Phaedra landed so hard I felt the vibration through the hard-packed earth, even as I slammed into it myself. My foot was tangled in the stirrup, though at least I’d gotten clear enough that Phaedra hadn’t landed on me.
She thrashed frantically, trying to get back up as the creatures swarmed her, sinking fangs and claws into her haunches. One hoof flailed dangerously close to my head as I struggled to free myself from the stirrup.
I was too out of breath from the fall to manage a hum, and I doubted I’d be able to gather enough magic to save us anyway. We were doomed!
One of the creatures jumped over Phaedra’s flailing legs and landed directly in front of me. It bared bloody fangs, then swiped at me with razor-sharp claws, and there was nothing I could do to defend myself, not when the stirrup had me trapped.
Something thwipped through the air over my head, and the creature jerked away from me, falling over backward. I blinked in momentary confusion until I saw the black-feathered arrow sticking through its throat.
Another arrow sailed over my head, taking another creature in the throat. Then, there seemed to be a veritable storm of them, zipping through the air, each one finding its target.
“Stay down, Faeriewalker,” shouted a familiar voice.
I froze in my struggles to free myself from the stirrup and glanced over my shoulder to see if I’d really heard what I thought I’d heard.
On the road in front of me were a band of horsemen, all masked and armored, each one armed with a bow. Most of them were firing away, taking out the last of my attackers. But one sat silently on his massive black horse, and though I couldn’t see his eyes behind the camouflage of his terrifying horned mask, I knew he was watching me with predatory fascination.
How long had the Erlking and his Wild Hunt been following me? And should I be happy they had just saved my life, or terrified of whatever was going to happen next?
I managed to get my foot out of the stirrup while the Huntsmen finished off the rest of the creatures. I lost my shoe in the process, but I didn’t much feel like crawling closer to Phaedra to get it. Her body was streaked with bloody gashes. There was so much blood I could hardly believe she was still alive. However, her sides were heaving, so she was obviously breathing.
The Huntsmen stopped firing, and I both felt and heard the thud as the Erlking slid off his horse and hit the ground. He was not a small man, and his mask and armor made him even larger and more intimidating.
As usual, he was dressed entirely in black, except for the silver studs and spikes on his armor. He looked like a porcupine on steroids, and I wondered how he managed to ride his horse without gutting it. And let’s not even talk about the mask, with its huge silver antlers and grotesque fangs.
The Erlking grasped the edges of his mask and lifted it carefully off. Long, thick, blue-black hair slipped out from underneath. He was the only naturally dark-haired Fae I’d ever encountered. He hung his mask from a hook on his horse’s saddle, then turned to face me.
Every time I laid eyes on him, it was like a punch to the gut. He was probably the most frightening and dangerous person I had ever met, and he was also the most breathtakingly gorgeous. Even for a Fae, which is saying a lot. He was a bad boy to the nth degree, only there was nothing remotely boyish about him.
The Erlking smiled at me. It was a knowing smile that said he guessed why I was still sitting there on my butt gaping at him instead of climbing to my feet in a dignified and mature fashion. I willed myself not to blush as I forced myself to look away, pretending to search for my shoe even though I already knew where it was.
Climbing to my feet, I hopped over to Phaedra’s side, trying to avoid looking at her wounds as I gingerly picked up my sneaker and shoved my foot into it. I heard the clanking of his armor as the Erlking approached me, and I turned to face him, trying to look unintimidated. I doubt I succeeded.
“So, is it a lucky coincidence that you happened to be nearby?” I asked. Maybe I should have thanked him for saving my life, but as always with him, I thought it better to wait and see what he was up to first.
The smile turned into a grin. “What do you think, Faeriewalker?”
“I think you were following me,” I said. “And stop calling me Faeriewalker.” It shouldn’t matter to me whether he used my name or not, but somehow when he called me “Faeriewalker,” I felt more like he thought of me as a valuable piece of property than as a person.
His eyes twinkled with amusement as he made a little half-bow. “My apologies, Dana.”
Somehow, I didn’t think that was much better after all.
Beside me, Phaedra made a low, pained sound. The Erlking—his name was Arawn, but I had trouble thinking of him that way—turned to look at her. If I didn’t know better, I could have sworn his expression was one of sympathy. I couldn’t exactly say I was fond of Phaedra, but when I looked over and saw that she was conscious and suffering, there was a pang in my chest and tears burned my eyes.
“Why couldn’t you just have stayed with the others?” I asked her, wishing I’d thought to take some horseback riding lessons (in all that excess of time I’d had to prepare for this trip—ha!). Maybe then I’d have been able to guide her to safety.
“That’s a very good question,” the Erlking said grimly.
I turned to look at him again and saw that he’d drawn his sword. He met my eyes, his deep blue gaze making me feel weak and unsteady.
“Look away,” he told me.
The burning in my eyes intensified, and I blinked frantically, trying to keep the tears from falling. “You’re going to kill her,” I whispered.