“Wait, wait!” I held up my hands and looked at him. “She knew it was more dangerous, that Kim would be more likely to snap? But she did it anyway?”
“Elora believed that the Everlys would be the best for you,” Finn maintained. “And she wasn’t completely wrong. Even you freely admit that the aunt and the brother were good to you.”
I had always kind of hated Kim. I thought she had been terrible and cruel like so many of my classmates, but she had known that I wasn’t her child. Kim had actually been an insanely good mother. She had remembered her son, even when she shouldn’t have been able to, and she refused to give up on him. The whole thing was tragic, when I thought about it.
“So that’s why they don’t want me with the mänsklig? ’Cause he’s like a stepbrother?” I wrinkled my nose at the thought.
“He’s not your brother,” Finn emphasized. “Trylle and mänsklig have absolutely no relation. The problem is that they’re human.”
“Are we, like . . . physically incompatible?” I asked carefully.
“No. Many Trylle have left the compound to live with humans and have normal offspring,” Finn said. “That’s part of the reason our populations are going down.”
“What happens to Rhys now that I’m back?” I asked, ignoring the clinical way Finn addressed everything. He was nothing if not professional.
“Nothing. He can live here for as long as he wants. Leave if he decides to. Whatever he chooses.” Finn shrugged. “Mänsklig aren’t treated badly here. For example, Rhiannon is Willa’s mänsklig.”
“That makes sense.” I nodded. Rhiannon seemed so skittish and nervous, but also rather normal, unlike everyone else. “So . . . what do they do with mänsklig?”
“They aren’t exactly raised as real children, but they are given everything to keep them happy and content,” Finn said. “We have schools set up for the mänsklig, and while they aren’t as nice as the schools you’ve gone to, the mänks do get an education. They even have a small trust fund set up for them. When they’re eighteen, they’re free to do as they please.”
“But they’re not equals,” I realized. Elora tended to talk down to everyone, but she was worse with Rhys and Rhiannon. I couldn’t imagine that Willa was much nicer either.
“This is a monarchy. There are no equals.” For an instant Finn looked almost sad, then he walked over and sat on the bed next to me. “As your tracker, I am expected to educate you, and as Elora pointed out, I should’ve started sooner. You need to understand the distinct hierarchy here.
“There is royalty, of which you are at the top.” Finn gestured to me. “After Elora, of course. Below you there are the Markis and Marksinna, but they can become Kings and Queens through marriage. Then there are your average Trylle, the common folk, if you will. Below that there are trackers. And at the very bottom, there are mänsklig.”
“What? Why are trackers so low?”
“We are Trylle, but we only track. My parents were trackers, and their parents before them, and so on,” Finn explained. “We have no changeling population. Ever. That means that we have no income. We bring nothing into the community. We provide a service for other Trylle, and in return we are provided with a home and food.”
“You’re like an indentured servant?” I gasped.
“Not exactly.” Finn tried to smile, but it looked forced. “Until we retire from tracking, we don’t need to do anything else. Many trackers, such as myself, will work as a guard for some of the families in town. All of the service jobs, like the nannies, the teachers, the chefs, the maids, are almost entirely retired trackers, and they make an hourly wage. Some are also mänsklig, but they stick around less and less.”
“That’s why you always bow to Elora,” I said thoughtfully.
“She is the Queen, Wendy. Everyone bows to her,” Finn corrected me. “Except for you and Rhys. He’s rather impossible, and host parents don’t usually force their mänks to bow to them.”
“It’s nice to know that being the Princess has some perks, like not bowing,” I said, smirking.
“Elora may seem cold and aloof, but she is a very powerful woman.” Finn looked at me solemnly. “You will be a very powerful woman. You will be given every opportunity the world has to offer you. I know you can’t see it now, but you will have a very charmed life.”
“You’re right. I can’t see it,” I admitted. “It probably didn’t help that I just got in trouble this morning, and I don’t feel very powerful.”
“You’re still very young,” Finn said with a trace of a smile.
“I guess.” I remembered how angry he had been earlier and I turned to him. “I didn’t do anything with Rhys. You know that, right? Nothing happened.”
Finn stared thoughtfully at the floor. I studied him, trying to catch a glimpse of something, but his face was a mask. Eventually he nodded. “Yes. I know that.”
“You didn’t this morning, though, did you?” I asked.
This time Finn chose not to answer. He stood up and said he needed to shower. He gathered his clothes and went into the bathroom.
I thought this might be a good time to explore his room, but I suddenly felt very tired. He’d woken me early, and this whole morning had been incredibly draining. Lying back down, I rolled over and curled up in his blankets. They were soft and smelled like him, and I easily fell asleep.
Other than the garden out back, I’d seen little of the palace grounds. After breakfast, Finn took me outside to show me around. The sky was overcast and gloomy, and he stared up at it with a skeptical eye.
“Is it going to rain?” I asked.
“You never can tell around here.” He sounded annoyed, then shook his head and walked on, apparently deciding to risk it.
We’d gone out the front door of the mansion this time, stepping out on the cobblestone driveway. Trees overshadowed the palace, arching high into the sky. Immediately at the edge of the driveway, lush ferns and plants filled in the gaps between the pines and maples.
Finn walked into the trees, pushing the plants aside gently to make a pathway. He’d insisted I wear shoes today, and as I followed behind him, I understood why. A rough trail had been made, but it was overgrown with moss, and twigs and stones littered the ground.