Barnes & Noble
Published by: Originally published by Penguin; current edition by Nancy Werlin
Release Date: 2014, 2021
Scarborough Fair Trilogy #3
This sequel to the New York Times Bestseller Impossible is a breathtakingly original fantasy.
Fenella was the first Scarborough girl to be cursed, hundreds of years ago; and she has been trapped in the faerie realm every since, forced to watch generations of daughters try to break the elfin curse that has enslaved them. But now Fenella's descendant, Lucy, has accomplished the impossible and broken this curse, so why is Fenella still trapped in Faerie?
In her desperation, she makes a deal with the faerie queen: If she can accomplish three acts of destruction, she will be free, at last, to die. What she doesn't realize is that these acts must be aimed at her own family; and if she fails, the consequences will be dire, for all of the Scarborough girls.
How can she possibly choose to hurt her own dear family (not to mention a new beloved she never expected to meet)? And if she doesn’t, how will she possibly save them?Add on Goodreads
Also in this series:
"Irresistible ... A unique and unforgettable quest."
—Booklist, starred review.
"...weaves a twisting strand of faerie magic through the human realm, smoldering with sparks of romance and danger."
“I demand to speak to the queen!”
Panting, shouting, a redheaded human girl named Fenella Scarborough raced toward the center of the forest clearing, barely in front of the willow-tree fey chasing her. She felt the flick of a long thin branch start to twist around her waist, but she wrenched it aside before it could yank her backward. The full-moon court of the fey was assembled, with countless faeries crowding the ground and trees and air, but Fenella ignored them all. She kept her eyes fixed firmly on the tall figure of the queen as she zigged and zagged and fought toward her.
The girl’s desperation was real, but the chase was staged. The queen’s tree fey guards were helping Fenella Scarborough. They might not approve of her quest, but she had convinced them of her need to try.
Bless them, Fenella thought as she evaded another feint at capture.
She reached the queen and staggered to a stop. The queen had risen to her feet, and Fenella looked a long way up into her face, for the queen was taller than tall. But the queen’s half-mask of reptilian skin, which nestled over her forehead and around her left eye, made it hard to read her expression.
“You must hear me.” Fenella put an unconscious hand to her side, where she had a stitch from running.
The assembled court stared and pointed and chattered. The tree fey whipped restraining vines around Fenella’s waist. In a moment, they would have to drag her away.
But then it happened, just as Fenella had hoped and planned. The queen’s wings rose with interest and she held up a clawed hand. “I will hear this human girl.”
The tree fey guards loosened their bindings, though they did not remove them.
Fenella knew to wait now, until she was bidden to speak. She stood still beneath Queen Kethalia’s examining gaze. She did not let her eyes slip even once to the thick, curved knife that the queen wore in a sheath on one forearm.
Her involuntary shuddering made her glad for the support of the tree fey’s vines. Would the queen think she was afraid? Fenella jutted her chin out. She was not. Not of the new young Queen of Faerie, not of anyone, not of anything. Fear had burned out of Fenella Scarborough years ago.
“You look like a young girl,” mused Queen Kethalia at last. “But you are older.”
A discreet tug at Fenella’s waist cautioned her not to reply.
It was true that Fenella Scarborough looked young, eighteen at most. But an acute observer with knowledge of magic—and the queen was nothing if not that—would stop and look again, questioning the surface. And it would not take knowledge of magic for an observer to notice the firm tilt of Fenella’s chin, the thrust of her strong nose, and the character hinted at by her wide, mobile mouth. There was none of the uncertainty of youth.
“Also,” continued the queen thoughtfully, “someone, sometime, has put a foot on your neck, and kept it there.”
“Never again!” Fenella snapped. The willow fey warned her with another tug, and immediately, she compressed her mouth.
Now there was not a muscle of her body that she wasn’t holding tautly. But it was even more disconcerting than she had expected, to be under the gaze of the young queen. She knew exactly what she was doing here, but she had not anticipated feeling so naked. She had not known, really, what to expect from this new young queen. Her friends the tree fey had not been willing to share their thoughts beyond agreeing to help her gain an audience.
Unlike Fenella, Queen Kethalia really was only eighteen. There was a whiff of the human about Queen Kethalia too. It was not in her blood; it was culture and upbringing. The queen had recently spent several years in the human realm, in disguise as an ordinary human girl. The queen had had a human foster mother, and had attended human school, and—worst of all, according to some of the fey—had had a human best friend whom she actually loved.
Whispers said that Queen Kethalia missed those days and she missed that friend, and it had affected her judgment.
There was no telling any of this, however, from the impassive face meeting Fenella’s gaze now. “Speak now, girl,” the queen said. Her voice, if not gentle, was calm. “What do you want?”
Fenella unclenched her hands. Her voice rang out firmly. “I want to die.”
The entire watching court leaned forward.
“What?” said the queen.
“I want to die.”
Three of the insect fey winged to the human girl and examined her with their multi-faceted eyes nearly in her face.
A human seeking death was incomprehensible to the long-lived fey. In the old days, many humans came to Faerie seeking the opposite. Plus, the entire faerie race had only just managed to claw itself away from extinction; the threat of which had been why the queen was sent to the human realm to begin with.
“Please,” Fenella added huskily.
The spotted lizard that rode the queen’s shoulder poked his head out from the glorious mass of her hair. He flicked his tongue toward Fenella, as if to taste her sincerity.
Then the queen’s partial brother, Ryland, padded up beside the throne.
Ryland was a manticore. To human eyes, he seemed a monster, with his enormous, muscled lion’s body, dragon’s tail, wings, and human head. But to faerie eyes, he looked like what he also was: royal.
Seeing him, Fenella wondered about other rumors she had heard. Would Ryland have been a better ruler than Queen Kethalia? It was said his ideas were different from his sister’s and unmarked by any fondness for humans. And yet their mother, the old queen, had at the end chosen Kethalia—firmly.
“Sister,” Ryland said formally. “I know about this girl. May I comment?”
Ryland had not been in Fenella’s plan. Panic pushed at her throat. “I don’t know him! It is my life. I will speak for myself.” The last word emerged only as a squawk, as the tree fey tightened their hold on her. A leaf even brushed her mouth in light reproof. Fenella subsided.
What was that fleeting expression on the queen’s face as she glanced from her brother to Fenella and back again? Fenella squinted at her, suddenly uncertain she had seen anything at all.
The queen nodded to her brother. “Go ahead.”
“It is an old tale. The girl was once the human slave of the Mud Creature.” Ryland put an expression of polite inquiry on his face. “Sister, you may not know the Mud Creature. Long before you were born, he made a nuisance of himself at court, posturing as noble.”
Fenella frowned. The Mud Creature?
“You are correct. I have not heard of him,” said the queen.
“Who do you mean?” Fenella blurted, despite the reproving tug of the tree fey. “Why do you call him the Mud Creature? I know him as Padraig.”
Ryland shrugged. “The Mud Creature no doubt told you his name is Padraig. It means ‘noble,’ but it is a name he chose for himself. His mother had nothing to do with it. He was never noble.”
“Another old tale?” asked the queen.
“The ordinary tale of an unwanted bastard,” said Ryland, with a dismissive swish of his tail. “Unworthy of song or poetry. But the first tale, of the Mud Creature’s kidnapping of a human girl—that has elements of interest.”
“Tell it, then,” said the queen.
Fenella clenched her fists again. It was her story to tell, not his.
Ryland lowered his lion’s body comfortably to the ground. “Some four hundred years ago, the Mud Creature kidnapped this girl—who we see before us now—and kept her here in Faerie. He took her female descendants too, one by one in turn, over the generations. They were all under a curse.”
Meeting the queen’s eyes, Fenella was at least able to nod grim confirmation.
“Yes,” said the queen. “The curse on the women of the Scarborough family is famous.”
Ryland snorted. “That’s as may be. But one does not care for the Mud Creature. He is . . . low. As evidenced by his bothering to torture a human for so long.”
“Really?” drawled the queen. “What are you saying? You disapproved of a situation you did not consider important enough to fix?”
The manticore drawled back, “What should I have done, sister? A curse is a curse. Anyway, it was not my business what the Mud Creature did or did not do.” He paused. “The queen your mother, and mine, did not intervene either.”
Some of the fey murmured agreement.
Fenella bit her lip.
The manticore rested his chin on his paws. “Its maker aside, the curse was an interesting one. And clever. To break it required three tasks of creation; three symbols braided together to describe the behavior of true love. First the creation of a seamless shirt, representing warmth. Second, the location of dry land amidst water, representing home. Finally, the sowing of corn, representing nourishment. The Mud Creature set the curse with herbs—never mind that he stole them; even back in the days of our full power, he had little strength of his own. He secured the curse with haunting, powerful music. It should have been impossible to break.”
“But it wasn’t, was it, Fenella?” The queen looked at her.
At last Fenella could speak. Of this at least she was proud. “My many-times-great-granddaughter Lucinda Scarborough broke the curse. With her true love at her side,” Fenella felt compelled to add.
“I know Lucy,” said the queen unexpectedly. “I saw her—from a distance—when I was in the human realm.”
Fenella caught her breath in surprise.
“There is little resemblance between you and Lucy.”
“Lucy is dark-haired,” said Fenella cautiously. “And athletic. And taller.” Fenella was herself deceptively fragile of build.
“I was not thinking of surface differences.” The queen paused. “Lucy carries herself with a certain confidence. It is the confidence of one who has always been loved.”
Hearing the queen’s comment should not have hurt. Fenella kept her face blank. She had once known love too. But that had been a very long time ago.
“The Mud Creature was predictably incompetent,” Ryland remarked. “Letting a snip of a human girl break his curse.”
Fenella had previously had no particular opinion about the queen’s brother. Now dislike flamed. “He was competent enough to destroy twenty girls of my family before my Lucy got the better of him.”
“Not difficult,” said Ryland equably.
Fenella’s fingers bent as if they would gouge his eyes out. She turned back to the queen.
The queen said, “The Mud Creature must have valued you a great deal, Fenella, to set such a spell on you and your family.”
“Valued?!” Fenella took an involuntary step forward, and was stopped only by the tree fey’s vines. “He wanted me the way a spoiled child wants a toy. He was obsessed. He entangled twenty innocent young girls. It was evil and senseless and wrong.” She took in a hard breath, regaining control. She made a movement with her hands to to push it all away. “But all that is over. It is not why I came here.”
“You want death,” said the queen.
“Yes.” Fenella’s entire body leaned tensely toward the queen. “When Lucy broke the curse, I was so glad. For her, for her mother, Miranda, and for her baby. But I thought my suffering would also end. I thought she had saved me too.” Suddenly she needed the support of the tree fey. “I don’t understand. Why didn’t I die?”
The queen considered Fenella once again. Finally she nodded. “I see why. There is a net of vitality around you. It seems the Mud Creature cast another spell, separate from the curse on your family. This gave you inhumanly long life and health.
“Yet you are not immortal, Fenella. Eventually, you will die of old age, like all creatures.”
“When?” Fenella demanded.
“In a few hundred more years.”
Dismay rocked Fenella back on her heels.
At the queen’s side, Ryland’s teeth gleamed canine. “Unless of course the humans destroy the entire world before that. That would take you down early, Fenella Scarborough, along with everyone and everything else. Including us. Feel free to desire that.”
Fenella recovered enough to throw him a look. “Believe me, I do.”
The watching fey had been fairly quiet to this moment, murmuring only occasionally as they listened. But now one of the rabbit fey screamed, and a disturbing rattle arose from several other quarters as well.
Queen Kethalia’s brow quirked. Or possibly it was a frown. Again she looked from Fenella to her brother and then back again. “Fenella, you are rash. You know little of the fey and our place in the world, or of the intertwining of the human and the fey and the earth.”
Fenella’s jaw hardened. “What I know is that I want death. I want peace. It is the proper end for all living creatures and I have earned it.”
“Oh, look. She feels entitled,” jibed Ryland.
Fenella managed to snap her mouth shut on more words, and cast an I’m-in-control glance toward her friends the tree fey.
The queen straightened to full height. Her hawk wings flared behind her and her hair rippled down in its thousand shades and textures, green and brown and orange, moss and fur and leaf and feather. Her cobweb skirts swirled around her as if they were alive. The spotted lizard who rode her shoulder again sent out his tongue. A tiny insect fairy swerved just in time, and landed on the bough of a nearby tree fey.
“Fenella, most humans would do anything for more time on this earth,” said the queen. “You can build a life for yourself here in Faerie. Or if you wish, you could even visit the human realm. In recompense for your suffering, which I do acknowledge, I would allow you this.” Her voice gentled. “You could visit Lucy. She has a family, yes? They are your family too.”
Fenella’s head moved in a gesture that was neither a nod nor a shake.
“Also,” said the queen encouragingly, “there is a new small daughter belonging to Lucy, isn’t there? A sweet child who will never be cursed. A little girl you could hold and love.”
Fenella clutched her arms tightly around herself. “No!”
“I have considered! I have spent the last four hundred years helpless while every girl in my family suffered. They blamed me for their fate, along with blaming Padraig. I caused the curse, and then I failed to break it, and then I failed to protect any of them. I failed!”
Fenella sank to her knees and raised her head on a rigid neck. “I have already tried to die in every way I know. Poisoning and drowning. Fire and blade. Hanging and leaping. Nothing worked. Show me mercy. Undo this life-spell that Padraig cast. Let me die. It is long, long past my time.”
One of the elk fey whispered to a rabbit, and the mossy rock face of a stone fey glowed phosphorescent in the moonlight.
“I beg you,” said Fenella.
The night wind moved through the leaves of the tree fey.
The queen wore an inward expression.
Ryland pointed his tail in Fenella’s direction. “She is determined. If I were you, sister, I would help her. Why not?”
The queen retorted, “Because it is my job to husband the earth’s powers, not to squander them recklessly. Her death will occur in its own time, as I have said. It might well be that she still has purpose here on this earth, though she knows it not.”
“Or could it be”—the queen’s brother paused suggestively—“that you have not the power to help her?”
Fenella glanced up as Queen Kethalia met Ryland’s mocking eyes. Only when the queen had stared her brother down did she look away, out at her people.
The bird fey cocked their heads. The insect faeries angled their antennae. One of the rock fey rumbled low, and a spider replied with the almost inaudible flex of her eight legs against the rock. Far away, among the large mammals at the edge of the clearing, the huge pronged antlers of the huntsman could be glimpsed.
The queen said, to all of them, “Undoing a spell cast four hundred years ago is no easy task. We fey are not now what we once were.”
“Consider it a test, sister,” drawled Ryland. “Your test.”
Feathers and skin and feet were still. Thousands of eyes and antennae and ears and receptors awaited the queen’s answer.
The queen did not seem intimidated. She took her time looking at her brother.
“Come here,” Queen Kethalia said finally to Fenella. “Let me touch you. I will discover what is required to undo the spell.” She paused and then added dryly, “I advise you not to have much hope. The spell seems . . . tangled.”
“Hope is all I do have,” said Fenella. Her pulse was pounding, pounding in her throat. She had not told the tree fey of this part of her plan. She rose from her knees. She took one firm, quick step forward, and then a second.
The queen was an inch away.
Desperately Fenella lunged. She fell against the queen and grabbed the hilt of the queen’s ceremonial knife. For a split second, the knife’s jagged blade gleamed in a shaft of moonlight.
In the next second Fenella plunged the blade viciously into her own body.