The Iron Raven(8)

By: Julie Kagawa

The cowl moved, the hood lifting slightly, as if its wearer had just realized I was there. His icy blue gaze seemed dangerous for a split second, hard and cold, just like another faery I knew, before recognition dawned and he relaxed.

“Puck? What are you doing here?”

“Oh, you know. Mostly looking for trouble.” I waggled my brows. “But I could ask you the same. What are you doing in the goblin market? Don’t you have more important places to be?”

Cricket gazed at both of us, lips pursed in a puzzled frown.

The figure hesitated, giving the vendor a brief glance before turning back to me. He didn’t want the Iron faery to know who he was. “Perhaps we can talk somewhere in private,” he suggested, taking a smooth step back. “I will wait for you on the other side of the Ferris wheel. Please find me when your business here is complete.”

With that he spun gracefully and walked away, vanishing into the darkness as silently as he’d appeared. When he was gone, Cricket turned on me. “Who was that?” she wanted to know. “He seemed...familiar, for some reason.”

“Just the kid of a friend of mine.” I shrugged, very casually. “Tends to get himself into trouble if we don’t keep an eye on him. Speaking of which, this has all been very interesting, but I should really be going.”

“Hold on, Robin Goodfellow.” The Iron faery held up a hand. “You cannot leave Cricket’s Collectables empty-handed. There must be something here that you’d find interesting. Hmm, let me think, let me think...”

“I don’t really need—”

“Oh, I got it!” She snapped her fingers, then pulled something from a leather satchel and thrust it at me.

It was a playing card—the Joker, to be exact—with a grinning black-and-white jester in the center. Ordinary looking at first glance. But a glamour aura clung to it, pulsing with magic and making my brows shoot up. A Token. A mortal object that had been so loved, cherished, feared, or hated by its owner that it had developed a magic all its own. Like a never-ending glamour battery. Tokens were rare, and the magic coming off this one was strange. It felt almost defiant, like it was daring the world to do its worst.

“This,” Cricket announced, waving the card back and forth in my face, “was a famous gambler’s lucky Joker. He believed that as long as he had this card up his sleeve, he could never lose a poker game. Apparently, it was lucky in other ways, too. According to the stories, lots of mortals tried to kill the gambler by shooting, hanging, even burying him alive, but it never took. Somehow, the bullets missed anything vital, the ropes snapped, or he miraculously escaped.” She pulled the card back, watching me over the rim with a smile. “That luck could be yours, if you just do me once teensy-tiny itty-bitty favor.”

“Always a catch,” I sighed, and crossed my arms. “Let’s hear it.”

“Just this. If someone asks where you got such a treasure, tell them you found it at Cricket’s Collectables, your one stop for the most unique items in the Iron Realm and beyond.”

“That’s it?” I said, dubious and surprised. Tokens were valuable, and the bargain to get one was usually a lot more than that. “No, seriously. I was expecting at least a lock of hair. It’s never that easy. What’s in it for you?”

“Lock of hair?” She gave a high-pitched giggle. “Oh, you oldbloods are so old-fashioned. It’s called word of mouth, silly. Free marketing! If the famous Robin Goodfellow, friend of queens and hero of the Nevernever, recommends my shop to anyone, that alone is worth a dozen bargains. No strings, no fine print, this is just business. So...” She held the Joker out once again, waggling the card in an enticing manner. “Do we have a deal? You know you want it.”

Oh, what the heck? She seemed nice enough, if a bit unhinged. And you only live once.

“Deal,” I said, and snatched the card out of her fingers before she could add anything else. “Not that I need the luck, but more is always good, right?”

She beamed. “Pleasure doing business with you, Robin Goodfellow,” she exclaimed, and took a step back. “Don’t forget, if anyone asks about that Token, point them to Cricket’s Collectables. You have a good night now.” She lifted a hand in a wave, then turned and walked back to her stall, followed by the little terrier and eventually the two big dogs.