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The Fate of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #3)
Author:Erika Johansen

But those days had vanished into the distant past, several lifetimes gone. As the black shape before him resolved into a man, the Fetch steeled himself. The settlers of the Fairwitch had created a great deal of apocrypha around the Orphan, but at least one piece was true: they said that the creature had two faces, one light and one dark. Which one would he see today?

Light. The face that turned toward him was the same one the Fetch had always known: pale and autocratic. And sly. Row had always been able to talk circles around anyone; long ago, he had talked the Fetch into the worst decision of his life. They regarded each other in silence, standing on the windy slope, all of Mortmesne laid out behind them.

“What do you want?” Row asked.

“I want to talk you out of this.” The Fetch swept a hand at the mountainside below them. “This course you’re on. No good will come of it, not even for you.”

“How do you know my course?”

“You’re moving south, Row. I’ve seen your things stalking at night in the villages below the Glace-Vert. I don’t know your endgame, but surely poor Mort villagers can have no part of it. Why not leave them alone?”

“My children are hungry.”

The Fetch sensed movement on his right: another of them, a little girl of perhaps ten, perched on top of the rock, watching him, her eyes fixed and unblinking.

“How many children do you have now, Row?”

“Soon they will be a legion.”

The Fetch stilled, feeling the dark hole inside him open a bit wider. “And then what?”

Row said nothing, only smiled wide. There was no humanity in that smile, and the Fetch fought the urge to back away.

“You already wrecked Tear’s kingdom once, Row. You really need to do it again?”

“I had help in wrecking Tear’s Land, my friend. Has it been so long that you’ve forgotten, or do you absolve yourself?”

“I feel responsible for my sins. I try to repair them.”

“How are you faring with that?” Row spread an arm to encompass the land below them. “Mortmesne is an open sewer. The Tear continues to sink.”

“No, it doesn’t. It’s been propped up.”

“The girl?” Row laughed, a hollow, dismal sound. “Come now, Gav. The girl has nothing but a loyal retainer and a gift for public relations.”

“You don’t fool me, Row. You fear her as well.”

Row remained silent for a long moment, then asked, “What are you doing here, Gav?”

“Serving the girl.”

“Ah! So you’ve swapped loyalties yet again.”

That stung, but the Fetch refused to be baited. “She has your sapphire, Row. She has Tear’s sapphire, Tear’s blood. She’s been there.”

Row hesitated, his dark eyes unreadable. “Been where?”

“To the past. She’s seen Lily, she’s seen Tear.”

“How do you know?”

“She told me, and she’s no liar. It’s only a matter of time before she gets to Jonathan. To us.”

Row didn’t answer. His eyes darted from rock to rock. The Fetch, sensing that he had finally broken through the wall of indifference, swallowed his anger and pressed forward. “Do you not see, Row, how this changes things?”

“It changes nothing.”

The Fetch sighed. He had held back a last bit of information, tucked it away, to be used only in case of direst need. This was a desperate gambit, one that would put Row on the hunt. But these were desperate times. The Queen was in Mort custody, and without her, the Fetch feared that the Tearling would tear itself to pieces, Row or not.

“The crown’s been spotted.”

Row’s head snapped up, like the head of a dog scenting something on the wind.

“The crown?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

The Fetch did not answer.

“How do you know it’s not the Raleigh crown?”

“Because I destroyed the Raleigh crown, years ago, to make sure Thomas could never wear it. This is the real crown, Row.”

“My crown.”

The Fetch’s heart sank. Once upon a time he had helped this man, not just willingly but eagerly. They had both committed terrible crimes, but only the Fetch had repented. Row grabbed and took and never looked back. For a moment the Fetch wondered why he had even bothered to come up here, but he pushed the thought aside and plowed onward.

“If we got hold of the crown, Row, we could give it to the girl, fix things. We could make up for the past.”

“You spend all of your years tortured by guilt and assume that others do the same. Don’t imbue me with a conscience. If my crown is out there, I will take it back.”

“And then what? All the kingdoms in the world won’t change what’s happened to us.”

“I see your idea now. You think the girl can end you.”

“It’s possible.”

“Will she do it, though?” Row’s mouth crimped in a malicious grin. “She’s an easy child to read, and she’s besotted with you.”

“She sees only a handsome young man.”

“Why did you come up here, really?” Row asked, and the Fetch caught a gleam of red in his eyes as he moved closer. “What did you hope to accomplish?”

“I hoped to come to an agreement. Help me find the crown. Help me repair the Tearling. It’s never too late, Row, even now.”

“Too late for what?”

“To atone for our crimes.”

“I have committed no crime!” Row hissed, and the Fetch was pleased to see that he had touched a nerve. “I wished for better, that was all.”

“And Katie?”