“She’s right?” Willa was confused.
“If we get rid of the Princess, the whole scene changes,” Aurora said as it occurred to her. “The King has been coming for her this whole time, and in the painting, he finally succeeds. If we give her to him, the painting goes away.”
Nobody said anything, and by the confused, worried expressions on both Willa and Tove’s face, I’d say that even they were considering it. It was hard not to. If it was only one of them dead, they probably would still fight to keep me here, but everyone is dead. My life is not more valuable than all of theirs.
“You’re not giving him my daughter,” Elora said firmly. She grabbed onto the back of the chair and pushed herself up. “That is not an option.”
“If I’m going to end up dead anyway, at least I should spare the people,” I said.
“You will find another way,” she insisted. “I am not sacrificing you for this.”
“You’re not sacrificing anything,” I said. “I am willingly doing this.”
“No,” Elora said. “That is a direct order. You will not go to him.”
“Elora, I know the thought of losing your child is unbearable,” Aurora said as gently as she could. “But you need to at least consider what’s best for the kingdom.”
“If you won’t, then we’ll have you overthrown,” Laurent said. “Everyone in the kingdom would stand behind me if you were going to lead us all into certain death.”
“Death isn’t certain!” Elora snapped. “Overthrow me if you want. Until then, I am your Queen, and the Princess isn’t going anywhere.”
“Elora, why don’t you sit back down?” Garrett said gently and walked over to her.
“I will not sit down.” She slapped his hands away when he reached out for her. “I am not some feeble old woman. I am the Queen, and I am her mother, and I have a say in what happens here! In fact, I have the only say!”
“Elora,” I said. “You’re not thinking this through. You always told me that the good of the kingdom came first.”
“Maybe I made a mistake.” Elora’s once dark eyes, looking almost silver now, darted around the room. I’m not sure she could really see anything anymore. “I did everything for this kingdom. Everything. And look what’s become of it.”
She stepped forward, although I don’t know where she intended to go. Her legs gave out from under her, and she fell to the ground. Garrett tried to catch her, but he moved too late. She was unconscious by the time she hit the floor.
I rushed over to her side, and Garrett was already pulling her from the floor into his lap. Her white hair flowed around her, and she lay still in his arms. A thin line of blood came from her nose, but I doubt it came from her hitting her face on the ground. Bloody noses seemed to be a reaction that happened when abilities were overloaded.
“Is she alright?” I asked, kneeling beside her. I wanted to touch her, but I was too afraid to. She looked so frail.
“She’s alive, if that’s what you’re asking,” Garrett said. He pulled a tissue from his pocket and wiped at the blood. “But she hasn’t been doing well since she painted that.”
“Aurora,” I said, looking back over my shoulder at her. “Come heal her.”
“No, Princess,” Garrett shook his head. “It’s no use.”
“What do you mean it’s no use?” I asked, incredulous. “She’s sick!”
“There’s nothing more that can be done for Elora.” Garrett stared down at my mother, his dark eyes swimming with love. “She’s not sick, and she cannot be cured. Her life has been drained from her, and Aurora can’t give that to her.”
“She can do something, though,” I insisted. “Something to help.”
“No,” he said simply. Still holding Elora in his arms, he got to his feet. “I’m taking her to her room to make her comfortable. That’s all we can do.”
“I’ll go with you.” I stood up and looked back at the room. “We will continue this discussion tomorrow.”
“Hasn’t it already been decided?” Laurent asked with a wicked smile.
“We’ll discuss it tomorrow,” Tove said firmly, and he draped a cloth over the picture to cover it.
I went with Garrett to my mother’s room and pushed thoughts of the painting from my mind. I wanted to see Elora while I still had the chance. She didn’t have much time left, not that I even knew what that meant. Her time could be a few hours, a few days, maybe even a few weeks. But the end was drawing near.
That meant I’d be Queen soon, but I couldn’t think of that either. What little time I had that I could still spend with my mother, I wanted to just be with her. I didn’t want my mind on what would become of the kingdom or my friends or even my marriage.
I sat in the chair beside her bed and waited for her to wake up. It took longer than I’d expected it to, and I ended up dozing off. Garrett actually alerted me when she woke up.
“Princess?” Elora asked weakly, sounding surprised that I was there.
“She’s been waiting by your side,” Garrett said. He stood at the end of bed, staring down at her looking so small beneath her blankets.
“I’d like a moment alone with my daughter, if that’s alright,” Elora said.
“Yes, of course,” Garrett said. “I’ll be right outside if you need me.”
“Thank you.” She smiled at him, and he left the two of us alone.
“How are you feeling?” I asked and scooted my chair closer to the bed. Her voice was hardly more than a whisper.
“I’ve seen better days,” she said.
“I meant what I said before.” Elora turned her head to me, facing me, but I don’t know if she could see me. “You shouldn’t give yourself to the Vittra. Not for anything.”
“I can’t let people die over me,” I said gently. I didn’t want to argue with her, not when she was like this, but it seemed like sacrilege to lie to her on her deathbed.
“There has to be another way,” she insisted. “There has to be something more than sacrificing you to your father. I did everything right. I always thought about what was best for the kingdom. And all I asked for in return is that you would be safe.”
“This can’t be about my safety,” I said. “You never cared this much about it before.”