“No . . .” I trailed off, looking dazedly at my blankets. I knew she was right. Last night he had almost died to save me. If Tove hadn’t come out onto the balcony, he would be dead.
“Very well. It’s in his best interest that he’s not around you either,” Elora said. “Now you need to get up and get ready. We have much to go over.”
The next few days were an endless stream of defense meetings. There had never been an attack on Förening this severe. The body count was well into the double digits, including several visiting higher royal Trylle. Any loss of powerful Trylle was devastating for the kingdom.
Elora and Aurora led all the meetings, while Tove and I sat quietly in the back. He was the most powerful and should’ve had more of a say, but he didn’t seem that interested.
The twenty or so other people who always seemed to be in attendance offered advice that was completely pointless. Tove just said that our best defense was to get our abilities under control. Willa took this advice to heart and busied herself with self-defense classes and getting a better control of her wind ability. Elora barely spoke to me, and never uttered a kind word.
The one positive was that I’d been spared the christening ceremony, and Elora decided to allow me to keep my own name.
I wandered around in a fog. I didn’t care whether I lived or died. If they attacked again, I would deal with whatever happened.
“You’re gonna have to snap out of this one day,” Rhys said.
I lay in my bed, staring at the ceiling, while he leaned against the doorway. He still had a nasty cut above his eyebrow, since Aurora wouldn’t resort to healing a mänks. The wound was slowly getting better, but it pained me to see it. It was just a reminder that he had gotten hurt for me.
“Maybe.” I didn’t feel like I ever would, and I hoped I wouldn’t.
“Oh, come on.” Rhys sighed and came over to sit on the bed next to me. “I know that everything that’s happened has really taken its toll on you, but it’s not the end of the world.”
“I never said it was,” I muttered. “I just hate this house. I hate my mother. I hate being a Princess. I hate everything about being here!”
“Even me?” Rhys asked.
“No, of course not you.” I shook my head. “You’re about the only thing I like anymore.”
“I feel privileged.” He smiled at me, but when I didn’t smile back, his quickly faded. “Look, I hate it here too. It’s a hard place to live in, especially this house, with Elora. But . . . what else are we gonna do? Where else can we go?”
That’s when it occurred to me. I absolutely did not want this life, and this life truly didn’t want Rhys. He had grown up surrounded by a cold indifference that made his childhood even worse than my own, and he deserved so much more. Since I had been here, Rhys had been one of the few people to show me genuine kindness, and he deserved that in return.
I didn’t particularly care whether I lived or died, so I didn’t need protection, should anyone decide to come after me again, but I wasn’t so sure they would anymore. Tove had explained that the Vittra numbers had been damaged, and another attack anytime soon would be highly unlikely.
But somewhere out there, I knew that my brother Matt was worried sick about me. He and Maggie would welcome me back with open arms, and they would be delighted to have Rhys. I didn’t know how I would explain him to them, but I’d figure something out.
I was not a Princess, and I didn’t want to be one. It would feel so good to be home again. That wouldn’t really fix the Finn thing, but Matt and Maggie would know the best way to mend a broken heart.
Rhys wasn’t convinced that leaving was the best thing for me, pointing to the cut on his eye from when he’d been unable to protect me or himself. Reluctantly, I resorted to using my persuasion, but I didn’t really have another choice. Besides, I was only convincing him that he didn’t need to worry about me.
In the middle of the night, I decided to act. I gathered Rhys and we snuck out of the palace, which was more difficult than I’d expected. Guards and other Trylle walked the grounds in case of another Vittra attack. Even though they thought another one would be unlikely, they weren’t taking any chances.
Rhys and I went through the kitchen and out the back door, to the secret garden that bloomed even in the middle of the night. Scaling the high brick walls that surrounded the palace compound would’ve been impossible if I didn’t have Rhys to give me a boost. Once I pulled him up, we both jumped down on the other side.
Without even brushing the dirt from our clothes, we ran along the wall. Rhys led the way because he knew the area better than I did. We’d nearly made it to the garage when we had to duck behind a bush to wait for a guard to pass.
Once the guard moved on, we hurried to the garage. Rhys found his new motorcycle but didn’t start it. He pushed it out of the garage, leaving the engine and lights off so as not to attract attention.
At the edge of town was the gate manned by a guard, and I doubted he’d let the Princess through. Rhys had a plan, though. He knew of a weak spot in the fence a ways down the embankment. He’d heard of other mänks getting through it when they ran away.
I had to help Rhys steady the motorcycle so it wouldn’t go tumbling down the hill as we made our way through the trees and the brush. Apparently the hole in the fence was even larger now than it had been before. That’s how some of the Vittra had broken in, and the Trylle hadn’t fixed it yet. Typical of them, to be more focused on securing the palace than making sure the town of Förening was safe.
We were able to get the motorcycle through without much trouble, and it was then, as we pushed it up the hill, that I started feeling the exhilaration and relief of escape. I ignored any pangs of sadness or longing for some of the people I’d met here, like Willa and Tove, and I just tried to focus on the fact that I was getting away. I was free.
Once we got to the road, Rhys started the motorcycle. We sped off into the darkness, and I sat on the bike behind him, wrapping my arms tightly around his waist and burying my face in his leather jacket.
The sky had that eerie blue glow of very early morning when we pulled up in front of my house. Rhys hadn’t even turned off the motorcycle before Matt threw open the front door and came jogging down the porch steps.
Even in the dim light I could see how stricken Matt looked. I jumped off the bike, and, completely oblivious to Rhys, Matt threw his arms around me. He held me so tightly to him, it hurt. I didn’t care, though. I buried my face in his shoulder, breathing in his familiar scent and relishing the protection of his arms. I was finally home.