Tilda must’ve known that because she offered me an apologetic smile and a shrug of her shoulders.
For tonight, being a tracker was a much sweeter gig than being on the Högdragen. They all stood at attention in their black velvet uniforms around the edge of the room. Some were near the doors, some stood behind the royalty, and the rest just lined the walls.
We didn’t even have to wear our uniforms tonight. I’d chosen a white and black lace dress with cap sleeves, not only because I thought it was beautiful, but because it allowed easy flexibility for kicking and punching. I actually found that short dresses were much less constraining in fights than jeans or tracker uniforms.
The Kanin trackers were only really here as backup, on the off chance one of the visiting tribes decided to start something tonight, while the Trylle and Vittra brought along trackers for the same reason. The Skojare didn’t have trackers, but they had their own bodyguards, who were seated one table down from us.
“Is it weird for you?” Ember asked. She leaned on the table, but her eyes were looking over my head at the Skojare guards behind me.
A glass of red wine had been waiting at my place at the table, along with a plate of steamed vegetables, and I took a sip of the wine before answering her. “What do you mean?”
“Not being the only blonde here anymore,” Ember said, and though I knew she didn’t mean anything by it, I still bristled a little.
“She’s not the only one. Her mom is blond too,” Tilda reminded her.
“It’s kind of nice, actually,” I admitted and set my glass back on the table. “Just blending in with everyone else.”
I glanced over at the Skojare. They ranged from nearly albino in complexion, with porcelain skin and platinum hair, to pale beige and golden, closer to my and my mother’s appearance. But even looking around the room, it was a veritable rainbow of trollkind.
The Kanin actually had the darkest complexions of all the trolls, with the Trylle, the Vittra, and the Omte looking fairer in comparison. I’d never been able to even remotely blend in with the Kanin, but for the first time in a long while I didn’t stand out like sore thumb.
“Really?” Ridley cocked his head and looked over at me, while I stared down at my plate of food and stabbed at a bit of broccoli. “I thought you always liked standing out in a crowd.”
“Just because I always do doesn’t mean that I like it,” I told him flatly.
“I know you hate it, but I’ve always loved your hair.” Ember reached across the table, gently touching a lock of hair that hung free from the updo I’d put it in. “It’s beautiful, and it suits you.”
“Are you petting her?” Tilda wrinkled her nose and pushed Ember’s arm down. “She’s not a cat, Ember.”
As trackers, we were the lowest priority when it came to getting food, so when we had just gotten our second course—a squash stew that was meant to be served hot and thick but had grown cold and had been watered down to stretch it by the time it got to us—the Kings and Queens had already finished their meal.
King Evert stood up, clinking his glass to draw attention to himself. The chatter among the guests died down, replaced by the sound of chairs sliding against the wooden floor as everyone turned to look at him.
Most of the room was lit by candles on the tables and filling the massive iron chandeliers that hung from the ceiling, and while everyone could see, it was somewhat dim. But a bright electric bulb shone above the head table like a spotlight, and when the King stood up, the silver and diamonds on his tall crown glimmered like a disco ball. He wore the white suit he’d gotten married in, and it reminded me of what a Disney prince would wear, only with far more jewels and adornments, making it even more cartoonish than the actual cartoons.
“I want to thank you all for coming out tonight.” Evert spoke loudly, so his voice would carry throughout the cavernous ballroom. I could hear it surprisingly well, even tucked away in the corner. “I know some of you have traveled great distances to be here with us, celebrating this special night with my wife and I, and we want to thank you all.
“I’ve never been much for public speaking, but I know my wife has a few words she’d like to say.” He smiled and gestured to Queen Mina, who stood up next to him.
The bodice of her white gown was covered in so many diamonds I wasn’t sure how she was able to move in it. Not to mention her jewelry. Her necklace was covered in such massive rocks, I wouldn’t be surprised if it weighed ten pounds or more.
“As the King said, we both want to thank you all for joining us,” Mina said. Her voice was softer, but she managed to project it well.
I’d heard her speak many times before, and I’d come to notice that when she talked in private, like in the meeting on Thursday, she had a normal Kanin accent. But when she spoke now, in front of larger crowds, she suddenly had a mild British accent, as if that would make her sound more proper somehow.
“Over the past five years, I have had the pleasure of being your Queen and Evert’s bride.” She smiled broadly when she spoke, and her hands were folded neatly over her abdomen. “And I can honestly say that these past five years have been far happier and far greater than I ever could’ve imagined.
“Growing up in Iskyla, I could only dream of a life like this,” she went on. “For those of you that may be unfamiliar with Iskyla, it’s a small Kanin village that’s even farther north than Doldastam, so it’s even colder and more isolated, if you can believe that.”
This was met with a few chuckles, especially from other Kanins who knew of Iskyla. I’d never been there before, but most people hadn’t. From what I’d heard about it, it didn’t have any modern amenities like electricity or working phones. Plus, it was in the Arctic.
“My parents died when I was very young, but I still dreamed of getting out. I just knew that I was destined for something more,” Queen Mina told us all emphatically. “Then, in the cold dead of winter five years ago, I was invited to a ball in this very room, as were so many of you, though I didn’t expect much.”
The ball Mina referred to had been actually very Cinderella-esque, as was much of her life, apparently. King Evert’s predecessor, his cousin Elliot Strinne, had died rather suddenly with no wife or immediate heirs. This had led to a heated exchange among the royalty, with some lobbying for Elliot’s young niece to take the throne, before the Chancellor finally decided that the then-twenty-three-year-old Evert would be more suited to rule the kingdom than a child.