“It’s a moot point, anyway.” Oren exhaled deeply. “We rarely even practice changelings anymore.”
“Really?” I asked. For the first time since I’d met him, it felt like I might actually agree with him about something.
“Changelings can get hurt, lost, or simply refuse us,” Oren said. “It’s a waste of a child, and it’s killing our lineage. We’re far more powerful than the humans. If we want something, we can take it. We don’t need to risk our progeny in their clumsy hands.”
He had a point, but I wasn’t sure it was much better than Elora’s. She worked more of a con job, and Oren proposed outright theft.
“She was unwilling to change the old ways.” His face grew darker when he spoke of her. “She was so set on keeping the humans and trolls separate that she made their lives irrevocably tied, but she couldn’t see the hypocrisy of it. She saw it as nothing more than having your children raised by nannies.”
“It’s entirely different,” I said.
I thought of my childhood with the host mother who had tried to kill me, and my bond with Matt. I couldn’t imagine any nanny taking care of a child in the same way.
“Exactly.” He shook his head. “And that’s why our marriage didn’t work. I wanted you. She gave you away.”
I knew his reasoning was twisted by some sort of flawed logic I couldn’t quite pinpoint. But I felt myself surprisingly moved, even if I didn’t entirely believe him. This was the first time any of my parents, host or real, had ever said they wanted me.
“Do I…” I said, refusing to let myself be overcome by emotion. “Do I have any siblings?”
Oren and Sara exchanged a look I couldn’t read, and Sara stared down at her hands folded in her lap. She was the opposite of Elora in almost every way. Physically they were strikingly similar, with long black hair and beautiful dark eyes, but that’s where the parallels ended. Sara spoke little, but conveyed a warmth and submissive nature that Elora would be incapable of.
“No. I have no other children, and Sara has no children at all,” Oren said.
This fact seemed to sadden Sara further, so I had a feeling the lack of children had not been her choice.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“She’s infertile,” Oren announced without provocation, and Sara’s cheeks reddened.
“Um … I’m sorry. I’m sure it’s not her fault,” I fumbled.
“No, it’s not,” Oren agreed heartily. “It’s the curse.”
“Pardon?” I asked, hoping I’d misheard him.
I didn’t think I could take any more of the supernatural. Trolls and abilities were enough without adding curses on top of it.
“Legend has it that a spurned witch cursed the Vittra after we stole her child for a changeling.” He shook his head as if he didn’t believe it, which gave me some relief. “I don’t give much credence to that. It is all part of the same thing that gives us abilities, the thing that we’re descended from.”
“What is?” I asked.
“We’re all trolls. The Vittra, the Trylle, you, me, Sara. All of us are trolls.” He gestured around. “And you’ve seen the trolls that live around here, the ones that look like hobgoblins?”
“You mean Ludlow?”
“Exactly. They’re trolls, Vittra, the same as you and me,” Oren explained. “But they’re an abnormality that only seems to plague our colony.”
“I don’t understand. Where do they come from?”
“Us.” He said it as if it made sense, and I shook my head. “Infertility runs rampant among us, and of the few births we have, over half of them are born as hobgoblins.”
“You mean…” I wrinkled my nose, feeling a bit grossed out. “Vittra like you and Sara give birth to trolls like Ludlow?”
“Precisely,” Oren said.
“That’s actually kinda creepy,” I said, and Oren wagged his head like he didn’t entirely disagree.
“It’s a curse of our longevity, not a bitter old woman’s spell, but here we are.” He sighed and smiled. “You, obviously, are far lovelier than anything we could’ve hoped for.”
“You can’t imagine how pleased we are to have you with us,” Sara agreed.
Looking at her hopeful face, it finally dawned on me. I understood why the Vittra had been coming after me so aggressively and so relentlessly. They didn’t have a choice. I was their only hope.
“You didn’t marry Elora to unite your people,” I said, sizing Oren up. “You did it because you couldn’t have kids with a member of your own tribe. You needed an heir to the throne.”
“You are my daughter.” He raised his voice, not so he was shouting, but enough to make it boom through the room. “Elora has no more right to you than I do. And you will stay here because you are the Princess, and it is your duty.”
“Oren. Your Majesty,” Sara said, imploring him. “She has been through a tremendous amount today. She needs to rest and recuperate. It’s impossible to have a reasonable conversation when she hasn’t fully healed.”
“Why hasn’t she fully healed?” Oren gave her an icy glare, and she lowered her gaze.
“I did everything I could for her,” Sara said quietly. “And it was not my fault she was injured in the first place.”
“If Loki could keep the damn trackers in line,” Oren growled. His temper didn’t come as a surprise. I’d sensed it lying just below the surface.
“Loki did you a favor, Your Majesty,” Sara argued politely. “This is far beyond what his title dictates. If he hadn’t been there, I’m certain things would’ve gone much worse.”
“I’m done arguing with you about that idiot,” he said. “If the Princess needs to rest, then show her to her room and leave me be.”
“Thank you, sire.” Sara stood up, doing a curtsy before him, and turned her attention to me. “Come, Princess. I’ll show you to your room.”
I wanted to protest, but I knew this wasn’t the best time. Oren was ready to strike out against someone simply because he could, and I didn’t want to give him any reason for it to be me.
Once we left the King’s chambers and the doors were safely shut behind us, Sara began making apologies for him. All of this had been so trying for him. He’d spent nearly eighteen years trying to reach me, and Elora had made it as hard on him as she could. It had all come to a head tonight.