“Where are we going?” I asked, as the path climbed upward.
“I’m showing you Förening.”
“Haven’t I already seen Förening?” I stopped and looked around. Through the trees I couldn’t see much of anything, but I suspected it all looked about the same.
“You’ve barely seen anything yet.” Finn glanced back at me, smiling. “Come on, Wendy.”
Without waiting for my answer, he climbed on. The trail already had a steep incline, and it looked slick with mud and moss. Finn maneuvered it easily, grabbing on to the occasional branch or protruding root.
My climb wasn’t anywhere near as graceful. I slipped and stumbled the whole way up, scraping my palms and knees on several sharp rocks. Finn didn’t slow and rarely glanced back. He had more faith in my abilities than I did, but I suppose that was nothing new.
If I hadn’t been so busy mastering a slippery slope, I might’ve enjoyed the time. The air smelled green and wet from all the pine and leaves. The river below seemed to echo through everything, reminding me of the time I put a conch shell to my ear. Over it, I heard birds chirping, singing a fevered song.
Finn waited for me next to a giant boulder, and when I reached him, he made no comment about my slow pace. I didn’t have a chance to catch my breath before he grabbed a small handhold in the boulder and started pulling himself up.
“I’m pretty sure I can’t climb up that,” I said, eyeing the slick surface of the rock.
“I’ll help you.” He had his feet in a crevice, and he reached back, holding his hand out to me.
Logically speaking, if I grabbed on to him, my body weight would pull him back off the boulder. But he didn’t doubt his ability to pull us both up, so neither did I. Finn had this way of making me believe anything, and it scared me sometimes.
I took his hand, barely getting a chance to enjoy how strong and warm it felt before he started pulling me up. I squealed, which only made him laugh. He directed me to a crevice, and I found myself hanging on to the boulder for dear life.
Finn climbed up, always keeping one hand out for me to grab if I slipped, but I did most of the actual climbing myself. I was surprised when my fingers didn’t give and my feet didn’t slide. When I pulled myself up to the top of the boulder, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of pride.
Standing up on the massive rock, wiping mud off my knees, I started to make some comment about my amazing agility, but then I caught sight of the view. The top of the boulder had to be the highest point atop the bluffs. From here I could see everything, and somehow it was even more amazing than the view from the palace.
Chimneys stood out like dots among the trees, and I could see the plumes of smoke blowing away in the wind. Roads curved and wound through the town, and a few people walked along them. Elora’s palace was masked with vines and trees, but it still looked startlingly large hanging on the edge of its bluff.
The wind whipping through my hair made the whole thing exhilarating. Almost like I was flying, even though I was just standing there.
“This is Förening.” Finn gestured to the hidden houses peeking out among the green foliage.
“It is breathtaking,” I admitted. “I’m totally in awe.”
“It’s all yours.” His dark eyes met mine, emphasizing the solemnity of his words. Then he looked away, scanning the trees. “This is your kingdom.”
“Yeah, but . . . it’s not actually mine.”
“Actually, it kind of is.” He offered me a small smile.
I looked back down. In terms of kingdoms, I knew this one was relatively small. It wasn’t as if I’d inherited the Roman Empire or anything, but it still felt strange to me that I might possess any kind of kingdom.
“What’s the point?” I asked softly. When Finn didn’t answer, I thought my words might have been carried away by the wind, so I asked louder. “Why do I get this? What am I to do with it?”
“Rule over it.” Finn had been standing behind me, but he stepped closer, moving next to me. “Make the decisions. Keep the peace. Declare the wars.”
“Declare the wars?” I looked at him sharply. “That’s really something we do?”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“Most things will already be decided when you take the throne,” Finn said, staring down at the houses instead of me. “The order is already in place. You just have to uphold it, enforce it. Mostly, you live in the palace, attend parties, trivial governmental meetings, and occasionally decide on something substantial.”
“Like what?” I asked, not liking the hard tone his voice had taken on.
“Banishments, for one.” He looked thoughtful. “Your mother once banished a Marksinna. It hadn’t been done in years, but she’s entrusted with making the decisions that best protect our people and our way of life.”
“Why did she banish her?” I asked.
“She corrupted a bloodline.” He didn’t say anything for a minute, and I looked at him questioningly. “She had a child with a human.”
I wanted to ask him more about that but I felt a drop of rain splash on my forehead. I looked up to the sky to be certain I’d felt rain, and the clouds seemed to rip open, pouring water down before I had a chance to shield myself.
“Come on!” Finn grabbed my hand, pulling me.
We slid down the side of the rock, my back scraping against the rough surface of it, and fell heavily into a thicket of ferns. Rain had already soaked through my clothes, chilling my skin. Still holding my hand, Finn led me to shelter underneath a giant pine tree.
“That came on really suddenly,” I said, peering out from under the branches. We weren’t completely dry under the tree, but only a few fat drops of rain made their way through.
“The weather is so temperamental here. The locals blame it on the river, but the Trylle have more to do with it,” Finn explained.
I thought back to Willa, and her complaint that she could only control the wind, and her mother, the clouds. The garden behind the palace bloomed year-round thanks to Trylle abilities, so it wouldn’t be hard to fathom that they could make it rain too.
The birds had fallen silent, and over the sound of the rainfall I couldn’t hear the river. The air smelled thick with pine, and even in the middle of the rainstorm I felt oddly at peace. We stood there watching the rain in companionable silence for a while longer, but soon the growing chill began to affect me, and my teeth started to chatter.