From beside me, Queen Mab took a deep breath. And then another. And another.

"T-t-the boy. Ash. He's completed his quest – he can step into the Iron Realms now. He's… alive." The fey boy – a young one – quivered as he delivered the news, then stumbled backwards, melting into the safety and anonymity that standing with a huge group of scared friends provided him.

Queen Mab's eyes flashed, her onyx fingernails gripping the arms of the throne tighter as she struggled to keep her composure under control. "Thank you." She nodded, and they all tripped over themselves in their haste to reach the door, and the safety – greater safety – beyond that. Well, at least they wouldn't have to fear for their lives every second. Probably just every minute.

"Miza." Queen Mab's voice was soft; haunting.

"Your majesty?" I twined my fingers into the fabrics of my skirt, sinking low into a curtsey before my mother.

There was a pause, and it seemed as if everyone in the throne room had drawn a breath and was holding it. Even I drew a breath – a breath of the frigid air – and mentally cursed at my brother's stupidity for going such lengths for such an impossible love. My brother, Ash, a winter knight and future king of the Unseelie Court threw it all away from a half-fey girl… a girl of the Seelie Court. Not to mention he had to ally himself with Goodfellow. Oh, and he could've gotten killed in at least five hundred situations along the way. Not that he minded. No, not when all the things he was doing was in the name of luuuuuuuuuuurve.

"Miza." I raised my gaze to meet Queen Mab's. Her normally unreadable eyes trembled a little, the corners crinkling slightly. And they shimmered with unseen wetness. Unshed tears. "I can't get him back – ever. He's too stubborn." Her nose scrunched up a little, and her fingers dug deeper into the throne as if it pained for her to admit it. Maybe it did. "But the least I can do is cover up his tracks, and trim the loose ends." Her face smoothed back into its unreadable mask.

"Of course." Not. My dear brother was capable of doing that himself, wasn't he? After all, he was supposed to be the most skilled fighter the Unseelie has ever seen. Supposedly. But her next words were shocking – almost like punches to the gut, but not quite.

"Find Goodfellow. My son apparently killed a few too many – there's a fey problem down in the no-fey's territory in Tir Na Nog that needs clearing up. I made an agreement with Oberon to send our best down to aid his best. Oberon was a fool to send Goodfellow down, but I'm upholding my word – you're to go down and aid him in trimming away the loose threads." She sniffed, showing her obvious displeasure in either the agreement, or in Oberon's choosing of Goodfellow. Probably both.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The words echoed in my head, spilling out of my ears and dragging themselves across my skin. I shivered – a reaction that had nothing to do with the ever-present chill in the Unseelie Court – and dropped into a curtsey. "Of course."

She nodded – clearly dismissing me – and motioned to a young fey servant by the door. "Thalina will aid you with your preparations. She'll fetch anything you need – anything you'd like. You'll be leaving soon. Tonight?"

I nodded.

"Miza?"

"Your highness?" I had begun making my way towards the door, but stopped and turned around.

She had one of her rare smiles on her face, the uplifting of the corners of her mouth brightening her face and eyes and, for the second that the smile lasted, she looked centuries of years younger, and breathtakingly beautiful.

"Come home safely."

I smiled back at her cautiously. "Always."