Home > A Deal with the Elf King(6)

A Deal with the Elf King(6)
Author: Elise Kova

He doesn’t get to finish.

“Look, there!” someone shouts.

All heads turn in the direction of the long stairs that head up from town to the temple. On them, a small legion marches. They’re led by a man who rides a horse made of shadow, its form writhing and fading like mist with every movement.

His long, raven hair fans across his shoulders. I can see a shimmer of what looks like purple, or blue, in the withering sunlight. Bands of iron weave around each other almost organically around his temples, before jutting up into a fan of sharp points at the back of his head—almost like oversized thorns—to make a crown. His ears extend away from his face into points that match the spears of his crown. When he and his soldiers are at the edge of our square, I can see that his eyes are a brilliant cerulean, nearly the same shade as the pillars of the temple.

He is nothing like the ancient, gnarled monster I imagined or the stories made him out to be. The only thing those stories seem to have portrayed accurately is the sheer power that radiates off the man.

The Elf King’s face, ethereal, handsome, youthful, as hard as diamonds, is as handsome as it is terrifying. He is like a poisonous flower—stunning and deadly. This, I realize as his eyes flash an even brighter blue, is the face of death.



Chapter 3



The Elf King sits atop his steed of shadow, looking down on us as though we’re nothing more than ants. A legion of elves, armored and armed, stand behind him. Though he is surprisingly unarmored.

As he dismounts, I realize I have never witnessed a more perfect study in contrasts. His physique is cut from marble, but his movements are as fluid as the silken fabric that drapes from his shoulders. His long-sleeved, silver tunic is tailored tightly to his body and pressed so stiff that it almost gives the illusion of hammered steel. Yet, I can imagine my fingers gliding over the silky fabric across the smooth plane of his broad chest.

I quickly stare at my toes, willing away whatever magic spell he’s glamoured over himself. But my eyes are drawn back to him against my will. I can’t not look at him. Not when he dismisses the horse as though it were nothing more than smoke on the breeze. Not when his armored knights begin to move. And certainly not when he marches up onto the platform the Head Keeper, council, and my father are standing on.

“Your Majesty.” The Head Keeper’s voice quivers as she bows low. “We were expecting a delegation, an ambassador, or some—”

“You have had a year,” he says slowly, displeasure dripping from every word. “I have been patient. I have sent a delegation to the Keepers’ temple. Yet I do not have a queen.”

“We were—”

“Silence.” He seethes, leaning close to her. “Have you forgotten who I am? You will speak only when you are spoken to.”

The elf knights move around us, circling us as though we’re cattle. I see some go off in pairs down the streets of town. What’re they looking for? Stragglers?

I bite my cheeks and resist the urge to say something. Surely they wouldn’t rip a man from his sickbed just to terrorize him in the streets…would they?

“I will have my queen, here and now. We can afford no more delays,” the king continues. He turns to face the citizenry of Capton. “I know you have hidden her, tampering with forces you do not understand.”

“Your Majesty.” The words sound awkward from my father’s mouth. I wish he would stay silent. The last thing I want are those emotionless, elven eyes turning to him. “Perhaps there is no queen this year?”

“She is here, of that I’m certain. Merely hidden.” He sweeps an arm over the crowd. “Hand her to me or I will tear through every household in search of her. Hand her to me or I will take every young woman of age and bring them back across the Fade one by one until I have my queen.”

To be brought across the Fade as a normal human would spell death. He would kill every woman to find one. I clench my jaw, hard.

“Luella.” Luke’s fingers close around mine. I look at him in surprise. Where had he been hiding in the crowd? “Come on, we can still sneak out.”

“Are you insane?” I hiss.

“There’s still time,” he insists. “Let’s go. The elves will let me pass as a Keeper, the boat is still waiting and—”

A scream interrupts him.

“Emma, Emma!” Ruth shouts. “The Weakness, it’s claimed her!”

I move to leave but Luke holds fast. “Let me go.”

“Now is our chance, while there’s a distraction.”

“I said let me go!” I rip my hand from his and rush over, pushing past the people that don’t part for me. Ruth—Emma’s mother—kneels by her daughter, howling. Tears are already streaming down her face.

“They have brought the Fade upon us! They are here for war. We are doomed!” she shrieks.

“Ruth, Ruth, please.” I quickly kneel down, dropping my satchel and basket on the ground next to me. “Let me see her.”

“You said you don’t know what the Weakness is. What can you do? You didn’t even get her draught to her this morning.” Ruth wounds me with the truth.

“You’re right. I don’t know what the Weakness is,” I admit, keeping my voice low and even, hoping she’ll match my tone and calm down. “But this isn’t it. The Weakness has only claimed the oldest among us—” so far “—making the residents of Capton pass on when a normal human would. Emma is only nineteen.” My age.

“The Weakness has her heart, her draught, she—this is because of him!” Ruth points toward the Elf King, clutching Emma to her breast. Their golden curls toss in all directions with Ruth’s jerky motions. “He did this. He killed her first. She wasn’t your queen so you killed her!”

“Ruth, stop,” I say sternly, lunging to grab her arm. It’s too late, the Elf King’s attention is on us. As though it hasn’t been from the moment the commotion started. “Emma is breathing, see?” I yank Ruth’s hand toward Emma’s mouth. She feels the slow and shallow breaths that I already saw and her face crumples with relief.

“Oh, blessed be the old gods.” Ruth rocks back and forth. “What’s wrong with her?”

“It’s likely just the excitement. Without her draught it was too much,” I say thoughtfully. I hope that’s all it is. This is why I couldn’t run away with Luke. Just one morning of breakfast with him and my parents and I have a patient on the ground, unconscious. “Lay her down, please.”

Emma’s heart is weak. It has been since we were schoolgirls. She was actually my first patient and treating her is a wash of nostalgia to this day. We would sneak off into the woods, sometimes with Luke, and sometimes not. I would make her mixtures of berries, leaves, river water, flowers, sometimes even mud, and she would take my concoctions dutifully.

Even though we were playing pretend, I always wanted to help. She always swore my potions worked, even back then.

Luckily, I never leave home without my satchel. My basket has custom-made creations—tailored to people’s individual needs. But my satchel is a staple pantry of the herbalist’s essentials and my personal notebook. I can never be certain what someone might ask me for on a whim, or what I might need at a moment’s notice.

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