The Iron Queen

By: Julie Kagawa

PART ONE





CHAPTER ONE





THE LONG ROAD HOME




Eleven years ago, on my sixth birthday, my father disappeared.

One year ago, on the very same day, my brother was taken from me, as well. But that time, I went into Faery to take him back.

It’s strange how a journey can change you, what you can learn from it. I learned that the man I thought was my father wasn’t my father at all. That my biological dad wasn’t even human. That I was the half-breed daughter of a legendary faery king, and his blood flowed in my veins. I learned that I had power, a power that scares me, even now. A power that even the fey dread, something that can destroy them—and I’m not sure I can control it.

I learned that love can transcend race and time, and that it can be beautiful and perfect and worth fighting for but also fragile and heartbreaking, and sometimes sacrifice is necessary. That sometimes it’s you against the world, and there are no easy answers. That you have to know when to hold on…and when to let go. And even if that love comes back, you could discover something in someone else who has been there all along.

I thought it was over. I thought my time with the fey, the impossible choices I had to make, the sacrifices for those I loved, was behind me. But a storm was approaching, one that would test those choices like never before. And this time, there would be no turning back.





MY NAME IS MEGHAN CHASE.

In less than twenty-four hours, I’ll be seventeen.

Déjà vu, right? Shocking how quickly time can pass you by, like you’re standing still. I can’t believe it’s been a year since that day. The day I went into Faery. The day that changed my life forever.

Technically, I won’t actually be turning seventeen. I’ve been in the Nevernever too long. When you’re in Faery, you don’t age, or you age so slowly it’s not worth mentioning. So, while a year has passed in the real world, I’m probably only a few days older than when I went in.

In real life, I’ve changed so much I don’t even recognize myself.

Beneath me, the tatter-colt’s hooves clopped against the pavement, a quiet rhythm that matched my own heartbeat. On this lonely stretch of Louisiana highway, surrounded by tupelo trees and moss-covered cypress, few cars passed us, and the ones that did flew by without slowing down, tossing leaves in their wake. They couldn’t see the shaggy black horse with eyes like hot coals, walking along the road without reins or bit or saddle. They couldn’t see the figures on its back, the pale-haired girl and the dark, beautiful prince behind her, his arms around her waist. Mortals were blind to the world of Faery, a world I was a part of now, whether I’d asked for it or not.

“What are you afraid of?” a deep voice murmured in my ear, sending a shiver up my spine. Even in the humid swamps of Louisiana, the Winter prince radiated cold, and his breath was wonderfully cool against my skin.

I peered at him over my shoulder. “What do you mean?”

Ash, prince of the Unseelie Court, met my gaze, silver eyes gleaming in the twilight. Officially, he was no longer a prince. Queen Mab had exiled him from the Nevernever after he refused to renounce his love for the half-human daughter of Oberon, the Summer King. My father. Summer and Winter were supposed to be enemies. We were not supposed to cooperate, we were not supposed to go on quests together and, most important, we were not supposed to fall in love.

But we had, and now Ash was here, with me. We were exiles, and the trods—the paths into Faery—were closed to us forever, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t planning to ever go back.

“You’re nervous.” Ash’s hand stroked the back of my head, brushing the hair from my neck, making me shiver. “I can feel it. You have this anxious, flickering aura all around you, and it’s driving me a little nuts, being this close. What’s wrong?”

I should’ve known. There was no hiding what I felt from Ash, or any faery for that matter. Their magic, their glamour, came from human dreams and emotions. So Ash could sense what I was feeling without even trying. “Sorry,” I told him. “I guess I am a little nervous.”

“Why?”

“Why? I’ve been gone almost a year. Mom will hit the roof when she sees me.” My stomach squirmed as I imagined the reunion  : the tears, the angry relief, the inevitable questions. “They didn’t hear anything from me while I was in Faery.” I sighed, gazing up the road to where the stretch of pavement melted into the darkness. “What am I going to tell them? How will I even begin to explain?”