Home > A Deal with the Elf King(2)

A Deal with the Elf King(2)
Author: Elise Kova

Now, it’s been one hundred and one years since the last Human Queen was chosen, and the town is suffering because of it.

“If she’s not here then I especially can’t leave. The Weakness is spreading through the town. People are dying as young as one hundred and ten. I have to do what I can to stop it.” And if there is a war to come, healers will be needed more than ever. But I can’t bring myself to say that. I can hardly think it.

“If there is no queen, you can do nothing to stop it. The town’s connection with the Fade is dying and people will die with it. Their lifespans reduced to nothing more than those beyond our island.” Luke grabs my hands. “The elves are coming, and I had a terrible dream about it. Please, let’s leave now.”

“Luke,” I say gently, reaching forward to caress the shadow of gold across his chin. The constant stubble is new. I can’t tell if he’s growing a beard, or just keeping it closely cropped. Either way, I think I like it. “You look like you haven’t slept. And you’ve been under a tremendous amount of stress with a long day ahead. Let me make a strengthening brew for you and then something for you to take tonight to help you sleep.”

“I haven’t slept because I have been preparing for us to leave before war breaks out.” Luke pushes away from the counter and ducks underneath the thoroughfare. I’m cornered—counter on one side, shelves of herbs on the other, Luke before me, no exit behind. “I want to take you away. I want to keep you safe.”

“Luke,” I say gingerly, pleading. I want to pretend like he’s joking but I can tell he’s deathly serious. “I can’t just leave.”

“Yes you can, of course you can.” The tone of his voice gives me pause. The way he’s looking at me now leaves me breathless. I have to remind myself to breathe. “I want to take you away and spend time with you, and only you, Luella. Surely, you know…I’ve loved you for a long time.”

I open and close my mouth, several times. Yes, I knew. And I love him too. I love him enough that I dreamed of this moment. But in my dreams I was wearing something nicer than my work smock and I didn’t stink of lavender oil.

His expression falls in the wake of my silence. “Oh, I see… And here I thought that you might—”

“I love you too.” As soon as I get the words out, sensation returns. Tingling vanishes from my toes. My whole body bursts with laughter. “I’ve loved you since I was a child.”

“Then run away with me, Luella.” Luke grabs my hands. His thumbs run over my knuckles.

My soul is soaring over the roof. Yet my feet are rooted deep in the land of the people I’ve vowed to serve.

“You know I can’t,” I whisper.

“But you love me.”

“I do.”

“Then let’s go.” He tugs at my hands.

“I can’t.” I’m unbudging. His expression falls into something I don’t recognize. “I want to, Luke. I wish I could go with you. But I can’t just leave. This town has invested so much in me; I must be here when they need me.”

The people of Capton paid for my years at academy when my parents could not afford them. They bought me room and board. They supported me at every turn with the hard-earned and scraped-together change at the bottoms of their pockets.

“Besides,” I continue, softer. “If the Human Queen isn’t found, and the council can’t sort things with the elves, there’s nowhere we could run. All of humanity is doomed at that point. I would rather stay here with our people and face whatever may come.”

“We could find a way,” he insists. I shake my head. “If you love me, truly love me, then that’s all you need. Our love is enough.”

“But—” I don’t get to finish.

In a wide step, he closes the distance between us. One arm snakes around my waist. The other cups my cheek. He tilts my face upward and I don’t fight him. I don’t want to.

Luke’s lips meet mine as my eyes close.

The stubble that lines his lips is rough on my face. But I hardly notice; my sole focus is kissing him. How much movement is too much, and how much is too little, when it comes to kissing?

Unexpectedly, I desperately wish I’d given in to the boys at the academy and allowed them to “teach me kissing” when they found out I’d never been kissed before. I had been waiting for this moment. I’d been waiting for these lips.

Yet…as he pulls away, I’m left awkward and unfulfilled. None of this is quite how I imagined it would happen. I’m not soaring. My heart isn’t fluttering. Something in me is detached and…sad?

A soft ahem comes from the doorway behind us. Luke turns. My face is hot as I meet my mother’s grinning eyes—the same shade of hazel as mine. To make embarrassing and awkward matters worse, my kettle begins to hiss and the sleeping draught I was making is now boiling over my counter.

“Oh!” I rush over, beginning to mop up the mess.

My mother crosses with a laugh, helping lift the kettle off the heat. “Luke, it’s good to see you; would you like to stay for breakfast this morning?”

“I would love to.” He gives a dashing smile. Hopefully the need to fill his stomach distracts him from his insane notion of leaving. And when he’s full, he’ll have a more level head.

“I have work to do,” I needlessly remind them both.

“And doing it on an empty stomach is pointless.” My mother tucks wayward strands of fiery hair—the same bright hue as mine—back into her bun. “Take a break, hardworking daughter of mine. You are not going to be saving a life in the twenty minutes it takes you to eat a scone and a boiled egg.”

“One of your scones sounds lovely, Mrs. Torrnet.”

“It’s Hannah, Luke, you know that.” My mother titters and I roll my eyes. “Now, come upstairs, both of you.”

A plate of scones is in the center of the table—lavender and orange. It’s incredible the number of different plants that grow on Capton’s island. Too many. So many that it should be impossible. But the main water source for the island flows through the Fade itself, making the impossible possible here.

Father is seated at the head of the table. His glasses hang on the tip of his nose as he looks over paperwork—no doubt going over speeches before the town hall today.

“Good morning, Luke,” he says without looking up. Luke has been coming around since we could walk and is as much a staple in this kitchen as my mother’s iron pot or my potted herb garden in the back window. “Surprised to see you today.” He pauses. “Though I suppose today is the usual day you escort Luella to the forest.”

“I thought we could get it done with before the sun was up. That way I could get back to my duties as Keeper,” Luke says cordially as he sits, helping himself to a scone. No mention of trying to steal me away, thankfully.

“What are the Keepers doing about all this?” Mother asks from where she works a skillet behind me. Our kitchen runs the length of half the brownstone—galley style, the sailors would say.


“We’re doing our best to find the Human Queen,” Luke says calmly.

“Well, maybe there shouldn’t be a Human Queen,” Mother huffs.

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