Reluctantly, I nodded. I didn’t want to put him in danger, but he had a point. If Oren agreed with me, which is what I was counting on, I could get amnesty for Loki thrown in along with it. He would probably plan on recanting once I became Queen, but we wouldn’t make it that long.
Loki walked beside me up the pathway to the doors. I tried to open one, but it wouldn’t budge. Loki laughed a little and reached around me. He pulled it open like it was nothing, and then we stepped inside the Vittra palace.
13. The Truth
I’d forgotten how cave-like it was inside the King’s chambers. The room was windowless, and the walls were dark mahogany. The ceilings were high, and candelabras cast a pale glow over us.
We sat in elegant red chairs, the only furniture in the room aside from a bookcase and large desk. Loki, Sara, and I sat, saying nothing, and waited for the King. Loki chewed his thumbnail, and his leg bounced nervously. Sara had her hands in her lap, and she stared off with a blank expression on her face.
As soon as we’d come inside the castle, Sara’s little Pomeranian had charged at us, barking. He growled at me, but he was thrilled to see Loki and peppered him with kisses. Sara came right after, responding to the sound of his barking.
When she saw us, she blanched. She only stopped and stared, and Loki asked if she was happy to see him. Instead of answering him, she sent a nearby hobgoblin to get the King, and she led us to his chambers to wait for him.
She handed the dog off to Ludlow, one of the hobgoblins, and motioned for us to sit down. We waited in silence for what felt like a long time but may have only been minutes.
“You shouldn’t have come here,” Sara said finally.
“I know that,” Loki said.
“You shouldn’t have brought her,” Sara said.
“I know that,” he repeated.
“Why did you come back?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Loki said, growing irritated.
“That you don’t know?” Sara snorted. “He’s going to kill you.”
“I know,” he said quietly.
“I won’t let him,” I said firmly, and Loki turned to look at me.
“Forgive me, Princess, but you are so naïve,” Sara said.
“I have a plan,” I said, sounding more convincing than I felt. “I will make it work.”
“He will never let you go,” Sara said as if to warn me.
“He will,” I insisted. “As long as I offer him something larger than myself in return.”
“What do you have that’s more than that?” Sara asked.
Loki tried to change the subject by pointing out two swords that hung on the wall. While any metal probably could kill a Vittra, Oren had a special set of swords made with platinum and diamonds. He used them for all his executions, to be certain they would get the job done.
I’m not sure how that fact was supposed to be ease the tension in the room, but it didn’t last for much longer because the double doors to the chamber were thrown open when the King walked in.
Loki’s leg immediately stopped bobbing, and he dropped his hand to his lap. Oren smiled at us, and it made my skin crawl. Sara stood when he entered, so I did the same, but Loki was slow to follow.
“So you finally brought her?” Oren asked, giving him a discerning glare.
“I didn’t bring her, Sire,” Loki said. “She brought me.”
“Oh?” Oren looked surprised but he nodded approvingly at me. “You found the trash, and decided to return it, like I asked.”
“No,” I said. “He’s coming with me when I leave.”
“When you leave?” Oren asked, and his laugh echoed off the walls. “Oh, my dear sweet Princess, you’re not leaving.”
“You haven’t heard what I have to offer you,” I said.
“I already have everything I want in this room.” Oren had begun slowly walking around us in a large circle. Loki turned with him, to keep his eyes on him, but I didn’t.
“You don’t have Förening or any of the Trylle kingdom,” I said. “You don’t even have the remains of Oslinna. You may have devastated it, but it’s still ours.”
“I will get your kingdom,” Oren said, his voice right behind me.
“Perhaps,” I said. “But how long will it take you? Simply possessing the Princess doesn’t ensure a victory over them. In fact, they will only fight you harder.”
“What are you proposing?” Oren asked, and he walked around so he was in front of me.
“Time,” I said. “Give me time to get the people behind the idea so you can avoid the uprising that happened when you married my mother.”
“I quashed that uprising.” Oren smiled slyly at that, probably remembering fondly all the women and children he’d killed.
“But you lost the kingdom, didn’t you?” I asked, and his smile faltered.
“What could you possibly do to guarantee me the kingdom?” Oren asked.
“I will be Queen soon,” I said. “You saw Elora. You know it won’t be much longer.”
“And our embargo will end,” Oren said, his words threatening.
“If you let me have the time from now until I’m Queen to get the people in order and prepared for the transition, we could do it,” I said. “I could get them on your side. If I convinced them I was ruling with you, not under you, they would go along with me.”
“You would not rule with me,” he growled.
“I know,” I said hastily. “I just need to get them on my side. Get them behind you. Once everything is in place, and you are the King over all of the Vittra and Trylle, they would bow before you without complaint. They would serve you as you desire.”
“Why?” Oren raised a skeptical eyebrow and stepped back. “Why would you do this?”
“Because I know that you’re going to keep fighting, and eventually, you will win, but at the cost of thousands and thousands of my people’s lives,” I said. “I would rather work with you to ensure a bloodless takeover now than a brutal one later.”
“Hmm.” Oren seemed to think it over and nodded. “Smart. Very smart. What do you want in return?”
“No more attacks on any of our towns,” I said. “Stop all fighting against us. If you keep slaughtering them, it will be hard to convince my people to trust you. And besides that, if it’s all going to be your kingdom, you’re destroying your own property.”