I shook my head. “I’m fine.”
Without further prompting, Finn put his arm around me, pulling me closer to him. The abruptness of it made me forget to breathe, and even though he felt no warmer than I did, the strength of his arm wrapped around me sent warmth spreading through me.
“I suppose I’m not much help,” he said, his voice low and deep.
“I’ve stopped shivering,” I pointed out quietly.
“We should get back inside, so you can change into dry clothes.” He breathed deeply, looking at me a moment longer.
Just as abruptly as he had grabbed me, he pulled away and started heading back down the bluff. The rain came down fast and cold, and without him to warm me, I had no urge to stay in it longer than I had to. I went down after him, half running half sliding to the bottom.
We ran inside the front doors, skidding on the marble floors, and water dripped off us into rapidly growing puddles. I only had a second to catch myself when I realized we weren’t alone in the entryway.
Elora walked toward us, carrying herself with her usual regality. Her gown swam around her, making her appear to float as she moved. With her was an obese balding man, his jowls jiggling as he walked.
“How good of you to arrive now, as I’m showing the Chancellor out,” Elora said icily, glaring at both Finn and me. I wasn’t sure which of us she was more angry with.
“Your Majesty, I can stay and talk,” the Chancellor said, looking up at her with small, fevered eyes. He wore a white suit that I couldn’t imagine looking good on anyone, but it made him look like a giant, sweaty snowball.
“Chancellor, I’m sorry we missed your visit,” Finn said, doing his best to compose himself. Even dripping wet, he looked collected and eager to please. I, on the other hand, hugged my arms around myself and tried not to shiver.
“No, you’ve given me much to consider, and I don’t want to waste your time further.” Elora smiled thinly at the Chancellor, and her eyes burned with contempt.
“You will take it under advisement, then?” He looked up at her hopefully and stopped walking. She’d been trying to usher him to the door, and her smile grew strained when he stopped.
“Yes, of course.” Elora sounded too sweet, and I assumed she was lying. “I take all of your concerns very seriously.”
“My sources are very good,” the Chancellor went on. Elora had gotten him walking again, urging him closer to the door. “I have spies all over, even in the Vittra camps. That is how I got my position.”
“Yes, I remember your platform.” Elora appeared to suppress an eye roll, but his chest puffed up as if she’d complimented him.
“If they say there’s a plot, then there’s a plot,” the Chancellor said with conviction. Next to me I saw Finn tense up, narrowing his eyes at the Chancellor.
“Yes, I’m sure there is.” Elora nodded to Finn, who held the door open for the Chancellor. “I’d love to talk with you more, but you must hurry if you want to beat the worst of this storm. I don’t want you to get stranded.”
“Oh, yes, quite right.” The Chancellor looked at the sheets of rain coming down, and his face paled slightly. He turned back toward Elora. Bowing, he took her hand and kissed it once. “My Queen. I’m at your service, always.”
She smiled tightly at him while Finn wished him a safe journey. The Chancellor barely even glanced in my direction before diving out into the rain. Finn shut the door behind him, and Elora let out a sigh of relief.
“What were you doing?” Elora looked at me with disdain, but before I could answer, she waved me off. “I don’t care. You’re just lucky the Chancellor didn’t realize you were the Princess.”
I glanced down at my dirty, soaking-wet clothes, knowing I looked nothing like royalty. Somehow Finn still looked high-class, and I had no idea how he managed that.
“What was the nature of the Chancellor’s visit?” Finn asked.
“Oh, you know the Chancellor.” Elora rolled her eyes and started walking away. “He always has some conspiracy theory brewing. I should really change the laws so I have total say about who is appointed the Chancellor, instead of letting the Trylle vote. The people always fall for idiots like him.”
“He mentioned something about a Vittra plot,” Finn pressed. He followed her, staying a few steps behind, and I trailed in their wake.
“I’m sure it’s nothing. We haven’t had Vittra come into Förening in years,” Elora said with an eerie confidence.
“Yes, but with the Princess—” Finn began, but she held up her hand, silencing him. She turned to him, and by the look on her face I knew she was speaking in his mind. After a minute he took a deep breath and spoke. “All I am proposing is that we take extra precautions, have extra guards on duty.”
“That’s why you’re around, Finn.” She smiled at him, something that almost looked genuine, but with a weird malicious edge to it. “It’s not just for your pretty face.”
“Your Majesty, you put too much faith in me.”
“Now that I can believe.” Elora sighed and started walking away. “Go change out of those clothes. You’re dripping all over everything.”
Finn watched her retreating figure for a minute, and I waited next to him until I was certain she was out of earshot. Although, if I thought about it, I wasn’t sure that Elora was ever out of earshot.
“What was that about?” I whispered.
“Nothing.” Finn shook his head. He glanced over at me, almost as if he’d forgotten I was there. “You need to change before you get sick.”
“That wasn’t nothing. Is there going to be an attack?” I demanded, but Finn only turned and started walking toward the stairs. “What is it with you people? You’re always walking away from questions!”
“You’re soaking wet, Wendy,” Finn said matter-of-factly, and I jogged to catch up to him, knowing he wouldn’t wait for me. “And you heard everything I heard. You know what I know.”
“That’s not true! I know she did that creepy mind-speak with you.”
“Yes, but she only told me to keep quiet.” He climbed the stairs without looking back at me. “You’ll be safe. You’re the Princess, the most important asset this kingdom has right now, and Elora won’t risk you. She just hates the Chancellor.”