“Well, he’s staying down the hall from me,” I said.
“He is powerful,” Elora reiterated. “But he’s not strong enough to lead.”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “He has good insight.”
“He’s scatterbrained and often irrational.” She stared off at nothing for a moment. “But he is loyal, and he will stand by your side.”
“Yeah…” I didn’t understand what she was getting at. “Tove’s a great guy.”
“I am relieved to hear you say that.” Elora exhaled and rubbed her temple. “I didn’t have it in me to fight with you today.”
“Fight with me about what?” I asked.
“Tove.” She looked at me like it should be obvious. “I didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what?” I leaned forward, totally confused.
“I thought I just told you. A moment ago.” Her brow furrowed, showing even more wrinkles. “It’s all going so fast.”
“What is?” I stood up, feeling real concern for her. “What are you talking about?”
“You only just got here, and I thought I’d have more time.” She shook her head. “Well, anyway, it’s all been arranged.”
“What?” I repeated.
“Your marriage.” Elora looked up at me, wondering why I didn’t understand what she meant already. “You and Tove are to be married as soon as you turn eighteen.”
“Whoa.” I held up my hands and took a step back, as if that would defend me somehow. “What?”
“It’s the only way.” Elora lowered her eyes and shook her head, as if she’d done everything she could to prevent it. And considering how much she loathed Aurora, she probably had done everything she could. “To protect the kingdom and to protect the crown.”
“What?” I repeated. “But I turn eighteen in three months.”
“At least Aurora will be planning it all,” Elora said wearily. “She’ll have the wedding of the century ready by then.”
“No, Elora.” I waved my hands. “I can’t marry Tove!”
“Why ever not?” She batted her dark lashes at me.
“Because I don’t love him!”
“Love is a fairy tale that mänks tell their children so they’ll have grandchildren,” Elora said, brushing me off. “Love has nothing to do with marriage.”
“I … You can’t really expect me…” I sighed and shook my head. “I can’t.”
“You must.” Elora stood up, pushing herself up with her arm. She steadied herself on the chaise for a moment, as if she might fall. When she was certain she was steady, she stepped toward me. “Princess, it is the only way.”
“The only way to what?” I asked. “No. I’d rather not be Queen than marry someone I don’t love.”
“Don’t say that!” Elora snapped, and the familiar venom returned to her words. “A Princess must never say that!”
“Well … I can’t do it! I refuse to marry him! Or anyone, unless I want to!”
“Princess, listen to me.” Elora gripped my arms and looked directly in my eyes. “The Trylle already think you should be shipped to the Vittra because of who your father is, and that is all the ammo Aurora needs to get you overthrown.”
“I don’t care about the crown,” I insisted. “I never did.”
“Once you’re overthrown, you’ll be exiled to live with the Vittra, and I know that you don’t think the Markis Staad seems that bad,” Elora went on. “Maybe he isn’t. But the King is. I lived with him for three years, but when you were born, I left him, knowing what that would mean for our kingdom. But I had to leave him, that’s how bad a man he is.”
“I won’t go back to the Vittra,” I said. “I’ll move to Canada or Europe or something.”
“He will find you,” Elora said. “And even if he doesn’t, if you left, it would be the end of our people. Tove is powerful, but he is not strong enough to run a kingdom or stand up to Oren. The Vittra would attack and destroy the Trylle. He would kill everyone, especially the ones you love.”
“You don’t know that.” I backed away so she wasn’t touching me.
“Princess, yes, I do.” Her eyes locked with mine, her sincerity unmistakable.
“You saw it?” I asked and looked around the room for a painting. One that would show me the devastation that she’d seen.
“I saw that they need you,” Elora said. “They need you to survive.”
I’d never seen her look desperate before, and it scared the hell out of me. I liked Tove, but not romantically, and I didn’t want to marry someone I didn’t love. Especially when I might love someone else.
But Elora was pleading with me to do this. She believed everything she was saying, and I hated to admit it, but she had a compelling argument.
“Elora…” My mouth felt dry, and it was hard to swallow. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Marry him, Princess,” Elora commanded. “He’ll protect you.”
“I can’t marry someone so he’ll be my bodyguard,” I told her quietly. “Tove deserves to be happy. And I would like a chance at it too.”
“Princess, I’m not…” She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her fingers to her temple. “Princess.”
“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to argue with you,” I said.
“No, Princess, I…” She reached out, grabbing the back of the couch to catch herself.
“Elora?” I rushed over to her and put my hand on her back. “Elora, what’s wrong?”
Blood seeped from her nose, but it was no simple nosebleed. It was like an artery had opened up. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and her body went limp. She collapsed, and I barely caught her in my arms.
“Help me!” I shouted. “Somebody! Help!”
Thomas rushed in first. I’d already lowered Elora to the floor, where she twitched like she was having a small seizure.
I’d crouched down next to her, but Thomas pushed me out of the way to tend to her. I leaned against the couch while he attempted to revive her, praying my mother would be okay.
“Wendy,” Finn said.
I hadn’t even heard him come in. I looked up at him with tears blurring my vision, and he held out his hand to me. I took it, and let him pull me to my feet.