The Vittra must have been watching, waiting for the opportunity to surprise Finn and Duncan. They snuck up on them, and Loki took care of them. Finn was lucky that they’d only knocked him out. Kyra seemed way too keen on destroying me.
She must’ve been sent ahead to get me, leaving Loki behind to neutralize Finn and Duncan. Loki hadn’t seemed that big into violence. In fact, if he hadn’t intervened, Kyra might’ve actually killed me.
“Wait.” Duncan narrowed his eyes at me, as if figuring something out. “Did you think we left you there?”
“I didn’t know what to think,” I said. “You just left, and I hadn’t expected you to. I didn’t want to go with you, but you left without much of a fight. I thought maybe—”
“Is that why you’ve been so mopey?”
“I have not been mopey!” I had been a little depressed since I’d gotten back. Well, since before then, really, but I didn’t think I’d been mopey.
“No, you have,” he assured me with a smile. “There’s no way we’d leave you that way. You were an easy target. Finn would never let anything happen to you.” He’d turned to my stuff and picked up my iPod. “I mean, he can’t even leave you now, and you’re completely safe here.”
“What?” My heart raced in my chest. “What are you talking about?”
“What?” Duncan belatedly realized he’d said too much, and his skin paled. “Nothing.”
“No, Duncan, what do you mean?” I sat up, knowing I should at least pretend not to care so much, but I couldn’t help it. “Finn’s here? You mean like here here?”
“I shouldn’t say anything.” He shifted uneasily.
“You have to tell me,” I insisted, scooting to the edge of the bed.
“No, Finn would kill me if he knew I said anything.” Duncan stared down at his feet and fiddled with a broken belt loop. “I’m sorry.”
“He told you not to tell me he’s here?” I asked, once again feeling a painful stab in my heart.
“He’s not here, like in the palace.” He groaned and looked sheepishly at me. “If I get mixed up in whatever sordid thing it is you have with him, I’ll never get a job again. Please, Princess. Don’t make me tell you.”
It wasn’t until the words were out of his mouth that I realized I could make him tell me. While my persuasion might not be strong enough for the likes of Tove and Loki, I’d been practicing on Duncan. He was easily susceptible to my charms.
“Where is he, Duncan?” I demanded, looking directly at him.
I didn’t even have to chant it in my head. As soon as I’d said it, his jaw sagged and his eyes glassed over. His mind was awfully pliable, and I felt bad. Later on, I’d have to make this up to him somehow.
“He’s in Förening, at his parents’ house,” Duncan said, blinking hard at me.
“Yeah, they live down the road.” He pointed south. “Follow the main road towards the gate, then take the third left on a gravel road. Go down the side of the bluff a little ways, and they live in a cottage. It’s the one with goats.”
“Goats?” I asked, wondering if Duncan was pulling my leg.
“His mother raises a few angora goats. She makes sweaters and scarves from the mohair and sells them.” He shook his head. “I’ve said way too much. I’m gonna be in so much trouble.”
“No, you’ll be fine,” I assured him as I jumped out of bed.
I ran to the closet to change my clothes. I didn’t look bad, but if I was gonna see Finn, I had to look good. Duncan kept groaning about what an idiot he was for telling me anything. I tried to calm him, but my mind raced too much.
I couldn’t believe how stupid I was. I’d imagined that as soon as he was unassigned from me, Finn had been sent to track someone else. But now I realized he had to have some turnaround time before his next job, and he had to stay somewhere. If he wasn’t living at the palace, his parents were the next logical choice. He’d spoken very little of them, and it never occurred to me that they might be neighbors.
“Elora will find out. She knows everything,” Duncan muttered as I exited the closet.
“I promise. I won’t tell anyone.” I looked at myself in the mirror. I was pale, scattered, and terrified. Finn liked my hair better when it was down, so I left it that way, even though it was messy.
“She’ll still find out,” Duncan insisted.
“I’ll protect your job,” I said, but he still looked skeptical. “I’m the Princess. I have to have some pull around here.” He shrugged, but I could tell I’d managed to alleviate some of his fears. “I’ve gotta go. You can’t tell anyone where I am.”
“They’ll freak out if they don’t know where you’re at.”
“Well…” I looked around, thinking. “Stay here. If anyone comes looking for me, tell them I’m in the bath and can’t be disturbed. We’re each other’s alibis.”
“You sure?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Yes,” I lied. “I have to go. And thank you.”
Duncan still didn’t seem convinced this was a good idea, but I’d left him with little choice. I raced out of the palace, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. Elora had a few other trackers wandering around to keep watch on things, but I slid past them without any notice.
When I pushed open the front doors, I realized I didn’t even know why I was in such a hurry to see Finn. What did I plan on doing once I saw him? Convince him to come with me? Did I even want that?
After the way things had been left between us, what was I going after?
I couldn’t answer that for sure. All I knew was I had to see him. I hurried down the winding road, going south, and tried to remember Duncan’s directions.
The gravel road wound down at a steep incline. I wouldn’t have known I was going the right way if I hadn’t heard the goats bleating.
When I rounded the bend, I saw the small cottage nestled into the side of the bluffs. Vines and bushes covered it so much that I might not have noticed it if it weren’t for the smoke coming out of the chimney.
The pasture for the goats leveled out a bit more than the rest of the bluff, so it was sitting on a plateau. A wooden fence kept them enclosed. The long fur on the goats was dingy white.