I managed it in the nick of time. The moment I was finally able to focus on something that was purely Faerie, Phaedra stepped through where the wall in the mortal world had been.
There was a part of me that expected the transition from Avalon to Faerie to be dramatic and flashy, that thought it should be like going through the looking glass into a world that was completely foreign and unfamiliar. This despite the fact that with my Faeriewalker’s vision, I’d had numerous glimpses into Faerie already and knew it wasn’t a world of giant toadstools and beanstalks. When I’d dared the disorientation of looking through the Glimmerglass, I’d seen what looked like untold miles of forest. Trees, trees, and more trees. Which, if you think about it, really isn’t that unusual a sight, unless you’d never been outside a city before.
I held my breath as Phaedra crossed the border into Faerie, waiting for the thunderclap, or whatever, and I was almost disappointed when nothing particularly out of the ordinary happened. There was a broad dirt road leading away from the gate, but it curved out of sight within a hundred yards or so. The prince and his entourage were already making their way down that road.
I forced myself to start breathing again, looking all around me in search of something to give me the immediate evidence that we weren’t in Kansas anymore, but there was no yellow brick road, no lollipop trees, no monsters from out of my nightmares. The trees were a little odd in that I could identify almost none of them. Not that I’m a naturalist or anything, but I could usually recognize your basic pines, maples, and oaks. I spied a couple of oak trees, but aside from that, they were all mystery trees, which made the forest suddenly look a lot more foreign. Still, if I didn’t look too closely, I could almost fool myself into believing we were riding down a nature trail somewhere back in the U.S.
“You were expecting more fanfare?” Ethan asked, grinning at me. He looked like he was having fun, although there was still that hint of sadness in his eyes that reminded me how much he had changed. As if the Erlking’s mark on his face wasn’t reminder enough.
I shrugged a bit sheepishly. “I don’t know what I was expecting,” I admitted.
“Something more exotic, I presume. I know that’s what I was expecting the first time I came to Faerie. But it’s really a fairly normal place—except where it’s not.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “Yeah, normal. I’m sure.” Never mind that I hadn’t seen anything outlandish yet. I was sure that would come.
“Fairly normal,” he said. “And the exceptions can be a bit unsettling.”
“Fantastic.” Phaedra snorted and tossed her head, the movement startling me enough that I almost fell off. I patted the side of her neck uneasily. “Take it easy,” I said. “I didn’t mean to insult your homeland.”
She snorted again, as if to say, Yeah, right. Ethan smothered a smile, and I felt the heat rising in my face. We’d been in Faerie two whole minutes, and I was having a conversation with my horse. Not cool.
“Phaedra hates me,” I told Ethan in what I hoped was a haughty voice. “I figured it wouldn’t hurt to kiss ass a little in hopes that she won’t dump me on my head.”
Ethan laughed again. I noticed he seemed to have no trouble with his own horse. He rode with a kind of easy confidence I would have envied, if I’d had any desire to become a better horsewoman. He looked fantastic astride that white horse, with his blond hair loose around his shoulders, his comfortably worn jeans clinging to the muscles of his thighs. For the thousandth time, I wondered how I’d managed to catch the eye of someone like him, who could have any girl he wanted.
Ethan caught my admiring stare and winked at me, totally aware of how sexy he was. I’d once found that arrogance annoying, but now it just made me smile and shake my head. Yes, I had it bad for him. And at that moment, I didn’t mind a bit.
* * *
The nerves and anticipation that had kept me so hopped up I could barely sleep last night quickly gave way to boredom and discomfort. Because of the baggage wagons, our caravan moved at a plodding walk, and all I could see on both sides of the road was trees, trees, trees.
At first, I kept staring at the trees, strangely weirded out by their unfamiliarity. The occasional familiar oak only made the rest of the trees seem more foreign. The air was filled with what sounded like bird song—though again, nothing I could recognize—and sometimes, I caught flashes of color out of the corner of my eye. Whenever I turned to look, there was nothing there. Eventually, I learned to stop looking, but that didn’t make me any less aware of the phantom flashes that constantly reminded me of the thinly veiled strangeness of the forest.
Luckily, the torture that was horseback riding provided plenty of distraction from my unsettling surroundings. My butt began protesting the hardness of the saddle within about fifteen minutes, and Phaedra’s impressive girth gave my inner thighs a serious stretch.
I was sure that when I dismounted I’d be walking like a cowboy—assuming I could walk at all. It was only force of will that kept me from asking how much longer we were going to go without a rest, but I didn’t want to be like the little kid in the backseat going, “Are we there yet?” Even if that was what I was thinking.
We’d been on the go for about four hours when the road took a sharp curve, and a huge, breathtaking lake came into view. I could catch only occasional glimpses of it through the trees, but the water was a sparkling shade of blue I associated with Caribbean beaches. I’d never seen a lake that wasn’t muddy brown in color before, but maybe Faerie didn’t do muddy water.