I had my back to the room as I stared out the window. It was a trick I’d learned from my mother to make me seem more in control. Elora had given me lots of tips the past few months, but the ones about commanding a meeting were the most useful.
“Princess, I think you’re being naïve,” the Chancellor said. “You can’t turn the entire society on its head.”
“I’m not.” I turned back, giving him a cool gaze, and he lowered his eyes and balled up his handkerchief in his hand. “But we can’t ignore the problems any longer.”
I surveyed the meeting room, doing my best to seem as cold and imposing as Elora always had. I didn’t plan to be a cruel ruler, but they wouldn’t listen to weakness. If I wanted to make a change here, I had to be firm.
Since Elora had become incapacitated as of late, I’d been running the day to day activities of the palace, including a lot of meetings. The board of advisors seemed to take up a lot of my time.
The Chancellor had been voted into his position by the Trylle people, but as soon as his term was up, I planned to campaign against him as hard as I could. He was a conniving coward, and we needed somebody much stronger in his position.
Garrett Strom – my mother’s “confidant” – was here today, but he didn’t always come. Depending on how Elora was doing that day, he often chose to stay and care for her instead of attending these meetings.
My assistant Joss sat at the back of the room, furiously scribbling down notes as we talked. She was a small human girl that grew up in Förening as a mänsklig and worked as Elora’s secretary. Since I’d been running the palace, I’d inherited Joss as my own assistant.
Duncan, my bodyguard, was stationed by the door, where he stood during all the meetings. He followed me everywhere, like a shadow, and though he was clumsy and small, he was smarter than people gave him credit for. I’d grown to respect and appreciate his presence the last few months, even if he couldn’t completely take the place of my last guard, Finn Holmes.
Aurora Kroner sat at the head of the table, next to her was Tove, my fiancé. He was usually the only one on my side, and I was grateful to have him here. I don’t know how I would manage ruling if I felt completely alone.
Also in attendance were Marksinna Laurent, a woman I didn’t particularly trust, but she was one of the most influential people in Förening; Markis Bain, who was in charge of changeling placement; Markis Court, the treasurer for the palace; and Thomas Holmes, the head guard in charge of all the security and trackers.
A few other high-ranking officials sat around the table, all of their expressions solemn. The situation for the Trylle was growing increasingly dire, and I was proposing change. They didn’t want me to change anything – they wanted me to support the system they’d had for centuries, but that system wasn’t working anymore. Our society was crumbling, and they refused to see the roles they played in it.
“With all due respect, Princess,” Aurora began, her voice so sweet, I could barely hear the venom underneath, “we have bigger issues at hand. The Vittra are only getting stronger, and with the embargo about to end-”
“The embargo,” Marksinna Laurent snorted, cutting her off. “Like that’s done us any good.”
“The embargo isn’t over yet,” I said, standing up straighter. “Our trackers are out taking care of the problems now, which is why I think it’s so important that we have something in place for them when they return.”
“We can worry about that when they return,” the Chancellor said. “Let’s deal with saving our asses right now.”
“I’m not asking to redistribute the wealth or call for abolishing the monarchy,” I said. “I am simply saying that the trackers are out there risking their lives to save us, to protect our changelings, and they deserve a real house to come back to. We should be setting aside money now so that when this is over, we can begin building them real homes.”
“As noble as that is, Princess, we should be saving the money for the Vittra,” Markis Bain said.
“We can’t pay the Vittra off,” Tove interjected. “This isn’t about money. This is about power. We all know what they want, and a few thousand – or even a few million – dollars won’t matter to them. The Vittra King will refuse it.”
“I will do everything in my power to keep Förening safe, but you are all right,” I said. “We have yet to find a reasonable solution for the Vittra. That means this might very well turn into a bloody fight, and if it does, we need to support our troops. They deserve the best care, including adequate housing and access to our healers if they’re injured in wartime.”
“Healers on a tracker?” Marksinna Laurent laughed, and a few others chuckled along with her. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Why is that ridiculous?” I asked, working to keep the ice from my voice. “They are expected to die for us, but we aren’t willing to heal their wounds? We cannot ask more of them than we are willing to give ourselves.”
“They are lower than us,” Laurent said, as if I didn’t understand the concept. “We are in charge for a reason. Why on Earth should we treat them as equals when they are not?”
“Because it’s basic decency,” I argued. “We may not be human, but that doesn’t mean we have to be devoid of humanity. This is why our people are leaving our cities and preferring to live amongst the humans, letting their powers die. We must offer them some bit of happiness, otherwise why would they stay?”
Laurent muttered something under her breath, keeping her steely eyes locked on the oak table. Her black hair was slicked back, pulled in a bun so tight her face looked strained. This was probably done on purpose.
Marksinna Laurent was a very powerful Trylle, able to produce and control fire, and something that strong was draining. Trylle powers weakened them, taking some of their life and aging them preternaturally.
But if the Trylle didn’t use them, the abilities did something to their minds, eating at their thoughts and making them crazy. This was especially true for Tove, who would appear scattered and rude if he didn’t use his psychokinesis.
“It is time for a change,” Tove said, speaking up when the room had fallen into an annoyed silence. “It can be gradual, but it’s going to happen.”
A knock at the door stopped anyone from giving him a rebuttal, but from the beet-red color of the Chancellor’s face, it looked like he had a few words he wanted to get out.