Eileen’s throat tightened, “this is the man who has my daughter?”
Bruce turned his head and looked her firmly in the eye, “Yes. And if he has me our world will fall.”
“But how ... how did you end up with me?”
Bruce cleared his throat. “The council was divided which way to go, some believed that they could control Nestor by his bond to me, others that I should be ... destroyed, Petula alone saw another way. There are few, even of the fairy kind who travel to other worlds. Petula remembered you from all those years ago, a little girl, kind and brave. She believed there was no magic in your world, and few know the gates, ... she was certain I would be safe there.”
Eileen was certain she would fall, her brain was spinning. “But he followed you Bruce! Nestor followed you!”
“I know and that I regret but we must ...”
“Regret! Regret! It’s my daughter, Bruce! She’s only five and a man like that ... Nestor ... he could do anything. How could you and Petula put us in danger like that? I have nothing to do with your world, nothing! Sure, I rescued the fairy when I was five, but that doesn’t mean that I wanted to sign up for danger, danger and more danger! Oh, and just because I asked for a flying horse, when I was five, doesn’t mean that I want to go fight a bad guy. A bad guy no one in your world seems willing to fight! You and your ... Petula, really! You assumed too much! How nice of you to bring me into this, and now my daughter too. You are the only reason she is gone! You regret it, how very nice!”
Bruce shook his mane fiercely, “Surely you can see my situation. Besides, Petula spoke highly of your bravery, your kindness, you can think of a way to save us.”
“I can’t Bruce.” Eileen trembled, “Look at me. I’ve got dish pan hands, I’m no hero. You’ll just have to deliver yourself to Nestor, so that I can take my daughter home.”
“I won’t do it.”
“You will. It’s an order. You have to do as I say, right?”
“Absolutely your worship.” Bruce looked firmly straight ahead and Eileen could feel his muscles go stiff under hands.
Eileen patted Bruce’s shoulder, “Someone will rescue you. Petula maybe. I’m just not the one.”
The rest of the ride to the gate was steely quiet. That was just fine with Eileen, she didn’t feel like talking. The last time she had been set up was in Grade 10 when Clare put cheat notes in her desk during an exam. Up until that day Clare had been her best friend. Eileen had sworn she would never be so naive again ... and yet, through no fault of her own here she was again, and this time her daughter was in danger.
The gate rose up before them so quickly that Eileen gasped. It was breathtaking. Surrounded on all sides by white billows of cloud the gate itself seemed formed out of bits of bright sunlight. Not beams of sunlight, but tightly woven ribbons so fine it appeared to be wrought not only on the surface but in layer after layer until the eye could only guess at its depth. The gate was clearly closed as the whole centre appeared to be a solid mass of weaving all pulsating in different directions. And it was radiating incredible heat. Eileen put her arm up to shield herself.
"There’s no need for that your highness. It won’t leap out and bite you.” As if to prove his point Bruce swung dangerously close to its gleaming sides so that Eileen could feel the heat radiating like a coil on her stove against her leg.
“Would you please stop that? You almost burnt my leg.”
“Did I? So sorry my lady, I did not imagine it would.”
Eileen gritted her teeth, “And stop that too!”
“Stop what, Sahib?”
Eileen growled under her breath. Bruce was difficult before, now he was becoming unbearable. Just as well he was going to Nestor, it would teach him a lesson. Bruce touched down without warning just in front the gate. Eileen gave a little squeal as Bruce’s hooves touched the cloud, sank an inch or two into the depths and then remained level. “You’ve got to be kidding.” she murmured.
Bruce shook himself so hard it almost dislodged her, “Time to get off oh Queen of the kitchen. That is if those dish pan hands can let go of my mane.”
“What! You’ve got to be kidding! This is a cloud, and as my grade three teacher kindly pointed out you can not stand on clouds....”
“I’m standing on one. We can’t fly through the gate you know, and you won’t be able to duck through on my back.”
Eileen glanced nervously at the cloud. It was true, it did appear somewhat solid, for a cloud. Bruce’s hooves rested firmly on something that looked as much like a rock as a cloud could, but there was no telling how far that bit of solidness went. She gulped hard. “I’ll just hold your mane, ok?” She slid down his back and onto the ground, touching it carefully with one toe. It appeared to be solid. Just to make sure she stood as close to his hooves as possible. That position, as well as holding tightly to Bruce’s mane, made her feel like she was in the middle of a game of Twister.
Bruce snickered, “You really do like to make things as awkward as possible, don’t you?”
“Look, I’m down, this is as good as its going to get. Just keep moving.”
Bruce walked a steady pace with Eileen shuffling awkwardly beside him until his nose practically touched the gate. The heat was searing but Bruce didn’t seem to mind, instead he sniffed the gate delicately.
“How are we going to get in?”
“Could I have some quiet please? I am concentrating. The gate’s many layers are portals to other worlds, you simply press on the round finger guide and the door flies open sucking you in.”
Eileen squinted and could just make out a small round disk placed in a different spot on each
layer. “Oh, I see. Pressing on the wrong one could be a bit of a problem.”
“Ha.” Bruce chuckled wryly, “A bit. No one travels these anymore because people either disappeared or were turned so entirely inside out they were pretty much dead.”
“Pretty much?” The thought of being inside out and not quite dying just about turned out the last of her lunch.
“Professor Colsnop of the Fairy Institute was one of the last through the gates. He still does a lot of work translating old texts. It’s quiet and no one has to smell him. The stench is pretty bad... That’s odd.”
“You’re telling me.”
Bruce gave the door another large sniff, top to bottom this time, “No, not him. It’s just that I can usually smell the other side of the gate. Each one smells different. Some gates smell like bees wax or brine, there was one that smelled like sulfur. Yours smelled like apples, which is odd considering there doesn’t appear to be any. Mine should smell like the dregs of Claptrap, probably because the fairies are always making so much of it. With all of their parties it’s a wonder they get anything done. Anyhow, the smell is gone.”
“Maybe it smells different from this side of the door?”
“No, that’s not it. There’s no smell at all. It is as though someone has taken all the scents right off the gate itself. There isn’t one left.”