The Raven King, page 1part #4 of The Raven Cycle Series
who gallantly took the Seat Perilous
About the Author
Also by Maggie Stiefvater
To sleep, to swim, and to dream, for ever.
— ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE, “A SWIMMER’S DREAM”
These signs have mark’d me extraordinary;
And all the courses of my life do show
I am not in the roll of common men.
— WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, HENRY IV
Darling, the composer has stepped into fire.
— ANNE SEXTON, “THE KISS”
Richard Gansey III had forgotten how many times he had been told he was destined for greatness.
He was bred for it; nobility and purpose coded in both sides of his pedigree. His mother’s father had been a diplomat, an architect of fortunes; his father’s father had been an architect, a diplomat of styles. His mother’s mother had tutored the children of European princesses. His father’s mother had built a girls’ school with her own inheritance. The Ganseys were courtiers and kings, and when there was no castle to invite them, they built one.
He was a king.
Once upon a time, the youngest Gansey had been stung to death by hornets. In all things, he had been given every advantage, and mortality was no different. A voice had whispered in his ear: You will live because of Glendower. Someone else on the ley line is dying when they should not, and so you will live when you should not.
He’d died, but failed to stay dead.
He was a king.
His mother, royalty herself, tossed her hat into the Virginia congressional ring, and unsurprisingly she’d ascended elegantly to the top of the polls. Onward and upward. Had there ever been any doubt? Yes, actually, always, ever, because the Ganseys did not demand favors. Often they didn’t even ask. They did unto others and silently hoped others would rise to do it unto them.
Doubt — all a Gansey did was doubt. A Gansey reached bravely into the night-blind water, fate uncertain until the hilt of a sword pressed into a hopeful palm.
Except — only a few months before, this Gansey had reached into the dark uncertainty of the future, stretching for the promise of a sword, and had instead pulled out a mirror.
Justice — in an inside-out way, it felt fair.
It was April 25, St. Mark’s Eve. Years before, Gansey had read The Grand Mystery: Ley Lines of the World by Roger Malory. In it, Malory explained ponderously that a St. Mark’s Eve vigil on the ley line would reveal the spirits of those who were to die within the next year. By this point, Gansey had seen all sorts of wonders performed near or on the ley lines — a girl who could read a book in full dark so long as she was on the line, an old woman who could lift a crate of fruit with only her mind, a trio of dusky-skinned triplets born on the line who cried tears of blood and bled salt water — but none of it had involved him. Required him. Explained him.
He didn’t know why he’d been saved.
He needed to know why he’d been saved.
So he held a nightlong vigil on the ley line that had become his maze, shivering alone in the parking lot of the Holy Redeemer. He saw nothing, heard nothing. The following morning he crouched beside his Camaro, tired to the point of nonsense, and played back the night’s audio.
On the recording, his own voice whispered, “Gansey.” A pause. “That’s all there is.”
Finally, it was happening. He was no longer merely an observer in this world; he was a participant.
Even then, a small part of Gansey suspected what hearing his own name really meant. He knew it, probably, by the time his friends came to his car’s rescue an hour later. He knew it, probably, when the psychics at 300 Fox Way read a tarot card for him. He knew it, probably, when he retold the entire story to Roger Malory in person.
Gansey knew whose voices whispered along the ley line on St. Mark’s Eve. But he had spent several years chaining his fears and wasn’t ready to unhook their leashes just yet.
It wasn’t until one of the psychics at 300 Fox Way died, until death became a real thing once more, that Gansey couldn’t deny the truth any longer.
The hounds of the Aglionby Hunt Club howled it that fall: away, away, away.
He was a king.
This was the year he was going to die.
Depending on where you began the story, it was a story about the women of 300 Fox Way.
Stories stretch in all ways. Once upon a time, there was a girl who was very good at playing with time. Step sideways: Once upon a time, there was a daughter of a girl who was very good at playing with time. Now skip back: Once upon a time, there was a king’s daughter who was very good at playing with time.
Beginnings and endings as far as the eye could see.
With the notable exception of Blue Sargent, all of the women at 300 Fox Way were psychic. This might have suggested that the house’s occupants had much in common, but practically, they had as much in common as a group of musicians, or doctors, or morticians. Psychic was not so much a personality type as a skill set. A belief system. A general agreement that time, like a story, was not a line; it was an ocean. If you couldn’t find the precise moment you were looking for, it was possible you hadn’t swum far enough. It was possible that you simply weren’t a good enough swimmer yet. It was also possible, the women grudgingly agreed, that some moments were hidden far enough in time that they really should be left to deep-sea creatures. Like those anglerfish with all the teeth bits and the lanterns hanging off their faces. Or like Persephone Poldma. She was dead now, though, so perhaps she was a poor example.
It was a Monday when the still-living women of 300 Fox Way decided to finally assess Richard Gansey’s impending doom, the disintegration of their lives as they knew them, and what those two things had to do with each other, if anything. Also, Jimi had done a chakra cleansing in exchange for a nice bottle of hot, peaty whiskey and was jonesing to finish it with company.
Calla stepped into the biting October day to turn the sign beside the letter box to read CLOSED COME BACK SOON! Inside, Jimi, a big believer in herb magick, brought out several small pillows stuffed with mugwort (to enhance the projection of the soul into other planes) and set rosemary to burn over charcoal (for memory and clairvoyance, which are the same thing
“It smells like a goddamn Italian restaurant in here,” she told Jimi, who did not pause in her humming as she fanned the smoke and wiggled her large bottom. Calla placed the ferocious statue of Oya by her own chair and the dancing statue of Oshun next to Maura’s. She gripped the third statue: Yemaya, a watery Yoruban goddess who had always stood beside Persephone’s place when she wasn’t standing, on Calla’s bedroom dresser. “Maura, I don’t know where to put Yemaya.”
Maura pointed to Gwenllian, who pointed back. “You said you didn’t want to do this with Adam, so it goes by her.”
“I never said that,” Calla said. “I said he was too close to all this.”
The fact of the matter was that they were all too close to the situation. They’d been too close to the situation for months. They were so close to the situation that it was difficult to tell whether or not they were the situation.
Orla stopped chomping her gum for a moment long enough to ask, “Are we ready?”
“MmmmhmmmhmmmmissBluethoughmmmmhmmmm,” offered Jimi, still humming and swaying.
It was true that Blue’s absence was notable. As a powerful psychic amplifier, she would’ve been useful in a case like this, but they’d agreed in whispers the night before that it was cruel to discuss Gansey’s fate in front of her any more than was strictly necessary. They’d make do with Gwenllian, even though she was half as powerful and twice as difficult.
“We’ll tell her the upshot later,” Maura said. “I think I had better get Artemus out of the pantry.”
Artemus: Maura’s ex-lover, Blue’s biological father, Glendower’s adviser, 300 Fox Way’s closet dweller. He had been retrieved from a magical cave just a little over a week before and in that time had managed to contribute absolutely nothing to their emotional or intellectual resources. Calla found him spineless (she was not wrong). Maura thought him misunderstood (she was not wrong). Jimi reckoned he had the longest nose of any man she’d ever seen (she was not wrong). Orla didn’t believe barricading oneself in a supply closet was a sufficient protection against a psychic who hated you (she was not wrong). Gwenllian was, in fact, the psychic who hated him (she was not wrong).
It took Maura quite a bit of doing to persuade him to leave the pantry, and even after he’d joined them at the table, he did not look at all like he belonged. Some of that was because he was a man, and some of it was because he was much taller than everyone else. But most of it was because he had dark, permanently worried eyes that indicated he had seen the world and it was too much for him. That earnest fear was entirely at odds with the varying degrees of self-confidence carried by the psychics in the room.
Maura and Calla had known him before Blue had been born and both were thinking that Artemus was ever so much less than he had been then. Well, Maura thought ever so much less. Calla merely thought less, as she hadn’t had a very high opinion of him to begin with. But then, lanky men who appeared out of mystical groves had never been her type.
Jimi poured the whiskey.
Orla closed the doors to the reading room.
The women sat.
“What a cluster,” Calla said, by way of opening (she was not wrong).
“He can’t be saved, can he?” Jimi asked. She meant Gansey. She was a little misty-eyed. It was not that she was intensely fond of Gansey, but she was a very sentimental person, and the idea of any young man being cut down in his youth troubled her.
“Mm,” said Maura.
The women all took a drink. Artemus did not. He shot a nervous look at Gwenllian. Gwenllian, always imposing with a nest of towering hair full of pencils and flowers, glared back at him. The heat in her expression should have ignited any alcohol remaining in her shot glass.
Maura asked, “Do we need to stop it, then?”
Orla, the youngest and loudest in the room, laughed in a youthful and loud way. “How exactly would you stop him?”
“I said it, not him,” Maura replied, rather snottily. “I would not pretend to imagine I have any power to stop that boy from searching Virginia for his own grave. But the others.”
Calla put her glass down with force. “Oh, I could stop him. But that’s not the point. It’s everything already in place.”
(Everything already in place: the retired hit man currently sleeping with Maura; his supernatural-obsessed ex-boss currently sleeping in Boston; the creepy entity buried in rocks beneath the ley line; the unfamiliar creatures crawling out of a cave mouth behind an abandoned farmhouse; the ley line’s growing power; the magical sentient forest on the ley line; one boy’s bargain with the magical forest; one boy’s ability to dream things to life; one dead boy who refused to be laid to rest; one girl who supernaturally amplified 90 percent of the aforementioned list.)
The women took another drink.
“Should they keep going to that crazy forest?” Orla asked. She did not care for Cabeswater. She had gone with the group once before and had come close enough to the forest to … feel it. Her sort of clairvoyance was best over telephone lines or email; faces only got in the way of the truth. Cabeswater had no face, and the ley line was basically the world’s best telephone line. She had been able to feel it asking her for things. She couldn’t tell what they were, exactly. And she didn’t necessarily think they were bad things. She could just sense the enormity of its requests, the weight of its promises. Life-changing. Orla was just fine with her life, thanks very much, so she’d tipped her hat and gotten out of there.
“The forest is fine,” Artemus said.
All of the women looked at him.
“Describe ‘fine,’ ” Maura said.
“Cabeswater loves them.” Artemus folded his enormous hands in his lap and pointed his enormous nose at them. His gaze kept jerking back to Gwenllian, as if he feared she might leap at him. Gwenllian meaningfully snuffed one of the candles with her shot glass; the reading room got one tiny fire darker.
“Care to elaborate?” Calla asked.
Artemus did not.
Maura said, “We’ll take that opinion under advisement.”
The women took a drink.
“Is any of us in this room going to die?” Jimi asked. “Did anyone else we know appear at the church watch?”
“Doesn’t apply to any of us,” Maura said. The church watch generally only predicted the deaths of those who had been born in the town or directly on the spirit road (or, in Gansey’s case, reborn), and everyone currently at the table was an import.
“Applies to Blue, though,” Orla pointed out.
Maura aggressively stacked and restacked her cards. “But it’s not a guarantee of safety. There are fates worse than death.”
“Let’s shuffle, then,” said Jimi.
Each woman held her tarot deck to her heart, shuffled, and then selected a single card at random. They placed the cards faceup on the table.
Tarot is a very personal thing, and as such, the art on each deck reflected the woman who owned it. Maura’s was all dark lines and simple colors, at once perfunctory and childlike. Calla’s was lush and oversaturated, the cards overflowing with detail. Every card in Orla’s deck featured a couple kissing or making love, whether or not the card’s meaning was about kissing or making love. Gwenllian had fashioned her own by scratching dark, frantic symbols on a deck of ordinary playing cards. Jimi stuck by the Sacred Cats and Holy Women deck that she’d found in a thrift store in 1992.
All of the women had turned over five different versions of the Tower. Calla’s version of the Tower perhaps best depicted the card’s meaning: A castle labeled STABILITY was in the process of being struck by lightning, burning down, and being attacked by what looked like garter snakes. A woman in a window was experiencing the full effects of th
“So we’re all going to die unless we do something,” Calla said.
Gwenllian sang, “Owynus dei gratia Princeps Waliae, ha la la, Princeps Waliae, ha la la—”
With a whimper, Artemus made as if to stand. Maura placed a steadying hand on his.
“We’re all going to die,” Maura said. “At some point. Let’s not panic.”
Calla’s eyes were on Artemus. “Only one of us is panicking.”
Jimi passed around the whiskey bottle. “Time to find some solutions, darlings. How are we looking for them?”
All of the women looked at the dark scrying bowl. There was nothing inherently remarkable about it: it was an $11 glass display bowl from one of those stores full of cat food, mulch, and discount electronics. The cran-grape juice that filled it had no mystical powers. But still, there was something ominous about it, about how the fluid seemed a little restless. It reflected only the dark ceiling, but it looked like it wanted to show more. The scrying bowl contemplated possibilities, not all of them good.
(One of the possibilities: using the reflection to separate your soul from your body and ending up dead.)
Although Maura was the one who had brought the bowl out, she pushed it away now.
“Let’s do a whole-life reading,” Orla said. She popped her gum.
“Ugh, no,” Calla said.
“For all of us?” Maura asked, as if Calla hadn’t protested. “Our life as a group?”
Orla waved an arm to indicate all of the decks; her enormous wooden bangles clicked against each other with satisfaction.
“I like it,” Maura said. Calla and Jimi sighed.
Ordinarily, a reading used only a portion of the seventy-eight cards in a deck. Three, or ten. Maybe one or two more, if clarification was needed. Each card’s position asked a question: What is the state of your unconscious? What are you afraid of? What do you need? Each card placed in that position provided the answer.
Seventy-eight cards was a lot of Q&A.
Especially times five.
Calla and Jimi sighed again, but began to shuffle. Because it was true: They had a lot of questions. And they needed a lot of answers.
Other author's books:
- The Dream ThievesShiverThe Raven BoysLingerForeverAll the Crooked SaintsSinnerLament: The Faerie Queens Deception
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