Mab smiled and laid a hand upon my shoulder. My arm popped back into its socket with a silver shock of sensation, and the pain dwindled to almost nothing. I rolled my shoulder, testing it. If it wasn't exactly comfortable, it seemed to work well enough.
I turned to Mab, bowed, and stepped closer to her as the music rose again. It was a waltz. While the stunned Sidhe looked on, I waltzed with Mab to a full orchestral version of Shinedown's "45," and the smaller bits of our enemies crunched beneath our feet. Oddly enough, no one joined us.
Dancing with Mab was like dancing with a shadow. She moved so gracefully, so lightly that had my eyes been closed, I might not have been able to tell that she was there at all. I felt lumbering and clumsy beside her, but managed not to trip over my own feet.
"That was well-done, wizard," Mab murmured. "No one has lifted a hand to them that way since the days of Tam Lin."
"I wanted them to understand the nature of our relationship."
"It would seem you succeeded," she said. "The next time they come at you, they will not do it so openly."
"I'll handle it."
"I expect nothing less," Mab said. "In the future, try to avoid being at such a stark disadvantage. Sarissa may not be there to rescue you a second time."
I grunted. Then I frowned and said, "You wanted this to happen tonight. It wasn't just about me staring down your nobles. You're setting something into motion."
Her lips quirked slightly at one corner in approval. "I chose well. You are ready, my Knight. It is time for me to give you my first command."
I swallowed and tried not to look nervous. "Oh?"
The song came to a close with Mab standing very close to me, lifting her head slightly to whisper into my ear. The Sidhe applauded politely and without enthusiasm, but the sound was enough to muffle what she whispered into my ear.
"Wizard," she said, her breathy voice trembling. Every syllable bubbled with venom, with hate. "Kill my daughter. Kill Maeve."
Dancing with Mab was like rapidly downing shots of well-aged whiskey. Being that close to her, to her beauty, to her bottomless eyes, hit me pretty hard. The scent of her, cool and clean and intoxicating, lingered in my nose, a disorienting pleasure. I'd thrown around a lot of energy to pull off the pair of chunk-making combos, and between that and Mab's proximity, I was having a little trouble walking a straight line after the dance.
It wasn't like I had feelings for her. I didn't feel the kind of low pulse of physical attraction that I would around a pretty woman. I didn't particularly like her. I sure as hell didn't feel any love for her. It was simply impossible to be that close to her, to that kind of deadly power and beauty, to that kind of immortal hunger and desire, without it rattling the bars of my cage. Mab wasn't human, and wasn't meant for human company. I had no doubt whatsoever in my mind that long-term exposure to her would have serious, unpleasant side effects.
And never mind what she had just asked me to do.
The consequences of that kind of action would be . . . really, really huge. And only an idiot would willingly involve himself in direct action on a scale that significant-which really didn't say anything good about me, given how often I'd been the guy wearing the idiot's shoes.
After our dance, Mab returned to her high seat and surveyed the chamber through barely open eyes, a distant figure, now garbed in pure white and untouchable again. As my head came out of the cold, numb clarity of wielding Winter, the aches and pains the Redcap had given me began to resurface in a big way. Fatigue began piling up, and when I looked around for a place to sit down, I found Cat Sith sitting nearby, his wide eyes patient and opaque.
"Sir Knight," the malk said. "You do not suffer fools." There was the faintest hint of approval in his tone. "What is your need?"
"I've had enough party," I said. "Would it inconvenience the Queen for me to depart?"
"If she wished you to stay, you would be at her side," Cat Sith replied. "And it would seem that you have introduced yourself adequately."
"Good. If you do not mind," I said, "please ask Sarissa to join me."
"I do not mind," Cat Sith said in a decidedly approving tone. He vanished into the party and appeared a few moments later, leading Sarissa. She walked steadily enough, though she still had my handkerchief pressed to her mouth.
"You want to get out of here?" I asked her.
"It's a good idea," she said. "Most of the VIPs left after your dance. Things will . . . devolve from here."
"Devolve?" I asked.
"I don't care to stay," she said, her tone careful. "I would prefer to leave."
I frowned, and then realized that she was trying to get a read on me. I simultaneously became acutely aware of a number of Sidhe ladies who were . . . I would say "lurking" except that you don't generally use that word with someone so beautiful. There were half a dozen of them, though, who were staying nearby, and whose eyes were tracking me. I felt disconcertingly reminded of a documentary I'd once seen about lionesses involved in a cooperative hunt. There was something about them that was very similar.
One, a ravishing dark-haired beauty wearing leather pants and strategically applied electrical tape, stared hard at me and, when she saw me looking, licked her lips very, very slowly. She trailed a fingertip over her chin, down across her throat, and down over her sternum and gave me a smile so wicked that its parents should have sent it to military school.
"Oh," I said, understanding. Despite my fatigue, my throat felt dry and my heart revved up a bit. "Devolving."
"I'll go," Sarissa said. "I don't expect anything from you simply because we arrived together."
A Sidhe lady with deep indigo blue hair had sidled up to Miss Electrical Tape, and the two slid their arms around each other, both staring at me. Something inside me-and I'd be lying if I said that none of it was mine-let out a primal snarl and advised me to drag both of them back to my cave by the hair and do whatever I damned well pleased with them. It was an enormously powerful impulse, something that made me begin to shift my balance, to take a step toward them. I arrested the motion and closed my eyes.
"Yeah," I said. "Yeah, they look great, but that isn't a fantasy come true, Harry. That's a wood chipper in Playboy bunny clothing." I shook my head and turned deliberately away from temptation before I opened my eyes again. "We'll both go," I said to Sarissa. "It'd be a bad idea to stay." I offered her my arm.