I blinked at him in surprise. Just when I thought I had him all figured out, he’d go and surprise me like this. He was talking about my mortality spell, and instead of blurting it out and revealing my secret to the Queen, he was taking pains to keep it between us. I was sure it was for his own benefit somehow, rather than for mine, but I was grateful anyway. I also knew that once again, he was right. So I flicked the safety back on and forced my cramped fingers to release their stranglehold on the gun. Then I handed the gun to Arawn butt-first, and I was left with no defenses save the one I doubted I’d be willing to use.

Chapter twenty-one

As soon as the gun left my hand, I braced myself for an attack, feeling naked and helpless without it. Titania looked at me like I was a cockroach she wanted to stomp, but she didn’t try to call magic and she didn’t give the Erlking permission to take me. Either she was being honorable, or I had awakened a kernel of doubt in her with my accusations. I didn’t much care which.

“Show me your proof,” she commanded.

“First, we have to figure out how far away from a mortal object I have to be before it goes poof.”

Titania’s brows drew together ever so slightly, and I realized she might not be familiar with the mortal version of modern English.

“Before it disappears,” I clarified.

“This resembles more an escape plan than proof of my son’s guilt,” she said.

I rolled my eyes at her. “Yeah, because I came bursting into your bedroom in an attempt to escape. If I wanted to escape, I wouldn’t be here.” I could tell she didn’t appreciate my sarcasm, but I didn’t have it in me to apologize. Maybe this wasn’t an appropriate way to speak to the Queen of the Seelie Court, but I’d been through too much to stress about etiquette.

“There are about ten thousand Knights and a couple of trolls outside your door,” I continued, since she didn’t look convinced by my reasonable argument, “and you’re worried I’m going to try to escape from under their noses?”

“They did not stop you from entering.”

Arawn held out his hand again. “Give me the brooch. If you don’t have that, I think we can all feel secure that you will not try to escape.”

I wanted to hand over the brooch even less than I’d wanted to hand over the gun, but it wasn’t like I had a lot of options. If Titania decided she didn’t want to hear what I had to say, she could condemn me in a heartbeat and there’d be nothing I could do to prevent it.

To my shame, my hand was shaking when I laid the brooch in Arawn’s palm. One by one, Titania was stripping away my defenses, and I was letting her. But what choice did I have?

“I believe you are telling the truth,” Arawn said as he took the brooch. “As long as you are telling the truth, you have nothing to fear.”

I met his gaze for a moment, surprised by this hint of humanity. He was a stone-cold killer, a skilled manipulator, and if not exactly a liar, then at least a deceiver. But he was the closest thing I had to a friend right now, and wasn’t that a sorry state of affairs?

I looked away quickly and started unfastening my watch. “So, um, I’m going to put this on the far side of the room.” I held up the watch for Titania to see. “Then I’m going to back away until whatever happens to mortal stuff when there’s no Faeriewalker around happens.”

I waited for Titania’s approval before moving, because I suspected she had an itchy magical trigger finger. She pursed her lips like she wasn’t happy with this idea, but nodded curtly.

“Proceed.”

There was no furniture in the room except for the huge bed, and like in the hallway, there was a carpet of white rose petals. They looked for all the world like they were loose, fresh from the flower and scattered willy-nilly. And yet when I stepped, they didn’t move, nor did they look crushed. Maybe they were just a pretty illusion, although considering the rose-scented air, I thought they were probably real.

Titania shadowed my movements, and I felt her eyes on me. The sensation made me shiver, and my skin prickled with goose bumps. Not the magic-induced kind, but the creeped-out kind. I set the watch carefully on the floor, then began backing away.

I started to sweat when I was about halfway across the room. The watch was still there, and I couldn’t help worrying that something was going to go wrong. I knew I had to be “close” for my Faeriewalker magic to work, but I had no idea just how close “close” was. I suspected Titania wouldn’t have much patience with me, and I stared at my watch, willing it to hurry up and disappear.

When my back bumped up against the door to the room, I felt sure that Titania would declare my time was up. The watch was still there, a brown, faux-croco stripe in the rose-petal carpet.

“I guess I have to go outside the room,” I said, wishing my voice didn’t sound so tentative.

“Arawn will accompany you,” Titania replied, not looking away from the watch.

Like she needed more security than she already had. Though come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind having Arawn nearby if I had to walk past those trolls. He, at least, was the devil I knew.

He opened the door for me, then stepped out and said something I couldn’t hear to the Knights and trolls on guard. I hoped it was something like “Don’t attack the girl who’s about to come out the door.”

Taking a deep breath for courage, I backed over the threshold. The guards had to be surprised to see me, considering they hadn’t seen me go in, but a quick glance to each side showed me they were paying no attention to me, no doubt thanks to Arawn’s warning.