It didn’t help that the palace looked like the Bastille, the Tower of London, and Alcatraz all rolled into one from the outside. I’d thought the place looked intimidating when I was coming as a guest, but it was about three times worse now.
Ready to do whatever it took, I snuck into the palace and began searching for the Queen.
* * *
There was one problem with my grand plan. Well, more than one, really, but one that slapped me upside the head within about ten minutes of beginning my search.
I had never met Titania, and I had no idea what she looked like, except that she probably bore some resemblance to both Henry and Elaine. That wasn’t a whole lot to go on, and there were tons of people in the palace. Some of them were obviously Knights and servants, but there were plenty of others who could be guests or family or the Faerie Queen herself.
All of the women were ridiculously beautiful, because that came with being Fae. And all wore gowns that made them look like actresses in a costume drama. Some gowns were showier than others, and some women wore more jewels, but I didn’t spot anyone wearing a crown or carrying a scepter or doing anything else particularly queenly. My stomach did a flip-flop when it occurred to me that Titania might not even be in residence. Maybe she decided to leave the palace after the bombing, fearing for her safety.
But no, if the Queen weren’t around here somewhere, I doubted there would be so much activity in the palace, especially not at this time of night. Maybe that was another dose of wishful thinking, but I clung to it for all I was worth, because it was my only hope.
One bright spot in my nerve-racking search was that I found Princess Elaine, alive and relatively well. There was an angry red scar on her face, and a haunted expression in her eyes, but I let out a breath of relief to discover the bomb hadn’t killed her.
My relief dampened a bit when I realized that though she was in a room with about ten other glittering gems of Sidhe society, she was sitting alone on the edge of a chaise, and no one was looking at her, much less talking to her. Almost like she was as invisible as I was. I bit my lip as I approached her and looked at the scar. There must have been some pure iron in the bomb, because that was the only thing I knew of that could permanently scar a Sidhe’s skin when there was a healer available. She should have been either dead or good as new, and I suspected from her obvious misery that she’d have preferred one or the other.
Seeing the princess made me hate Henry just that much more. He hadn’t cared what happened to her or any of the other innocent bystanders in the room, just as long as he could destroy the Faeriewalker who wasn’t under his thumb.
Finding the princess was a pleasant surprise, despite her condition. I had a much less pleasant surprise when I rounded a corner and almost bumped into Connor. He and another of the silent Huntsmen were walking briskly down the hall, apparently on some errand or another.
Neither my brother nor the other Huntsman saw me, and they probably wouldn’t have felt me even if I really had collided with them, but dread settled in my stomach at the sight of them. If the Huntsmen were in the palace, that meant the Erlking was, too. And he’d told me when he’d given me the brooch that, while it would work on his Huntsmen, it would not work on him. Which meant if he and I crossed paths, I was toast.
* * *
I thought my nerves were driving me crazy before I found out the Erlking was in the palace. Now, I jumped at every sound, my heart pounding in my throat as I wondered if I’d made the biggest mistake of my life coming here.
It was too late now. I was here, and I wasn’t leaving until I tracked down Titania and gave her my side of the argument. Or until the Erlking found me and I became the only female member of the Wild Hunt.
I’d been searching the palace for what felt like twelve hours, though my watch insisted it was less than one, when I found a hidden wing. I wish I could say I’d cleverly deduced that the palace wasn’t the same size on the inside as the out, but really I just got lucky. (Imagine that!)
While I was walking down a corridor I was ninety-nine percent sure I’d walked down at least twice before, I saw a Knight walk through a wall at the very end of the hall. Even my long rest this afternoon hadn’t been enough to cure my exhaustion, and I wondered if I was now seeing things. I figured I’d better go check it out. After all, I was invisible, so no one would see me make an idiot of myself trying to walk through a stone wall.
I approached the wall cautiously, trying to sense any magic that might linger around it and reveal an illusion spell, but I supposed an illusion spell that left a magical signature would be pretty useless in Faerie. I didn’t sense any magic around the wall, but when I reached out to touch it, my fingers passed through. Cool! Titania had to be back here somewhere, because I could swear I’d searched every other square inch of the palace. (This assuming she hadn’t been one of the hundreds of unidentified women I’d seen in my wanderings. It was always possible she wasn’t as pompous as Henry and didn’t parade around in clothing that set her apart.) But this wing was hidden for some reason, and security seemed as good a reason as any.
Taking a deep breath, hoping the hidden doorway wasn’t booby-trapped, I closed my eyes and stepped through the wall.
Despite my fingers having gone through, I couldn’t help tensing up as though I was about to walk into something solid. I held my breath, then let it out slowly when I finished my step and hadn’t smacked into anything. I opened my eyes, and my heart leapt with hope.