Yeah, right, I thought as I fought for air.
“Hold on,” my dad said. “He’s going to activate the stones in a second, and the vertigo can be a bit uncomfortable.”
I figured the magic overload was so uncomfortable already I wouldn’t even notice a little vertigo on top of it. I was wrong.
You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when a roller coaster is whooshing down a really steep hill? Well imagine that, only ten times worse, and combine it with the feeling of that roller coaster going upside down and sideways at the same time. That would be about how I felt when Henry’s magic activated the standing stones.
Even sitting down and holding on to my dad wasn’t enough to quell the falling feeling, and if he hadn’t held my arms against his body, I might have tumbled off the horse.
The only good news was that the effect didn’t last very long. Oh, and that I didn’t hurl, though my stomach gave the possibility serious consideration.
When I opened my eyes, we were still in the middle of a circle of standing stones, but these were situated in a broad clearing rather than on the top of a hill. I had to admit, that was rather cool—if also terrifying. The caravan started forward again, following a road that was far broader and more busily trafficked than any we’d yet been on. (Not surprisingly, considering we were now only a couple hours’ travel from the Sunne Palace.)
It was once we’d taken our habitual place near the back of the caravan that Dad’s not unexpected lecture began.
I bit my tongue and didn’t argue with him, because I knew it would do me no good. I hoped I’d never again have to step up to the plate like I had today, but I wasn’t about to promise not to. Elizabeth, in her terror, would have been shredded by the Green Lady’s embrace, and I would have drowned in guilt if I’d let that happen. I had done the right thing, and nothing my dad said was going to change my mind.
It was about one hour after we’d passed through the standing stones when we came upon the first real town we’d seen since we’d left Avalon. Of course, this being Faerie, the town was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The Fae—according to my dad—were much more connected to the land than humans. They didn’t do row houses or apartment buildings or stuff like that. Even small homes came with at least a couple acres of land.
The homes were designed to blend with the surrounding forest, and some of them did it so well they were almost invisible, walls thickly covered in ivy, rooftop gardens making the whole house look like nothing more than an unusually steep hill. If I didn’t look closely at my surroundings I might have thought we were still traveling through uninhabited forest.
The illusion of traveling through empty forest was somewhat lessened when doors and windows opened, and people popped their heads out to watch our procession. I half-expected people to come running out of their houses throwing garlands of flowers—isn’t that how pompous princes are supposed to be received when returning home?—but no one did more than stand there and stare.
I know the Fae are way more reserved than humans, so I wasn’t really expecting such an enthusiastic greeting; however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a tinge of disapproval in our reception, like Henry wasn’t everyone’s favorite person. It didn’t help that we were traveling down the only major road, and Henry’s people were forcing other travelers off to the side, like they didn’t have as much right to be on the road as he did.
No one protested the unfair treatment—stupid Fae class values!—but I caught more than one person shooting irritated and impatient glances our way. Once the prince was far enough past not to see, of course.
I thought after passing those first few houses we might eventually come to some kind of business district, a place with stores or inns or other, more town-like buildings, but the landscape remained the same, small, unobtrusive houses, spaced widely apart. There were no farms, no pastures, no orchards—nothing other than residences.
“Where’s the downtown?” I asked my dad.
“You’re looking at it,” he responded, and I wondered at first if there was more to the houses than met the eye. My father soon clarified. “The Sidhe do not engage in commerce as humans do.”
“But they have to get food and supplies from somewhere, right?”
“Yes, but those transactions are considered unattractive and are kept out of sight.”
“Like Brownies,” I grumbled under my breath. “Heaven forbid the Sidhe be seen doing something so vulgar as buying food,” I said aloud. My dad just sighed and let the subject drop.
Shortly after we crossed the border into the town, the road stopped all its gentle meandering and straightened out, giving me my first glimpse of the Sunne Palace in the distance.
Fae houses might blend into the background of the surrounding forest, but the palace was very much meant to be seen.
When I’d pictured the Faerie Queen’s palace, I’d imagined something beautiful and dainty and feminine. You know, like Cinderella’s castle at Disney. The imposing structure that rose out of the trees was about as far from my expectations as it could get.
What met my eyes was a solid, towering wall of stone with a crenellated top, punctuated by tall, skinny windows—arrow slits? Hexagonal towers, made of the same gray stone, rose from each of the corners, with tall, skinny turrets sticking up from the top, making it look like the towers were giving the rest of the world the finger. There was nothing remotely pretty or dainty about the place, and it looked more like a fortress—or a prison—than a palace.