“I suppose it could be Mab,” I said, reluctant to give up my beef with Titania. If I could blame the attack on Titania, then surely my dad would agree that we had to go home. Of course, if we tried to go home, Henry might decide to arrest us after all.
“Also unlikely,” Arawn said. “Sending members of her Court into Seelie territory and then attacking someone under Titania’s protection would be an act of war.”
I gave him my most skeptical frown. “Right, and the Seelie and Unseelie Courts have never gone to war before. They’re just bestest buds.”
One corner of his lip twitched, but he didn’t quite break into a smile. “They have warred more times than I can count, and they will war again. But this is not how it would start. There would be a pattern of escalating tension before someone declared war. And there would be a formal declaration before battle began.”
“The Fae don’t do surprise attacks?”
He shook his head. “Not like this. In Faerie, war is much more formalized than it is in the mortal world. At least from what I know of the mortal world.”
“So if it isn’t Titania, and it isn’t Mab…”
“Then you have another enemy. One who is willing to risk the Queen’s wrath by defying protocol.”
My suspicions fell immediately on Henry. He obviously didn’t like me, if only because I was my father’s daughter. But I got stuck again on the fact that his own people were attacked. Yes, he might have arranged for Phaedra to panic and run, separating me from my defenders, but still …
“Let’s get you back to your father, shall we?” the Erlking suggested. “Ethan has assured him that you’re all right, but your father is strangely reluctant to trust you to my care.”
I rolled my eyes. “Gee, I wonder why.”
The Erlking laughed and beckoned to his horse, which came to him with evident eagerness. Of course, he was an immortal hunter, and I imagined horsemanship came with the territory. He climbed easily into the saddle, then held out a hand for me.
I felt the blood drain from my face. It hadn’t occurred to me that he meant for me to get up on that horse with him. For one thing, the beast was monstrously huge, way more intimidating than Phaedra could ever have been. Not to mention that he was heavily armored, to make him even more huge. And then, there were all those spikes on the Erlking’s armor.
“I think I’d rather walk,” I said, although I doubted Arawn would give me a choice. It wasn’t like I could do anything about it if he tried to carry me off.
“I won’t hurt you,” he assured me, and in the blink of an eye, his armor disappeared, replaced by the black leather biker gear he’d worn in Avalon.
Wow. The ultimate quick change. Kimber would just die of jealousy if she knew he could do that.
I glanced around at the other Huntsmen. None of them had dismounted while Arawn and I talked. They just waited there, silent and watchful.
Of course they were silent. The members of the Wild Hunt never spoke. I’d once worried that meant he’d cut their tongues out, but Ethan told me it was the result of a spell.
I couldn’t tell the Huntsmen apart, not behind all that armor and those masks. The Erlking made it very difficult for anyone to see his Huntsmen as individuals.
“Is Connor here?” I asked quietly. “I’d rather ride with him.” Not that I knew Connor even vaguely. But he was my brother, and though it was probably illogical of me, I knew I’d feel safer with him.
The Erlking gestured at one of the Huntsmen, who nudged his horse forward and slid his mask up so I could see his face. It was like looking up into my dad’s eyes, though it took only a moment to take in the rest of his features and realize that he was not my dad. He was stockier, his face less narrow and his nose less pointed, but the resemblance was obvious.
“He is here,” the Erlking said unnecessarily, “but you will ride with me.”
Why had I known he’d say that? I knew the battle was already lost, but I tried to stand my ground anyway.
“I’d like to get to know my brother,” I said.
The Erlking laughed. “He is not a very entertaining conversationalist.”
I flinched. Usually, the Erlking at least pretended to have some human feelings, so I hadn’t expected cruelty from him. I glanced over at Connor, but if he was offended by the Erlking’s joke, there was no sign of it. He was watching me, a hint of a smile on his face.
Connor waved a hand between me and the Erlking. Telling me to go with the Erlking, I supposed. He could just have been following the Erlking’s silent orders, but something told me he wasn’t. I still didn’t want to get on the giant black horse, nor did I want to get so close to the Erlking. The last thing I wanted was him touching me.
Unbidden, an image came to my mind of when we’d sealed the deal for Ethan’s freedom—with a kiss. Because of the wild surge of magic that had accompanied the spells that bound us both to our word, that kiss had been embarrassingly passionate. I knew that it had only felt that way because of the influence of magic, that I hadn’t been in my right mind, and that even Arawn had been affected. But sometimes, I couldn’t help thinking about it. Logically, I knew that touching him wouldn’t set off any fireworks, that the kiss had been a one-time deal, but still …
The Erlking’s horse snorted and stomped its hoof, apparently as impatient with me as Phaedra had been.
“Come along,” the Erlking said. “Your father is nearly beside himself. If you don’t make an appearance soon, he’s likely to say something Prince Henry might make him regret.”