She was breathtaking. I don't mean beautiful, because she was that, obviously. But it was the kind of beauty that had so much scope, so much depth, so much power that it made me feel dwindling, insignificant, and very, very temporary. You feel it the first time you see the mountains, the first time you see the sea, the first time you see the vast, bleak majesty of the Grand Canyon-and every single time you look at Titania, the Summer Queen.
I'd say that the details of her appearance were unimportant, except that they weren't-particularly for me.
Titania was dressed for a fight.
She wore a gown of mail made from some kind of silvery metal, the links so fine that at first it looked like woven cloth. It covered her like a second skin, all the way to the top of her throat. Over that she wore a long robe of silk that shifted in colors from the yellow of sunlight to the green of pine needles in a slow strobelike pattern. Her silver-white hair had been braided into a tail and then fixed in coils at the base of her neck. Upon her head was a crown of what looked like twisted vine with still-living leaves. She carried neither weapon nor shield, but her wide Sidhe eyes stared at me with the absolute certainty of one who knows she is armed well beyond the ability of her enemy to withstand.
Oh, and if I hadn't known better, I would have sworn to you that it was Mab standing there. Seriously. They didn't look like sisters. They looked like clones.
I started off by bowing to her, deeply. I held it for a beat before rising again.
She was a statue for a few seconds. She didn't so much as nod back to me, to any measurable degree, but some microchange in her body language indicated acknowledgment.
"You who slew my daughter," Titania said quietly. "You dare summon me?"
The last word slashed through the air, its fury palpable. It struck the circle surrounding me and broke into a shower of gold and green sparks that vanished almost instantly.
I've had some experience with the Queens of Faerie. When they get angry and start talking to you, you freaking hear them. And then if you survive it, you hope you can make it to the emergency room in time. I just hadn't seen any scenario in which my talking to Titania wouldn't make her furious-so I'd drawn the circle as a precaution.
Sometimes I use my brain.
"Crazy, right?" I said. "But I needed to speak to you, O Queen."
Her eyes narrowed. The curtain-cloud of birds continued their circling around us, though they had fallen eerily silent. The clouds overhead continued to spin. We were as isolated from the rest of the world as if we stood in a private garden. "Speak, then."
I thought about my words and picked them carefully. "There are events in motion. Very large events, with serious ramifications for basically the whole world. I mean, I thought the war between the White Council and the Red Court was a big deal-but now it looks to me like it was more or less an opening act for the real band."
Her eyes narrowed. She nodded her head a fraction of an inch.
"Something is going to happen tonight," I said. "The Well will come under attack. You know what could happen if it is opened. A lot of people would get hurt in the short term. And in the long term . . . well, I'm not sure I know what would happen, but I'm almost certain it wouldn't be good."
Titania tilted her head slightly to one side. It reminded me of an eagle considering its prey and deciding whether or not it was worth it to swoop down on it out of nowhere.
"I'm trying to make sure that doesn't happen," I said. "And because of the nature of this . . . problem . . . I can't trust any of the information I get out of the people I'm working for."
"Ah," she said. "You wish me to pass judgment upon my sister."
"I need someone with knowledge of Mab," I said. "Someone who knows the events are in motion. Who would know if she had . . . uh. . . . Changed."
"And what makes you think that I would have the knowledge you seek?"
"Because I Saw you preparing the battlefield at the stone table, years ago. You're Mab's equal. I Saw your power. You don't get power like that without knowledge."
"That is true."
"I need to know," I said. "Is Mab sane? Is she . . . still Mab?"
Titania did a statue impersonation for a long moment. Then she turned her head to one side and stared out toward the lake. "I do not know." She gave me an oblique look. "I have not exchanged words with my sister since before Hastings."
The next-best thing to a millennium's worth of estrangement. Dysfunction on an epic scale. This was exactly the kind of family tension into which sane people do not inject themselves.
"I'm going to inject myself into your family business," I said. "Because I'm scared to death of what could happen if I don't, and because it needs to be done. I understand that you're Mab's enemy. I understand that if she says black, you say white, and that's the way it is. But we're all in a southbound handbasket together here. And I need your help."
Titania tilted her head the other way and took a step toward me. I almost flinched back out of the circle. I didn't want to do that. I didn't think it would keep me safe for long if she decided she wanted to come at me, but as long as it was there, it meant that she would have to spend at least a little time bringing it down-time in which I could attack her. It also meant that if I took the first swing, I'd be sacrificing the circle's protection, and my only current advantage. She looked down at my feet and then back up at me expectantly.
"Uh," I said. "Will you please help me?"
Something flickered over her face when I said that, an emotion that I couldn't place. Maybe it wasn't a human one. She turned abruptly away and seemed to consider her surroundings for the first time. "We shall see," she said. She turned back to me, her eyes intent. "Why did you come here for the summoning?"
"It's a bird sanctuary," I said. "A natural place, intended to preserve life and beauty. And birds seem kind of Summery to me. Following summer to the south over the winter and then returning. I thought that it might be close to some of Summer's lands in Faerie. That you'd have an easier time hearing me."
She turned her head slowly, as if listening. There was no sound but the constant, muffled white noise of thousands of wings beating. "But this place is more than that. It is a location for . . . unapproved liaisons."
I shrugged. "It's just you and me. I figured if you wanted to kill me, you could do it here without hurting anybody else."
Titania nodded, her expression turning thoughtful. "What think you of the men who come here to meet with one another?"