The Iron Knight

By: Julie Kagawa

I’d expected to die that day. I was ready. Being ordered by my True Name to walk away, leaving Meghan to die alone in the Iron Kingdom, nearly shattered me a second time. If it wasn’t for my oath to be with her again, I might’ve done something suicidal, like challenge Oberon to a battle before the entire Summer Court. But now that I’ve made my promise, there is no turning back. Abandoning my vow will unravel me, bit by bit, until there is nothing left. Even if I wasn’t determined to find a way to survive in the Iron Realm, I’d have no choice but to continue.


I will be with her again, or I will die. There aren’t any other options.




ACKNOWLEDGMENTS




Ah, the Acknowledgments page. Once more, we come to the end of a novel, and once more, I have many, many people to thank. My parents, for without them, I wouldn’t be the stubborn, idealistic daydreamer I am today. My agent, Laurie McLean, who is always there to field questions and calm authorly panic attacks, sometimes well after business hours. My wonderful editors, Natashya Wilson and Adam Wilson, and the talented, amazing staff at Harlequin TEEN. This year especially has been a wild and crazy ride, and I could not have been in better company.

To all the awesome bloggers of the YA world, and the fans of Team Ash, this book is especially for you. It is partially because of you that a certain Unseelie prince got his own story, that his journey ended as it did. Thank you.

And, of course, my deepest gratitude goes to my first editor, sounding board, proofreader, problem solver and amazing husband, Nick. You are my knight in shining armor.





PART ONE





CHAPTER ONE

THE HOUSE OF THE BONE WITCH




“Oy, ice-boy! You sure you know where you’re going?”

I ignored Robin Goodfellow as we wove through the gray murk of the wyldwood, pushing farther into the soggy swamp known as the Bone Marsh. Mud sucked at my footsteps, and water dripped from twisted green trees so covered in moss they appeared sheathed in slime. Mist coiled around the exposed roots or pooled in sunken areas, hiding what lay beneath, and every so often there was a splash in the still waters farther out, reminding us that we were not alone. As its name suggested, bones were scattered throughout the marsh, jutting out of the mud, half-hidden in tangles of weeds or shimmering beneath the surface of the water, bleached and white. This was a dangerous part of the wyldwood, more so than most—not because of the catoblepas and the jabberwocks and other monsters that called the dark swamp their home, but because of the resident who lived somewhere deep within the marsh. The one we were going to see.

Something flew past my head from behind, barely missing me, and spattered against a trunk a few feet away. Stopping beneath the tree, I turned and glared at my companion, silently daring him to do that again.

“Oh, hey, it lives!” Robin Goodfellow threw up his muddy hands in mock celebration. “I was afraid it had become a zombie or something.” He crossed his arms and smirked at me, mud streaking his red hair and speckling his pointed face. “Did you hear me, ice-boy? I’ve been yelling at you for some time now.”

“Yes,” I said, repressing a sigh. “I heard you. I think the jabberwocks on the other side of the swamp heard you.”

“Oh, good! Maybe if we fight a couple you’ll start paying attention to me!” Puck matched my glare before gesturing around at the swamp. “This is crazy,” he exclaimed. “How do we even know he’s here? The Bone Marsh isn’t exactly on my list of favorite vacation getaways, prince. You sure your contact knew what he was talking about? If this turns out to be another false lead I might turn that phouka into a pair of gloves.”

“I thought you wanted an adventure,” I said, just to annoy him. Puck snorted.

“Oh sure, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for tromping to all five corners of the Nevernever, getting chased by angry Summer Queens, sneaking into an ogre’s basement, fighting giant spiders, playing hide-and-seek with a cranky dragon—good times.” He shook his head, and his eyes gleamed, reliving fond memories. “But this is like the sixth place we’ve come to look for that wretched cat, and if he isn’t here I’m almost afraid of where we’re going next.”