“It was far simpler and cleaner than telling you the truth.” She said that like it would make everything okay. It was easier lying to me, so that’s fine. I wouldn’t want to make her life complicated or anything.
“What is the truth?” I asked her directly.
“I married your father because it was the right thing to do.” She didn’t say anything more for so long I thought she might not continue, but then she said, “The Vittra and Trylle have been fighting for centuries, maybe forever.”
“Why?” I stepped closer to her, but she didn’t look at me.
“Various reasons.” She gave a slight shrug. “The Vittra have always been more aggressive than we, but we’re more powerful. It led to an odd power structure, and they were always jostling for more control, more land, more people.”
“So you thought marrying Oren would end centuries of fighting?”
“My parents thought so. They had arranged it before I even came to Förening.” Elora had been a changeling, like I had, though she rarely spoke of it. “I could’ve contested it, of course, the way you contested your name.”
She said that last part somewhat bitterly. As part of returning to the Trylle, I was supposed to undergo a christening ceremony and change my name to something more fitting. I hadn’t wanted to, and thanks to the Vittra busting up the ceremony, I hadn’t had to. Elora had relented and allowed me to keep my own name, and I’d been the first Princess to do so in our history.
“But you didn’t contest it?” I asked, ignoring her little jab at me.
“No. I had to put my own wants behind the greater good of the people. That’s something you’ll have to learn to do.” The light shone on her hair as if she had a halo. She turned back to the window, and it was gone.
“If a simple wedding would end the abhorrence, then I had to do it,” Elora continued. “I had to think of the lives and wasted energy of both the Trylle and Vittra.”
“So you married him,” I finished for her. “Then what happened?”
“Not a lot. We weren’t married for very long.” She rubbed her arm, stifling a chill only she felt. “I’d met him a handful of times before the wedding, and he’d been on his best behavior. I hadn’t loved him, but…”
She didn’t finish her thought, and the way she let it hang in the air led me to believe that she had cared for him.
I couldn’t imagine Elora caring for anyone. When she flirted with Garrett Strom, it seemed like a show. I’m not sure if they were actually dating or not, but he seemed to like her and hung around a lot. Plus, he was a Markis, so she could marry him if she wanted.
Both Finn and Rhys had told me of a secret, long-standing affair that Elora had had with Finn’s father, after my own father was gone. He’d been a tracker and was married to Finn’s mother, so they could never be together openly, but Rhys claimed that she truly loved him.
“What happened after you were married?” I asked.
Elora had been lost in thought for a moment, and when I brought her out of it, she shook her head.
“It didn’t go well,” she said simply. “He wasn’t outright cruel, which made things harder. I couldn’t leave him, not without just cause. Not with so much riding on it.”
“But you did eventually?”
“Yes. After you were conceived, he…” She paused, searching for the right word. “He became too much for me to bear. Right before you were born, I left him, and I hid you. I wanted a strong family to protect and shelter you, should he come looking.”
“Is that why Finn started tracking me so early?” I asked.
Trackers usually waited to retrieve changelings until they were eighteen or so, once they were legal adults with access to trust funds. Finn had been following me around since the beginning of my senior year, making me one of the youngest changelings ever to return.
He’d claimed it was because I moved around so much, they were afraid of losing me, but now I suspected that they’d been afraid the Vittra would get to me first.
“Yes.” Elora nodded. “Thankfully, I wasn’t yet Queen of the Trylle when we separated. Oren may have been King of the Vittra, but he was only a prince here. He had no standing over the kingdom. Otherwise things could’ve gone a lot differently.”
“When did you become Queen?” I asked, momentarily distracted from information about Oren.
I couldn’t imagine Elora as a Princess. I knew she must’ve been young and inexperienced at one time, but she had the regality of someone who had always been Queen.
“Not long after you were born.” Elora turned to me. “But I am glad that you’re here.”
“I almost didn’t make it back,” I said, trying to elicit some concern from her. She raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “Their tracker, Kyra, beat the crap out of me. I would’ve died if Oren wasn’t married to a healer.”
“You wouldn’t have died.” She brushed me off, the same way everybody seemed to when I told them of Kyra hurting me.
“I was coughing up blood! I think a broken rib punctured a lung or something.” My ribs still ached, and I’d been certain that I would die in that dungeon.
“Oren would never let you die,” Elora said dismissively. She stepped away from the window and sat down on the chaise lounge, but I stayed standing.
“Maybe not,” I admitted. “But he could’ve killed Matt and Rhys.”
“Matt?” She was confused for a minute, an expression that looked unusual on her.
“My brother. Er, my host brother, or whatever you wanna call him.” I grew tired of trying to explain him as anything else and decided that from here on out, I’d just call him my brother. As far as I was concerned, he still was.
“Are they here now?” Her expression shifted from confusion to irritation.
“Yeah. I wasn’t going to leave them there. Oren would kill them to spite me.” I wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but it felt true.
“You all made it out of there, then?” For a second she sounded and looked as if she actually cared. It was nowhere near Matt’s level of concern, but at least it resembled something human and loving.
“Yeah. We did. Finn and Tove got us out of there without any problem.” I furrowed my brow, remembering how easy it had been to escape.
“Did something happen?” Elora asked, homing in on my unease.