Unthinkable

Paperback | November 28, 2014

byNancy Werlin

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This much anticipated sequel to the New York Times Bestseller Impossible—a fantasy full of suspense, mystery, and romance—will appeal to fans of Beautiful Creatures, Raven Boys, and Wicked Lovely.
Fenella was the first Scarborough girl to be cursed, hundreds of years ago, and she has been trapped in the faerie realm ever since, forced to watch generations of daughters try to break this same faerie curse that has enslaved them all. But now Fenella’s descendant, Lucy, has accomplished the impossible and broken the curse, so why is Fenella still trapped in Faerie?
 
In her desperation, Fenella makes a deal with the faerie queen: If she can accomplish three acts of destruction, she will be free, at last, to die.  What she doesn't realize is that these acts must be aimed at her own family—and if she fails, the consequences will be dire, for all of the Scarborough girls.

 
How can she possibly choose to hurt her own cherished family—not to mention the new man whom she’s surprised to find herself falling in love with? But if she doesn’t go through with the tasks, how will she manage to save her dear ones?

* “Werlin pulls off quite a feat, making us care deeply for a character driven by selfish needs, intent on betrayal. The book, whose plot is irresistible, also raises large questions about the nature of security. . . . At its heart, this is a story about the many different levels of love.”—Booklist starred review


"Werlin, a deft storyteller and creative world-builder, weaves a twisting strand of faerie magic through the human realm, smoldering with sparks of romance and danger, just waiting to ignite."—Horn Book

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This much anticipated sequel to the New York Times Bestseller Impossible—a fantasy full of suspense, mystery, and romance—will appeal to fans of Beautiful Creatures, Raven Boys, and Wicked Lovely.Fenella was the first Scarborough girl to be cursed, hundreds of years ago, and she has been trapped in the faerie realm ever since, forced t...

Nancy Werlin writes YA fiction that ranges from realistic fiction to suspense to fantasy, often breaking the boundaries between genres. Her books have gathered awards too numerous to mention, but including National Book award finalist, Edgar award winner and finalist, New York Times bestseller, L.A. Book Prize finalist, and IndieBo...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 8.25 × 5.37 × 1 inPublished:November 28, 2014Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0142426202

ISBN - 13:9780142426203

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A desperate plea“Consider—”“I have considered! I have spent the last four hundred years helpless while every girl in my family suffered. They blamed me for their fate, along with blaming Padraig. I caused the curse, and then I failed to break it, and then I failed to protect any of them. I failed!”Fenella sank to her knees and raised her head on a rigid neck. “I have already tried to die in every way I know. Poisoning and drowning. Fire and blade. Hanging and leaping. Nothing worked. Show me mercy. Undo this life-spell that Padraig cast. Let me die. It is long, long past my time.”One of the elk fey whispered to a rabbit, and the mossy rock face of a stone fey glowed phosphorescent in the moonlight.“I beg you,” said Fenella. ALSO BY NANCY WERLINAre You Alone on Purpose?Black MirrorDouble HelixExtraordinaryImpossibleThe Killer’s CousinLocked InsideThe Rules of Survival Chapter 1“I demand to speak to the queen!”Panting, shouting, a redheaded human girl named Fenella Scarborough raced toward the center of the forest clearing, barely in front of the willow-tree fey chasing her. She felt the flick of a long thin branch start to twist around her waist, but she wrenched it aside before it could yank her backward. The full-moon court of the fey was assembled, with countless faeries crowding the ground and trees and air, but Fenella ignored them all. She kept her eyes fixed firmly on the tall figure of the queen as she zigged and zagged and fought toward her.The girl’s desperation was real, but the chase was staged. The queen’s tree fey guards were helping Fenella Scarborough. They might not approve of her quest, but she had convinced them of her need to try.Bless them, Fenella thought as she evaded another feint at capture.She reached the queen and staggered to a stop. The queen had risen to her feet, and Fenella looked a long way up into her face, for the queen was taller than tall. But the queen’s half-mask of reptilian skin, which nestled over her forehead and around her left eye, made it hard to read her expression.“You must hear me.” Fenella put an unconscious hand to her side, where she had a stitch from running.The assembled court stared and pointed and chattered. The tree fey whipped restraining vines around Fenella’s waist. In a moment, they would have to drag her away.But then it happened, just as Fenella had hoped and planned. The queen’s wings rose with interest and she held up a clawed hand. “I will hear this human girl.”The tree fey guards loosened their bindings, though they did not remove them.Fenella knew to wait now, until she was bidden to speak. She stood still beneath Queen Kethalia’s examining gaze. She did not let her eyes slip even once to the thick, curved knife that the queen wore in a sheath on one forearm.Her involuntary shuddering made her glad for the support of the tree fey’s vines. Would the queen think she was afraid? Fenella jutted her chin out. She was not. Not of the new young Queen of Faerie, not of anyone, not of anything. Fear had burned out of Fenella Scarborough years ago.“You look like a young girl,” mused Queen Kethalia at last. “But you are older.”A discreet tug at Fenella’s waist cautioned her not to reply.It was true that Fenella Scarborough looked young, eighteen at most. But an acute observer with knowledge of magic—and the queen was nothing if not that—would stop and look again, questioning the surface. And it would not take knowledge of magic for an observer to notice the firm tilt of Fenella’s chin, the thrust of her strong nose, and the character hinted at by her wide, mobile mouth. There was none of the uncertainty of youth.“Also,” continued the queen thoughtfully, “someone, sometime, has put a foot on your neck, and kept it there.”“Never again!” Fenella snapped. The willow fey warned her with another tug, and immediately, she compressed her mouth.Now there was not a muscle of her body that she wasn’t holding tautly. But it was even more disconcerting than she had expected, to be under the gaze of the young queen. She knew exactly what she was doing here, but she had not anticipated feeling so naked. She had not known, really, what to expect from this new young queen. Her friends the tree fey had not been willing to share their thoughts beyond agreeing to help her gain an audience.Unlike Fenella, Queen Kethalia really was only eighteen. There was a whiff of the human about Queen Kethalia too. It was not in her blood; it was culture and upbringing. The queen had recently spent several years in the human realm, in disguise as an ordinary human girl. The queen had had a human foster mother, and had attended human school, and—worst of all, according to some of the fey—had had a human best friend whom she actually loved.Whispers said that Queen Kethalia missed those days and she missed that friend, and it had affected her judgment.There was no telling any of this, however, from the impassive face meeting Fenella’s gaze now. “Speak now, girl,” the queen said. Her voice, if not gentle, was calm. “What do you want?”Fenella unclenched her hands. Her voice rang out firmly. “I want to die.”The entire watching court leaned forward.“What?” said the queen.“I want to die.”Three of the insect fey winged to the human girl and examined her with their multi-faceted eyes nearly in her face.A human seeking death was incomprehensible to the long-lived fey. In the old days, many humans came to Faerie seeking the opposite. Plus, the entire faerie race had only just managed to claw itself away from extinction; the threat of which had been why the queen was sent to the human realm to begin with.“Please,” Fenella added huskily.The spotted lizard that rode the queen’s shoulder poked his head out from the glorious mass of her hair. He flicked his tongue toward Fenella, as if to taste her sincerity.Then the queen’s partial brother, Ryland, padded up beside the throne.Ryland was a manticore. To human eyes, he seemed a monster, with his enormous, muscled lion’s body, dragon’s tail, wings, and human head. But to faerie eyes, he looked like what he also was: royal.Seeing him, Fenella wondered about other rumors she had heard. Would Ryland have been a better ruler than Queen Kethalia? It was said his ideas were different from his sister’s and unmarked by any fondness for humans. And yet their mother, the old queen, had at the end chosen Kethalia—firmly.“Sister,” Ryland said formally. “I know about this girl. May I comment?”Ryland had not been in Fenella’s plan. Panic pushed at her throat. “I don’t know him! It is my life. I will speak for myself.” The last word emerged only as a squawk, as the tree fey tightened their hold on her. A leaf even brushed her mouth in light reproof. Fenella subsided.What was that fleeting expression on the queen’s face as she glanced from her brother to Fenella and back again? Fenella squinted at her, suddenly uncertain she had seen anything at all.The queen nodded to her brother. “Go ahead.”“It is an old tale. The girl was once the human slave of the Mud Creature.” Ryland put an expression of polite inquiry on his face. “Sister, you may not know the Mud Creature. Long before you were born, he made a nuisance of himself at court, posturing as noble.”Fenella frowned. The Mud Creature?“You are correct. I have not heard of him,” said the queen.“Who do you mean?” Fenella blurted, despite the reproving tug of the tree fey. “Why do you call him the Mud Creature? I know him as Padraig.”Ryland shrugged. “The Mud Creature no doubt told you his name is Padraig. It means ‘noble,’ but it is a name he chose for himself. His mother had nothing to do with it. He was never noble.”“Another old tale?” asked the queen.“The ordinary tale of an unwanted bastard,” said Ryland, with a dismissive swish of his tail. “Unworthy of song or poetry. But the first tale, of the Mud Creature’s kidnapping of a human girl—that has elements of interest.”“Tell it, then,” said the queen.Fenella clenched her fists again. It was her story to tell, not his.Ryland lowered his lion’s body comfortably to the ground. “Some four hundred years ago, the Mud Creature kidnapped this girl—who we see before us now—and kept her here in Faerie. He took her female descendants too, one by one in turn, over the generations. They were all under a curse.”Meeting the queen’s eyes, Fenella was at least able to nod grim confirmation.“Yes,” said the queen. “The curse on the women of the Scarborough family is famous.”Ryland snorted. “That’s as may be. But one does not care for the Mud Creature. He is . . . low. As evidenced by his bothering to torture a human for so long.”“Really?” drawled the queen. “What are you saying? You disapproved of a situation you did not consider important enough to fix?”The manticore drawled back, “What should I have done, sister? A curse is a curse. Anyway, it was not my business what the Mud Creature did or did not do.” He paused. “The queen your mother, and mine, did not intervene either.”Some of the fey murmured agreement.Fenella bit her lip.The manticore rested his chin on his paws. “Its maker aside, the curse was an interesting one. And clever. To break it required three tasks of creation; three symbols braided together to describe the behavior of true love. First the creation of a seamless shirt, representing warmth. Second, the location of dry land amidst water, representing home. Finally, the sowing of corn, representing nourishment. The Mud Creature set the curse with herbs—never mind that he stole them; even back in the days of our full power, he had little strength of his own. He secured the curse with haunting, powerful music. It should have been impossible to break.”“But it wasn’t, was it, Fenella?” The queen looked at her.At last Fenella could speak. Of this at least she was proud. “My many-times-great-granddaughter Lucinda Scarborough broke the curse. With her true love at her side,” Fenella felt compelled to add.“I know Lucy,” said the queen unexpectedly. “I saw her—from a distance—when I was in the human realm.”Fenella caught her breath in surprise.“There is little resemblance between you and Lucy.”“Lucy is dark-haired,” said Fenella cautiously. “And athletic. And taller.” Fenella was herself deceptively fragile of build.“I was not thinking of surface differences.” The queen paused. “Lucy carries herself with a certain confidence. It is the confidence of one who has always been loved.”Hearing the queen’s comment should not have hurt. Fenella kept her face blank. She had once known love too. But that had been a very long time ago.“The Mud Creature was predictably incompetent,” Ryland remarked. “Letting a snip of a human girl break his curse.”Fenella had previously had no particular opinion about the queen’s brother. Now dislike flamed. “He was competent enough to destroy twenty girls of my family before my Lucy got the better of him.”“Not difficult,” said Ryland equably.Fenella’s fingers bent as if they would gouge his eyes out. She turned back to the queen.The queen said, “The Mud Creature must have valued you a great deal, Fenella, to set such a spell on you and your family.”“Valued?!” Fenella took an involuntary step forward, and was stopped only by the tree fey’s vines. “He wanted me the way a spoiled child wants a toy. He was obsessed. He entangled twenty innocent young girls. It was evil and senseless and wrong.” She took in a hard breath, regaining control. She made a movement with her hands to to push it all away. “But all that is over. It is not why I came here.”“You want death,” said the queen.“Yes.” Fenella’s entire body leaned tensely toward the queen. “When Lucy broke the curse, I was so glad. For her, for her mother, Miranda, and for her baby. But I thought my suffering would also end. I thought she had saved me too.” Suddenly she needed the support of the tree fey. “I don’t understand. Why didn’t I die?”The queen considered Fenella once again. Finally she nodded. “I see why. There is a net of vitality around you. It seems the Mud Creature cast another spell, separate from the curse on your family. This gave you inhumanly long life and health.“Yet you are not immortal, Fenella. Eventually, you will die of old age, like all creatures.”“When?” Fenella demanded.“In a few hundred more years.”Dismay rocked Fenella back on her heels.At the queen’s side, Ryland’s teeth gleamed canine. “Unless of course the humans destroy the entire world before that. That would take you down early, Fenella Scarborough, along with everyone and everything else. Including us. Feel free to desire that.”Fenella recovered enough to throw him a look. “Believe me, I do.”The watching fey had been fairly quiet to this moment, murmuring only occasionally as they listened. But now one of the rabbit fey screamed, and a disturbing rattle arose from several other quarters as well.Queen Kethalia’s brow quirked. Or possibly it was a frown. Again she looked from Fenella to her brother and then back again. “Fenella, you are rash. You know little of the fey and our place in the world, or of the intertwining of the human and the fey and the earth.”Fenella’s jaw hardened. “What I know is that I want death. I want peace. It is the proper end for all living creatures and I have earned it.”“Oh, look. She feels entitled,” jibed Ryland.Fenella managed to snap her mouth shut on more words, and cast an I’m-in-control glance toward her friends the tree fey.The queen straightened to full height. Her hawk wings flared behind her and her hair rippled down in its thousand shades and textures, green and brown and orange, moss and fur and leaf and feather. Her cobweb skirts swirled around her as if they were alive. The spotted lizard who rode her shoulder again sent out his tongue. A tiny insect fairy swerved just in time, and landed on the bough of a nearby tree fey.“Fenella, most humans would do anything for more time on this earth,” said the queen. “You can build a life for yourself here in Faerie. Or if you wish, you could even visit the human realm. In recompense for your suffering, which I do acknowledge, I would allow you this.” Her voice gentled. “You could visit Lucy. She has a family, yes? They are your family too.”Fenella’s head moved in a gesture that was neither a nod nor a shake.“Also,” said the queen encouragingly, “there is a new small daughter belonging to Lucy, isn’t there? A sweet child who will never be cursed. A little girl you could hold and love.”Fenella clutched her arms tightly around herself. “No!”“Consider—”“I have considered! I have spent the last four hundred years helpless while every girl in my family suffered. They blamed me for their fate, along with blaming Padraig. I caused the curse, and then I failed to break it, and then I failed to protect any of them. I failed!”Fenella sank to her knees and raised her head on a rigid neck. “I have already tried to die in every way I know. Poisoning and drowning. Fire and blade. Hanging and leaping. Nothing worked. Show me mercy. Undo this life-spell that Padraig cast. Let me die. It is long, long past my time.”One of the elk fey whispered to a rabbit, and the mossy rock face of a stone fey glowed phosphorescent in the moonlight. “I beg you,” said Fenella.The night wind moved through the leaves of the tree fey.The queen wore an inward expression.Ryland pointed his tail in Fenella’s direction. “She is determined. If I were you, sister, I would help her. Why not?”The queen retorted, “Because it is my job to husband the earth’s powers, not to squander them recklessly. Her death will occur in its own time, as I have said. It might well be that she still has purpose here on this earth, though she knows it not.”“Or could it be”—the queen’s brother paused suggestively—“that you have not the power to help her?”Fenella glanced up as Queen Kethalia met Ryland’s mocking eyes. Only when the queen had stared her brother down did she look away, out at her people.The bird fey cocked their heads. The insect faeries angled their antennae. One of the rock fey rumbled low, and a spider replied with the almost inaudible flex of her eight legs against the rock. Far away, among the large mammals at the edge of the clearing, the huge pronged antlers of the huntsman could be glimpsed.The queen said, to all of them, “Undoing a spell cast four hundred years ago is no easy task. We fey are not now what we once were.”“Consider it a test, sister,” drawled Ryland. “Your test.”Feathers and skin and feet were still. Thousands of eyes and antennae and ears and receptors awaited the queen’s answer.The queen did not seem intimidated. She took her time looking at her brother.“Come here,” Queen Kethalia said finally to Fenella. “Let me touch you. I will discover what is required to undo the spell.” She paused and then added dryly, “I advise you not to have much hope. The spell seems . . . tangled.”“Hope is all I do have,” said Fenella. Her pulse was pounding, pounding in her throat. She had not told the tree fey of this part of her plan. She rose from her knees. She took one firm, quick step forward, and then a second.The queen was an inch away.Desperately Fenella lunged. She fell against the queen and grabbed the hilt of the queen’s ceremonial knife. For a split second, the knife’s jagged blade gleamed in a shaft of moonlight.In the next second Fenella plunged the blade viciously into her own body. Chapter 2Immediately she threw herself to the ground, curling into a ball to protect the knife. She felt the blade slice through flesh and muscle as she twisted it up under her ribs, aiming for her heart.Warm blood gushed onto her hands and the ground.There was, however, no pain. Fenella twisted the knife with all her strength. She was succeeding, she must be. Please, please, please. It was the queen’s sacred ceremonial knife. It had been used to kill the old queen. If anything would have the power of death, it would. Please—Firm hands on her shoulders. Gentle despite their claws, the hands rolled her over. Fenella’s body uncurled. She looked up into the face of Queen Kethalia.She knew then that it was useless.The queen pulled the knife smoothly out of Fenella’s body.Now there was pain, but Fenella made not a single sound as her body healed and her flesh knit back together inexorably, even her dress fabric renewing. By the end, the bloodstains on her dress and hands and on the knife had also vanished.So, Fenella thought. She swallowed hard, exactly once. Then she got to her feet and wiped her palms on her mossy skirt.“I’m sorry, Fenella,” said the queen. “No knife can help you. Not even mine.”“What if you were the one to wield it?” Fenella challenged. “Or the huntsman?”“No,” said the queen. “Your body is enchanted and protected. You cannot die before your time.”Fenella nodded. She said belatedly, “I am sorry for grabbing your knife.”“I understand,” said the queen.It was generous of her, Fenella thought. She kept her gaze steady on the queen’s face. For a moment Fenella felt almost as if it was only the two of them there; as if she was understood. She said dully, “Is there a way to undo the spell, as you were first trying to determine? I will do anything to die.”There was silence in the clearing. Silence among the fey. And that emotion again that Fenella could not read in the queen’s face, as she glanced once at the impassive tree fey guards, once at her brother, and then back to Fenella.The queen slid her knife back into its sheath and regarded her hands. “Now that I have touched you, yes. I see a way to break the spell. But you must do it, not I. It will be difficult. I shall not tell you how to do it unless I am assured that you are—are fully sane.”Fenella felt a grim smile curl her lips as new hope flickered dimly in her.“I am sane. I was enslaved to Padraig—he whom you call the Mud Creature—for four hundred years, and I did not lose my mind. I never will. I never can.”Someone else had, though. But Fenella would not think of Bronagh. One after another Scarborough girl had come to Faerie, remained eighteen years, and then died and was replaced. But none of them had been more damaged than Bronagh. Fenella’s very own daughter, Bronagh.A slender, flexible willow bough sneaked out from one of the tree guards, slipping round Fenella’s waist. She heard the whisper of leaves as the other tree guard murmured something to her in leaf language. She sensed that the murmur was meant to be comforting. However, despite some practice, Fenella could not translate what was said. Leaf and flower language was so nuanced, so subtle, so complex.The queen was speaking to her tree fey guards, also using leaf language. Of this, Fenella caught the gist. “Bring the Mud Creature here.”The queen was summoning Padraig? Why? Why did he need to be present in order for the queen to explain to Fenella how to break the life-spell? Was it because Padraig had cast it? Abruptly, Fenella’s stomach roiled.Fenella had not seen Padraig since Lucy broke the curse on her family. She did not know how he had managed during the recent crisis that had nearly decimated the fey. She had not cared. She had only hoped that if all of the fey died, she would too.And Padraig. She had not been above hoping Padraig would die first, so she could see it. So she could spit on his corpse—no, no. Fantasies were too dangerous.She knotted her fingers together. She allowed the tree fey to stand with her, in their way.Once upon a time, in her long-ago human life, Fenella would have walked by the tree fey without thinking them anything other than slender saplings. Even now, her human vision wasn’t sharp enough to distinguish tree fey from ordinary trees unless the trees wanted her to.Which they sometimes didn’t. At the beginning of her life in Faerie, the tree fey had played pranks on Fenella. They’d lay snares of flexible green fronds to trip her, or grow a thorny branch across her path, or shift around in the forest so that she became hopelessly lost. Fenella eventually—it took decades—understood that the tree fey were interested in her, even liked her, and she learned to distinguish them from normal trees by smell. The tree fey had a subtle scent that, if you closed your eyes and stilled your mind, made the world around you feel softly, indescribably green, and wrapped in calm. You could have a good talk with a tree fey, if you were patient. She was still learning.The sapling on Fenella’s left wrapped a second vine around her waist. It supported her as Padraig was marched into the clearing between four tree guards. But the support was not necessary. After an initial instinctive flinch, Fenella stood firm. I am not afraid of him, she thought. I hate him, but—no matter what my body thinks—he has no power over me or Bronagh or anyone anymore, and I know it. I do not fear him. I fear nobody.She folded her empty arms around herself.Still, the tree fey kept its vines in place around her, and as Padraig came closer, the vines tugged Fenella gently away so that there was room for him to stand with her before Queen Kethalia.All the fey of the court, in their varied ways, focused on Padraig. Fenella too looked at him straight on. She stared boldly, scornfully, and—She inhaled and borrowed some calm from the tree fey.Padraig’s beauty almost assaulted the senses. He knew it too. For the last four hundred years, Fenella had watched him tend his body and face; had seen him strut around like his beauty entitled him to anyone and anything he wanted. She had even seen many of the Scarborough girls dazzled and enticed and seduced by his looks—at first.Padraig was the rare fey who needed little magical guise to appear human. Fenella had been surprised to learn that he was not considered attractive by those of the fey with more flexible, more mixed blood. Or, at least, that had been Fenella’s understanding until today. What did it mean, she wondered, that the queen and her brother called him the Mud Creature? Ryland had said Padraig was not noble, and that he was a bastard. But what did the word bastard even mean, when there was neither marriage nor simple two-person parentage among the fey?Padraig had lied to her about himself; at least that was clear. Interesting. No, wait, it wasn’t interesting. It was the past. She did not care. She wanted only death. Soon the queen would tell her how to achieve it.“Your Majesty,” Padraig said, inclining his head to Queen Kethalia.Fenella saw then that he had changed after all. Yes, his black hair grew as thickly as ever from his scalp, and his eyes gleamed more brightly than sapphires, and he stood straight, tall, his shoulders square, his body taut and youthful looking. And yet.Fenella’s descendant Joanne Scarborough had described to her a mechanical contrivance called a copying machine. Padraig seemed like a replica of himself. He actually looked blurred. Fenella thought about rubbing her eyes and looking again. But she didn’t, because she didn’t care about him and she wasn’t afraid of him anymore and she wouldn’t voluntarily waste another moment on him.The queen spoke to Padraig courteously enough. “Fenella Scarborough, who was once your slave, has come to us with a request.”Padraig swept Fenella a low bow. “My love.”Fenella did not reply.The queen said, “Fenella seeks to reverse the life-spell upon her.”“She can’t do that,” said Padraig instantly.“Oh, but she can,” said the queen. The small leopard-patterned gecko that rode on the queen’s shoulder stuck his head and neck entirely out from her wondrous mass of hair. “There is a way.”Fenella leaned forward. “How? What must I do?”The queen said, “You must complete three tasks of deliberate destruction in the mortal realm.”Three tasks of deliberate destruction.It took a moment to penetrate. “You mean like before?” A leaf brushed Fenella’s cheek and she pushed it away. “Three tasks? As with the first curse?”Padraig was looking at her. Fenella saw his sneer.They both knew she had failed at the previous three tasks. Everyone knew.“Yes and no,” said the queen. “These are tasks not of creation, but of destruction.”Fenella opened her mouth to ask a question, but the queen’s brother Ryland spoke first.“How poetic. I feel the beginnings of a new ballad. What shall we call this one? Scarborough Fair, part two? Summon the minstrels.”Fenella whirled on him. Ryland thought her life—her death—was a joke. “You want minstrels? I’ll rip you apart and use your forepaw for a lute!”“Ooo la la,” said Ryland. “I am terrified.”“Stop it,” said the queen. “Both of you. I said that this is not like before. Ryland, that means there will be no riddles, no tricks, and no song. And, Fenella, not a single one of these three tasks is impossible. It is only . . .” She paused. “It is only that your choices will be . . . difficult. Terrible. Also, as they must be done in the human realm, they will be terrible in human ways.”Hope had touched Fenella with the lightest of fingers, however. “No riddles? No tricks?”“That is correct,” said the queen.“How dull,” Ryland said.Fenella knew better than to react, and yet—“Oh, sorry,” she said. “I’ll make my death quest entertaining in other ways, shall I?”“Please do.” Ryland bared his teeth at her. She scowled back—and then, abruptly, realized that she was focusing her attention on the queen’s brother in order to ignore Padraig. But she felt Padraig’s gaze. Hot, as always. Possessive. Vindictive. And angry; always angry.Well, she was angry too.The queen’s brother was laughing now. He beat at the ground with one large paw. Then the other fey joined in, everyone save the queen, the tree fey, Fenella, and also Padraig. It was laughter at the irony of it all. It was laughter at Fenella’s expense, and also at the expense of the despised Mud Creature.But it was also simply the laughter of those who have lived too long without it. “Three more tasks for the Scarborough girl!” they chorused. “Better luck to her this time!” Chapter 3When the laughter stopped, the queen’s gaze was intent on Fenella. “You can do these tasks. I have no doubt. You see, destruction, unlike creation, is easy. There will be many possible solutions to these tasks. But I warn you, the ease will be only on the surface.”She paused, and then added, “My advice to you, Fenella, is to live out your life instead, long though it may be. I advise you to reject this challenge. To give up your quest for death.”“Continue with your long life,” murmured Padraig. “Your lonely life, filled with memories. Like when Bronagh came to me. Fenella, you remember your gawky daughter? That big overlapping front tooth she had . . .”Fenella looked only at the queen. She listened only to the queen.The queen said, “Don’t allow yourself to be provoked.”“I’m not listening to him,” Fenella said. And she wasn’t, though he was still murmuring provocative poison in his low, resonant voice.The queen had said the tasks would mean difficult choices, terrible choices. But at least, finally, Fenella would have choices. She met the queen’s globed eyes and thought that they were beautiful.“Your Majesty,” she said. “Thank you for this chance. What are the tasks of destruction?”Padraig was silent at last.The queen leaned forward. “You will destroy three things, but you will get to pick each one, to fit a prescribed condition.”Fenella listened carefully. “I will be in control? I will choose all three of the destructive tasks? I will not need to destroy anything—or anyone—that I do not decide to destroy?”“Yes. There will be one guideline per task.”“I see. Yes. I agree to it.”“You are not committed, Fenella, until you have said yes three times. Consider one last time that these are tasks of destruction. This means—”Fenella lifted an impatient hand. “I am not a child. I know what it means. So I am responsible for destroying this thing or that thing. What does it matter? Life destroys everything too. Nothing lasts for long. Especially in the human realm.”Feeling many critical eyes on her, she whirled and outstared a unicorn, only a foot away. She met the gaze of a speckled faun with wings. She glared at a large, mossy stone that had shuffled closer.“Life destroys all of us anyway. At the end we are broken. At the end, we are dust.” She discovered she was looking at her friends the tree fey, and that her voice was quiet, steady, and certain. “At the end, it is all meaningless. Life is death. Life is destruction.”“Ah,” Ryland drawled. “A philosopher.”Even he could not irritate her now, however. Not now that she saw her path before her, shining strong like the sun on water. Fenella merely looked at Ryland. “Yes. I am a realist.”She did not wait for his reaction. She did not care whether he realized she was no longer the uneducated peasant girl she once had been. “I absolutely agree to do this,” Fenella said to the queen. “I agree thrice. Yes. Yes. Yes.”As the sound of her final yes faded, Fenella realized that her waist was free and bare. It felt strange, to be without the touch of the tree fey. Then excitement welled up in her. She was on her way at last. She held her own fate in her hands.The queen’s brother stretched, front paws extended on the ground, muscles rippling.“Very well, Fenella,” said the queen. Her gaze moved. “Padraig, Fenella has accepted the three tasks of destruction. Now comes your part.”Padraig had a part? Before she could control herself, Fenella found she had swiveled to face Padraig.He looked straight back at her. “Why did you think she summoned me?”Fenella turned to the queen. “You said there would be no tricks!”“There are none. Padraig cast the original spell. Breaking it will affect him.”Of course. Fenella gritted her teeth. Why had she not realized this?The queen said, “Padraig, your fate will depend on Fenella’s actions, just as hers for so long depended on yours. If Fenella Scarborough succeeds in breaking the life-spell you cast on her, you will die.”There was a stirring of deepened interest from the surrounding fey. The only change in Padraig’s expression was a slight flaring of his nostrils.But Fenella caught her breath. Padraig, dead? Dead as a result of her actions? Before she had a chance to soak it in, Padraig said, “May I ask a question?”The queen inclined her head.“What if Fenella fails? What is the consequence to her? Surely there is one.”“You are correct,” the queen said. “Everything must balance.”There was a pause, a long one. Fenella waited for the blow that she should also have expected. She had been a fool to trust this unknown queen. A fool not to realize that nothing was ever straightforward with the fey. The queen said, “If Fenella fails, Padraig, then her life will again belong to you.”“My slave again?” said Padraig, slowly. “In my power again?”“Yes.”No, Fenella thought. And then: What have I done?Padraig threw back his handsome head and laughed. It was a raucous laugh, like a crow.Despite all her resolve, despite all her best intentions, Fenella flung words at him.“Laugh all you like, Mud Creature!” She took pleasure in using his new name. “We shall see.”“We shall indeed.” His gaze swept Fenella up and down in the old way.And her control snapped.When the red haze lifted from Fenella’s eyes, she discovered that the tree fey had her in their grip. All she had was a vague memory of having lunged, again, for the queen’s knife. Padraig was still leering, but he had stepped prudently back.It was the smallest of victories, his stepping away from her, but it would have to do. For now. When she won freedom, when she won her death, she would see him lifeless first.“I was wrong. This is far from dull,” murmured Ryland.All the fey were talking excitedly, laying bets, exchanging thoughts, like in the old days. The murmurs rose and strengthened—“Silence!” The queen got to her feet.She looked measuringly at her brother. “I have allowed you too much leash of late, brother.”“Allowed?” Ryland yawned. “You have little power over me, sister. We both know it.”The queen did not answer with words. She drew her knife and shaved its blade sharply along her inner arm. A viscous line of deep green-blue blood welled up.“Consider this a test, brother.” The queen smiled, but it was a smile that did not change her expression. “Your test.”“Wait,” said Ryland, half rising. “What are you—”“Or perhaps it is a punishment.” The queen spoke over him easily. “You will go with Fenella to the human realm. You will be her adviser. And you will do it well, or you shall not come back here. Do not doubt I have sufficient power for that.”Queen Kethalia stretched out her bloody arm and laid it on her brother, blood to his skin.A spasm passed through Ryland’s body. His shape went smoky. It writhed and shrank.When Ryland came back to solid form, he was a medium-sized, fluffy-haired tomcat. His fur was mostly white, but he had one black forepaw and, on his chest, a second black spot. This spot was in the exact shape of a heart.Indignantly and unmusically, the cat yowled.The queen yowled back. Their voices rose—warred—and then died out. Ryland turned his furry head slowly. He looked at Fenella.He meowed contemptuously.The queen said calmly, “Ryland has agreed. Or, rather, understood that he must obey me.” She nodded at Fenella. “Your choices and your actions—yours alone—will guide the destructive tasks. Ryland can only give you advice. But that he will do.”The leaves of the tree fey rustled.The queen appeared to listen for a moment before she swept on. “In the human realm, Fenella, if you are careful, you can get away with talking aloud to your cat. As for my brother, he will send thoughts to your mind.” She turned to the cat. “We can’t have you talking aloud, can we? You’d end in a science lab with electrodes attached to your poor wittle head.”The cat’s hair was standing on end. He presented his rear to his sister.The queen only shrugged. “Fenella, Ryland also has the power to return to Faerie when necessary and—if you are in physical contact with him—to take you with him. Finally, when you give him a direct order, he must obey.”The cat screamed.“Oh, it’s true, brother,” purred the queen. “And you know it.”She turned again to Fenella. “My brother is a cruel and callous individual. He thinks this is a strength. However, I have found him reliably strong in only one thing: He always knows how best to undermine and destroy. This, you may find useful. I certainly do not.”The cat was now silent.Fenella found her voice. “But I don’t want him!”At the same moment, beside Fenella, Padraig protested. “How is this balanced? How is this fair, that she has help? At the very least, she must have a time limit!”“There is a time limit,” said the queen.“Nine months?” asked Fenella sarcastically. It had been the amount of time allotted to try to break the previous curse.“Three,” said the queen. “The span of a single season.”The cat meowed. Fenella discovered that she could indeed hear him in her head. She’s right that you’ll do better with me to help. Unless you don’t really want death? Do you secretly want to belong once more to the Mud Creature?The cat’s mental voice was surprisingly calm. Perhaps too calm, as if he were forcing himself to be rational. Meanwhile, Padraig was standing straight, looking—was Fenella suddenly imagining this?—confident. She contained a shudder.She looked back at the cat, and then at the queen.“Decide, Fenella,” said the queen. “Do you go alone, or with Ryland?”Fenella hesitated. The tree fey murmured their opinion.Fenella said reluctantly, “I will take Ryland with me.”“Good. He knows the human realm, and so will also assist you in navigating and understanding it. It is a long time since you have lived in that world, and you will find much has changed.”Fenella said, “I know more than you realize.”It was true. She had learned about the modern world from her descendants, starting with Minnie Scarborough. Minnie had been educated before Padraig’s curse took her. She had been Fenella’s friend. Because of Minnie, Fenella had at last allowed herself to become close to every Scarborough girl that followed. Jennie. Mary. Ruth, and Joanne, Deirdre, and finally, Miranda, Lucy’s mother.Fenella had helped each of them in turn endure Padraig. She had learned to adjust the way she spoke English, and even the way she thought, to better communicate with them. Of course, each relationship had ended in pain and, yes, destruction. But still, she had learned. She was no longer the inexperienced girl who had failed herself and her family.She could do this. She could free herself, and see Padraig dead in the bargain—and she would.“I talked with each of my—my daughters, when they were imprisoned here with me. They told me about their lives, and about their world.”The queen nodded. “I am glad you mention your daughters. You will go to the two that survive, Lucy and her mother, Miranda. Tell them you have been freed and are coming to them for help to restart your life.”“No.” Fenella was firm. “I will do this destruction my own way. I will keep Lucy and her family entirely out of it.”The queen continued as if Fenella had not spoken. “They will want to love you and take care of you. They will not be suspicious.”“I don’t wish to go to them,” Fenella repeated. “I would rather simply begin on the first task of destruction. Tell me. What must I destroy first?”The cat butted his soft head against Fenella’s ankles. He did not make a sound, but Fenella heard his mocking voice in her head.“No,” she said sharply. “No, you’re wrong.” She looked at the queen. “Isn’t he wrong?”“He directed his thoughts to you, not to me. What did he say?”“He told me—” Fenella broke off. “He said that my family must be the target of each act of destruction. He said it would not be human destruction if there was no pain for me. For people I care about.” Her eyes were hot flame. “Tell me it’s not true,” she demanded.The queen said, “Your first task is the destruction of your family’s safety.”“No,” said Fenella.“Yes,” said the queen, steadily. “You have agreed. You must go forward toward the death you desire, sowing destruction about you, or you will belong again to the Mud Creature.” Chapter 4With the white-and-black cat in a plastic carrier in one hand, Fenella stood on a sidewalk before a big, shabby house. She had been standing there for several minutes. Her throat was dry and her palms were sweating. Here she was, back in the human realm after all these years. She had dreamed of this in her early years of captivity. That was a long time ago, though. Now she was in a world she did not recognize.How had she ended up tasked with destruction instead of in her grave? This was not what she had intended. But here she was and she would do it. She would destroy her family’s safety. She had her choice of how. She would find something to do that wasn’t too bad. After all, it wasn’t like she had to murder anybody. She didn’t even have to listen to Ryland’s ideas; his own sister had called him cruel and callous. The queen had only wanted to get rid of him, Fenella thought. She had not really believed he would be of valuable assistance to Fenella.She thrust her chin out determinedly, dismissing the subject of Queen Kethalia’s motivations. She needed to focus on her tasks.Now. This was the house where her family lived. Lucy. Lucy’s mother, Miranda. Lucy’s foster parents. Lucy’s young husband. And—and—And it was a beautiful morning in late September. The front garden of the house displayed a scattering of dandelions amid grass, a few bushes, and patches of bare earth. An odd little vehicle, pink with three wheels and with the word Playskool on its side, lay overturned on the front porch of the house. There was a large oak tree to Fenella’s right, and many other trees around the neighborhood as well, maple and willow and more oak, none of the trees very old. The leaves of the nearby maple were beginning to turn.Fenella wondered whether the trees would be friendly. She put a hand out to touch the oak. Nothing—oh, of course. These trees were not fey.Are you going to stand there all day long? This is a small cage I’m trapped in, and I would like to be out of it. Go up those stairs. Move into your new home already.“Shut up, Ryland,” she said to the cat. “I don’t trust you, and I don’t have to listen to you.”I plan to help you, said the cat, with exaggerated patience. In fact, I’m being forced to help you. You’d be stupid not to take advantage. I want this to end successfully every bit as much as you do.Fenella snorted. “Only because it’s in your own interest.”Whose interest should it be in? And here you claim to be a realist.She didn’t answer.He was right about her next move, she thought. She did need to walk up those stairs to the door of that house. Instead, she looked down at her unfamiliar clothes. Queen Kethalia had given her a soft white cotton shirt and a white hooded sweatshirt, and a skirt that was frankly wondrous. It was deep green as a summer leaf, and long to her calves. It swung pleasurably at the hem, and had a comfortable stretchiness woven into the fabric. One percent spandex, Ryland had told her, in her head, authoritatively.“What’s spandex?”He hadn’t answered. Instead: Tell my sister you need ballet flats. Pale pink. Not those sneaker things.Fenella had ignored the fashion advice. But now she looked around and understood at least why shoes were a necessity. Much of the ground in the human realm was covered with a smooth, hard surface that would hurt the soles of bare feet. The ground in this place was also covered with houses, and everywhere you looked, there were vehicles that operated artificially, without horses or donkeys, which was—rather fascinating. All she had really known of machinery, in the old days, was the watermill that Robert’s parents ran, and it had been a long time since she had allowed herself to think of those days.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Unthinkable:* “Werlin pulls off quite a feat, making us care deeply for a character driven by selfish needs, intent on betrayal. The book, whose plot is irresistible, also raises large questions about the nature of security. . . . At its heart, this is a story about the many different levels of love.”—Booklist starred review"Werlin, a deft storyteller and creative world-builder, weaves a twisting strand of faerie magic through the human realm, smoldering with sparks of romance and danger, just waiting to ignite."—Horn Book