Everything felt way too big in this house. With all this vast space between everything, it felt like I was trapped on an island. I had always thought that’s what I wanted, to be my very own island. But here I was, and I felt nothing but isolated and confused.
It didn’t help that people weren’t telling me things. Every time I asked something, there were only half answers and vague responses before the person I’d asked quickly changed the subject. For being set to inherit a kingdom of sorts, I was pretty low on the information ladder.
After sleeping fitfully, I got up and got ready for the day. I wandered around the house, but not intentionally. I had been trying to get to the kitchen, but I took a wrong turn somewhere and got lost. Rhys had given me an explanation of the palace layout the day before, but not enough, apparently.
The palace was divided into two massive wings, separated by the grand entryway. All official business took place in the south wing, which housed the meeting rooms, ballroom, a massive dining hall, offices, the throne room, as well as staff quarters and the Queen’s bedroom.
The north wing was more casual and contained my room, guest bedrooms, a living room, the kitchen, and the sitting parlor.
I was wandering around the north wing, opening doors and investigating. As far as I could tell, this place had almost as many guest rooms as a Holiday Inn, only they were a whole lot fancier. I eventually found Elora’s parlor, but she wasn’t there, so it didn’t help me any.
I moved on and tried to open the door across the hall from Elora’s space, but it wouldn’t budge. So far, this was the only door I’d found that had been locked, and I found that strange. Especially in this wing. I suppose in the south wing, locking up official business would make sense.
Fortunately, I knew a thing or two about lock-picking. In attempts to keep from being expelled, I had broken into a few school offices and stolen papers. I don’t recommend it, and in the end, it was usually ineffective.
I pulled a bobby pin from my hair and looked around. I didn’t see anyone, and hadn’t so far this morning, so I set about breaking in. After a few unsuccessful twists in the lock, I felt something give, and I turned the knob.
Pushing the door open slowly, I peeked in, half expecting to find the royal bathroom or something. When nobody screamed at me to go away, I pushed the door open wider and stepped inside. Unlike the other rooms, this one was completely dark.
Feeling along the wall, I finally found the light switch and flicked it on. The room reminded me of a large storeroom. It had no windows, and the walls were dark brown. With a bare lightbulb in the ceiling, it held none of the grandeur of the rest of the house, and it had no furniture.
But it was filled to the brim with paintings. Not hanging on the wall. Just stacked and piled around in every available space. At first I assumed they must be leftovers from the King and Queen room, but from what I could see, none of them were portraits.
I picked up the one nearest to me, and it was a lovely picture of a newborn baby wrapped in a blue blanket. I set it aside and picked up another, which appeared to be Elora, looking much younger and even more beautiful, dressed in a gorgeous white gown. Despite the beauty of the picture, her eyes looked sad and remorseful.
Holding the picture at arm’s length so I could get a better look at it, I realized something. It had the same brushstrokes, the same technique as the painting of the baby. I picked up another picture to compare, and it was the same too.
These were all painted by the same artist.
I thought back to the drawing room and the painting I had seen Elora working on. Something with dark smoke and chandeliers. I couldn’t be certain, but I would guess these were hers.
I sifted through a few more of the paintings, growing even more bewildered, and then I saw one that stopped my heart cold. When I picked it up, I wasn’t surprised to see my hands were shaking.
It showed me, looking about the same as I did now, except dressed nicer. I wore a beautiful flowing white gown, but there was a tear in the side of the dress, revealing a thin line of red blood. My hair had been pulled back, but it was starting to come loose, wild strands falling free.
In the painting, I lay on my belly on a marble balcony. The floor around me was covered in pieces of glass that shimmered like diamonds, but I didn’t seem to notice. My outstretched hand extended past the balcony, reaching into a dark oblivion.
But my face was what struck me the most. I looked absolutely horrified.
Once I got past that, I realized something even more disturbing. This picture looked exactly like me. And I’d only been here for a day. There was no way Elora could’ve painted something this detailed within twenty-four hours of meeting me.
But how could she paint me with such accuracy if we’d never met?
“I should’ve known you’d be snooping,” Finn said from behind me, startling me so much I dropped the painting.
“I—I got lost.” I turned to look at him standing in the door way.
“In a locked room?” He raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms.
“No, I—” I started to formulate some kind of lame excuse, but decided against it. I picked up the picture, the one of me reaching for nothing, and held it up for him to see. “What’s this?”
“It appears to be a painting, and if you hadn’t gathered from the locked door, it’s also none of your business.” It came as a relief that Finn didn’t sound very upset. At least not as upset as Elora would be if she found out I was in here, I’m sure.
“This is me.” I tapped the picture.
“Maybe.” He shrugged, as if he wasn’t convinced.
“No, I wasn’t asking. This is me,” I insisted. “What am I doing?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” Finn sighed. “I didn’t paint it.”
“Did Elora?” I asked, and when he didn’t say anything, I took that as my answer. “Why would she paint this? How did she paint this? We’d never met before yesterday.”
“She gave birth to you. You’d met before,” Finn replied dryly.
“Yeah, when I was a baby. That doesn’t count.” I raised the picture higher so he couldn’t help but look at it. “Why would she paint this? Or any of these?”
“In all your myriad questions about this room, did you ever stop to ask yourself why this room is locked?” Finn gave me a hard look. “That Elora might not want people looking at these?”
“Yeah, it did occur to me.” I looked back down at the painting, ignoring him. “But this is me. I have a right to know.”