As far as I could tell, Arawn had never lied to me. Deceived me, yes, but never outright lied. I couldn’t imagine my staid and usually unemotional father being “beside himself” over my absence, but if Arawn said it was so, then it probably was.
With a sigh of resignation, I took the Erlking’s offered hand and allowed him to pull me up onto the saddle in front of him. I’d expected him to put me behind him, but he and his horse dwarfed me so much that he could easily reach around me to hold the reins. This meant I was smushed up against him uncomfortably close, and I was painfully aware of the warmth of his body behind me. I was also painfully aware that he, uh, enjoyed having me there. My cheeks burned, and I prayed that he wasn’t going to comment.
It was worse when the horse started moving. Arawn’s body rubbed against mine, and his arms seemed like they were practically trapping me against his chest. And then there was that other thing, rubbing against me with every jolt of the horse’s stride. My hands gripped the edges of the saddle, not because I needed to hold on but to keep me from doing something drastically stupid like poking my elbow into his gut to make him back off.
“Relax,” the Erlking said, his voice soft as he spoke right into my ear, bringing his face uncomfortably close to mine. “You are in no danger from me. I promise.”
I managed to swallow the hysterical laugh that wanted to bubble out of me. He might not be liable to hurt me, but that wasn’t the same as not being in danger. And there was our bargain, hanging there menacingly. If I ever wanted to have sex in my life, I would have to do it with Arawn first. I doubted I’d ever have been able to do that even if I didn’t know he could steal my powers and ride out into the mortal world on an unchecked killing spree.
It took only a minute or two for us to reach the area where I’d unleashed my magic against the Bogles, and for the first time, I saw the results of what I’d done. Arawn reined his horse to a stop, staring at the collection of armor, helmets, and shoes that lay strewn across the road. Of the Bogles themselves, there was no sign.
“What happened here?” Arawn asked.
Usually, I was very secretive about my magic, but Arawn had already seen me in action once, and I was too wrung out to make something up.
“They got too close,” I said as his horse picked its way gingerly through the stinky leather. “I hit them with some kind of spell, and it threw them backward. I couldn’t see what happened after that.” I didn’t know exactly what I’d done to them, but they were definitely dead. To my shock, I felt a shudder run through Arawn’s body behind me.
“You did the same thing to them you did to your aunt Grace,” he said softly, and if I didn’t know better, I would have sworn his voice held a combination of awe and fear. But that was ridiculous. No way was the Erlking afraid of me! “You made them mortal.”
I shook my head in denial. “But it wasn’t the same spell. Whatever this was, it threw the Bogles backward. It didn’t do that to Aunt Grace.”
Arawn was quiet for a moment before he spoke again. “Magic is an almost sentient force. It understood the intent of your command. It had to get them outside of your Faeriewalker aura so that making them mortal would kill them.”
I didn’t tell Arawn I’d been thinking about turning the Bogles to stone, not making them mortal. Somehow, I didn’t think that would have been any kinder or gentler a spell to have cast. There was no denying I’d intended to kill the Bogles.
“It was self-defense,” I said, telling myself that it was silly to feel guilty about killing things that had been trying to kill me.
I felt Arawn nod, but he didn’t say anything more. And, ridiculous as it seemed, I now felt certain he was … well, maybe not afraid of me, exactly. But unsettled by me, for sure. We had already established that I was unlikely ever to use my magic against him. Now we knew I could reproduce the spell I’d used against Aunt Grace, but I still didn’t know if I could do it when I wasn’t under attack. I was sure I couldn’t use it to cold-bloodedly kill someone.
“It bothers you, knowing I can do this,” I said, though I probably should have just kept my mouth shut and hoped Arawn let it go. So far, he’d saved my life twice—not because he was so all-fired fond of me, but because if I was dead, I couldn’t give him my virginity. But what if he decided I was too dangerous? After all, I might be the only person in either of our worlds who was capable of killing him. I had a feeling that if he sided with those who wanted me dead, my life expectancy would be less than sixty seconds.
Behind me, I felt Arawn’s shoulders lift in a shrug. “I won’t pretend it isn’t disturbing. But I know you would only use it against your enemies, and as a last resort. And I am not your enemy.”
I supposed it depended on how you defined enemy, but Arawn had declared himself my ally, and I believed he meant it. At least, he’d meant it before he’d seen what my magic could do. There was something … off in his tone of voice. And he had put a little bit of space between us on the saddle. Not so much that I didn’t keep bumping into him, but enough so that he wasn’t rubbing up against me anymore. I appreciated the personal space, but I really hoped it didn’t mean Arawn was starting to reconsider my value to him. I had more than enough enemies already.
It seemed to take forever to catch up with the caravan. Phaedra had covered a lot of ground in her headlong rush.
The wind was blowing into our faces, and I smelled the carnage before it came into view. Bogles stink to high heaven, and there was an overlay of blood and fear that made it almost overpowering. Or maybe I was just imagining it.