I eyed one of the wagons that was currently being loaded with crates and boxes. “Couldn’t I ride in one of the wagons?”
Phaedra snorted and tossed her head, like she’d understood me and was insulted. Maybe she had, but more likely it was just my imagination running away with me.
“Riding in wagons is for the lower classes, or for the injured and infirm,” Dad informed me. “I’m sure Henry would be happy to have you ride in a wagon so he and his courtiers could snicker at you behind your back. They’d see it as a sign of weakness. As I’m sure you understand, we can’t afford signs of weakness.”
Guess I was going to have to learn to ride after all. How hard can it be? I asked myself, then wished I hadn’t as good as jinxed myself. Dad guided me to Phaedra’s side.
“Put your left foot in the stirrup and hop up,” he instructed me.
“Here goes nothing,” I said. The stupid stirrup was about eighty feet from the ground, and I had to pull on the saddle to haul myself up. When I got settled, the ground was disturbingly far away. I most definitely did not want to fall off. “You sure I don’t need an oxygen tank up here?” I asked, and Dad laughed while handing me the reins.
“Take good care of my daughter, Phaedra,” he said, patting the horse’s shoulder, and then he turned away from us.
Finn emerged from the crowd riding a dappled gray horse, a riderless black horse following on his heels. Dad headed toward them. The black horse’s ears flicked forward, and it made a happy-sounding noise, like it was glad to see my dad. From the way my dad smiled and rubbed its nose, I guessed he was glad to see it, too. He looked completely at ease as he climbed gracefully into the saddle. I, on the other hand, found myself squirming to find a comfortable position. Phaedra snorted and stomped her foot, which I interpreted to mean “stop fidgeting.” I put one hand on the saddle to steady myself and did my best to hold still.
We must have been among the last to arrive. No sooner had we all mounted up than the caravan started forward, a pair of Knights leading the way to an oversized doorway in the gatehouse. A handful of uniformed border patrolmen guarded the doorway, but they were more concerned with not letting any unauthorized creatures of Faerie come into Avalon than with paying attention to who went out. (Which was how the Knights who’d attacked Finn a few weeks ago had managed to escape without the slightest repercussions or even an investigation.)
I took a deep breath as Phaedra danced impatiently beneath me, waiting for her turn to join the procession.
It took a while. The prince apparently had to be in the absolute center of everything, so there were a handful of Knights telling everyone when they could and couldn’t move. I couldn’t help noticing that even though we were supposed to be under the prince’s protection, we were directed almost to the very back of the procession, with only one Knight and a baggage wagon behind us.
I saw from the tightening around my dad’s mouth that it was exactly the insult I thought it was, though he didn’t protest. I remembered him saying that the prince’s men were going to be more focused on defending Henry than on defending me, and I was glad that I had both Keane and Ethan with me.
Finally, it was our turn to move. Ethan rode up beside me, giving me a jaunty salute, while Keane and Kimber slipped in front and my dad and Finn took up the rear. I was well protected. But that didn’t stop my hands from sweating as Phaedra bore me ever closer to the door that gaped open.
“Be sure you focus on Faerie when we get to the end of the passageway,” my father called to me from behind.
My power as a Faeriewalker meant that when I looked out over the border of Avalon, I could see what was known as the Glimmerglass, a blurry double image of the mortal world and Faerie, superimposed upon each other. If I focused my gaze on the mortal world, then when we reached the end of the passageway through the gatehouse, I would see nothing but a brick wall, which I wouldn’t be able to pass through. I’d have to make sure not to let my fear blind me to Faerie.
When we entered the passageway, my hands were not only sweating, they were shaking. I was about to leave everything that was normal and familiar behind, and enter a world where magic reigned supreme. A world where at least one Faerie Queen wanted me dead, and where creatures who haunted mortals’ nightmares lived. I wanted to turn around and gallop the other way.
Okay, so maybe if I went through with this and made friendly with Titania, I would no longer be in any danger from the Seelie Court. That would be great, but it was only a maybe. And I still had to get there, which didn’t seem like any sure thing to me.
Staring ahead, I saw the wall that marked the border between Avalon and the mortal world. It was slightly indistinct, but I couldn’t make out the image of Faerie that I knew was there, too. With another deep breath, I tried to relax and let my eyes lose focus, searching for the second image in the Glimmerglass.
For a moment, I feared my nerves were going to get the best of me and my subconscious was going to refuse to let me see anything past the mortal world. But then my stomach gave a familiar sickening lurch as my vision blurred and things seemed to move within the bricks. I swallowed hard, hoping I wasn’t going to puke, and tried to focus my gaze on the movement behind the bricks as Phaedra carried me ever closer. I wondered what would happen if I couldn’t get my gaze focused on Faerie in time. Would Phaedra go through the wall? And would I then find myself dumped to the floor, trapped on this side?
The added worries about humiliating myself didn’t help. Blood clamored in my ears, and I had to remind myself to breathe every once in a while. I kept my gaze as unfocused as possible, letting the images blur until I could make out vague shapes behind the bricks, rather than just movement. The shapes resolved themselves into figures, the members of the caravan who had already passed over the border and into Faerie. I picked out one figure, a Knight on an imposing black horse, and stared at him until I could see him clearly, the brick wall now nothing but a faint afterimage making him look almost like he had scales.