Home > A Deal with the Elf King(5)

A Deal with the Elf King(5)
Author: Elise Kova

“I’m sure it does.” Yet I’m putting my mostly empty basket down on his counter anyway.

“It doesn’t work as well,” he insists, per usual.

“I think you just like having company.” I smile and set to work as he eases himself into a chair at his table.

“Can you blame an old man?”


Mr. Abbot isn’t the first person to claim they can’t replicate my brews, salves, and poultices at home—even when I sell them the exact herbs and give them detailed instructions. I suspect it’s because of my elvish kettle. The Keepers say a bit of the elves’ wild magic lives in the things they make using it. If that’s true, then maybe part of my skills are because of the necklace Luke gave me.

No matter what the reason, I’m glad my gifts can be of service. If my hands must be the ones to make the brews to have them work, then so be it. Yet another reason why I must stay in Capton.

“The town is so busy today.” Mr. Abbot looks out the large front window of his home. He lives down by the docks, not far from the large square where town halls are held.

“The elves are coming,” I remind him.

“Ah, right.”

“You should stay home, you don’t need that kind of excitement,” I encourage.

“If ordered by my healer, I suppose I must.” A frown crosses his lips before he brings the mug I hand him to his mouth. His eyes seem to be staring at a distant memory. “They’ll take another young woman, won’t they?”

“Unfortunately.” I run my finger along the top edge of my mug, thinking of the conversation at the breakfast table. “Yet none of the women of Capton have displayed any magic tendencies.”

“The Keepers are usually watching closely for any signs.”

I remember when Luke was assigned to me for three years—fifteen through my eighteenth birthday. He and my parents kept an eye on everything I did whenever I was in Capton. Luke even came to Lanton a few times to observe me.

My mother once suspected even that my herbology gifts were magical manifestations. But Luke assured her it was just good training at the academy.

“They still do.” I take a sip. “But they haven’t found anyone who might be the Human Queen.”

He sighs. “This whole business is a wound that never heals.”

“What is?” I think he’s talking about the treaty. I’m wrong.

“Losing your family to the elves. They take a daughter, a sister, forever.”

“The Human Queen can return to Capton every midsummer,” I needlessly remind him. He’s lived in this town far longer than I. Mr. Abbot is pushing one hundred and twenty.

“They’re never the same after; Alice wasn’t.”

Alice… That was the name of the last Human Queen. Surely, it couldn’t just be coincidence…

“Who’s Alice?”

He turns his milky eyes toward me. “My sister. And before you ask, yes, she was.”

“Your sister was the last Human Queen?” I ask anyway. He nods. How did I never know this? Why was it never taught or mentioned? Mr. Abbot has been coming into my shop every other day for a year now. I was making him poultices and potions long before I had any formal training. “I had no idea,” I say, feeling somewhat guilty.

“One thing you will soon learn is that the name of the bride quickly disappears off the tongues of the people. Whoever leaves will be forgotten as ever being a part of this town. She will become the ‘Human Queen’ for stories and nothing more.”

I shudder. We learn about the Human Queens in grade school. Even before then, there’s not a resident of Capton who doesn’t know the stories. Seeing the queen leave is a rite of passage for a generation. And it isn’t until this conversation—until the last Human Queen becomes someone more than just an idea to me—that I even realize Alice must’ve come back on midsummers and I never once saw her.

“I think people do it, consciously or not, out of kindness,” Mr. Abbot continues with a weary smile. “As if, by saying her name less, it will hurt less that she is gone. As if a person can be expunged so neatly from a family and community.”

“I never thought of it that way,” I whisper.

“Keeping the peace between worlds is an ugly business.” His hand shakes as he raises his cup back to his mouth to take a timid sip. When he brings it back to the saucer, however, his movements are much smoother. I’m relieved to see the draught is having the intended effects.

“Did you meet with her, during midsummer?” I ask, genuinely curious. I try and imagine him with a Human Queen, sitting at this same scuffed and scratched table as we are now.

“Yes, and corresponded with letters.”

“Can letters cross the Fade?” A thousand questions burn my tongue as they swirl in the scalding tea.

“No, but the elves can. They brought the messages to the temple, usually when they came for last rites or to trade with the Keepers.”

“What did she say it was like beyond the Fade?”

“Not much.” He shook his head. “Alice said that her role as queen was merely to exist.”

I stare into my teacup.

The elves will come and they will take a woman from her family and home to fulfill a treaty that they could just as easily call off. They’ll sit her on a throne to do what? Exist? To have no power or responsibility?

What is the point of the deal the elves struck if all they wanted was a puppet? Why take one of us at all?

To remind us we are nothing, my mind answers. They hold all the power. What the elves want, we are here to give them. I’m sure they would tell us to be grateful that all they take is a woman every century. That it is a kindness.

My stomach turns molten and I have to leave or risk saying something that would upset the kind old man.



The town hall is held four hours later, in the late afternoon. It’s enough time that I can go home, restock my basket, and freshen up. I’m not the only one with the idea of conducting business before the meeting. Some of the fishermen have brought their hauls. I see a few townsfolk displaying needlepoint. Everyone is all too happy to have something else to focus on—or pretend to focus on—beyond the impending elf arrival.

Yet, rumors and theories buzz in the air around me like bees in a field. I hear the whispers and speculation. What will happen? Will the queen be found?

I ignore it all, focusing on my duties. There is no way war will break out after three thousand years of peace. That’s what I’ve settled on to keep my hands steady as I pass out my jars and pouches.

“Hear ye, hear ye, citizenry of Capton,” the town crier shouts from the stage at the far end of the square. A group of weary men and women line up behind him—my father among them. “We call to order this meeting of the Capton Council.”

I stop with the rest of the townsfolk, listening to the various announcements. There are some clerical matters to get out of the way—a few disputes over fishing territories with Lanton, an agreement for tearing down an old warehouse. But everyone is just listening for the important part.

“Regarding the matter of the Human Queen,” my father says. He stands with the head of the Keepers. “The council has heard your concerns and decided to—”

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