“It’s not that I don’t like any of those,” I explained carefully. Although, really, I thought Sybilla was quite terrible. “I like my name. I don’t know why I have to change it.”
Elora waved off the idea. “Wendy is a ridiculous name. It’s entirely improper for a Princess.”
“Why?” I persisted, and Elora glared at me.
I flat-out refused to change my name, no matter what Elora said. It’s not that I thought Wendy was a particularly fabulous name, but Matt had given it to me. He was one of the only people who had ever wanted me, and I wasn’t going to get rid of the one thing that I had left of him.
“It is the name of a mänsklig,” Elora said through gritted teeth. “And I have had enough of this. You will find a name to suit a Princess, or I will choose one for you. Is that clear?”
“If I am a Princess, then why can’t I decide what is proper?” I forced my voice to stay even and clear, trying not to let it shake with anger and frustration. “Isn’t that part of the glory of being a Princess, of ruling a kingdom? Having some say in the rules? And if I want my name to be Wendy, why is that so wrong?”
“No Princess has ever kept her human name, and none ever will.” Her dark eyes glared severely at me, but I met them firmly. “My daughter, the Princess, will not carry the name of a mänks.”
There was a bitter edge dripping from the word “mänks,” and I saw Rhys’s jaw tense. I knew what it was like to grow up with a mother who hated me, but I had never been required to sit quietly while she openly made derogatory remarks about me. My heart went out to him, and I had to struggle even harder to keep from shouting at Elora.
“I will not change my name,” I insisted. Everyone had taken to looking down at their plates while Elora and I stared each other down. This dinner had to be considered an epic failure.
“This is not the proper place to have this discussion,” Elora said icily. She rubbed her temple, then sighed. “It’s no matter. There isn’t a discussion to be had. Your name will be changed, and clearly I will be picking it for you.”
“That’s not fair!” Tears welled up in my eyes. “I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me. I should at least be able to keep my own name.”
“That’s not the way things are done,” Elora replied. “You will do as I say.”
“With all due respect,” Finn interrupted, startling everyone. “If it is as the Princess wishes, then perhaps it’s as it should be. Her wishes are going to be the highest order of the land, and this is such a simple one that I can’t imagine anyone would find offense with it.”
“Perhaps.” Elora forced a thin smile at him, giving him a hard look, but he stared back at her, his eyes meeting hers unabashedly. “But right now my wishes are still the highest order, and until that has changed, my word will remain final.”
Her smile deepened, growing even more menacing as she continued. “With all due respect, tracker, perhaps you care too much for her wishes and too little for her duties.” His expression faltered momentarily, but he quickly met her eyes again. “Was it not your duty to inform her of the specifics of the christening and have her completely ready for tomorrow?”
“It was,” Finn replied without any trace of shame.
“It seems you have failed,” Elora surmised. “I’m beginning to question how exactly you’ve been filling your time with the Princess. Has any of it been spent on training?”
Suddenly Rhys knocked over a glass of wine. The glass shattered and liquid splattered everywhere. Everyone had been too busy staring at Elora and Finn to notice, but out of the corner of my eye I saw him do it on purpose.
Rhys started apologizing and rushing about to clean it up, but Elora had stopped glaring at Finn, and he no longer had to defend himself. Rhys had come to his rescue, and I couldn’t be more relieved.
After the mess was cleaned up, Willa, who had never seemed that fond of Rhys, suddenly began chatting incessantly with him, and he eagerly reciprocated. They talked just so that Elora and Finn couldn’t.
Elora still managed to squeeze in a few biting comments toward me, such as, “Really, Princess, you must know how to use a fork.” But as soon as she finished her sentence, Willa would pipe up with a funny story about this girl she knew or this movie she saw or this place where she went. It was endless, and in general we were all grateful.
When dinner was over, Elora claimed she had a migraine brewing and a million things to do for tomorrow. She apologized that dessert would not be served tonight, but she didn’t leave her seat at the head of the table. Unsure of what else to do, everybody started to excuse themselves. Garrett suggested that they should be heading out, and she nodded non-committally.
“I will see you tomorrow evening,” Elora replied hollowly. She stared into space instead of looking at him, and he tried not to look troubled by this.
“Take care of yourself,” Garrett said, touching her shoulder gently.
Finn, Rhys, and I rose to see Garrett, Willa, and Rhiannon to the door, but Elora’s voice stopped me cold. I think it stopped everyone else too, but they did a better job of playing it off.
“Finn?” Elora said flatly, still staring off at nothing. “Would you escort me to my drawing room? I’d like to have a word with you.”
“Yes, of course,” Finn replied, giving her a small bow.
I froze and looked to him, but he refused to look at me. He just stood stoically, hands behind his back, and waited for Elora to ask for further assistance.
I might’ve stood there until Elora dismissed me, but Willa looped her arm through mine and started to drag me away.
Rhys and Rhiannon were just ahead of us, whispering quietly to each other. Garrett stole one last glance at Elora and walked on to the front door.
“So, I’ll come over about ten tomorrow morning,” Willa said, purposely keeping her tone light and cheery.
“What for?” I asked, feeling somewhat dazed.
“To help you get ready. There is so much to do!” Willa said and then shot a look in the direction of the dining room. “And your mother doesn’t seem to be the helpful type.”
“Willa, don’t talk bad about the Queen,” Garrett said without conviction.
“Well, anyway, I’ll be over to help you with everything. You’ll be fabulous.” She gave me a reassuring smile and squeezed my arm right before she left with her father.