“Princess?” Duncan waited at the open doors for me. “Is everything all right?”
“Would you die to save me?” I asked him bluntly.
“If I was in danger, would you be willing to die to protect me?” I asked. “Have other trackers done that before?”
“Yes, of course.” Duncan nodded. “Many other trackers have given their lives in the name of the kingdom, and I’d be honored to do the same.”
“Don’t.” I walked up to him. “If it ever comes down to a situation between me and you, save yourself. I’m not worth dying for.”
“None of us are,” I said, looking at him seriously. “Not the Queen or any of the Markis or Marksinna. That’s a direct order from the Princess, and you have to follow it. Save yourself.”
“I don’t understand.” Duncan’s whole face scrunched in confusion. “But … if it’s as you wish, Princess.”
“It is. Thank you.” I smiled at him and walked into the palace.
The debris had been cleared from the ballroom, much to Tove’s chagrin, but the skylights were still covered with tarps. Tove had liked having all the junk around because it gave me something to practice on, but he decided that the tarps would be easier anyway.
Duncan had stayed away today. I think his brain was getting frazzled from me playing around with it. Since he sometimes got hit with stray brain waves when I tried too hard, we all thought it’d be best if he hung around somewhere else for a while.
I’d been trying for hours to get one of the tarps to move, and all I’d managed was a ripple across it. Even that was questionable. Tove said it was probably me, but I suspected it was a strong gust of wind blowing across it.
My head was actually starting to hurt, and I felt like a jackass, holding my arms up in the air, pushing at nothing.
“Nothing’s happening.” I sighed and dropped my arms.
“Try harder,” Tove replied. He lay on the floor near me, his arms folded neatly beneath his head.
“I can’t try any harder.” I sat down on the floor with an unladylike thud, but I knew Tove wouldn’t care. I had a feeling he barely even noticed I was a girl. “I’m not trying to whine here, but are you sure I can even do this?”
“Well, what if I give myself an aneurysm trying to do something I can’t even do?” I asked.
“You won’t,” he said simply. He lifted an arm up, and holding his palm out, he made the tarp above him lift up and strain against the bungee cords holding it down. It settled down, and he looked over at me. “Do that.”
“Can I take a break?” I asked, almost pleading with him. My brow had started to sweat, and stray curls were sticking to my temples.
“If you must.” He lowered his arm and folded it behind his head again. “If you’re really having a hard time with this, maybe you need to work up to it more. Tomorrow you can practice on Duncan again.”
“No, I don’t wanna practice on him.” I pulled my knee up to my chest and rested my cheek against it. “I don’t want to break him.”
“What about that Rhys?” Tove asked. “Can you practice on him?”
“No. He’s completely out of the question.” I picked at a spot on the marble floor and thought for a minute. “I don’t want to practice on people.”
“It’s the only way you’ll get good at it,” Tove said.
“I know, but…” I sighed. “Maybe I don’t want to be good at it. I mean, controlling it, yes, I want to be good at that. But I don’t want to be able to use mind control on anyone. Even bad people. It doesn’t feel right to me.”
“I understand that.” He sat up, crossing his legs underneath him as he turned to face me. “But learning to harness your power isn’t a bad thing.”
“I’m stronger than Duncan, right?”
“Yes, of course.” Tove nodded.
“Then why is Duncan guarding me?” I asked. “If I’m more powerful.”
“Because he’s more expendable,” Tove replied simply. I must’ve looked appalled, because Tove hurried to explain. “That’s the way the Queen sees it. The way Trylle society sees it. And … if I’m being really honest, I agree with them.”
“You can’t really believe that my life has more value simply because I’m a Princess?” I asked. “The trackers are living in squalor, and we expect them to die for us.”
“They’re not living in squalor, but you’re right. The system is totally messed up,” Tove said. “Trackers are born into a lifetime of debt simply because they’re born here, and not left somewhere out in the world collecting an inheritance. They are indentured servants, which is just a polite name for slaves. And that is not right at all.”
It wasn’t until Tove said it that I realized that’s exactly what it was. The trackers were little more than slaves. I felt sick.
“But you do need guards,” Tove went on. “Every leader in the free world has bodyguards of some kind. Even pop stars have them. It’s not a horrible thing.”
“Yes, but in the free world, the bodyguards are hired. They choose it,” I said. “They’re not forced.”
“You think Duncan was forced? Or Finn?” Tove asked. “They both volunteered for this. Everyone did. Protecting you is a great honor. Besides that, living in the palace is a sweet deal.”
“I don’t want anyone getting hurt over me,” I said and looked directly at him.
“Good.” His mouth curled up into a smirk. “Then learn to defend yourself. Move the tarp.”
I stood up, preparing to conquer the tarp once and for all, but a blaring siren interrupted everything.
“You hear that, right?” Tove asked, cocking his head at me.
“Yeah, of course!” I shouted to be heard over it.
“Making sure it wasn’t just me,” Tove said.
That made me wonder what it sounded like inside his head. I knew he heard things everybody else didn’t hear, but if that included things like blaring sirens, I understood why he always seemed so distracted.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Fire alarm, maybe?” Tove shrugged and stood up. “Let’s go check it out.”