“I don’t know. She has a big crush on him, but I’m not sure how he feels about her.” Willa sounded happy about the prospect. Normally, when she talked about Rhys or any mänks, she sounded bored.
“So what do you think?” Matt turned to me. “Are you gonna eat supper?”
“No, thanks.” I shook my head. “I’m pretty beat. I need a shower and a nap.”
“Are you sure?” Matt asked, and I nodded. “What about you, Willa? Do you have dinner plans?”
“Um, no.” She smiled at him. “I’d love to eat here.”
“Awesome,” Matt said.
I extricated myself from the conversation as quickly as possible. It was too weird for me to handle. Willa was being way too nice, and now she was willingly eating food prepared by a mänks.
That said nothing for the way Matt acted, which felt … not quite right. It was hard to put my finger on what exactly was going on, but I was relieved to be away from them.
Another long day of training did nothing to improve my mood. My control was getting better, and that was good. But it was getting harder not to think of Finn. I thought time would make it easier, but it didn’t. The ache only seemed to grow.
We spent the morning in the throne room, where I’d never been before. It was really an atrium, with a domed skylight stretching high above. The room was circular, the rounded wall behind the throne made entirely of glass. Vines grew over the ornate silver and gold designs etched on the walls, reminding me of the outside of the palace.
Given the height of the ceiling, the room itself didn’t seem that large, but it didn’t need to be. Tove offhandedly said it was only used for meeting dignitaries.
A solitary throne sat in the center of the room, padded with lush red velvet. Two smaller chairs sat on either side, but they weren’t as elegant. Instead of wood, the throne was made of platinum that wove itself into lacy designs. Diamonds and rubies were inlaid into the metal.
I walked over to it, gingerly touching the soft velvet. It felt brand-new, too plush to have ever been used. The heavy metal arms were surprisingly smooth under my fingertips. I ran my hand over it, tracing the swirling patterns of the latticing.
“Unless you plan to move that with your mind, I suggest you get practicing,” Tove said.
“Why are we practicing in here?” I turned to look at him, pulling myself away from the chair. I don’t know why, but something about it captivated me, made this all the more real.
“I like the space.” He gestured vaguely at the airiness of the room. “It helps my thoughts. The ballroom is being worked on today, so we had to move.”
Almost reluctantly, I walked away from the throne and went over to Tove to see what cryptic lesson he had in store for me. Duncan stood off to the side of the room for most of the morning, getting a reprieve from being my test subject. Tove wanted me to work on restraining my thoughts again, this time using tactics that made even less sense to me.
I stood facing a wall, and while I counted up to a thousand, I was supposed to picture the garden and use my persuasion. Since I wasn’t using it on anyone, I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d be able to tell if it was working or not, but Tove said the point was that I learn to flex my psychic muscles. My mind would have to learn to juggle a lot of ideas, some of them conflicting, in order for me to get control over this.
While I practiced, he sprawled on the floor, lying on the cold marble. Duncan eventually tired and went over to the throne, sitting in it with one of his legs draped over the side. I felt a little irritated by that, but I wasn’t sure why, so I didn’t say anything. I didn’t support aristocracy, and I wasn’t going to enforce it on Duncan.
“How are you doing?” Tove asked, speaking for the first time in about a half hour. We’d all been silent as I tried to master whatever it was I was supposed to master.
“Fantastic,” I muttered.
“Great. Let’s add a song.” He stared up at the skylight, watching the clouds roll over us.
“What?” I stopped counting and let go of my persuasion so I could turn to face him. “Why?”
“I can still hear you,” Tove said. “It’s getting fainter, but it’s like the hum you hear from power lines. You need to quiet the noise in your head.”
“And doing a million things at once will do that?” I asked skeptically.
“Yes. You’re getting stronger, which means you’re learning to hold things in.” He lay down, closing the matter. “Now add a song to it.”
“What should I sing?” I sighed, turning to face the wall.
“Not ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.’” Duncan grimaced. “I’ve had that stuck in my head for some reason.”
“I’ve always been partial to the Beatles,” Tove said.
I glanced over at Duncan, who smirked with surprise. Sighing again, I started singing “Eleanor Rigby.” I messed up the words a couple times, but Tove didn’t complain, which was good. It was hard enough trying to do this and remember the lyrics to a song I hadn’t heard in years.
“I hope I’m not interrupting.” Elora’s voice ruined any semblance I had of concentration, so I stopped singing and turned to face her.
Duncan scrambled out of the chair, but not before I caught sight of the nasty glare she shot him. He looked down so his hair would cover the crimson blush on his cheeks.
“Not really.” I shrugged. For once, I was actually happy to see Elora, since her arrival meant a reprieve from all of this.
Elora surveyed the room with disdain, but I wasn’t sure what met her disapproval, since she had to at least have had a hand in the design. She stepped into the room, her long gown pooling around her feet. Tove didn’t get up and watched her with offhanded interest.
“Can I have a moment alone with the Princess?” Elora asked without looking at anyone. She managed to stand in such a way that her back was to all three of us.
Duncan mumbled apologies as he hurried out of the room, stumbling over his own feet. Tove left more slowly, always content to do things at his own pace. He ran a hand through his disheveled hair and made a vague comment about coming to find me when I was done.
“I’ve never cared for this room,” Elora said once they’d gone. “It always felt more like a greenhouse to me than a throne room. I know that was the idea behind it, helping us maintain our more organic roots, but it never felt right to me.”