I let out a scream of frustration, hating the helpless feeling of standing there watching and being unable to do anything.
“We’re surrendering,” Ethan yelled back. “Don’t shoot.”
Hands up, Ethan stepped slowly out of the hollow, Keane and Kimber close behind.
* * *
Maybe I should have just run away after that. After all, it wasn’t like I could do much of anything to help my friends all by myself, unless I were willing to unleash my mortality spell on a bunch of Knights who were just following orders. And who had every reason to believe we’d been behind the bombing. I didn’t believe the Knights would be able to sense me behind the Erlking’s magic, so all I had to do was hide until nightfall and then travel through the standing stones right under their noses.
Maybe if I ran back to Avalon, I’d be able to get help for my dad and my friends. And at least I’d be safe myself, as long as I got out of Avalon before the Erlking found me. Ethan and Kimber’s dad was as powerful and influential as my own, and he’d do everything in his considerable power to get them safely home.
But who would fight for Finn and Keane? And would my dad’s political rivals try to make sure he never returned to Avalon? The only person who cared about my dad and all my friends equally, who would fight for them all, was me. Which meant I couldn’t run to Avalon and hope someone else could and would save them for me.
My mind churning desperately, trying to come up with an idea that didn’t suck, I watched as the Knights bound my friends’ hands behind their backs and bullied them through the trees. I followed, unseen and unheard.
When I broke through the trees, I saw a narrow dirt road, much smaller than the main one. The handful of Knights who had rounded up my friends was only a portion of this search party, which consisted of about a dozen people, some Knights, some not. The air around them buzzed with magic, raising all the fine hairs on my arms and the back of my neck.
A cold-faced Sidhe woman questioned Keane, trying to find out where I was. She completely ignored Ethan and Kimber, but I supposed that was a result of the rivalry between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. She no doubt thought Keane, as a member of her own Court, was more trustworthy.
Keane told her about Ethan’s attempt to capture me for the Erlking—which earned him a look of shock from Kimber, and scorn from Ethan. Ignoring their outrage, Keane went on to explain that I’d run off after Ethan’s attack, terrified that he was still tied to the Erlking and would try again.
I thought it was a pretty good story. Plausible, at least to someone who didn’t know me. And if the woman believed him, she’d send at least some of her men on a wild goose chase.
I couldn’t tell by her face whether she was buying Keane’s story, but she didn’t seem inclined to do a full-out interrogation, at least not in the middle of the road. She picked out five of her men and ordered them to carry my friends back to the Sunne Palace, where I had no doubt they would be deposited in some nasty dungeon-type place. Then she directed the rest of her men to continue searching for me.
Once again, I was helpless as my friends were hoisted up onto the backs of horses and then tied to the saddles. The rest of the search party fanned out into the woods again, one man staying behind to guard the remaining horses, while my friends and their captors took off down the road at a gallop.
I thought about trying to steal a horse, but gave up on that idea immediately. How could I get the horse to do what I wanted if it could neither see, feel, nor hear me? And even if I could, being invisible wouldn’t do me much good if I was riding a horse down the road. Maybe no one would be able to see me, but they would know something was wrong with that picture.
Instead, I checked my watch to remind myself how much longer the spell would be working, then forced my weary legs into a pathetic imitation of a jog, following the road toward the Sunne Palace. What I was going to do when and if I actually got there was anyone’s guess.
I don’t know how I kept putting one foot in front of the other. My entire body ached with fatigue, and if I stood still for a rest, I found myself swaying on my feet, my head swimming. Not trusting myself to think straight, I set the alarm on my watch to go off three minutes before the brooch’s spell would expire and forced myself to keep going. When the alarm went off, scaring the crap out of me because I’d been in such a daze I was practically delirious, I poked myself with the brooch again and kept going down the road. I couldn’t manage a jog, or even a brisk walk, so I settled for a slow and steady plod. I had a nasty moment when the narrow road I was on met with the main road, but I was pretty sure I’d chosen the right direction.
There was plenty of traffic on the road, mostly people riding horses, but a few driving wagons and some pedestrians as well. Most were heading the same way I was, reinforcing my assumption that I’d turn the right direction. No one saw me, and I silently thanked the Erlking for giving me the brooch, even though he was the enemy. I was even able to snatch some food and water from one of the passersby without anyone noticing me.
I stuffed my face as I kept walking, trying not to eat or drink too fast. A hunk of bread and an apple had never tasted so good, even though the apple had peach-colored flesh and tasted more like some kind of melon. As long as it was edible, I didn’t care, and as my body began to process the food and rehydrate, my brain started working better, too.
The Erlking’s brooch was one hell of a secret weapon. I’d been able to steal the food right out from under a Fae’s nose, and he’d had no idea I was there, even when I accidentally brushed against him.