The Guinevere Deception (Camelot Rising #1) - Kiersten White
There was nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl on the cusp of womanhood.
This particular girl had never before felt the power she held by existing in a space of men, but today, surrounded by them, it radiated from her. I am untouchable. They revolved around her as though she were the Earth, and they the adoring but distant sun and moon and stars. It was a type of magic in and of itself.
A veil obscured and dimmed the world around her. She sat back-achingly straight in her saddle. She did not wriggle her toes in the boots they were so unaccustomed to. She pretended she was a painting.
“I cannot believe the convent had no nuns willing to travel with you,” Brangien complained, brushing at the fine layer of dust that baptized their journey. Then, as though unaware she had spoken aloud, she bowed her head. “But of course I am very pleased and honored to be here.”
The smile offered in response to Brangien’s apology went unacknowledged. “Of course,” the girl said, but the words were not quite right. She could do better. She had to. “I do not love travel, either, and I appreciate the kindness you have shown by being my companion on this long journey. It would be lonely without you.” They were surrounded by people, but to them, the blue-and-scarlet-wrapped girl was goods to be guarded and safely delivered to the new owner. She hoped desperately that Brangien, eighteen years to her own sixteen, would become a friend.
She would need one. She had never had one.
But it would also complicate things. She had so many precious hidden things. Having another woman with her at all times was both unfamiliar and dangerous. Brangien’s eyes were black like her hair and hinted at cleverness. Hopefully those eyes would see only what was offered them. Brangien caught her staring and offered a tentative smile.
Focused on her companion, the girl did not notice the change outright. A subtle shift, a lessening of tension, her first breath fully drawn in two weeks. She tipped her head back and closed her eyes, grateful for the leafy green reprieve from the sun. A forest. If she were not barred on all sides by men and horses, she would hug the trees. Run her fingers along their veins to learn each tree’s story.
“Tighten the circle!” Sir Bors commanded. Under the heavy arch of branches, his shout was hushed. He was a man unaccustomed to being muted. Even his mustache bristled at the offense. He moved his reins into his teeth to grip them and drew his sword with his good arm.
The girl snapped out of her daydream to see that the horses had caught the fear of the men. They shifted and stamped, eyes rolling to search as their riders did. A gust of wind lifted her veil. She met the gaze of one of the men—Mordred, three years older than she, and soon to be her nephew. His subtle mouth had twisted up at one corner as though he was amused. Had he caught her reverie before she realized she should not be pleased by the forest?
“What is it?” she asked, turning quickly away from Mordred, who was paying far too much attention. Be a painting.
Brangien shivered and shrank into her cloak. “The trees.”
They crowded in on either side of the road, twisting trunks and grasping roots. Their branches laced overhead to form a tunnel. The girl did not understand the threat. No crack of a twig, no rustling. Nothing disturbed the beauty of the forest. Except her and the men around her. “What about the trees?” she asked.
Mordred answered. His face was serious, but there was a songlike quality to his voice. Playful and low. “They were not here on our journey to retrieve you.”
Sword still drawn, Sir Bors clicked his tongue and his horse moved forward again. The men clustered around her and Brangien. The peace and relief the girl felt at being among trees again disappeared, soured by their fear. These men claimed every space they went into.
“What does he mean, the trees were not here?” she whispered to Brangien.
Brangien had been mouthing something. She leaned over