If I had come to the Sunne Palace for the sole purpose of assassinating Princess Elaine—God only knows what my motive was supposed to be—then I sure as hell could have done it without having to resort to using a bomb. I could have just used the Erlking’s brooch to make me invisible, followed the princess around until I was sure she was alone, and then killed her with a Fae weapon. If I’d done that, there would have been no evidence pointing to me as the culprit, and no one would have had any reason to suspect me. What kind of moron would I have be to use a bomb, something that—at least in theory—only I could have been responsible for?

I stumbled to a stop as I tried to find flaws in my argument. But no matter how I sliced it, as long as I had the Erlking’s brooch, there were about a million easier ways for me to assassinate someone than to set a freaking bomb. And that, I realized, was my defense.

The realization gave me a taste of hope, and that hope gave me a rush of energy. My pace picked up, and my body felt less achy and awful. Maybe it was possible for me to prove my innocence. Based on my dad’s reaction on the night of the bombing, I didn’t think I would get anything like a fair trial if I turned myself in, and without a fair trial, I might never be able to present my side of the argument. But thanks to the brooch, I could march right through the doors of the palace and grant myself an audience with the Queen. And thanks to the gun my dad had given me, I could be sure she’d listen—and see how much more easily I could have killed Elaine if I actually wanted to.

The plan felt almost surreal, like something out of a cheesy action movie. Who was I, a sixteen-year-old half-blood girl, to storm the Faerie Queen’s palace and threaten her with a gun? But if I didn’t prove my innocence, my father and my friends might very well die. If the Queen hadn’t killed my father already, but I tried to shut that thought out.

Crazy as my plan sounded, I had to try it. Besides, it sounded better than my previous plan, which was to somehow use the brooch to help free my father and my friends, and then somehow get us the hell out of Dodge. I wasn’t any closer to figuring out either of those “somehows” now than I had been when I’d first turned back toward the palace. So Plan B it was.

*   *   *

For a while, knowing I had a plan gave me a burst of energy, but it could only last so long. I stole food and water a second time, but even after I’d eaten my fill, my legs were quivering with exhaustion, and I realized that if I didn’t stop and rest, I was going to run myself into the ground. Reluctantly, I left the road and slipped back into the woods, looking for a place where I could hide while I rested.

I was too tired to be picky, and I ended up curled up between a couple of gnarled tree roots way too close to the road for comfort. I considered letting my watch keep waking me up every twenty-seven minutes so I could stay invisible, but I decided I needed the rest too desperately. Holding the gun in my hand and using my backpack for a pillow, I closed my eyes and was instantly sucked down into sleep.

*   *   *

When I awoke, it was pitch-dark out. My body yearned for more sleep, and it took a massive effort of will to force my eyes open and push myself into a sitting position. I didn’t seem to have moved a muscle the whole time I was asleep, and I was so stiff and sore I felt like my bones would break if I moved too fast.

A glance at my watch told me it was ten o’clock at night. I’d slept almost seven hours! And I desperately wanted to sleep for about seven more, but I didn’t know how much time my friends had. The sooner I reached the palace and proved my innocence, the sooner they could be set free, and the less chance they’d get hurt.

I picked my way carefully through the darkened woods. We’d been on the run for about forty-eight hours before the search party had caught us, but we’d been fighting our way through the woods, and I was sure I’d make faster progress on the road. I guesstimated that I’d make it to the Sunne Palace sometime tomorrow afternoon, if I kept pushing myself relentlessly.

I pricked myself with the brooch as soon as I caught sight of the road, then resumed my slow, plodding pace of this afternoon. I hoped it was a pace I could keep up indefinitely. I wanted to make it to the palace before I had to stop to rest again, because my gut told me I was running out of time.

I walked in a trancelike daze until my watch reminded me it was time to prick myself again. I was beginning to feel like a pincushion, and was heartily sick of poking myself with the damn pin.

I’d been staring blindly at my feet as I walked, but when I stopped to fish the brooch out of my pocket, I raised my head. And froze with the tips of my fingers just touching the edge of the brooch.

In my daze, I hadn’t even noticed when I’d left the wild forest behind and crossed into the almost-town near the palace. I must have passed by the side road leading to the standing stones without even seeing it. For all our seemingly endless wandering, and for all the help the Green Lady had given us, apparently we’d gotten less than a day’s easy travel from the palace. Probably the only reason we hadn’t been caught sooner was that the searchers thought we would be more competent and be farther away.

I shook off my chagrin and once more poked myself with the pin. Maybe it was a bit embarrassing to see how sucky a job we’d done at running away, but it certainly wasn’t a bad thing that I’d be able to reach the palace tonight instead of tomorrow. I wanted this whole hellish ordeal over with.

A little more than an hour later, I was walking through the gates of the palace, the hairs on the back of my neck lifting as I passed between a pair of grim-looking sentries. All well and good to say I wanted this over with, but I was scared to death of what would happen when I confronted the Queen. I found my argument about why I couldn’t be the mad bomber very convincing, but how could I know if she would find it convincing? Especially when it was her own son who was really responsible. I wondered if maybe I should leave that part out. What I had to do was prove I wasn’t to blame, not point the finger at the guilty party. I sure as hell didn’t want Henry to get away with it, but if that was the best way to get my friends and my father released, then that was what I’d do.