“You remember Elora and Oren’s wedding? And you were only a toddler?” I asked.
He smirked. “Well, it was the wedding of the century. Everyone was there. It was quite the spectacle.”
I realized that he was constantly using sarcasm and humor to keep me at a distance, much the same way that Finn protected himself with a hard exterior. A moment ago, as he remembered his mother, I’d seen a glimmer of something real, the same glimmer I’d seen in Ondarike when he’d empathized with me about being a prisoner.
“Do you know why they got married?”
“Oren and Elora?” His eyebrows furrowed. “Don’t you know?”
“I know that Oren wanted an heir to the throne and Vittra can’t have kids, and Elora wanted to unite the tribes,” I said. “But why? Why was it so important that the Vittra and Trylle unite?”
“Well, because we’ve been warring for centuries.” Loki shrugged. “Since the beginning of time, maybe.”
“Why?” I repeated. “I’ve been reading the history books, and I can’t find a clear reason why. Why do we hate each other so much?”
“I don’t know.” He shook his head helplessly. “Why did the Capulets hate the Montagues?”
“Lord Montague stole Capulet’s wife from him,” I answered. “It was a love triangle thing.”
“What?” Loki asked. “I don’t remember Shakespeare saying that.”
“I read it in a book somewhere.” I waved Loki off. “It doesn’t matter. My point is—there’s always a reason.”
“I’m sure there is one,” Loki agreed.
For a moment, he let his gaze linger on me, his caramel eyes almost seeming to stare right through me. I became acutely aware of how close he was to me, and that we were hidden away in the privacy of his room.
Lowering my eyes, I took a step back from him and demanded that my heart stop racing.
“Now the principals have become too different,” Loki said at last. “The Vittra want more, and the Trylle want to hang on to their crumbling empire for dear life.”
“If anyone has a crumbling empire, it’s the Vittra,” I countered. “At least we can procreate here.”
“Ooh, low blow, Princess.” Loki put his hand to his chest with false hurt.
“It’s the truth, isn’t it?”
“So it is.” He dropped his hand and returned to his usual sly grin. “So, Princess, what’s your plan for getting me out of here alive?”
“I don’t have any plan,” I said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. They want to kill you, and I don’t know how to stop them.”
“Princess!” Duncan called from the end of the hall.
I looked back to see him standing in front of the irritated tracker. I didn’t know what Duncan had said to hold him off from guarding Loki, but Duncan had clearly exhausted that avenue.
“I have to go,” I told Loki.
“Your tracker is summoning you?” Loki glanced down the hall. Duncan gave me a sheepish smile as the guard walked toward us to resume his post.
“Something like that. But listen, you need to be good. Do what they say. Don’t cause any trouble,” I said, and Loki gave me an exaggerated innocent look, like, What, me? “It’s the only chance I have to convince them not to execute you.”
“If it’s as you wish, Princess.” Loki bowed before turning his back to me and walking to his bed.
The guard returned, giving me a deeper bow than Loki had, and I smiled at him before hurrying down the hall. I’d wanted to talk to Loki a bit more, although I wasn’t sure that it would’ve accomplished anything. Because the guard was my subordinate, I could’ve pushed the issue, but I didn’t want it going around the palace that I was spending time with Loki. As it was, I had taken a risk that I shouldn’t have.
“Sorry,” Duncan said when I reached him. “I tried to stall him, but he was afraid of getting in trouble or something. Which is silly, because you’re the Princess and his boss, but—”
“It’s fine, Duncan.” I smiled and brushed him off. “You did a good job.”
“Thanks.” He paused for a moment, looking startled by my minuscule bit of praise.
“Do you know where I can find Elora?” I asked and kept walking.
“Um, I believe she’s in meetings all day.” Duncan checked his watch as he fell into step next to me. “She should be with the Chancellor right now, going over the security precautions in case Loki isn’t a solitary incident.”
I wasn’t completely sure why Loki had come here, but I didn’t think it was to hurt me or the people of Förening. He’d seemed upset in Ondarike that Kyra had gotten violent with me, and he hadn’t even really hurt any of the guards when they captured him here in the palace. If Kyra or other Vittra had come with him, they’d almost certainly fight harder and probably attack me in the process.
Had Loki come here to protect me? Was this his way of letting me escape from the Vittra again?
“I’m pretty sure Loki is an isolated threat, and he’s not even really a threat,” I said. “I don’t think the Vittra have the numbers to launch a counterattack.”
“Is that what he told you?”
I nodded. “In so many words, yes.”
“And you trust him?” Duncan asked. His tone carried no hint of sarcasm or irritation, and I had a feeling that he trusted my instincts. If I approved of Loki, then Duncan would too.
“I do.” I furrowed my brow, a little surprised to find that I meant it. “I think he helped me escape in Ondarike.”
“I understand.” He nodded, my reasoning enough for him.
“I need to talk to Elora. Alone,” I said as we reached the stairs. “Does she have an opening in her schedule?”
“I’m really not sure,” Duncan said. When I started climbing the stairs, Duncan fell a step behind, following me up. “I’d have to check with her adviser, but if you really need to speak to her, I can stress the importance so she can squeeze something in.”
“I really need to speak with her,” I said. “If you talk to her or her adviser, and she doesn’t have time to fit me in, find out any time that she’s alone. I’ll corner her in the bathroom if I have to.”
“All right.” Duncan nodded. “Do you want to me to run and do that now?”