I tried to push all of my fears and concerns I had about the kingdom, and Loki, from my mind. And eventually, when I let myself, I had a really good time with my friends.
My dreams were filled with bad winter storms. Snow blowing so hard I couldn’t see anything. Wind so cold I froze to the bone. But I had to keep going. I had to get through the storms.
Duncan woke me up a little after nine the morning. Usually, I got up at six or seven to get ready for the day, depending on what time my first meetings were. Since it was my birthday, I’d slept in a bit, and it felt nice but strange.
He wouldn’t have woken me at all, except Elora requested to eat breakfast with me today since it was my birthday. I didn’t mind being woken up, though. Sleeping in that late made me feel surprisingly lazy.
I didn’t even really know what I would do with the day. It’d been so long since I had a full day that was free of plans. Either I was working on things for the kingdom, helping Aurora with the wedding plans, or spending time with Willa and Matt.
I met Elora in her bedroom for breakfast, which was usually where I saw her. She’d been in decline for a while, but even before Christmas, she’d been on bed rest. Aurora had tried healing her a few times, but she was only staving off the inevitable.
On my way to Elora’s chambers in the South Wing, I walked past the room Loki was staying in. His bedroom door was closed, and Thomas stood guard outside. He nodded once as I walked by, so I assumed everything was still going alright.
Elora’s bedroom was massive. The double doors into her room were floor to ceiling, so they were nearly two stories high. The room itself could easily fit two of my bedrooms in it, and my room was quite large. Making the room look even larger was a full wall of windows, although she kept the shades drawn most of the time, preferring the dim light of a bedside lamp.
To fill the space, she had several armoires, a writing desk, the largest bed I’d ever seen, and a sitting area complete with a couch, two chairs, and a coffee table. Today, she’d had a small dining table with two chairs set up near the window. It was all laid out with fruit, yogurt, and oatmeal – my favorite things.
The last few times I’d visited with her, Elora had been in bed, but she sat at the table today. Her long hair had once been jet black, but it was now silver-white. Her dark eyes were clouded with cataracts, and her porcelain skin had wrinkled. She was still elegant and beautiful, and I imagine she always would be, but she’d aged so much.
She was pouring herself tea when I came in, her silk dressing gown flowing behind her.
“Would you like some tea, Wendy?” Elora asked without looking up at me. She’d only recently begun calling me Wendy. For a long time she refused to call me anything but Princess, but our relationship had been changing.
“Yes, please,” I said, sitting across from her at the table. “What kind is it?”
“Blackberry.” She filled the small teacup in front of me, then set the teapot on the table. “I hope you’re hungry this morning. I had the chef whip us up a feast.”
“I’m quite hungry, thank you,” I said, and my stomach rumbled as proof.
“Go ahead.” Elora gestured to the spread. “Take what you’d like.”
“Aren’t you eating?” I asked as I got myself a helping of raspberries.
“I’m eating some,” Elora said, but she made no move to get a plate. “How is your birthday?”
“Good, so far. But I haven’t been awake that long.”
“Is Willa throwing you a party?” Elora asked, picking absently at a plum. “Garrett told me something about it.”
“Yeah, she had a little party for me last night,” I said between bites. “It was really nice.”
“Oh, I assumed she would have it today.”
“Rhys had plans today, and I don’t have that many friends, so she thought it would be better to do it last night.”
“I see.” Elora took a sip of her tea and said nothing more for several minutes. She only watched me as I ate, which would’ve made me self-conscious before, but I was starting to realize that she just enjoyed watching me.
“How are you feeling today?” I asked.
“I’m moving about.” She gave a small shoulder shrug and turned to look out the window.
The shades were open slightly, letting the brilliant light shine in. The tree tops outside were covered in a heavy blanket of snow, and the reflection made the sun twice as bright.
“You look good today,” I commented.
“You look nice today, too,” Elora said without turning back to me. “That’s a lovely color on you.”
I glanced down at my dress. It was dark blue with black lace designs over it. Willa had picked it out for me, and I did think it was really beautiful. But I still hadn’t gotten used to Elora complimenting me.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Did I ever tell you about the day you were born?” Elora asked.
“No.” I’d been eating vanilla yogurt, but I set the spoon down on the plate. “You only told me that it was hasty.”
“You were early,” she said, her voice low, as if she were lost in thought. “My mother did that. She used her persuasion, and convinced my body to go into labor. It was the only way we could protect you, but you were two weeks early.”
“Was I born in a hospital?” I asked, realizing I knew so little about my own birth.
“No.” She shook her head. “We went to the city your host family lived in. Oren thought I was interested in a family that lived in Atlanta, but I’d chosen the Everlys, who lived in northern New York.
“My mother and I stayed in a hotel nearby, hiding out in case Oren came after us,” Elora went on. “Thomas stayed on the Everlys, watching them until he saw the mother go into labor.”
“Thomas?” I asked.
“Yes, Thomas went with us,” Elora said. “That’s how I met him, actually, when we were on the run from my husband. Thomas was a new tracker, but he’d already proven to be very resourceful, so my mother chose him to help us.”
“So he was there when I was born?” I asked.
“Yes, he was.” She smiled at the thought. “I gave birth to you on the floor of a hotel bathroom. Mother used her powers on me, induced labor, and made it so I wouldn’t scream or feel pain. And Thomas sat at my side, holding my hand, and telling me it would all be fine.”