Ascend / Page 2

Page 2


Duncan opened the door, and Willa poked her head in, smiling uncertainly. Since she was a Marksinna, Garrett’s daughter, and my best friend, she had every right to be here. I’d extended an invitation for her to attend these meetings, but she always declined, saying she was afraid she would do more harm than good. She had a much harder time being polite when she disagreed with people.

“Sorry,” Willa said, and Duncan stepped aside so she could come in. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. It’s just that it’s after five, and I was supposed to get the Princess at three for her birthday celebration.”

I glanced at the clock, realizing this had worn on much longer than I’d originally planned. Willa walked over to me and gave the room an apologetic smile, but I knew she’d drag me out kicking and screaming if I didn’t put an end to the meeting.

“Ah, yes,” the Chancellor smiled at me with a disturbing hunger in his eyes. “I’d forgotten that you’ll be eighteen tomorrow.” He licked his lips, and Tove stood up, purposely blocking the Chancellor’s view of me.

“Sorry, everyone,” Tove said, “but the Princess and I have plans this evening. We’ll pick this meeting up next week then?”

“You’re going back to work next week?” Laurent looked appalled. “So soon after your wedding? Aren’t you and the Princess taking a honeymoon?”

“With the state of things, I don’t think it’s wise,” I said. “I have too much to get done here.”

While that was true enough, that wasn’t the only reason I’d skipped out on a honeymoon. As much as I’d grown to like Tove, I couldn’t imagine what the two of us would do on one. I hadn’t even let myself think about how we would spend our wedding night.

“We need to go over the changeling contracts,” Markis Bain said, standing up in a hurry. “Since the trackers are bringing the changelings back early, and some families decline to do changelings anymore, the placements have all been moved around. I need you to sign off on them.”

“Enough talk of business.” Willa looped her arm through mine, preparing to lead me out from the room. “The Princess will be back to work on Monday, and she can sign anything you want then.”

“Willa, it will only take a second to sign them,” I said, but she glared at me, so I gave Bain a polite smile. “I will look them over first thing Monday morning.”

Tove walked with us into the hall, and even though we were out of the meeting, Willa still kept her arm through mine as we walked. Duncan stayed a step behind us when we were in the South Wing. I’d gotten talked to many, many times about how I couldn’t treat Duncan as an equal while business was being conducted, and there were Trylle officials at work around us.

“Princess?” Joss said, scampering behind me with papers spilling out of her binder. “Princess, do you want me to arrange a meeting on Monday with Markis Bain for the contracts?”

“Yes, that would be fantastic,” I said, slowing so I could talk to her. “Thank you, Joss.”

“You have a meeting at ten a.m. with the Markis of Oslinna.” Joss flipped through the appointment section of the binder, and a paper flew out. Duncan snatched it before it fell to the ground and handed it to her. “Thank you. Sorry. So, Princess, do you want to meet Markis Bain before or after that meeting?”

“She’ll just be going back to work from getting married,” Willa said. “Of course, she won’t want to come in first thing in the morning. Make it for the afternoon.”

I glanced over at Tove walking next to me, but his expression was blank. Since proposing to me, he’d actually spoken very little of getting married. His mother and Willa had done most of the planning, so I hadn’t even talked to him about what he thought of colors or flower arrangements. Everything had been decided for us, so we had little to discuss.

“Does two in the afternoon work for you?” Joss asked.

“Yes, that would be perfect,” I said. “Thanks, Joss.”

“Alright.” Joss stopped to hurriedly scribble down the time in the binder.

“Now she’s off until Monday,” Willa told Joss over her shoulder. “That means five whole days where nobody calls her, talks to her, or meets with her. Remember that, Joss. If anybody asks for the Princess, she cannot be reached.”

“Yes, of course, Marksinna Strom,” Joss smiled. “Happy birthday, Princess, and good luck with your wedding!”

“I can’t believe how much of a workaholic you are,” Willa sighed as we walked away. “When you’re Queen, I’ll never see you at all.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I tried to get out of the meeting sooner, but things have been getting out of hand lately.”

“That Laurent is driving me batty,” Tove said, grimacing at the thought of her. “When you’re Queen, you should banish her.”

“When I’m Queen, you’ll be King,” I pointed out. “You can banish her yourself.”

“Well, wait until you see what we have planned for you tonight,” Duncan grinned. “You’ll be having too much fun to worry about Laurent or anybody else.”

Fortunately, since I was getting married in a few days, I’d gotten out of the usual ball that would happen for a Princess’s birthday. Elora had an agreement with Aurora that the wedding take place immediately after I turn eighteen. My birthday was on a Wednesday, and I was getting married on Saturday, leaving no time for a massive Trylle birthday party.

Willa insisted on throwing me a small party anyway, even though I didn’t really want one. Considering everything that was happening in Förening, it felt like sacrilege. The Vittra had set up a peace treaty with us, saying they wouldn’t attack us until I became Queen. What we hadn’t realized at the time was the specific language they had used. They wouldn’t attack us, meaning the Trylle living in Förening. Everyone else was fair game.

The Vittra had started going after our changelings, the ones that were still left with their host families in human society. They’d taken a few before we caught on, but as soon as we did, we sent all our best trackers in the field to bring home any changeling over the age of sixteen. Any younger than that, our trackers were supposed to stand guard and watch them. They couldn’t take them without setting off an Amber Alert, so the Vittra avoided taking them too.

That left us at a horrible disadvantage. To protect the changelings, our trackers had to be in the field, so they couldn’t be here guarding the palace. We would be more exposed to an attack if the Vittra went back on our deal, but I didn’t see what choice we had. We couldn’t let them kidnap and hurt children, so I sent every tracker I could out into the field.


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