic architecture of the temple like I usually would, with all its vaulted ceilings supported by gnarled branches, as if it was grown rather than made in the shade of the great redwood at the heart of the temple.

Deafening silence rings in my ears as I stand opposite the Elf King. I’m about to get married…to the Elf King. That thought nearly makes me throw up.

“Can I have a moment?” I whisper.

“There is no time,” the Head Keeper whispers back, not unkindly.

“For the washroom, please.” I’m going to be sick. Or pass out. Maybe both, one right after the other.

“This will be over soon.” She’s found her page and begins reading from it. “Before the old gods, in the remnants of the keep of the once-kingdom of Alvarayal, in the shadow of the original keystone, we honor the pact made…”

Don’t be sick. Don’t be sick. I no longer hear the Head Keeper. All I hear in my head is that singular phrase repeating over and over.

The Elf King raises his hands. The sensation of his eyes boring into my forehead brings my eyes up to his. I swallow dryly.

“Let their hands first be joined,” the Head Keeper repeats firmly and with some agitation. It must be the second time she’s said it. I barely resist snapping at her that I have no idea what’s going on.

Usually, the Human Queen is identified at sixteen or seventeen. She has a year or three to study in the temple under the Keepers. She is fed food from beyond the Fade, taught the elvish ways, and studies the secret knowledge the Keepers protect.

The Elf King holds out his hands expectantly. I lift my trembling fingers and place them in his. His cool grip closes around mine. His eyes flash a bright blue just like they did before he made a prison for Luke.

I suppose I am headed to a different type of prison.

A chill breeze sweeps through me. It’s brisk, bracing, but I’m not left shivering. I stand taller. The ice condenses in the back of my head, radiating cool composure down my spine and into my limbs. My eyes are locked on his as my mouth moves.

“I will honor the pact,” I say. I think I’m repeating the Head Keeper, but I can’t be sure. I can’t be sure of anything beyond the Elf King. Have I ever laid eyes on someone—on anything—more perfect before? How could I have been afraid of this?

This is right. This is how the world should have been all along. A deep sense of unnatural calm fills me.

“I will honor the pact,” he repeats.

“I will fulfill my obligation to this world and those on the other side of the Fade.” We begin to repeat back and forth. “I will uphold the keystones. I will use the powers passed down through my blood by destiny for the betterment of us all—for peace. I will uphold the order that is both natural and crafted.

“I will honor my husband.”

“I will honor my wife.”

Yeah, right, my mind blurts treacherously. But the thought is frosted over by my resolve. I am marrying a king of ice. I will have to be a frigid queen to match.

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