Read All That Burns Online

Authors: Ryan Graudin

All That Burns

BOOK: All That Burns
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For Steve, who burned bright even at his weakest.


We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”




































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About the Author

Books by Ryan Graudin



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nce upon a time, there was a king who fell in love with a Faery. He gave her his heart and she gave him her immortality. Together they built a kingdom—of stone and magic and legend—and they lived happily there.

But their happiness did not last forever. Nothing does, after all.

In the shadows I watched and waited.

The Faery’s heart slipped away to another.

The king’s kingdom burned.


xcellent.” The Princess of Wales stands in front of me, tapping a manicured nail to her lips. “Are you nervous?”

“Should I be?” I glance down at the dress Helene has spent the past two hours crafting with adjustment spells under Princess Anabelle’s minute instructions. Nude gauze fabric melds perfectly to the tone of my skin, flowing like water down to the floor. The entire length of the dress is embroidered with flowers: twists and blooms of rainbow colors.

Helene, the Fae on Guard duty, is looking at the dress too. She can’t help but smile at her handiwork.

“This is your first gala!” Anabelle’s eyes roll as she states the obvious. “Your social debut! Your time to shine. Impress the press.”

Technically it’s not my first gala. It’s not even my tenth. The party I’m attending with King Richard tonight is just one out of hundreds I’ve gone to during my centuries as a Frithemaeg: a Faery Guard sworn to
protect members of the royal family.

But the princess is right. This is my debut. The first party I’ll go to on Richard’s arm. A party where every eye in the room will be focused on me. Where people will look in my direction and finally see. I’ve been invisible for so long, being hidden and not noticed, that having heads turn my way—even when I’m simply browsing the supermarket—makes my heart pulse like a war drum.

But I’ve suffered more than a few awkward stares. Much more. Helene knows this. She was there when King Edward was assassinated and Richard was forced to accede his throne at only eighteen. She stood next to me and the other Faery Guard at the walls of Windsor when an army of soul feeders battered us, when we spent all of our magic keeping them at bay.

The princess knows this too. She was there the night Mab—the Faery queen—betrayed us and tried to harvest the royals’ dormant blood magic from their veins, powers they inherited from King Arthur himself. The night Richard was gutted with Mab’s sword and I thought my heart had died. Anabelle knows what it cost, everything I gave up for the sake of being with her brother.

“The only thing I’m afraid of is twisting my ankle off
in these contraptions.” I point at the solid green stilettos on my feet.

“They’re called heels,” Anabelle laughs. “And they’re fashionable.”

“More like torture devices.” I test my wobbling balance on the four-inch spikes. “How do you walk in these things?”

“It just takes a bit of practice. Here—” Richard’s sister takes a few steps back, steadier than a mountain goat in her own towering shoes. “Try walking to me!”

I stick my hands out for balance and walk toward the Music Room’s five arched windows. One step. Two. The hem of my dress catches and I stumble forward. Some of my old Fae grace resurges, saving me from falling altogether.

Helene giggles behind me. “You look like a baby duck.”

I take a deep breath and resist the urge to snap at the youngling. It’s not her fault I gave up my immortality to spend a human life with Britain’s king. It’s not her fault some of my natural grace leaked out along with the magic Herne the Hunter took from me. The magic I chose to give him in order to become mortal and join my Richard.

I glare at the emerald shoes instead. “I’m not wearing them.”

The princess raises a finely tweezed eyebrow. “They make your calves look stunning.”

“You can’t even
my calves,” I shoot back. “If this dress was any longer you couldn’t even see the shoes.”

The princess stares at me. Unfazed. “It’s part of the royal package. You’re going to have to get used to it, I’m afraid.”

I shift my weight from foot to aching foot. Every arch, bone, and muscle feels pinched and stretched. As if it’s been run through a medieval torture rack. “I feel like a Green Woman. And they only wore these because they were trying to seduce men and eat them!”

“And you’re trying to seduce the press. It’s important for you to get off on the right foot. You can eat them later if you want. Try again,” Anabelle snaps like a ballet instructor. “And no cheating with magic. Helene, make sure she doesn’t cheat.”

“As if I’d waste precious magic on this.” I feel down deep into my core, where the remains of my old magic slick my insides like oil. Dregs left by Herne the Hunter. A reminder of what I once was.

I take a full, deep breath. The windows at the end of Buckingham Palace’s Music Room gape open and I taste
autumn on the air: the hint of crumbling leaves and crisp skies. It sparkles inside my lungs, gives me new focus.

One step. Two . . . ten. I make it all the way to where Anabelle stands by the grand piano without so much as a wobble.

Richard’s sister claps her hands together. “Brilliant!”

I don’t feel brilliant as I collapse on the piano bench. My shoes drop against the marble as I massage my abused feet. It’s a small sacrifice, I remind myself. Just one more step in my new life as a mortal.

“You’ll be a natural in no time,” the princess assures me. “Now your hair. I think you should keep it down. Show off that beautiful red . . .”

“What’s all this?” Someone calls from behind us. His voice is velvet and caramel. Every syllable fills me with warmth.

He’s standing by the door, smiling at my discarded heels. The grandness of the Music Room rises around him: scarlet drapes, burgundy-gold couches, and powerful onyx pillars. But it’s difficult to pay much attention to my surroundings when Richard is before me. His shining, damp-sand hair is ruffled—swept just so out of his sharp eyes and higher-than-art cheekbones. His designer
suit jacket is draped over his arm, and the sleeves of his dress shirt are rolled up. Showing off forearms still dark from summer sun.

King Richard. My Richard.

“Emrys and I were just having a bit of girl time.” His sister waves at him. “Getting ready for her gala debut tonight.”

“What she really means is I’m breaking my toes to be with you.” My words echo off of the dome ceiling, make him smile.

“That’s rather drastic.”

“According to your sister it’s all the rage these days.”

I gather up my dress and go to him barefoot. His smile grows, becomes a warm, simmering secret between us. It never gets old, the way his lips curve. How happiness lights his eyes—a shine of blue, gold, and green. Bright hazel.

“Hey, Embers.” Richard leans in for a short kiss—static and sparks on my lips—and wraps his arms around me. I’m at once wound tight and let loose: at home in his arms.

“You’re back early.” I bask in the smell of his once-starched shirt and spiced cologne. Remnants of the
uniform he wears whenever he addresses Parliament.

He’s been wearing it a lot lately, standing before the Houses of Commons and Lords, convincing them of the benefits of integration. Weaving the lifestyles of Fae and mortal together by reducing technology and increasing everyday magic.

Some of these solutions are simple: Faery lights replacing fluorescent bulbs. Freshly planted trees for Dryads to dwell inside. Prototype batteries rewired to run off magic-fusion instead of chemicals.

Others are not so simple: Weaning the mortals from the technology which is so caustic to Fae-kind. Which guts us from the inside with sickness and insanity. Which threatens to end our never-ending lives.

The goal—a Britain powered solely by self-sustaining magic—is a noble one. The reality is harder: the well of power has gone dry. After decades of the mortals’ cables and frequencies and electrical singe, there’s hardly any magic left to draw from. Not nearly enough to power an entire kingdom.

We have to go backward to go forward. Cut back the use of technology so the land’s magic will grow. A painful, slow, uphill transition.

“We did get through the beginning of the Reforestation Bill quickly,” Richard says. “Everyone seems to really love trees.”

“They were probably all just itching to leave and get ready for the gala,” Anabelle says, half-tease.

“I know this might be hard for you to believe”—Richard’s voice is low and serious; only his smile betrays him—“but not everyone takes four hours to get ready for a social event.”

The princess ignores her brother with the pointed nonpointedness only a sibling can manage. “I’ve heard Lord and Lady Winfred are throwing it on a yacht this year. A cruise down the Thames.” Anabelle’s loam-dark eyes shoot straight at me. “You better wear those heels, Emrys. Helene will tell me if you don’t.”

The youngling leans by an open window, face to the sun, enjoying the taste of autumn in the air. I look down at my raw, pink feet. It’s a good thing Helene won’t actually be aboard the yacht. She’ll be watching from a distance—close enough to tap into the energies the royals’ dormant blood magic offers the Fae, and far enough away to be discreet. The way our Faery Guards always do whenever we leave Buckingham Palace’s perimeter. There’s no way she’ll notice if I slip my shoes off under the table.

“You’re not going?” The king frowns at his sister.

“I’ve got an exam to study for.”

“Belle, it’s Friday!” Richard protests. “You should be out having fun.”

“I’ll have plenty of fun. Studying,” Anabelle says. “Besides, the second Lights-down is this weekend, no?”

Lights-down—the first stage in the mortals’ electricity diet—was among Richard’s initial bill proposals to Parliament, after the Fae started appearing. It was a simple concept: a few hours without nonessential power every week to slow the sickness the machines caused the Fae—to preserve their strength and allow the land’s magic to wake up again.

“You don’t need electricity to study,” the king says.

“Not that you would know!” his sister quips back. “Besides, it’s not just studying. Mum’s coming back from her holiday in Greece to give me a hand with coronation plans. Stop fretting over me. Relax. Spend some time with your girlfriend!” She tosses her golden hair back and looks straight at me. “Remember. Hair down. Wear your shoes. And smile! Lots of smiles. You’ll be grand tonight.”

The princess leaves with steps so graceful that her stilettos make only the slightest noise against the parquet floor.

“I’ve told her about a million times she needs to leave the coronation planning to the Coronation Commission.” Richard sighs. “It would save her so much worry.”

“I think she would be worried
if someone else was doing it,” I point out.

“She does too much,” Richard mutters. “Pushes too hard.”

“Look who’s talking.” I stare at the bags beneath his eyes. “It must run in the family.”

“Well, I have some time for fun now.” Richard squeezes my shoulder. “What should we do with these stolen hours?”

We live in the same palace, but it’s not often we get time together—minutes unclaimed by politics and magic. As a liason between Queen Titania’s Frithemaeg and the human government, I’ve barely had enough time for Richard. Half of my weeks I’m not even in London, but traveling up to the Faery queen’s Highlands court. When I’m here, Richard’s list of meetings and press conferences is enough to keep us apart for days at a time.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. London wasn’t either. I know that well enough, having watched it rise through the centuries: from mosquito-riddled marshlands into a maze of monuments and high-rises. Our goal of a new
Britain—a country where Fae and mortals exist in harmony just as they did in Camelot—will take just as much sweat and blood.

BOOK: All That Burns
2.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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