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

“You should leave.” Row’s eyes were burning brightly now, the flesh of his face turning pale.

At least he still feels, the Fetch told himself, then realized how little that meant. There was no emotion in the world that would ever outweigh Row’s hunger.

“And if I don’t leave?”

“Then I will let my children have you.”

The Fetch glanced at the girl who perched on the nearby rock. Her eyes shone almost feverishly, and against his will he found himself uneasy. The child’s bare feet, her toes clenched on the frozen rock, bothered him deeply, for no reason he could ever articulate.

“What are they, Row?”

“You were never a reader, Gav. This is old magic, older than the Crossing, even older than Christ. Ancient creatures, these, but they serve my will.”

“And you let them loose in the Glace-Vert?”

“They have just as much right as the next animal.”

This statement was so much in character that the Fetch nearly laughed. He and Row might have been right back on the banks of the Caddell, fourteen and fifteen years old, each holding a fishing pole.

“Go, now.” Row’s voice was low and venomous, his skin so white now that it seemed bleached. “Do not get in my way.”

“Or what, Row? I long for death.”

“Do you long for the deaths of others? The girl?”

The Fetch hesitated, and Row smiled.

“She has freed me, Gav, broken my curse. I have no use for her anymore. If you get in my way, if she gets in my way, I will finish her. It will be the easiest thing I’ve ever done.”

“Row.” He found himself suddenly pleading. “Don’t do this. Think of Jonathan.”

“Jonathan’s dead, Gav. You helped me kill him.”

The Fetch hauled back and swung. Row went flying, crashing into a nearby rock, but the Fetch knew that when Row got up, there would be nothing, not even a mark.

“Ah, Gav,” Row whispered. “Have we not done this enough already?”

“Not enough.”

“You make your new world, and I make mine. We’ll see who comes out on top.”

“And the crown?”

“My crown. If it’s out there, I will have it.”

The Fetch turned and stumbled away, nearly losing his footing on the slope. Ten steps downward, he found that his eyes were blurred with moisture. The wind bit through him. He could not think of Tear without crying, so he turned his mind to what came next.

The priest had been missing for more than a month, and the trail had gone cold. The Fetch’s people were spread out over northern and central Mortmesne, but he would need to get some of them back. Lear and Morgan, perhaps Howell. The Fetch had spent a long time crafting the rebellion that now raged across Mortmesne, but the crown was paramount. They would all need to hunt for it. And then there was the girl—

He sensed eyes on his back, turned, and felt the chill of the wind penetrate more deeply into his bones. The slope behind him was covered with small children, white faces and dark eyes. Bare feet.

“God,” he murmured. The night seemed filled with phantoms, and he heard Jonathan Tear’s voice, centuries away but very close.

We won’t fail, Gav. How can we fail?

“We did fail,” the Fetch whispered. “Great God, we failed so badly.”

He turned and continued down the slope, too fast for caution, almost running now. Several times he nearly lost his balance, but he could not get down soon enough. As he reached the bottom of the slope, he broke into a sprint, tearing across the foothills toward the copse where he had tethered his horse.

On the hillside far above, the children waited silently, a still comber that covered the wide slope. They breathed steadily, a hoarse rattle that echoed against the rocks, but no plume of air was visible between their lips. Row Finn stood at their forefront, watching the tiny figure below. Once upon a time, Gavin had been the easiest man in the world to manipulate. Those days were long gone, as was Gavin himself, his real identity subsumed and steeped in the mythology of the man they called the Fetch. That man would be real trouble, but Row remained sanguine as he surveyed the pale ocean of children around him. They always did as they were told, and they were eternally, unrelentingly hungry. They waited only for his command.

“The crown,” he whispered, feeling a great excitement course through him, excitement he recognized from long ago: the hunt was beginning, and at the end there lay the promise of blood. He had waited almost three hundred years.


Book I

Chapter 1

The Regent