„Your left hand, Winterheart.“
Adyra obeyed and the queen clasped her hand with her own left. Astonished, the witch watched as a mother-of-pearl bracelet unrolled on the queen’s wrist and …
She cried out, but the Holler woman’s grip was iron and Adyra could not bring her hand to safety. A white snake, no longer than two insteps, crawled to her and wrapped itself around her wrist like the bracelet the witch had first thought it was.
But before the beast had fully settled, it slammed its teeth into the back of Adyra’s hand without warning.
The venom ran through her veins with a chill of ice. The clearing spun around her. Kherneras grabbed her shoulders and held her on her feet.
Damn fairies! They didn’t say they couldn’t be trusted for nothing.
„She likes you.“ The elder queen’s slender fingers, cold as winter frost, dislodged the snake’s teeth from the back of Adyra’s hand. The beast hissed in offense and rested its head on the tip of its own tail. The small body felt warm and silky on Adyra’s skin.
She no longer understood anything, was dazed, and the betrayal stunned her. Why was the Holler woman doing this? It was not fair. But that’s how it was, Adyra thought. Nowhere in the stories did it say that the fairy world functioned according to human concepts of justice and logic. On the contrary, if there was one word that kept coming up in connection with the fairies, it was ’strange‘.
It was Kherneras who spoke. „You wonder what this is all about.“
‚Killing me, perhaps?!“, Adyra wanted to shout. ‚You poisoned me, stick your stupid task in your hat!‘ And that damn snake right along with it!‘ But she couldn’t bring herself to say a word. The shock was too deep and the poison made her head light.
The queen nodded to Kherneras. „Do the rest. I wish you a good journey, Winterheart. I’m counting on you.“ She disappeared among the dense branches of the hawthorn, just as she had appeared. Adyra looked after her, stunned.
Kherneras led her to the oak tree, which was still formed into a seat, and helped her to sit down on it. „Sit down for a moment. How do you feel?“
„Poisoned,“ she slipped out in an unkind tone. The god raised an eyebrow and she swallowed. His look was rebuke and serious warning all in one.
„Forgive me, I … don’t feel well and I’m afraid.“
His expression softening, he handed her the basket. „Maybe you’ll see what else my daughter packed.“
With a furrowed brow, Adyra reached for the basket and sure enough, she found a smaller bottle among the packages. Suspicious, she pulled out the cork and sniffed the contents.
„You trust Corisande, drink from it.“
That was true. Corisande was like a sister to her, so she took a sip. The herbal decoction was a little bitter, but as soon as Adyra tasted it, the dizziness and cold disappeared and she felt good again.
„An antidote?“ she advised.
„No,“ Kherneras said bluntly. „That would defeat the purpose of the bite.“ He gently stroked the snake’s head.
Adyra was puzzled. „What purpose would that be, Lord?“
„She really likes you. Her bite is granted by our little friend here only at her own discretion. The queen could not have ordered her to do so.“
„So she bites everyone she likes?“
„No. But everyone she bites, she must like. She wouldn’t give them the ability to walk between worlds otherwise.“
„Oh,“ Adyra went on. „That’s what the poison does?“
„As long as it flows through your veins, you can cross the border between the fairy realm and the human world without help.“
„That sounds useful. But poison is poison, isn’t it?“ Her voice trembled a tiny bit.
Kherneras looked at her seriously, as if to test how she would handle the possibility of dying in her task. „Yes.“
„How long?“ Talking around it didn’t help, after all.
„Once you’re back in the human world, you shouldn’t spend more than a day on your task.“
„A day?“ Adyra couldn’t stop her voice from getting louder. „How am I supposed to do that in just one day? I don’t even know what to look for. And you and the queen, you don’t tell me what you know.“