“You sent them out so we can talk and now you won’t say anything?” I asked, growing even more frustrated.
“I’ve imagined this day for a long time.” Sara lovingly touched the dress, smoothing it out on the bed. “Yet here it is, and I feel so unprepared.”
“Seriously, what does that mean?”
Her expression grew pained for a minute, then returned to the same blank, serene look she’d worn before.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to get dressed.” She turned her back to me, walking over to a folding screen in the corner.
A fantasy scene similar to the one on the doors had been painted on it, and a black-and-red ball gown hung from the edge. Sara took the dress and went behind the screen to change in private.
“Do you know where Finn is?” I asked with a painful ache in my chest.
“That’s your tracker?” Sara asked, draping the robe over the screen. I could only see the top of her head above it.
“Yes.” I swallowed hard, fearing the worst.
“I’m not sure where he is. We don’t have him, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Then why hasn’t he come for me? How did he let you take me away?” I demanded.
“I assumed they detained him until they got away with you.” She slipped the dress over her head, so her words were muffled for a moment. “I’m not certain of the specifics, but they had orders not to hurt anyone unless it was absolutely necessary.”
“Yeah, and Kyra’s orders were not to hurt me, right?” I asked wryly, but Sara didn’t say anything. “Can you just tell me if he’s okay?”
“Loki didn’t report any fatalities,” Sara said.
“He was in charge of bringing me here?” I looked at the closed doors behind us, realizing too late that I should’ve been asking him these questions. I thought about going after him, but then Sara came out from behind the screen.
“Yes. And other than Kyra’s … outburst, Loki recounted that everything went well.” She ran her hands along her skirt, then pointed to the dress on the bed. “Please. Get dressed. We’re going to see the King.”
“And he’ll answer my questions?” I raised my eyebrow.
“Yes. I’m certain he’ll tell you everything.” Sara nodded, keeping her eyes locked on the floor.
I decided to go along with it. If he tried to give me the runaround, I would bolt. I didn’t have time to waste on vague answers and evasive language. Matt and Rhys were captive, and Rhys couldn’t even sit down.
But I also needed them to like me so that maybe I could talk them into letting Matt and Rhys go. If that meant I had to put on a silly little dress, so be it.
I went behind the screen and changed, while Sara continued getting ready. She put on one of the necklaces that the hobgoblin had left on the table and let down her hair. It was black and straight, shining like silk down her back. It reminded me of Elora’s.
I wondered what Elora would make of all this. Would she send out a rescue mission to get me? Did she even know I was gone?
After I put on the dress, Sara tried to tie a loose ribbon on the back, but I wouldn’t let her. She had reached out to touch it, and when I snapped at her to leave it alone, her expression fell into something tragic. Her hands hovered in the air for a moment, as if she couldn’t believe what had just happened. Then she let them fall to her side and nodded.
Without saying anything, she led me down the hall. At the end, we came to another set of doors that mirrored the ones on her chamber. She knocked, and while we waited for a response, she smoothed down her crimson and black lace skirt again. It already lay perfectly flat, so I suspected this was some kind of nervous habit.
“Come in,” a strong gravelly voice boomed from the other side of the doors.
Sara nodded, as if he could see her, then pushed open the doors.
The room was windowless, as had been every room I’d seen, and the walls were dark mahogany. Despite its massive size, the room had a cavelike quality. One wall was covered floor-to-ceiling with bookcases, and a heavy wooden desk sat nearby. Several elegant red chairs were the only other furniture.
The largest one, with intricate designs on the wooden feet, sat directly across from us, and a man sat in it. His dark brown hair ran long, past his shoulders. He wore all black—pressed pants, a dress shirt, and a long jacket that resembled a robe. He was handsome, in a battled kind of way, and he appeared to be in his forties.
Loki had been sitting in a chair, but he stood up when we came in. Froud the small dog had disappeared entirely, and I hoped they hadn’t eaten it or something equally horrible.
“Ah, Princess.” The King smiled when he saw me but didn’t get up. His gaze flitted over to Loki for the briefest of seconds. “Loki, you are dismissed.”
“Thank you, sire.” Loki bowed and hastily departed. He left me with the impression that he didn’t enjoy the company of the King, and that made me all the more nervous.
“So are you gonna tell me what’s going on?” I asked the King directly, and his smile widened.
“I suppose we should start with the basics,” he said. “I’m the King of the Vittra. My name is Oren, and I am your father.”
kings & pawns
My first thought was the most obvious: He’s lying.
This was quickly followed by: What if he isn’t lying?
Elora, by all accounts, had been a horrible mother who cared very little for me. I thought of the encounter I’d had a few minutes earlier with Sara. She had lovingly caressed my dress, saying, I’ve imagined this day for a very long time.
Sara stood nearby, wringing her hands. She met my eyes for the first time and smiled hopefully at me, but there still seemed to be a sadness in her face that I didn’t understand.
I didn’t look like her, not any more than I looked like Elora. They both far surpassed me in beauty, but Sara appeared much younger, only in her early thirties.
“So…” I swallowed, forcing my mouth to work, and turned to Oren. “You’re saying that Elora isn’t my mother?”
“No, unfortunately, Elora is your mother,” he said with a heavy sigh.
This confused me even more. His admission gave more credence to his words, though. It would be simpler for him to lie to me. He could’ve told me that he and Sara were my parents, if his plan was to entice me into staying and taking his side.
But he’d told me that Elora was my mother, which left me with an alliance to her, which couldn’t possibly benefit him.