“I know,” he nodded.
Annali stared up at her husband for a moment, not saying anything.
“Ember, say goodbye to your father,” Annali said. Ember started to protest, and Annali pulled at her arm. “Now, Ember.”
Ember did as she was told. She hugged Thomas, and he kissed her cheek. Annali cast one more look at Thomas over her shoulder, and then she and Ember left out the front door. Thomas stayed behind for a moment, his whole body sagging.
He’d sent his family away to protect them. He’d seen the painting the same as I had, and he knew the destruction that was set to befall the palace. It was no place for innocent bystanders.
But then something occurred to me. I had been trying to find a way to change the outcome of the painting, to do something that would alter the course of events and make it so we wouldn’t all die, and I finally figured it out.
“We take the fight to them,” I said, and I was met with five blank stares.
Thomas, Tove, Willa, Finn, and Loki stood across from me, none of them looking pleased with what I proposed. I’d called them all into the War Room to discuss things, but so far, I’d done most of the talking.
“That’s your grand idea?” Loki asked, looking vaguely bemused, and that was the most positive response I’d gotten. “Get killed there instead of here?”
“The idea is not to get killed anywhere,” I said and leaned back against the table behind me.
“Well, if this is what you want to do, Wendy, I’ll support it,” Willa said, but she sounded reluctant. “But I don’t know how much it will help. The Vittra will have home-field advantage.”
“Loki knows his way around the Vittra palace.” I gestured to Loki, who grimaced when I volunteered him to lead the way. “And we’ll surprise them. That was how Finn survived the hobgoblin attack before.”
“I barely survived that, Princess,” Finn reminded me. “And we don’t have much of an element of surprise. The Vittra are about to come here and take the kingdom. As soon as they get word of your ascension to the throne, they’ll be on their way.”
“That’s why we need to move now,” I said.
“Now?” Finn and Willa said in unison, both shocked.
“Yes,” I nodded. “I’ve arranged to have my coronation in two hours. Then I’m Queen, and as my first order as the ruling monarch, I will declare war against the Vittra. We will go to them, we will attack, and we will win.”
“You want to hit them tonight?” Tove asked.
“Yes, when they’re sleeping,” I said. “It’s the best chance we have.”
“Princess, I don’t know if that’s possible.” Thomas shook his head. “We can’t plan a full scale attack in a few hours.”
“As soon as the King finds out I’m Queen, he will be at our door with an army of hobgoblins.” I pointed toward the door to emphasize my point. “We are talking a matter of days here. What more can you do in the next two days that will be superior to getting the jump on the Vittra?”
“I don’t know,” Thomas admitted. “But it doesn’t mean we should embark on a suicide mission.”
“You’re talking suicide?” I asked. “You saw the painting. Your son is dead. Everyone in this room, except for you, is dead.” I paused, letting that sink in. “We have to do something to change that.”
“Attacking the Vittra palace will only change the location that we die,” Finn said.
“Maybe so,” I agreed. “But so what? I have read book after book of Trylle history. And you know what it says? We concede. We wait. We avoid. We only defend. We never stand up and fight for ourselves.
“And now is the time to fight. This is our last chance. Not just ours, as in the people in this room, but our entire kingdom’s last chance to stand up and fight against the Vittra. If we don’t do this now, they will conquer us.”
“That’s a shame,” Willa said, looking awed.
“What is?” I asked.
“That you used that speech now instead of saving it to help me convince the Markis and Marksinnas to go fight with us tonight,” Willa said.
“So it’s agreed then?” I asked.
“You know that I’ll always have your back,” Tove said. “No matter what.”
“I almost hate to say it, but yes, I’m with you,” Loki said. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “I’ll attack the Vittra tonight.”
“I still think there’s a better way,” Thomas said. “But I don’t know what it is. If this is the best we have, then this is what we must do.”
“Is there nothing that can convince you to stay?” Finn asked.
“No,” I shook my head. “This is my fight as much as it is yours, if not more. I will be there.”
“Fine,” Finn sighed. “Then I’m in too.”
“Excellent,” I said. I wanted to smile. I felt like I should, to seal the deal somehow, but I didn’t. My stomach was twisted too much.
“We have a few hours until we leave then?” Thomas asked.
“Yes,” I said. “After my coronation.”
“I suppose that I need to brief everyone on the layout of the Vittra palace,” Loki said.
“That would be helpful, yes,” I said.
“Alright.” Loki scratched the back of his neck and looked over at Finn. “Let’s get to it then.”
Loki, Finn, and Thomas went to deal with the schematics of the attack, and Willa had the harder job of convincing the higher Trylle to fight today. Tove had to go with me, because he had to be crowned King.
We waited in our chambers, and we discussed the Vittra a bit, but mostly, we said nothing. There was so much to do and so little to say.
Markis Bain came in to officiate the coronation. It was normally a large ceremony, a huge spectacle for the entire kingdom to attend, but we didn’t have time for that. Duncan was on hand to witness, and Bain swore us in.
With a few simple words and a quick signature on a piece of paper, we were King and Queen.
Tove immediately left to talk to his mother. He needed to convince her to join the attack on the Vittra. Her healing powers would be invaluable in battle. Duncan went down to work with the trackers. I would go follow him soon, but I waited behind a moment to breathe.
I stared out the window. The snowy days had taken a break, resulting in a preternaturally warm one. It was just above freezing, and the air was thick with a winter fog. Heavy, white frost covered all the branches, like they had been wrapped in it.