“Of course I cared.” Elora sounded offended. “You are my daughter. I have always cared about you.” She paused, sighing. “I regret making you marry Tove.”
“You didn’t make me marry him. He asked. I said yes.”
“I shouldn’t have let you, then,” Elora said. “I knew you didn’t love him. But I thought if I did the right thing, I could protect you. You could end up happy, but now I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that will help you be happy.”
“I’m happy,” I said, and that wasn’t a complete lie. Many things in my life made me happy. I just hadn’t been able to enjoy them much lately.
“Don’t make the same mistakes I did,” she said. “I married a man I didn’t love because it was the right thing for the kingdom. I let the man I did love slip away, because it was the right thing for the kingdom. And I gave away my only child because it was the right thing for my kingdom.”
“You didn’t give me away,” I said. “You hid me from Oren.”
“But I should’ve stayed with you,” Elora said. “We could’ve hidden together. I could’ve protected you from all this. That is my biggest regret. That I didn’t stay behind with you.”
“How come you’re talking like this now?” I asked. “How come you didn’t say any of this to me sooner?”
“I didn’t want you to love me,” she said simply. “I knew we didn’t have much time together, and I didn’t want you to miss me. I thought it’d be better for you if you never even cared at all.”
“But you changed your mind now?” I asked.
“I didn’t want to die without you knowing how much I love you.” She held out her hand to me. I took it in mine, and her skin felt cool and soft as she squeezed my hand. “I have made so many mistakes. I only wanted you to be strong so you could protect yourself. I am so very sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry.” I forced a smile at her. “You did everything you could, and I know that.”
“I know you’ll be a good Queen, a strong, noble leader, and that’s more than these people deserve,” she said. “But don’t give too much. You need to keep some of yourself for you. And listen to your heart.”
“I can’t believe you’re telling me to listen to my heart,” I said. “I never thought I’d hear that from you.”
“Don’t act on everything your heart says, but make sure you listen to it,” Elora smiled. “Sometimes your heart is right.”
Elora and I stayed up talking for a long time after that. She didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know, but in a weird way, it felt like the first real conversation we’d had. She wasn’t talking to me as a Queen talking to the Princess, but rather as a mother talking to her daughter.
Too soon, she grew tired and fell asleep. I sat with her for a while after that anyway. I didn’t want to leave her. What little time I had left with her felt precious.
“I don’t know, Wendy.” Tove shook his head. “I don’t want you to die, but I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“I know,” I sighed. “That’s where I’m at too.”
Tove sat on the chest at the end of our bed, and I stood in front of him, chewing on my thumbnail. We were both still in pajamas, and I’m not sure how well either of us had slept the night before. I woke him early in the morning, when it was still dark out, and immediately began asking him what he thought I should do about Elora’s painting.
“You still don’t know how to kill the King,” Tove pointed out. “And you did promise him our kingdom when you’re Queen.”
“I won’t be Queen if I’m with him.”
“But he won’t let that slide,” Tove said. “Even if you go to him, he might reject you simply because he wants the kingdom.”
“I can tell him that you all booted me out when you found out my plan to combine with the Vittra,” I said. “Then he’ll have me.”
“But he still wants the kingdom,” Tove said. “He’ll still come after it, even if he has you. At best, you’re postponing the inevitable.”
“Maybe so,” I admitted. “But if that’s the best I can do, then that’s what I have to do.”
“But what then?” Tove asked, staring up at me. “What happens after the King has you?”
“You’ll become the Trylle King,” I said. “You’ll protect our people.”
“So that’s it?” Tove asked. “You’ll go, and I’ll stay?”
“Yes,” I nodded.
Loki threw open the bedroom doors, making them bang against the walls. I jumped, and Tove got to his feet. Loki’s eyes were fixed on me as he stormed in, ignoring my husband.
“What are you doing?” I asked, too startled to sound angry.
“I knew it!” Loki shouted, and his eyes never wavered from me. “As soon as Duncan told me, I knew you would immediately jump to suicide. Why are you so intent on being a martyr, Princess?”
“I’m not a martyr.” I straightened my shoulders for a fight. “What did Duncan tell you? And what are you doing bursting into my room at six in the morning?”
“I couldn’t sleep, so I came down to see if you were awake,” Loki said. “I heard the two of you talking, but I already knew that’s what you would do. Duncan told me about the painting, and I knew you’d try to go back to the Vittra.”
“You were eavesdropping?” I narrowed my eyes at him. “I’m in my personal chambers! You have no right to spy on me or come into my room without being invited!”
“I wasn’t spying on you.” Loki rolled his eyes. “Don’t be so dramatic, Princess. I paused outside your door to see if you were awake, and you clearly were, so I came in.”
“You still can’t just barge in.” I crossed my arms over my chest.
“Would you like me to go back out and knock?” Loki gestured to the doors behind him. “Would that make you feel better?”
“I would like you to leave and go back to your room,” I said.
I hadn’t talked to Loki, not really since we slept together, and I could see Tove from the corner of my eye, watching us. Loki wouldn’t look away from me, so I refused to, like we were having some kind of staring contest that I was determined to win.