He had no trouble hearing me. “She’s too badly hurt to save.”
I could see that with my own eyes. Some of the Fae specialized in healing magic, but I was certain the Erlking and his Wild Hunt weren’t among them. And maybe even the best of them couldn’t have saved Phaedra. When I looked at her more closely, I saw that her throat was torn almost completely open. I don’t know how she was even conscious, but the pain in her eyes was unbearable.
Swallowing hard, I shut my eyes and held my breath. I heard the Erlking’s sword slicing through the air, then heard the wet thunk of it plunging into flesh. My stomach heaved, and it was all I could do not to hurl. The air stank of blood, and of something rank and rotten. The latter I suspected came from the dead creatures.
“You can open your eyes now,” the Erlking said.
I didn’t want to, afraid of what I would see. But despite the fact that he was an ancient, cold-blooded killer, the Erlking was capable of imitating a decent human being every once in a while: when I cracked my eyes open, I saw that he’d covered as much of Phaedra’s body as he could with his black cape.
Sniffling like a baby, I dabbed surreptitiously at the corner of my eye, pretending I had some grit in it. Not that I think anyone was fooled for a moment.
It’s a sign of how badly overdosed on adrenaline I was that it wasn’t until then that I remembered the rest of the creatures, attacking my dad and my friends. I gasped, my heart jump-starting back into a full sprint.
“My dad!” I said. “And Ethan!” I turned away from the Erlking, meaning to start sprinting down the road back toward the battle.
Yeah, I know. Stupid. It wasn’t like I could do anything to help even if I got there in time, and thanks to our long gallop, the battle was probably over already anyway. But I acted on blind instinct, almost tripping over one of the dead monsters.
Of course, Arawn wasn’t about to let me go dashing off. His hand came down on my shoulder, his fingers closing on me like a vise.
“They survived,” he said as I tried to struggle out from his grip. “Your father is injured, but not seriously. Ethan and the rest are fine.”
I’d forgotten that the Erlking could communicate with Ethan over long distances, thanks to Ethan wearing his mark. Usually, I considered that a bad thing, but right now I was so grateful for it that I was almost dizzy with relief.
“You’re sure?” I asked.
“Positive. Bogles are no match for such an impressive collection of Knights and magic users.”
I glanced at one of the dead creatures. Bogles. Yet another Fae creature I’d never heard of. There were a lot of them. “What’s a Bogle? I mean—”
“They are Unseelie,” the Erlking interrupted, having correctly guessed my question. “They have a sort of primitive intelligence, but nowhere near that of the Sidhe. Or of humans, for that matter. And they are at least fifty miles outside their territory. Bogles don’t stray from their territory. Ever. Someone went to a great deal of trouble to get them here. And because they are closer to animals than to people, Titania cannot take offense over their trespassing.”
I swallowed hard. I knew it couldn’t be a coincidence that our party had been attacked. I’d thought for a moment that Prince Henry might have led us into enemy territory, but I immediately dismissed the notion. For one thing, it wasn’t supposed to be enemy territory. For another, I hoped he wasn’t so callous that he would risk so many of his own people on the off chance I or my dad might get killed in the battle.
“Why were you on your own?” the Erlking asked. “How did the Bogles manage to cut you from the herd? As it were.”
I gestured at Phaedra’s body. “She panicked and ran.” My throat tightened again as my mind forced an image of Phaedra’s pain-filled eyes on me. I hadn’t liked her, and she hadn’t liked me, and here I was practically bawling because she was dead.
The Erlking frowned and cocked his head. “Panicked? Really?”
I nodded, remembering the nervous sounds she’d started making the moment the first shout went up. “I wasn’t a good enough rider to control her.”
He shook his head. “It wasn’t your fault. A Fae horse shouldn’t have bolted. If she felt panicked, she should have run for safety, which in this case would have been anywhere but away from the herd.”
I gaped at him. “So what are you saying?”
“Someone tampered with her. Maybe cast a compulsion spell. One that prompted her to carry you off so you’d be more vulnerable.”
Dammit. That was so not what I wanted to hear. So much for my dad’s assurances that Titania wouldn’t have invited me to Court if she still wanted to kill me. I sure hoped this meant we were going to turn around and go home now. Maybe I could get back before my mom slid fully back into her old ways.
“I should be used to people trying to kill me by now,” I muttered under my breath.
Arawn smiled. “Indeed. You have made an impressive array of enemies.”
“My dad was so sure Titania wouldn’t break her word.”
“She wouldn’t. Not when you’re here under safe passage. That would be an unforgivable breach of etiquette. Even I honor the rules of Court etiquette.”
“I’m glad people would think she was rude if she killed me, but someone just tried, and she’s the logical suspect.”
“But she isn’t. Your father is right: she would not make an attempt on your life, nor would she condone someone else’s attempt, when you are traveling under her guarantee of safe passage.”