Authors: Jane Yolen
Young Merlin Trilogy
The Pit Dragon Chronicles
A Sending of Dragons
Sword of the Rightful King
The Last Dragon
Curse of the Thirteenth Fey
Snow in Summer
Sister Light, Sister Dark
The One-Armed Queen
Boots and the Seven Leaguers
BOOKS BY ADAM STEMPLE
Singer of Souls
Steward of Song
BOOKS BY JANE YOLEN AND ADAM STEMPLE
Pay the Piper: A Rock 'n' Roll Fairy Tale
Troll Bridge: A Rock 'n' Roll Fairy Tale
B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy)
The Hostage Prince: The Seelie Wars: Book I
The Last Changeling: The Seelie Wars: Book II
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC
375 Hudson Street
New York, New York 10014
USA / Canada / UK / Ireland / Australia
New Zealand / India / South Africa / China
A Penguin Random House Company
First published in the United States of America by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2015
Copyright Â© 2015 by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Original map conceived by John Sjogren, rendered by Eileen Savage
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
or Alison, David, and Betsy because they couldn't wait for the second bookâJ.Y.
or Alex, who lives on, forever youngâA.S.
SNAIL ON THE ROAD
nail's new clothes itched. The soft wool of the mauve gown seemed to set her skin on fire. Running a finger under the top of the bodice, she thought about how she must look. The neckline was too low, the hemline too high, the lace collar too starched. There was no apprentice over-apron with deep pockets like the one she'd worn all her working life. She missed those pockets.
You could keep a sticky bun or a knife or an apple or a hair ribbon or a comb there. Or, if you had a coinÂ .Â .Â .
And then she thought angrily,
Toffs probably have no need of pockets. If you're rich enough, someone carries all your stuff for you.
she wasn't a toff, just a midwife's apprentice.
A midwife's apprentice
, she reminded herself,
on the run with a hostage prince. And both of us being sought by not one but two armies. TWO!
She said “TWO!” out loud, and it sounded like an explosion, the kind wizards make with smoke and fire and a horrible stench.
And how can I possibly run from any armies in these shoes?
She glared at her feet. An hour earlier, her midwife sandals, well broken in and comfortable, had entered into an unfortunate battle with a peat bog. They'd lost.
, she thought,
She'd had to put on the shoes the queen had given her, the ones that she'd been carrying for miles slung around her neck by their laces. With their narrow toes and small heels, they pinched her feet. She'd known at once that they weren't the kind of shoes made for long walks across treacherous terrain. They were dancing shoes made for a grand ball. And
was a terrain she'd never crossed in her life, nor did she ever want to.
The fancy dress made her feelÂ .Â .Â .
was the word that leapt to mind.
As a midwife's apprentice she'd worn a uniform that both identified her and made her part of a team. She was a pair of hands, a ready heart, an agile mind, but otherwise invisible. At least that's what Mistress Softhandsâwho's apprentice she'd beenâhad always said.
But poor Mistress Softhands was in the dungeon of the Unseelie castle now, completely invisible to everyone except the guards. Her partnersâMistress Treetop and Mistress Yokeâwere there as well. And the other midwife's apprentice, Yarrow.
Actually, Snail didn't care a fyge about Yarrow.
Let her scream her lungs out in that place!
she thought with a bitterness that surprised her. But Mistress Softhands had been a good teacher, if strict. Her only mother, indeed her only trustworthy friend in the beastly Unseelie Court, as she understood now. Even though she'd learned from the other midwives as well, they'd never been a particularly comforting lot. Yes, they'd imparted knowledge with their every breath, but they imparted as well a certain heartlessness, a nasty preference for their own apprentices whether the girls had been worthy or not. She shuddered, remembering. Still, the knowledge of midwifery had helped in her endless escape from the Unseelie lands.
Well, not endless,
she quickly amended to herself
. It's only been a couple of days.
“But they were awful days.Â .Â .Â .” she mumbled. “Beatings and a death and a stay in the Unseelie dungeon andÂ .Â .Â .”
“Really,” Aspen said beside her, “can you notÂ .Â .Â . erÂ .Â .Â .
you say something pleasant?”
She glared at him and then thought,
Well, there weren't any actual beatings, only a bit of manhandling
but I probably have bruises. He wouldn't want me to mention those. And there was a dungeon. And two, no threeÂ .Â .Â . no five or six deaths, if you count the ogre who was questioning me
and the two assassins, and Philomel, the apprentice midwife. Oh, and three or four Border Lords eaten by carnivorous mermen. And the merman I stabbed with a poisoned blade. Maybe that was eight or nine
Or ten. Nothing pleasant there!
The merman had been the only one she herself had killed. Snail could almost feel his cold, wet fingers around her body as he tried to drag her from the boat. She shuddered again.
Still, she'd delivered a baby along the way. A troll's baby. The first she'd ever done unsupervised and all by herself. And she hadn't dropped it or been eaten in the process. Maybe that balanced everything out. Maybe she could remind Prince High-and-Holy AspenâKarl!âof that. After all, it was a very
baby. Once again, she blessed whoever had made the law that forbade trolls to eat midwives.
But the other midwives had been left behind in the dungeon, and Snail was now running for her life across Seelie lands, the Hostage Prince by her side.
They'd already crossed fields and those soft, peaty bogs that threatened to grab them and pull them under. The Peat Hagsâso Mistress Softhands had once warnedâwere merciless and cunning old things, notorious for their greed. She said their teeth were enormous and sharp as a chef's knife. Snail was glad she'd only lost the shoes in the bog and not her feet as well.
But to be honest,
we only encountered mud, not hags. And beyond the bogs were well-tended farms with the barley halfway up to our thighs, and corn, too. Some grouse leapt up when we passed, which was scary
all that loud wing-fluttering
but no one seemed to notice us.
And here we are, wherever
She hoped Prince Aspenâwho was Seelie and had lived his first seven years in the Seelie kingdom they were now traveling in before he'd been sent off as the Hostage Princeâstill remembered his way around. She'd never been anywhere outside the Unseelie castle till their escape. Wasn't sure yet that travel was a good thing, under the circumstances.
They'd already crossed two streams, leaping from rock to rock, not daring to wade in the water.
the rivers had been too shallow for merfolk
. Her stomach had remarked about trout, but she doubted the prince knew how to fish.
And I'm no cook.
Though at least with his fire magic we could have tried.
Aspen had claimedâwith more authority than knowledgeâthat the mer lived only in salt water. Snail hadn't felt it necessary to remind him that the great river they'd so recently crossed by boat into the Seelie lands had been fresh water and not salt.
And full of carnivorous mer
Still, the two of them were free.
Or as free as they could be with two armies chasing themâSeelie and Unseelie.
Snail made a face and pulled on a strand of her red-orange hair.
Free maybe, but far too identifiable when they should be trying to remain invisible.
she thought miserably,
can be invisible in these clothes.
She pulled up on the bodice again. Ran her finger around the starched collar again. Bit her lower lip in frustration.
she had to remember to call him Karl, his minstrel name
âlooks even stranger than me in his multicolored rags and silly red hat.
She feared the two of them stuck out like apples on a winter tree, like dog meat at the king's high tableÂ .Â .Â . likeÂ .Â .Â .
She must have said that last aloud because the princeâKarlâasked, “Why dog meat? CannotÂ .Â .Â . erÂ .Â .Â .
you think ofÂ .Â .Â .”
“Something more pleasing?”
Snail shrugged but didn't otherwise answer him. Right now, they needed what breath they had for running, hiding, being invisible, not wasting it with talking. They needed minds that were devious and serious and alert and questioning. Not minds that were worried about pleasing things. Or pleasing people.
Besides, even while trying so hard to be an ordinary personâhis golden hair hidden under a scruffy hat, his voice harsh from his ordeal, carefully saying “can't” instead of “cannot” and “I'm” instead of “I am”âPrince Aspen still looked and sounded like a toff.
It's all hopeless, really
And by Mab's little toe, this bodice itches!
Snail was miserable. She expected soon to be covered in a roseate rash, as raw as a baby's bottom, probably by nightfall. And probably locked up in another dungeon as well.
The problem was that in these clothes they weren't disguised at all. In fact, they were
visible. And not only were they visible, now they were on a main road.
A main road with very few people so farâonly a couple of rough peasants had passed them by, and never gave them a second glance. The lack of people who might be curious or able to identify them had only been by luck. After all, it was early morning, the light was a dull grey, like pewter, rain threatened, and until now they'd been walking in fields and bogs and wasteland, so it wasn't a surprise that they hadn't yet been noticed.
“Pleasing?” she said again, or rather whispered it, though the whisper was almost as loud as a shout. “You want me to think of something
? When every step along a road like this brings us danger and possible imprisonment, probably death? How about my being back in the Unseelie Court working side by side with the other midwives, hands bloody from bringing a child into the world. It would be a sight more
than this.” She gestured toward the bodice, the skirt, the shoes.
“I think you lookÂ .Â .Â .” Aspen hesitated.
“Yes?” Now she stood, hands on hips, as if daring him to figure his way out of this small predicament in the middle of their much greater one.
All the while she wondered if he was going to say she looked like a sow in a princess's castoff, which in a way she was. Or a toad before it was kissed by the prince, as the old story went. OrÂ .Â .Â . she shuddered at the idea of kissing a prince. It could be a hanging offense.
“UmÂ .Â .Â . pleasing.” He shrugged, tried to grin, failing that, looked faintly embarrassed, before getting angry, shifting the luteâwith its battered carving of a cross-eyed cherubâbehind him and folding his arms. He all but growled at her. “Girls!”
She liked him angry. It would make him more careful the next time. It would make himÂ .Â .Â .
He looked past her, down the road, then suddenly flung himself prone onto the ground, right ear dramatically against the road. Then just as dramatically, he sat up and pointed.
“Horses!” he said. “Probably soldiers. Quickâthe trees.”
But she was already running. She hadn't needed to put
ear to the ground to hear the horses. That many horses make a lot of noise. And that many horses meant soldiers. It mattered little to Snail if the soldiers were Seelie or Unseelie because it meant death to the two of them either way.
Aspen was right behind her, and at the last, when they were in a rough patch of grass about ten steps from the trees, he tackled her and they both went down in a flurry of her skirts, and his silly red hat flew into the air.
“What did you do that for?” she said, glaring at him.
“Stay down,” he said. “The grass will hide us. It is our only chance. We were never going to make it to the trees.”
She looked about carefully and could see he was right.
They lay there for a very long time, hardly moving, till the sound of the horses was entirely gone. In fact they both fell asleep for a while, fear and exhaustion combining with the constant birdsongâwrens and cuckoos calling above them working as well as any sleep potion.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
a start, Snail realized her dress was now itchier than before because the grass had gotten down the front of the bodice and she had had to pinch her nose with her right hand to keep from sneezing, in case anyone was about.
The sun had begun its descent when they sat up, both at the same time. Carefully, looking around and seeing the road once again deserted, they stood and straightened themselves out, brushing bits of grass and seeds and brambles from their clothesâ
to look half-decent
, Mistress Softhands would have said.
Then they argued a bit, looking for the red hat, but never finding it, which was strange.
“Maybe a bogle took it,” the prince said. “Or a brownie.”
“This far from a house?” All she knew about brownies was what she'd heard in travelers' tales. Brownies were Seelie folk, small servants who kept the home, hard workers, though not thought to be terribly smart.
His face looked as if an argument was about to start, but before he could correct her, he breathed out a single word.
They turned at the same time.
. Meaning herself. Meaning the prince.