“Were you scared?” I asked. “Giving birth like that?”
“I was terrified,” she admitted. “But I had no choice. I needed to hide you and protect you. It had to be done.”
“I know,” I said. “You did the right thing. I understand that now.”
“You were so small.” Her smile changed, and she tilted her head. “I didn’t know you would be so tiny, and you were so beautiful. You were born with a dark shock of hair, and these big, dark eyes. You were beautiful and you were perfect and you were mine.”
She paused, thinking, and a lump grew in my throat. It felt so strange to hear my mother talking about me the way a mother talks about her children.
“I wanted to hold you,” Elora said at length. “I begged my mother to let me hold you, and she said it would only make it worse. She held you, though, wrapping you in a bed sheet, and staring down at you with tears in her eyes.
“Then she left,” she continued. “She took you to the hospital to leave you with the Everlys, and brought home another baby that wasn’t mine. She wanted me to hold him, to care for Rhys. She said that it would make it easier. But I didn’t want him. You were my child, and I wanted you.”
Elora turned to look at me then, her eyes looking clearer than they had in a while. “I did want you, Wendy. Despite everything that happened between your father and I, I wanted you. More than anything in the world.”
I didn’t say anything to that. I couldn’t. If I did, I would cry, and I didn’t want her to see that. Even as open as she was being, I didn’t know how she would react to me weeping outright.
“But I couldn’t have you.” Elora turned back to the window. “Sometimes it seems to me that that’s all my life has been, a series of things that I loved deeply that I could never have.”
“I’m sorry,” I said in a small voice.
“Don’t be.” She waved it off. “I made my choices, and I did the best I could.” She forced a smile at me. “And look at me. This is your birthday. I shouldn’t be whining to you.”
“You’re not whining.” I wiped at my eyes as discreetly as I could and took another sip of my tea. “And I’m glad you told me.”
“Anyway, we need to talk about switching the rooms around,” Elora said, brushing her hair back from her face. “I plan to leave most of my furniture in here, unless you’d like to change it, which is your prerogative, of course.”
“Switching what rooms?” I asked, confused.
“You’re taking my room after you get married.” She motioned around us. “This is the wedding chamber.”
“Oh, right. Of course.” I shook my head to clear the confusion. “I’ve been so busy with everything else that I’d forgotten.”
“It’s no matter,” she said. “It shouldn’t be much work to move things around, since it will be only personal items we’re moving in and out. I’ll have some of the trackers move my things out Friday, and I’ll be staying in the room down the hall.”
“They can move my things in then,” I said. “And Tove’s things too, since he’ll be sharing the room with me.”
“How is that going?” Elora leaned back in her chair, studying me. “Are you prepared for the wedding?”
“Aurora is certainly prepared for it,” I sighed. “But if you’re asking if I’m prepared to be married, I’m not sure. But I guess I’ll wing it.”
“You and Tove will be alright,” she smiled at me. “I’m certain of it.”
“You’re certain?” I raised an eyebrow. “Did you paint it?” Elora had the ability of precognition, but she could only paint her visions of the future in static images.
“No,” she laughed, shaking her head. “It’s mother’s intuition.”
I ate a little more, but she only picked at the food. We talked, and it was strange to think that I’d miss her when she was gone. I hadn’t actually known her for that long, and most of that time our relationship had been cold.
When I left, she was climbing back in bed and asked me to send someone up to clean the mess from breakfast. Duncan was waiting outside the door for me, and he went in to take care of the plates.
While Duncan was with busy with Elora, I stopped at Loki’s room to see how he was feeling. If he was better, I wanted to find out what was going on.
Thomas was still outside, so I knocked once and opened the door without waiting for a response. Loki was in the middle of changing clothes as I came in. He’d already traded his worn slacks for a pair of pajama pants, and he was holding a white tee shirt, preparing to put it on.
He had his back to me, and it was even worse than I’d thought.
“Oh my god, Loki,” I gasped.
“I didn’t know you were coming.” He turned around to face me, smirking. “Shall I leave the shirt off then?”
“No, put the shirt on,” I said, and I closed the door behind me, so nobody could see or overhear us talking.
“You’re no fun.” He wrinkled his nose and pulled the shirt over his head.
“Your back is horrific,” I said.
“And I was just going to tell you how beautiful you look today, but I’m not going to bother now if you’re going to talk that way.” Loki sat back down on his bed, more lying than sitting.
“I’m being serious. What happened to you?”
“I already told you.” He stared down at his legs and picked at lint on his pants. “The King hates me.”
“Why?” I asked, already feeling indignation at my father for doing this to him. “Why in god’s name would he do something so brutal to you?”
“You clearly don’t know your father,” Loki said. “This isn’t that brutal for him.”
“How is it not brutal?” I sat down on the bed next to him. “And you’re nearly a Prince! How can he treat you this way?”
“He’s the King,” he shrugged. “He does what he wants.”
“But what about the Queen?” I asked. “Didn’t she try to stop him?”
“She tried to heal me at first, but eventually that became too much for her. And there’s only so much Sara can do to counter Oren.”
Sara, the Queen of the Vittra, was my stepmother, but she’d once been betrothed to Loki. She was over ten years older than him, and it was an arranged engagement that ended when he was nine. They were never romantic, and she had always considered Loki more of a little brother and protected him as such.