“Yeah, I think I’m like that.” Willa narrowed her eyes in concentration. “My official title is Marksinna, and that’s like a Duchess. My dad is a Markis, which is just a male Marksinna. We’re not the only ones, though. There are maybe six or seven other families in Förening alone with the same title. The Kroners were next in line for the crown if you didn’t come back. They’re real powerful, and that Tove is a catch.”
While he was attractive, nothing had impressed me about Tove other than his telekinesis. Still, it felt weird knowing that they were vying for my spot, and we had just eaten dinner with them.
“I don’t have to worry that much about it, though.” Willa yawned loudly. “Sorry. Boredom makes me sleepy. Maybe we should go inside.”
It was getting cold, so I was happy to oblige. As soon as we went back in, Willa lay on the couch and all but fell asleep, so Garrett excused himself shortly after. He went to say good-bye to Elora, and then helped Willa out to the car.
The butler was cleaning everything up, so Finn suggested that we head up to our respective rooms. The night had been surprisingly tiring, so I was eager to comply.
“What’s going on?” I asked after the Stroms left. It was the first chance I’d had all evening to really talk to him. “What is this ball or party or whatever that’s happening next Saturday?”
“It’s the Trylle equivalent of a debutante ball, except that boys go through it too,” Finn explained as we climbed the stairs.
Dully, I remembered how grand I had felt coming down the stairs a few hours earlier. For the first time I had felt almost like a Princess, and now I felt like a child playing dress-up. Aurora had seen through my fancy trappings (which she didn’t even find all that fancy) and realized that I wasn’t special.
“I don’t even know what a debutante ball is.” I sighed. I knew nothing of high society.
“It’s a coming-out party, your presentation to the world,” Finn elaborated. “Changelings aren’t raised here. The community doesn’t know them. So when they come back, they’re given a small amount of time to acclimate, and then they’re introduced to society. Every changeling has one, but most are very small. Since you are the Princess, you will have guests from all over the Trylle community. It is quite an ordeal.”
I groaned. “I’m not ready for that at all.”
“You will be,” Finn assured me.
We walked in silence the rest of the way to my bedroom as I fretted and worried about the upcoming party. It hadn’t been that long ago that I had gone to my very first dance, and now I was expected to be the center of a formal ball.
I could never pull that off. Tonight had only been a semi-formal dinner, and I hadn’t even performed well at that.
“I trust you’ll sleep well this evening,” Finn said as I opened the bedroom door.
“You need to come in with me,” I reminded him, then pointed to my dress. “I can’t unzip this thing on my own.”
Finn followed me into the darkened room and flipped on the lights. The glass wall worked as a mirror thanks to the black night. In the reflection, I still thought I looked nice, and then I realized that was probably because I had other people picking out my clothes. My judgment was too flawed. I turned away from the glass and waited for Finn to unzip me.
“I really botched things tonight, didn’t I?” I asked sadly.
“No, of course not.”
Finn’s hand pressed warm on my back, and I felt the dress loosen as he pulled the zipper down. I wrapped my arms around myself to keep it up, then turned to look at him. Some part of me was distinctly aware that we were only a few inches apart, my dress was barely on, and his dark eyes were fixed on me.
“You did exactly what I told you,” Finn said. “If anyone ruined things, it was me. But the night wasn’t ruined. Elora is just sensitive about the Kroners.”
“Why? Why does she let them get to her so much? She’s the Queen.”
“Monarchs have been overthrown before,” Finn answered calmly. “If you seem unfit for the position, the next in line can contest it and petition to take the title.”
All the color drained from my face. There was suddenly way too much pressure on me to perform. I felt sick, and I swallowed hard. The ball had scared me enough before I knew that, if I failed, my mother could be overthrown.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.” His expression saddened again, and he added quietly, “Elora has a plan to appease them.”
“What is it?” I asked.
Instead of answering, his eyes got far away and his expression blanked. His brow furrowed, and then he nodded.
“I am sorry,” Finn said. “You’re going to have to excuse me. Elora requires assistance in her room.”
“Elora called you to her room?” I stumbled over the question, unable to hide my shock.
Somehow it seemed vaguely inappropriate that Finn would be making a late-night visit to her room. Maybe it was because she had just asked him inside his head, and I couldn’t get a read on the exact nature of their relationship.
The fact that I was feeling jealous of my own mother was more than a little creepy, and that added a nauseous feeling on top of everything else.
“Yes. Her migraine is quite severe.” Finn took a step away from me.
“All right, well, have fun with that,” I muttered.
The door closed softly behind him, and I went into the bathroom to take off my jewelry and change into baggy pajamas. Sleep was difficult for me that night. I was too anxious about all the things I was expected to accomplish.
I knew nothing about this world or these people, and yet I was supposed to rule over them someday. That wouldn’t have been so bad, except that I was supposed to master everything in less than a week so they would believe that I could rule.
If I didn’t, everything my mother had worked so hard for would be taken away. Even though I wasn’t that fond of Elora, I was even less fond of Aurora, and I didn’t like the idea of ruining my family’s entire legacy.
Lazy Sundays happened even in Förening, thankfully. I woke up late and was happy to learn the chef was still on hand to make breakfast. I saw Finn briefly, passing him in the hall, but it was no more than a nod hello.
I flopped back onto my bed, thinking I would spend the day bored out of my mind. Then Rhys knocked on my door, interrupting my plans for moping, and invited me over to his room to watch movies with him and Rhiannon.