“I don’t know exactly how persuasion works.” Loki turned away from me, growing bored with the conversation. “It’s never been my thing.”
“What is your thing?” I asked.
“This and that.” Loki shrugged and sat back down on the bed.
“Why did you come here?” I asked. “What were you hoping to gain?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” He grinned, that same mischievous way he always did. “I came here for you, Princess.”
“By yourself?” I arched an eyebrow. “The last time Vittra came for me here, they sent a fleet, and we still defeated them. What were you thinking, coming here on your own?”
“I thought I wouldn’t get caught.” He shrugged again, totally nonplussed by the whole thing, as if being held captive were no big deal.
“That’s completely idiotic!” I yelled at him, exasperated by his lack of concern over the situation. “You know they want to execute you?”
“So I’ve heard.” Loki sighed, staring down at the floor for a moment. Something occurred to him, though, because he quickly brightened and stood up. “I heard you’re campaigning on my behalf.” He walked over to me. “That wouldn’t be because you’d miss me too much if I were gone, would it?”
“Don’t be absurd,” I scoffed. “I don’t condone murder, even for people like you.”
“People like me, eh?” He cocked an eyebrow. “You mean devilishly handsome, debonair young men who come to sweep rebellious princesses off their feet?”
“You came to kidnap me, not sweep me off my feet,” I said, but he waved his hand at the idea.
“But I don’t understand why you’re a kidnapper,” I said. “You’re a Markis.”
“I am the closest the Vittra have to a Prince,” he admitted with a wry smile.
“Then why the hell are you here?” I asked. “The Queen would never let me go on a rescue mission.”
“She let that other Markis go after you,” Loki pointed out, referring to Tove. “The one that threw me against the wall.”
“That’s different.” I shook my head. “He’s strong, and he didn’t come alone.” I narrowed my eyes at Loki. “Did you come alone?”
“Yes, of course I did. Nobody else would be stupid enough to join me after what happened the last time we paid you a visit.”
“That really doesn’t explain why you’re here,” I said. “Why would you volunteer for this, knowing how dangerous it is? Do you know how dangerous it is? When I said they wanted to execute you, you laughed it off, but they really mean to do it, Loki.”
“I missed you too much, Princess, and I couldn’t stop myself from coming.” He tried to say it with his usual gusto, but honesty tinged his smile.
“Don’t make jokes.” I rolled my eyes.
“That was the answer you were looking for, wasn’t it? That I chose to come back for you?” Loki leaned against the doorframe, just inside the room, and sighed. “My dear Princess, you think too highly of yourself. I didn’t volunteer.”
“I didn’t think that.” I bristled and my cheeks reddened slightly. “If you didn’t volunteer, then why did they send you?”
“I let you get away.” He stared off down the hallway, where Duncan had distracted the tracker. “The King sent me to correct my error.”
“Why were you in charge of guarding me in Ondarike? Why you? Why not a tracker or something?”
“We don’t have many trackers because we don’t have changelings.” Loki looked at me. “The hobgoblins do a lot of our dirty work, but you could overpower them without even trying. The Vittra that came after you last time are only slightly more powerful than mänsklig, which is how you managed to defeat them. I’m the strongest, so the King sent me after you.”
“Who are you?” I asked, and he opened his mouth, probably to say something witty and sarcastic, so I held up my hand to stop him. “My mother said she knew your father. You’re close to the Vittra King and Queen.”
“I’m not close to the King.” Loki shook his head. “Nobody is close to the King. But I do have history with the Queen. His wife, Sara, was once my betrothed.”
“What?” My jaw dropped. “She’s … she’s much older than you.”
“Ten years older.” Loki nodded. “But that’s how arranged marriages work a lot of the time, especially when there are so few of the marrying kind in our community. Unfortunately, before I came of age, the King decided he wanted to wed her.”
“Were you in love with her?” I asked, surprised to find myself caring at all.
“It was an arranged marriage!” Loki laughed. “I was nine when Sara married the King. I got over it. Sara thought of me like a little brother, and she still does.”
“And what about your father? Elora said she knew him.”
“I’m sure she did.” He ran a hand through his hair and shifted his weight. “She lived with the Vittra for a while. First, right after they were married, they lived here in Förening, but once Elora became pregnant, Oren insisted she move to his house.”
“And she did?” I asked, surprised that Elora had been coerced into anything.
“She didn’t have a choice, I suppose. When the King wants something, he can be very…” Loki trailed off. “I was in their wedding. Did you know that?”
When he looked at me, he smiled at the memory, and his cocky demeanor slipped. There was something disarmingly honest about his smile, missing his usual snark, and when he looked like that, he was almost impossibly handsome. He was truly one of the best-looking guys I’d ever laid eyes on, and for a moment I felt too flustered to say anything.
“You mean my mother and my father’s?” I asked when I found my words.
“Yes.” He nodded. “I was very young, maybe two or three, and I don’t remember it much, except that my mother took me, and she let me stay up all night dancing. I walked down the aisle and threw petals, which is a very unmasculine thing to do, but there were no other children of royal blood to be in the wedding.”
“Where were the children?”
“The Vittra didn’t have any, and the Trylle were all gone as changelings,” Loki explained.