Wicked as She Wants

Page 59

When the last of the crowd had dispersed, I turned to wrap my arms around Casper’s neck. My limbs were heavy with exhaustion, my dress splattered with blud and torn by Keen’s frantic fingernails, but he didn’t flinch from the gore. The airship bobbed high above us, brushing the highest boughs of the trees and dusting our heads with snow. I could hear the pirates celebrating up there, drinking their grog mixed with blood and singing “Aztarte Smiles on Bloodshed.” We were as alone as we had been since the carriage.

“How did you do it?” I asked him as his fingers stroked my fallen hair.

“Do what?”

“Play a song you’d never heard before, a secret song, as if you had written it? How did you play it so well that the snow is still falling?”

He chuckled into my neck, his entire body shaking with laughter. “I was scared at first. But when I saw the first notes, I knew. It’s the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. It’s one of the most well-known songs ever written in my world. I learned it before I was ten.” He couldn’t stop giggling, but I didn’t have enough breath to join in. “Of all the music Sang has never seen, I can’t believe that song’s the Bludmen’s great secret.”

I smiled weakly and sighed, glad that Aztarte, or fortune, was on our side. Casper pulled me closer, and over his shoulder, I watched Keen pillaging the dessert table, delighting in her first taste of bloodsweets as she tried to fill the emptiness from repeated draining, a feeling I knew all too well.

“She’s a tenacious creature, that one,” I said.

“You’re one to talk.”

“Bah. All in a day’s work for the Tsarina. I’m nearly invulnerable.”

“I never felt that way until you came along. Walt Whitman once said that those who love each other shall become invincible. I understand it now.”

“Did he say anything about sleep?”

He thought for a moment, one arm idly stroking my back. “He said that making the best person involves open air and good food and sleeping with the earth.”

I grinned and stood on shaky feet, holding out a hand to pull him up beside me. “Forget the earth. I’ve got an enormous bed, over there in that palace. Let me introduce you.”


Some days later, I woke to the sound of the harpsichord. With my ermine robe dragging on the carpet behind me, I padded down the stairs to the parlor. The scene before me was like a dream. All of the people I had fought for at the Sugar Snow Ball were there, together, breakfasting in the golden-warm morning of the Ice Palace.

Casper sat curled over the keyboard in breeches and open shirt, playing some strange song from his world, a mirror of the first time I met him. Keen lounged on the floor before the fire, taunting a brood of wolfhound puppies with her clockwork tortoise as my brother excitedly tried to explain the dogs’ lineage. Ravenna’s magic was hard to break, which meant that Alex’s ailment was all but cured, yet he still mourned the woman he had believed to be his fiancée. Casper had already written to Criminy Stain, requesting his aid in separating the spells so that Alex could live a normal life but give up Ravenna’s ghost.

As for Keen, she had taken to the bludding better than expected. I had called her tenacious, but it was more than that. She had a fierce will to live and survive against all odds, and even she seemed to recognize that she had little right to complain. Her life in the other world had been a hard one, and her life in London had been harder, and now she was nearly invulnerable and living in the biggest castle on the continent, with all the food, free time, and bludponies she’d ever wanted. She hadn’t shown me any gratitude for saving her life, but I didn’t expect her to. I’d said often enough myself that princesses didn’t say thank you, and she was officially Olgha II of Freesia, as much as she hated the name. She would have several years of freedom before her responsibilities actually became an impediment, but I dreaded the day of her majority, when I would have to force her into a dress and a crown to sit for her portrait. For now, it was enough that she was alive and smiling.

I curled up in my favorite chaise by the window, and a servant placed a steaming cup of blud tea in my hand, the porcelain painted with tiny violets.

“Not playing about Jude today?” I called to Casper, and he grinned and ended the song with a little trill. I watched him walk to my chaise, the very picture of a Bludman, confident and beautiful and sure. He moved my feet aside and sat.

“That one’s called ‘And I Love Her,’ ” he said. “By the same band but a little less mournful.”

“You’ve come to terms with your miserable little life, then?”

He glanced around the grandest parlor in the northern hemisphere. “The world is before me. Although I’ll always regret not taking one more swim in the sea.”

“The sea. How revolting.” I sipped my blood-tinged tea.

He took my bare feet into his lap, tracing my ankles in a way that made shivers run up my legs. “Is there anything you regret, Ahna?”

“Mmm,” I murmured. “I regret not getting to rip out Ravenna’s throat. She died horribly, but I had so looked forward to that part.”

“You used to want my head on a pike,” he offered.

“Mine, too!” Keen called.

I chuckled. “That was before you proved yourselves useful.”

“I’m still not useful,” Keen hollered, and I smiled indulgently. I wasn’t about to tell her how useful a princess could be.

“So what now?” Casper asked.

I raised my hands. “For you? This. Just this.”

“Sitting around, sipping blood? Doing nothing? That doesn’t sound like the Ahna I know.”

I sighed. “Let’s see. We need to hammer out a new peace accord with the king of Sveden, and we’ll start by sending him some decapitated dandy heads. We need to send thanks to Reve and an assassin to Mr. Sweeting. My sister’s head needs a proper burial on Freesian soil. We must find a way to shift the balance between Bludmen and Pinkies so that Pinkies are servants instead of slaves. I need to call Verusha back to the palace, since no one can do my hair quite like she can. I need to send a bag of silvers to Miss May to pay for the parachutes and the glass tank I broke on the Maybuck. I need to rewrite the laws regarding tsarinas marrying musicians.” I looked to the wolfhounds by the fire. “And I think we need to start importing cats.”

“And what shall I do?” He held out his hand, which had darkened properly, and I took it in mine.

“Your first act as court composer is to write a song for me. About our adventures. A ballad.”

He chuckled and looked down. “A song of ourselves?”

“Exactly that.”

“And then I’m going to write a book. It’s going to be called Blades of Grass.”

I leaned over to kiss him. “What will it be about?”

“Loss. Redemption. Rebirth. Living many lives. Love. Death. Art. Beasts. About how fortunes come true in the strangest ways and not knowing what you need until it finds you. I finally realized why it doesn’t exist here.”

“Because you haven’t written it yet?”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking, my Tsarina. Do you approve?”

I gave him a benign, queenly smile. “Do anything you wish, Maestro, but let it produce joy.”

With a hasty glance at Keen and Alex, he yanked me onto his lap and stood, carrying me like a child. Pulling me close and ignoring their mortified stares, his breath hot on my ear, he whispered, “I’ll tell you what I wish to do, and I assure you it will produce more than joy.” I struggled to squirm out of his grasp, but he held me tight and set his teeth gently in the curve of my ear.

I shrieked as he carried me upstairs, glad to know I couldn’t escape him, gladder still to know I didn’t wish to do so. It was good being the one who made the rules.

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Spring 2014

“Criminy’s going to kill us.”

I rolled my eyes at Cherie and leaned my head against the worn cushion of the jouncing carriage, which was moving across Franchia at a fast clip, spiriting us from Ruin to Paris. My best friend sounded way too much like my conscience. I was fairly certain she would nag me to death long before our ex-boss discovered that we had escaped from our chaperone and taken off on our own. My idea, of course.

“He’s got to find us before he can kill us. Paris is a big city, mon petit chouchou.” I elbowed her in the ribs.

“What’s that supposed to mean, Demi?” She elbowed me right back.

“It means I called you a cabbage. It’s a French—I mean, Franchian—term of endearment. And did you know you have seriously pointy elbows?”

“I just don’t think it’s right, running out on Mademoiselle Caprice and taking all her coppers. Criminy’s going to kill her, too, for being a bad chaperone. What was so horrible about going to the University of Ruin, anyway?”

We hit a pothole, and my head was knocked against the wood, loosening a long dark brown curl to dangle in my eyes. I sat up straighter and sighed. “I wanted an adventure. I didn’t want to be a boring contortionist in the boring caravan anymore, and I didn’t want to go back to college, either.”

“Back to college?”

I put my head on her shoulder, my mouth to her ear behind a curled glove. The other passengers didn’t know we were Bludmen or that I was a Stranger from another world called Earth. We would be in serious trouble if they found out we were bloodsuckers—not the nice, normal, Pinky girls we appeared to be. “I guess I never told you. I was at university when I . . . when I ended up in Sang. When Criminy found me and saved me. Bludded me. I was a student, in my world. I hated it.”


I scowled behind my hand, but her confusion was genuine.

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