Home > Antlered Crown (The Wild Hunt #18)(3)

Antlered Crown (The Wild Hunt #18)(3)
Author: Yasmine Galenorn

I leaned down, staring at Mr. Rumblebutt, who was sitting inside a very large, comfortable carrier. “I need to get you a friend or two to play with.”

I wiggled my fingers between the bars of the cage, and Mr. Rumblebutt reached out, sniffing them as he purred and rubbed his head against my hand.

“When will the villagers start trickling in?”

“A group is due to start out in two weeks, bringing the livestock that we’ll need, and then, a couple weeks after that, another group of settlers. Meanwhile, the men will begin building houses for the village and the women will start gathering what food they can find, and hunting. We can’t plant crops until next year. From what Cernunnos says—and volunteers to settle the area are coming from all around—I’d estimate we’re starting off with a population of about a thousand people. Cernunnos was good about recruiting. Herne’s well-loved among the Elves.”

I yawned. “Sorry,” I said, stretching my arms wide. “The rocking of the vardo makes me sleepy. I feel so scattered. Elta has promised that I’ll regain my focus as time goes on. So much has happened in the past few months that my coping mechanisms aren’t working very well.”

Angel snorted. “Don’t you think that the fact that you’re a goddess is affecting you?”

“Yeah, I know it is.” I paused, then said, “Just think, next summer we’ll be out picking berries on the hundreds of bushes that grow down the slope near the sea. We’ll be picking berries all season come next summer.”

“I rather doubt that you will be picking the berries,” Angel said. “That’s not a job for a queen. Or a goddess.”

I frowned, realizing she was right. One of the hardest things I was having to adjust to was accepting that I could no longer do anything I had a whim to. In a way, I’d discovered that life at the top was more limited than life down below, when I had people to answer to. I had balked about letting the servants do everything until Herne bluntly asked me if I wanted them to lose their jobs.

His family paid their servants well, and that included everybody from the lowliest kitchen maid to the grand butler and the head housekeeper.

“Did you ever envision your life taking a turn like this?” Angel asked.

I shook my head. I had never in my wildest dreams envisioned myself ending up here, in this situation.

 

 

On the fourth day, we could see the castle at the top of the cliffs. The final stretch of trail leading to the crest of the cliff was open and devoid of trees, although the forest spread in and around the slope we were ascending. The sea was on the other side, and I could hardly wait for Angel to see it. Herne had brought me here several times through the months as the workmen were busy building the castle.

As we neared the top, I asked the driver to stop so we could get out and ride horseback the rest of the way. As the groom saddled our horses, we waited alongside Herne and Viktor, who had obligingly stopped the caravan.

Viktor was in his element. He was used to the mountains, and as a half-ogre, he thrived in this environment. He was grinning and wearing leather armor, and he looked right at home. Herne motioned for Angel and me to join them, riding between the two.

I was on a black stallion, bred for strength, a present from Cernunnos. I had wanted to name him Mr. Ed, after an old TV show, but Herne had strongly suggested I pick a more noble name, given my new position. Reluctantly, I had agreed. I remembered the horse in the movie Brave had been named Angus, and so named my horse Aengus, a variant spelling.

Herne rode a white horse, of the same build and basic genetics, and he had named his mount Chantilly. When I had asked why, he said it seemed to fit.

As we crested the hill, the castle loomed to the right, casting a massive shadow against the slope behind it. Caer Briar Shore faced the west, over the sea. Muir Leathan was aptly named—the sea was vast, stretching larger than the greatest of the Great Lakes back home. I hated living away from a coastline, and while I knew this was a sea and not the edge of the ocean, it looked and felt as though it could go on forever and ever.

Next to me, Angel gasped as she looked over the edge of the cliff, at the slopes of the valley leading to the water below. The sea stretched out farther than we could possibly see, both to the left and to the right. Herne had told me it was at least six hundred miles long, and where we were situated, it was three hundred miles wide. Which meant it was bigger than Lake Michigan back on Earth. Small for a sea, it still was larger than the Salish Sea off of Puget Sound.

“It might as well be the ocean,” Angel said.

I could feel the difference, though. “No, I can feel that it’s a sea and not the ocean. There’s a different feel and smell to saltwater. Although there are a lot of elementals in this sea. That I can sense.”

The caravan had come to a stop. Angel and I rode past the wagons, then dismounted and instructed our horses to stay put. I hooked my arm through Angel’s as we walked over to the railing that ran along the edge of the cliff.

As we gazed out over Muir Leathan, I could sense the elementals playing in the water below. We were a thousand feet up, but there were winding trails that led down to the shore. While it was steep, railings had been built along the sides of the walking trails to protect anyone descending the path. The two trails that were wide enough for wagons had been reinforced on the sides so a heavy rain wouldn’t send a mudslide down the hill.

“That’s impressive,” Angel said, a soft hush in her voice.

I turned to look up at the castle. My new home. Unlike Cernunnos’s palace, Briar Shore was built of stone. To the outside eye, the castle resembled those in England, but inside, Caer Briar Shore spread out in modernistic beauty, incorporating the best from my world with the best from Herne’s world.

We had visited the castle several times during the building phase.

Herne had hired hundreds of workers to finish it by our wedding, and they had worked day and night, in shifts, to make the castle everything that we could want, and to make it a home I would feel comfortable living in. Having a home that felt like—well, home—would go a long ways in helping me transition over to my new position and my new world.

Herne had imported building supplies from Earth through the portals. While we didn’t have electricity or Earth-style plumbing, the magic of this land would make up for that. It was the best blend of both worlds.

Angel tapped me on the arm. “I can’t wait to see what it looks like inside,” she said.

“I think you’ll like it a lot,” I said. “Herne did his best to make it feel like home.”

Angel studied me for a moment. “Are you happy? I know you love Herne, so don’t even think I’m asking about that. But it seems that over the past few months you’ve been distant, off in some other world, so to speak. Do you miss home? I ask only because I know I do. I know we can’t go back because of the dragons, but I still miss it.” Her eyes were glistening.

She looked right at home here. She had adopted the garb of Annwn, and was wearing a pair of trousers with a long tunic belted at the waist. It suited her, right down to the flat leather boots. She looked like she belonged here, even if she did miss our home.

“That’s a hard question to answer,” I said. “I do miss it, to be honest. And yet, Annwn feels more appropriate for me now. I guess…I’m stuck in limbo. I’m a goddess who doesn’t know how to be a goddess. I feel like myself, only sometimes I get this scary feeling that I’m evolving into someone far removed from who I was. And I don’t know who that person is.”

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