Home > A Deal with the Elf King(3)

A Deal with the Elf King(3)
Author: Elise Kova

“Hannah,” Father cautions.

“It’s true, Oliver, and you know it. The Capton Council is just as bad as the Keepers.” Mother is as aggressive as the boiling water she pulls eggs from.

“Can we just have a nice breakfast, please?” I beg. I’m so tired of hearing about the Keepers pointing the finger at the Capton Council for not being more aggressive in trying to find the Human Queen by interrogating the townsfolk, and the council pointing the finger at the Keepers for not sharing more of their elvish relics or histories that could help identify the Human Queen.

Father thinks there must be something the Keepers are hiding. Luke claims otherwise and says the council doesn’t share enough information with the temple. They both look to me to take their side and it takes all of my effort to remind them that all I care about is keeping the people of this island healthy—I have no horse in their race.

“If there’s no Human Queen then all of humanity dies a horrible death as they use their wild magic to peel our skin from our bones, turn us into beasts of the deep woods, curdle our blood, and worse; I think it’s safe to say none of us want that.” Father flips through his papers.

“We’re dying now.” Mother situates the eggs on a platter and sets it on the table. “You’ve heard about the Weakness. Men and women are falling where they stand. We are dying like any regular human on the mainland.”

“Once there is a Human Queen the order will be restored and the treaty will be fulfilled,” Father says. “No more of this Weakness.”

“Is that true? Do we know that things will return to normal for certain?” Mother turns to Luke.

“So the texts that outline the treaty say.” Luke peels an egg.

She sighs and grabs a scone, tearing off a hunk and mumbling, “While I hate the notion of this Human Queen business, if it must happen then let it be done with. My heart bleeds for the family whose daughter will be taken though…” Mother squeezes my hand. I’m too old—historically the queens have displayed magic tendencies at sixteen or seventeen. I remember a few years when my parents watched me like a hawk. Thankfully, there’s not a trace of magic in me. “What a grim circumstance to see your daughter get married under.”

“Speaking of weddings,” Luke says casually. “Has Luella told you both yet?”

My parents exchange a look with me. I glance nervously between them and Luke. I’ve no idea what he’s talking about.

“Told us what?” Father is the one to ask.

“Luella has agreed to marry me.”



Chapter 2



I spit the gulp of water back into my cup with a sputter.

“Luella, you should have told us!” Mother gasps and claps her hands together. “This is wonderful news!”

“I thought you were too busy with your shop to think of courtship?” Father arches his eyebrows. I’m still coughing up a lung. He adds, “Are you all right?”

“Well, I…” I cough. “Sorry, water in the wrong pipe.”

Marry him? When did I agree to that? Oh, right, I didn’t. I look at Luke from the corner of my eye. He’s beaming from ear to ear.

I can’t marry anyone. I’ve told him that. I’ve told everyone that just so my mother’s friends would stop digging their noses into my affairs.

I don’t have time for marriage. I don’t have time for whatever it is Luke and I have already been doing. I’ve never even thought of marriage.

For the entirety of my nineteen years, I’ve known I was destined to be married to trees and herbs and duty before a man. I have been content—fulfilled, even—with that alone. But marriage? Motherhood? Wifely duties?

I have more important things to focus on…like keeping people alive.

Standing, I say, “Mother, Father, please excuse us. I have rounds to make before the town hall and I don’t want to keep Luke from his duties.” I catch Luke’s eyes with a pointed look. “Shall we head to the forests now?”

“Yes, we’ll clean up, go and enjoy yourself.” Mother is beaming. Father, however, gives me a knowing, wary look.

I feel bad making my parents clean when they cooked, but I need to escape. I need to talk to him and sort this marriage thing out. I practically drag Luke back downstairs, into my shop, past his stupid bag still by the door, and out into the crisp Capton morning.

“What was that?” I whirl on him as we emerge onto the street. “Marriage?”

“You said you loved me.”

“I may be inexperienced with all this but saying ‘I love you’ is not the same thing as ‘I’ll marry you.’”

He tilts his head with a gentle smile and rests his hands on my shoulders. “Isn’t this what you’ve always wanted?”


“You and me, together. We love each other, Luella, we have for years. There’s no one more perfect out there for you than me.”

“That’s not the point,” I mutter.

He hooks his arm with mine, beginning to lead us down the road lined by brownstones of the residential area of town. “You need to stop holding back and stop being so focused on your work.”

“My work makes me happy.”

“Don’t I make you happy?”

“Yes, but—”

He kisses the tip of my nose, silencing me. “Then I’m all you need. Your father can perform the wedding himself…”

Luke rambles about silk and flowers and toasts the entire walk down the street, up the narrow stairs that lead into a stone path lazily wandering the cliff-tops overlooking the ocean. A river cuts across in the distance before crashing down as a waterfall to the sea foam beyond. Its stunning blue waters are under the protection of the Keepers, as is the forest we head toward.

Our island is small, just off the coast of the mainland and across from Lanton. Nestled in the only sheltered bay of the island is the lonely town of Capton. I grew up wedged on this narrow strip between mountain and sea. The thick and gnarled redwood forest runs down from the foot of the great mountain that looms over us to the town. The temple winds as a sort of bridge between the two.

Capton historians say the temple was built long ago, before the great war that resulted in the treaty. But it’s hard for me to think of anything that old still standing. More likely, one of the original Keepers built it to house their order.

Slithering out from the side of the temple is an unassuming pathway of arches. I’ve never walked that path. I’m forbidden to, even with a Keeper escort. That is for the Human Queen and the elves. Luke tells me it stretches all the way into the darkest part of the forest at the foot of the mountain.

It is the path that leads to the Fade—the split between the human world and the magic wilds.

Capton is somewhat of a between, at least that’s how I’ve come to think of it. It’s on the “human side,” the “not magic side,” of the Fade. But our proximity to the Fade, and the river that flows through it, gives our island diverse wildlife and the people here extremely long lifespans. The cost of these benefits is the Human Queen. We give up one of our own every hundred years to honor the treaty. That is Capton’s burden for humanity’s sake.

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