“Whatever,” I mumbled with a shake of my head. Maybe he’d set me up, or maybe he hadn’t. In the end, it didn’t much matter.
I wrenched my gaze away from the Erlking and faced Titania instead. “You realize that if I am a member of the Seelie Court, I can’t warn Elizabeth about him.”
“Don’t forget that Connor is still a member of my Hunt,” the Erlking reminded me.
I flinched, because I had kinda forgotten about Connor. When I’d first learned the Erlking’s secret, he’d promised me that if I told anyone, he’d make Connor pay for it. I couldn’t say I actually knew my brother, so maybe I was protecting someone who didn’t deserve protecting. But Connor was Fae, and therefore immortal, and the suffering the Erlking could inflict on him if he wished to …
“It will be my responsibility to protect my granddaughter,” Titania said. “She is not the only girlchild I have had to keep from Arawn’s influence.”
Something about her tone of voice chilled me, though I couldn’t say just what. But I knew the most foolproof way to protect Elizabeth from Arawn without actually telling her the truth was to make sure she didn’t stay a virgin very long.
Was Titania that cold? That ruthless? I wished like hell my dad were here so I could ask him. I was in way, way over my head. I’d thought I’d had some clue about what Fae politics and intrigue were like, but it was worse even than I’d imagined. Maybe saving Elizabeth from Henry’s clutches wasn’t going to turn out to be such a good thing after all.
“Come now,” Titania said. “You are a natural child of the Seelie Court. It is only fitting that you take your proper place. Swear allegiance, and we can put all of this unpleasantness behind us.”
It was a no-brainer, right? Join the Seelie Court and live, or refuse to join and die. But if there was one thing I’d learned through hard experience, it was that nothing about the Fae was simple.
“I want to talk to my dad before I decide,” I said.
“You already know what your father would advise,” Titania said. There was an edge of impatience in her voice. She probably wasn’t used to people not doing exactly what she told them to, when she told them to do it.
My dad would tell me I had no choice. But then my dad had also believed I had no choice but to give up on Ethan once the Erlking had captured him. I didn’t like the deal I’d made with the Erlking, but the fact remained that if I had it to do over again, I’d do the same thing. I could never have let Ethan be enslaved to the Wild Hunt, not when I could save him.
My instincts—or over-the-top paranoia, take your pick—were telling me that if I agreed to the Faerie Queen’s deal, I’d be as much a slave as Ethan had been. I wanted to live, but not like that. Maybe I was being stubborn, or immature, or just basically stupid, but I’d walked into one trap too many, and I wasn’t willing to walk into another.
When Henry had been coming for me, the magic had come to my call faster than ever before. I’d had the element of surprise on my side, but then I figured I’d probably have it now, too. Titania was too sure of herself to think I’d put up more than a token resistance. I was just a scared kid, after all. But I was a scared kid who was sick to death of being manipulated and pushed around. I might be in a room with two of the most powerful people in Faerie, but thanks to my unusual magic, I was one of the most powerful people in Faerie, too. And it was time to prove it.
I rubbed my lips with my thumb, pretending I was thinking it over while I hummed so quietly the sound was no more than a faint vibration in my throat.
The magic had no trouble hearing me, and suddenly the room prickled with its energy. Titania gasped and leapt to her feet, though Arawn only raised his eyebrows. He’d said once that my spell might not work against him because he wasn’t Sidhe, so maybe he wasn’t all that worried. Then again, the Bogles hadn’t been Sidhe, either.
“I’m not planning to cast anything,” I told Titania, then hummed again to make sure the magic didn’t lose interest. “Just reminding you that I can. I don’t want to join the Seelie Court. I just want to go home and be a normal teenager.” Hah! Like that was ever going to happen!
I hummed a little more. “If you’re worried about how dangerous I am because of my magic, then I’ll let you put a geis on me not to use it except in self-defense. Like the deal Arawn has with the government of Avalon about not attacking its citizens.”
Titania was practically trembling with fury, and if she hadn’t been an out-and-out enemy before, she sure as hell was now.
“I’m not threatening you,” I said. “I called magic because I was afraid to say no to you without some way to defend myself when you’ve made it clear you’re going to kill me if I don’t agree.”
That wasn’t entirely true. Yes, having the magic primed and at the ready might discourage anyone from trying to kill me, but my decision to call it had been based more on anger than fear. But Titania didn’t have to know that.
My words didn’t seem to appease her much. In fact, I could have sworn her eyes were going to start glowing red any moment.
“Titania, my dear,” the Erlking drawled. “I suggest you refrain from doing anything rash. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Dana over the course of our acquaintance, it’s that she will defend those she cares about with single-minded ferocity. Harming her father or her friends would be … inadvisable.”