“To the bathroom with you?”
“To practice hairstyles.” She gave me a duh look, and reluctantly I walked in after her. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
“Hairstyles?” I asked as Willa ushered me over to the stool in front of the vanity.
“Yeah, for the ball.” She sifted through the hair products on the counter and stopped, meeting my eyes in the mirror. “Unless your mother is going to help you with it.”
“Not that I know of.” I shook my head.
“She’s definitely not the nurturing type,” Willa agreed, somewhat sadly. Picking a bottle of something and a brush, she turned to me. “Do you want your hair up or down?”
“I don’t know.” I thought back to when I’d first met Willa, and Finn had told me to wear it down. “Down. I guess.”
“Good choice.” She smiled and pulled out my hair tie, painfully taking my hair down. “So, did Frederique come today?”
“Uh, yeah, a few hours ago,” I said between gritted teeth as she raked a comb through my hair.
“Excellent,” Willa said. “When you have your fitting, you should take a picture and send it to me. I’d love to see what it looks like.”
“Yeah, sure thing.”
“I know how ridiculous and confusing everything is at first.” Willa teased and primped my hair, all the while chatting happily. “And Finn knows pretty much everything, but he can be a little . . . cold, at times. And I’m sure the Queen isn’t much better.”
“Not really,” I admitted. But cold wouldn’t be how I described Finn. Sometimes he was standoffish, but other times, when he looked at me just so, he was anything but cold.
“I’m just letting you know that I wanna help you.” She stopped pulling at my hair long enough to meet my eyes in the mirror again. “And not like that backstabbing bitch Aurora Kroner, or because my father told me to, although he did. Or even like Finn because it’s his job. I just know what it’s like to be you. And if I can help, I want to.”
She gave me a crooked smile, and the sincerity in it startled me. Underneath her vapid pretense, she was actually a kind person. So few people here seemed to genuinely care about anyone else, and it was nice to have finally found one.
Immediately after that moment, Willa launched into a lengthy monologue about gowns. She could describe every gown she’d seen since coming to Förening three years ago, and she only liked one or two of them.
So my training with Willa didn’t turn out to be that much more interesting than that with Finn. She had a lot more gossip, about who dated whom and who was engaged and all that. But since I didn’t know who any of the people were, it wasn’t that interesting.
Willa was thus far single, and it didn’t sit well with her. She kept saying that her father needed to arrange something, and mentioned a few guys she’d had her eye on who’d slipped by. She spoke very fondly of Tove Kroner. Although she did point out that by missing out on him, she’d also miss out on a monster of a mother-in-law.
Still, by the end of the day I had a hairstyle picked out, a makeup “plan” in order, and I felt like I knew a little bit more about Trylle royalty. She made it all sound a lot like high school, which would’ve been comforting, except I hadn’t done that well at high school.
They had taken an interest in me, and I knew I should feel flattered, but I wished they’d just left me alone. Elora and Aurora Kroner stood on the opposite side of the table. A seating chart stretched across the giant oak surface, and they both leaned over it, staring with intense scrutiny.
I had a feeling Elora had just dragged me with her because misery loves company. As for Aurora, I didn’t really get why she was interested in me. The best I could figure was that she hoped to understand me in order to bring about my demise. The too-big way she smiled at me kept making me want to cringe.
Finn had snuck into my room early in the morning, and my initial excitement faded when I saw how frantically he picked out my clothes. He instructed me to get ready with lightning speed and to be on my best behavior all day. I hated the way he treated me like I was five and it was my first day of kindergarten.
But sitting there, watching them analyze every minute detail of a flippin’ seating chart, I really felt like a five-year-old. One who had gotten in trouble and had to sit in a very agonizing time-out. I tried to look studious and interested in all of this, but I didn’t know any of these people.
We were in the War Room in the south wing where walls were plastered with maps. Red and green patches speckled all of them, indicating other tribes of trolls. I’d been trying to study them while Elora and Aurora talked, but Elora kept snapping my attention back every time it wandered.
“If we put the Chancellor here, then Markis Tormann will have to move from this table entirely.” Aurora tapped the paper.
“I don’t see another way around it.” Elora smiled as sweetly as she could manage, and Aurora matched it perfectly.
“He’s traveling a great distance to be here for this.” Aurora batted her eyes at Elora.
“He’ll still be near enough where he can hear the christening,” Elora said and turned her attention to me. “Are you ready for the christening ceremony?”
“Um, yeah,” I said. Finn had mentioned it to me, but I hadn’t been paying that much attention. I couldn’t say that to Elora, though, so I just smiled and tried to look confident.
“A Princess doesn’t say ‘um.’” Elora narrowed her eyes at me, and Aurora did a poor job of trying to mask a snicker.
I sighed. “Sorry.”
Elora looked like she wanted to chastise me further, but Aurora watched us both like a hawk. Elora pursed her lips, biting her tongue so she wouldn’t show any sign of weakness.
I didn’t understand what Aurora was doing here or what Elora had to fear from her. She was the Queen, and as far as I could tell, Aurora’s only ability seemed to be making backhanded compliments and veiled threats.
The Marksinna looked radiant, wearing a long burgundy gown that made me feel incredibly underdressed in a simple skirt. Aurora’s beauty nearly overshadowed Elora’s, and that was really saying something, but I don’t think that kind of thing mattered to Elora.
“Perhaps you should continue your training elsewhere,” Elora suggested, glaring at me.
“Yes. Excellent idea.” I jumped to my feet so quickly I almost knocked the chair over behind me. Aurora’s amused expression changed to downright disgust, and Elora rolled her eyes. “Sorry. I’m very excited about all of this.”