“Yes,” I said.
“You are the Princess. Nobody is higher than you. Have you got that?” Elora snapped, and I nodded. “Then you need to start acting like it. You need to command the room! They came here to see you, to gauge your power, and you need to show them. They need to have confidence that you will be able to lead them all when I am gone.”
I kept my eyes locked on the floor, even though I knew that probably offended her, but I was afraid I would cry if I looked at her yelling at me.
“You sit there like some beautiful, useless jewel, and that’s exactly what she wants.” She sighed disgustedly again. “Oh, and the way you gaped at that boy—”
At that, she abruptly stopped. She shook her head, as if too weary to continue, then turned and walked back to the sitting parlor. I swallowed back my feelings, and Finn gently touched my arm, smiling at me.
“You did just fine,” he assured me quietly. “She’s upset with Aurora Kroner, not you.”
“It sure sounded like she was upset with me,” I muttered under my breath.
“Don’t let her get to you.” He squeezed my arm, sending warming tingles through me, and I couldn’t help but return his smile. “Come on. We need to get back to the guests.”
In the sitting parlor, Garrett and Willa waited for us, the entire atmosphere far more relaxed than it had been at dinner. Finn even loosened his tie. Her outburst seemed to have calmed Elora completely, and she lounged on the chair next to Garrett. He seemed to capture a disproportionate amount of her attention, but I didn’t mind.
Soon a whole other side of Finn emerged. He sat next to me, his leg crossed over his knee, making charming small talk with the group. He was still gracious and respectful, but he chatted easily. I bit my tongue, afraid to say the wrong thing, happy to let Finn entertain Garrett and Willa. Even Elora looked pleased.
Garrett and Elora started talking politics, and Finn became more engaged in the conversation. Apparently, Elora had to appoint a new Chancellor in six months. I didn’t even know what that was, and I thought asking would only make me look foolish.
As the night progressed, Elora had to excuse herself because of a migraine. Garrett and Finn offered their sympathy, but neither of them seemed particularly surprised or concerned. When they continued with the whole Chancellor business again, it became clear that Willa had grown bored. She said she needed fresh air and invited me to join her.
We went down a long hall to a small alcove with nearly invisible glass doors. They led out to the balcony that ran from one end of the house to the other, lined with a thick black railing that reached up to my chest.
I froze, remembering the painting I had seen in Elora’s locked room. It was this marble balcony I had been lying on, my hand outstretched at nothing, my face contorted in horror. I looked down at my dress, but it didn’t feel right. This one was lovely, but the dress in the picture had shimmered. Broken glass had littered the ground also, and I didn’t see any.
“Are you coming?” Willa glanced back at me.
“Uh, yeah.” I nodded and, taking a deep breath, I followed her out.
Willa went over to the farthest corner and leaned on the railing. Out here, the view was even more intimidating. The balcony hung over a hundred-foot drop. Below us the tops of maples, oaks, and evergreens stretched out as far as the eye could see. The secret garden remained hidden from sight.
Farther down the bluff I could see the tops of houses, and way down at the bottom the turbulent river ran past us. Just then a breeze blew across the balcony, sending a cold chill down my bare arms, and Willa sighed.
“Oh, knock it off!” Willa grumbled, and at first I thought she was talking to me.
I was about to ask what she meant when she lifted her hand and waved her fingers lightly in the air. Almost instantly her hair, which had been blowing back in the breeze, settled on her shoulders. The wind had died away.
“Did you do that?” I asked, trying not to sound as awed as I felt.
“Yeah. That’s the only thing I can do. Lame, isn’t it?” Willa wrinkled her nose.
“No, actually, I think it’s pretty cool,” I admitted.
She controlled the wind! Wind was an unstoppable force, and she just wiggled her fingers, and magically it stopped.
“I kept hoping I’d get a real ability someday, but my mother only had command over the clouds, so at least I did better than that.” Willa shrugged. “You’ll see when your abilities start coming in. Everybody hopes for telekinesis or at least some persuasion, but most of us are stuck with basic use of the elements, if we’re lucky. The abilities aren’t what they used to be, I guess.”
“Before you came here, did you know you were something?” I asked, looking over my shoulder at her. She had her back against the railing, and she leaned over it, letting her hair hang down over the edge.
“Oh, yeah. I always knew I was better than everyone else.” Her eyes fluttered shut and she waved her fingers again, stirring up a light breeze to flow through her hair. “What about you?”
“Um . . . kind of.” Different, yes. Better, not at all.
“You’re younger than most of us, though,” Willa commented. “You’re still in school, aren’t you?”
“I was.” Nobody had made any mention of school since I got here, and I had no idea what their intentions were for the remainder of my education.
“School sucks anyway.” Willa stood up straight and looked at me solemnly. “So why did they get you early, anyway? Is it because of the Vittra?”
“What do you mean?” I asked nervously.
I knew what she meant, but I wanted to see if she’d tell me. Nobody seemed that keen on talking about the Vittra, and Finn hadn’t even mentioned their attack since I’d come here. Inside the compound I assumed I was safe, but I didn’t know if they still wanted me.
“I’ve heard stories that the Vittra have been prowling around lately, trying to catch Trylle changelings,” Willa said casually. “I figured you’d be a top priority ’cause you’re the Princess, and that’s kind of a big deal here.”
She looked thoughtfully at her bare toes and mused, “I wonder if I’d be a top priority. My dad’s not a King or anything like that, but we are kind of royalty. What’s lower than a Queen in the human world? Is that a Duchess or something?”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged. I knew nothing of monarchy and titles, which was ironic, considering that I was now integral to a monarchy.