“Are you sure I’m safe?” I asked, and I couldn’t help but think of that painting in Elora’s hidden room. The one that showed me terrified and reaching for nothing.
“I would never do anything to put you at risk,” Finn assured me when we reached the top of the stairs. He gestured down the hall to my room. “We still have much to go over. It’d be best if you forgot about this and changed into something warmer.”
After I had changed, Finn directed me to a sitting room on the second floor, down the hall from my room. The vaulted ceiling had a mural, all clouds and unicorns and angels. Despite that, the furniture looked modern and normal, unlike the expensive antiques that filled most of the house.
Finn explained that this had once been Rhys’s playroom. When he’d outgrown it, they had turned it into a room for him, but he rarely used it.
Lying on my back on the couch, I stared up at the ceiling. Finn sat in an overstuffed chair across from me with a book splayed open on his lap. Stacks of texts sat on the floor next to him, and he tried to give me a crash course on Trylle history.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that we were some type of mythical creatures, Trylle history wasn’t any more exciting than human history had been.
“What are the roles of the Markis and Marksinna?” Finn quizzed me.
“I don’t know. Nothing,” I replied glibly.
“Wendy, you need to learn this.” Finn sighed. “There will be conversations at the ball, and you need to appear knowledgeable. You can’t just sit back without saying anything anymore.”
“I’m a Princess. I should be able to do whatever I want,” I grumbled. My legs were draped over the arm of the couch, and I swung my feet back and forth.
“What are the roles of the Markis and Marksinna?” Finn repeated.
“In other provinces, where the King and Queen don’t live, the Markis and Marksinna are the leaders. They’re like governors or something.” I shrugged. “In times when the King or Queen can’t fulfill their duties, a Markis can step up and take their place. In places like Förening, their title is mostly just a way of saying that they’re better than everyone else, but they don’t really have any power.”
“That is true, but you can’t say that last part,” Finn said, then flipped a page in the book. “What is the role of the Chancellor?”
“The Chancellor is an elected official, much like the prime minister in England,” I answered tiredly. “The monarchy has the final word and wields the most power, but the Chancellor serves as their adviser and helps give the Trylle commoners a voice in the way the government is run.
“But I don’t get it,” I said, looking at him. “We live in America, and this isn’t a separate country. Don’t we have to follow their laws?”
“Theoretically, yes, and for the most part Trylle laws coincide with American laws, except that we have more of them. However, we live in separate pockets unto ourselves. Using our resources—namely, cash and persuasion—we can get government officials to look the other way, and we conduct our business in private.”
“Hmm.” I twirled a lock of hair on my finger and thought over what he was saying. “Do you know everything about Trylle society? When you were talking with Garrett and Elora, it was like there was nothing you didn’t know.”
I’m sure he would’ve easily won the Kroners over if he had tried. Instead he had assumed it was his role to hide in the background when they were around, so he’d kept his mouth shut. But everything about him was more refined than me. Cool, collected, intelligent, charming, and handsome, he seemed much more like a leader than I did.
“A foolish man thinks he knows everything. A wise man knows he doesn’t,” Finn replied absently, still looking down at the book.
“That’s such a fortune-cookie answer,” I said with a laugh, and even he smirked at me. “But seriously, Finn. This doesn’t make any sense. You should be a ruler, not me. I don’t know anything, but you’re all set to go.”
“I’ll never be a ruler.” Finn shook his head. “And you are right for the job. You just haven’t had the training that I’ve had.”
“That’s stupid,” I grumbled. “It should be based on your abilities, not lineage.”
“It is based on abilities,” Finn insisted. “They just happen to come with lineage.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, and he shut the book on his lap.
“Your persuasion? That comes from your mother,” Finn elaborated. “The Markis and Marksinna are what they are because of the abilities they have, and they are passed down through their children. Regular Trylle have some abilities, but they’ve faded with time. Your mother is one of the most powerful Queens we’ve had in a very long time, and the hope is that you will continue the tradition of power.”
“But I can barely do anything!” I sat up. “I have mild persuasion, and you said it wouldn’t even work on you!”
“Not yet, no, but it will,” Finn corrected me. “Once you start your training, it will make more sense to you.”
“Training? What training?”
“After the ball this weekend. Then you will begin working on your abilities,” Finn said. “Right now your only priority is preparing for the ball. So . . .” He flipped open the book again, but I wasn’t ready to go back to studying.
“But you have abilities,” I countered. “And Elora prefers you to me. I’m sure she’d like it better if you were Prince.” I realized sadly that that was true, and I lay back down on the couch.
“I’m sure that isn’t true.”
“It is too,” I said. “What is the deal with you and Elora? She definitely likes you better than me, and she seems to confide in you.”
“Elora doesn’t really confide in anyone.” Finn fell silent for a moment, and then exhaled. “If I explain this to you, do you promise to get back to studying?”
“Yes!” I answered immediately and looked over at him.
“What I say to you cannot leave this room. Do you understand?” Finn asked gravely, and I nodded, gulping, afraid of what he was going to tell me.
I had been growing more and more preoccupied with Finn and Elora’s relationship. She was an attractive older woman, and he was definitely a foxy guy, and I could see her digging her cougar claws into him. That was what I was afraid of, anyway.