They pushed the horses harder the next day. She discovered she was less afraid of the forest behind them than of the city awaiting them.
What peace she could find was in the sway and bump of the horse beneath her. Horses were deeply soothing to touch. Calm and purposeful. She stroked her mare's mane absentmindedly. Her own long black hair had been plaited that morning by Brangien, woven through with threads of gold. "So many knots!" Brangien had said. But she had not seen their purpose. Had not suspected. Had she?
There were too many unforeseen complications already. How could the girl have known this young woman would explore her hair so carefully? And Mordred, always watching. He was beautiful, smooth-faced, with mossy-green eyes. She was reminded of the elegance of the snake gliding through the grass. But when she caught him staring, his smile had more of the wolf than of the snake.
The other knights, at least, cared nothing about her except out of duty. Sir Bors pushed them ever faster. They passed tiny villages where the homes huddled together like the men had in the forest, protecting each other's backs and staring outward at the land around them, fearful and defiant. She wanted to dismount, to meet the people, to understand why they lived out here, determined to tame the wild and exposing themselves to threats innumerable. But all she saw were hazy forms and green and gold hints of the world around her. The veil was a more intimate version of her guards, sealing her away.
She stopped disliking Sir Bors's pace and wished they would go even faster. She would be happy to have this journey behind her, to see what threats lay ahead so she could plan for them.
Then they came to the river.
She could make up her mind about nothing out here, it seemed. She was glad for her veil now. It hid the winking treachery of the water from her, and hid her panic from those around her. "Is there no way around?" She tried to make her voice both light and imperious. It did not succeed. She sounded exactly how she felt: terrified.
"The ferryman will see us safely across." Sir Bors delivered it as a fact. She longed to cling to his certainty, but his confidence
flowed swiftly past her and out of her reach.
"I would be happy to ride longer if it meant we could avoid the crossing," she said.
"My lady, you tremble." Mordred had somehow slid next to her again. "Do you not trust us?"
"I do not like water," she whispered. Her throat closed around how inadequately that phrase captured the soul-deep terror she felt. A memory—heavy black water over her head, around her, pressing in everywhere, filling her—surfaced, and she pushed it away with all her strength, pulling her mind from it as fast as she would her hand from a burning brand.
"Then I am afraid you will not find your new home to your liking."
"What do you mean?"
Mordred sounded apologetic, but she could not see his features well enough to know whether his face matched his tone. "No one has told you?"
"Told me what?"
"I would hate to ruin the surprise." His tone was a lie, then. He hated her. She felt it. And she did not know what she had done already in their two days together to earn his ire.
The rush of the river drove every other consideration away, its only competition the beating of her heart and her panicked breaths, trapped by her veil in a humid cloud of panic. Sir Bors helped her dismount and she stood next to Brangien, who was lost in a world of her own, distracted and distant.
"My lady?" Sir Bors said.
She realized it was not the first time he had addressed her. "Yes?"
"The ferry is ready."
She tried to step toward it. She could not make her body move. The terror was so intense, so overwhelming, she could not even lean in that direction.