“It’s dreamlike, isn’t it?”
Steve looked across at the figure that had appeared at his left side. “What is?”
“The entrance to Lord Rudyard’s domain.” She smiled enchantingly and tossed her bright scarlet hair back.
“I have business with Lord Rudyard.” Steve said.
“I keep the gate of his realm.” She said. “I meet all visitors. How can a mortal have business with a great elfen lord?”
“It’s private.” Steve said. Lord Rudyard had insisted that this was kept incredibly quiet. He was also far from a great lord, hanging on precariously between two rivals. “What should I call you?”
“You didn’t ask my name.” She said. “Perhaps you do know a little of the faerie realms. You don’t know enough, though. You bring no iron or steel.”
“I’ll call you Rose.” Steve said. “And Lord Rudyard is expecting me.”
“Is he?” Rose pouted. “I’m sure he’s not in a hurry, and you know we can play a little with time. Why don’t you stop and spend some time with me?” She ran a gentle hand up his left arm.
Steve raised an eyebrow. “I’m married. And I am here to see Lord Rudyard.” Elfen realms were a pain in the neck. Half of them had defences so deep it was impossible to get to them and then they complained about a lack of visitors.
“This road is intriguing, isn’t it?” Rose said, matching Steve’s steady gait. “You could walk forever on it, and it would never change. It will always be night and never dawn, always the chill autumn and never bright spring. You can keep pacing and even try running. Nothing helps.”
Steve looked ahead. It was utterly silent apart from the pad of their footsteps and the hiss of their breath, steaming in the chill, damp air. “I know about this road.”
“Do you? I doubt it.” Rose laughed, her voice seductively low. “But you can’t win. As you go down the road you will find nothing. No light, no warmth, no hope. Exhaustion will bring you to your knees and you will be crawling along this rough path until you collapse among the bones of your predecessors.” She ran a soft hand over his face. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather sit aside with me for a while?”
“I’m here to see Lord Rudyard.” Steve repeated.
“You can’t turn back, you know.” Rose said. “If you turn back, the road will just continue, for ever and ever, until you crumble to dust.” She ran a hand down from her throat and lower in invitation. “Are you sure you won’t sit a while with me?”
Steve looked around the unchanging bushes, nodded to himself and then muttered a few words. Magic was easy here, and Rose squeaked as she was suddenly encased in a glowing magical harness, the leash firmly in Steve’s hand. He snapped his fingers and a bright opening appeared on his right. “I think I will have a word with Lord Rudyard about his gatekeepers.” He gave the harness a tug as he strode into the hall and tried to keep his face immobile as he saw the appalled expression on Lord Rudyard’s face. “But I enjoyed the walk.”