“Get Aurora Kroner,” Thomas told Finn. “Now.”
“Yes, sir.” Finn nodded.
He still had my hand, and he pulled me out of the room. He walked fast because time was of the essence. My legs felt numb and rubbery, but I pushed them to hurry.
“Go find Tove or Willa. Even Duncan,” Finn said when we reached the main hall. “I’ll come and get you later.”
“What’s wrong with Elora?” I asked.
“I don’t have time, Wendy.” Finn shook his head, his eyes pained. “I’ll get you when there’s anything to tell you.”
“Go,” I said, nodding to hurry him along.
Finn raced out the front door, leaving me in the hall, alone and scared.
Duncan found me exactly as Finn had left me. He’d heard about Elora’s collapse from the other trackers, who’d gone into lockdown mode. I heard them bustling about the palace, but that was secondary. My mother might be dying.
Duncan suggested we go up to my room, but I didn’t want to be that far away. I needed to be close in case something happened. We sat in the living room, and he tried to comfort me, but it was futile.
Finn came back a few minutes later with Aurora, and they rushed down the hall. Her dress billowed out behind her, and her hair had come loose from its bun, blowing back as she ran.
Garrett and Willa came shortly after. Garrett went down to check on Elora’s progress while Willa sat with me. She put her arm around my shoulders and kept reminding me how strong Elora was. Nothing could stop her.
“But … what if she dies?” I asked, staring blankly at the unlit fireplace in front of me.
The living room had a horrible chill from the icy wind beating against the windows. Duncan knelt in front of the fireplace. He had been trying to light a fire for the past few minutes.
“She won’t die.” Willa squeezed me tighter.
“No, Willa, I’m being honest,” I said. “What happens if the Queen dies?”
“She’s not going to die.” Willa forced a smile. “We don’t need to worry about that right now.”
“I’ve almost got this fire lit,” Duncan lied to change the subject.
“It’s gas, Duncan,” Willa told him. “You just turn a knob.”
“Oh.” Duncan did as she said, and a bright flame roared up through the fireplace.
Staring down at Elora’s blood that had gotten on my shirt, I was surprised to find how scared I felt. I didn’t want her to die.
She always seemed so strong, so composed, and it made me wonder how much pain she was in. We’d met in the drawing room today, and she’d wanted to meet me in the study. She wasn’t well enough to move, I realized. She shouldn’t have been standing or exerting herself at all, let alone arguing with me. I’d made her already frail condition even worse.
Why hadn’t she told me about how debilitated she was? But I already knew the answer. Her sense of duty came before everything else.
“Princess,” Finn said, pulling me from my thoughts. He stood at the entrance to the living room, his face drawn.
“Is she okay?” I jumped up at the sight of him, pulling away from Willa.
“She’s asked to see you.” Finn pointed toward her drawing room and wouldn’t meet my eyes.
“So she’s awake? She’s alive? Is she okay? Does she know what happened? Did Aurora fix her?” I asked. My questions came out too rapidly for him to answer, but I couldn’t seem to slow myself.
“She’d rather tell you everything herself,” Finn said simply.
“That sounds like her.” I nodded. She was awake and wanted to see me. That had to be a good sign.
Willa and Duncan gave me reassuring smiles, but they couldn’t mask their anxiety. I told them I’d be back soon, and that I was sure everything would be fine. I didn’t know if that was true or not, but I had to ease their fears somehow.
I walked with Finn down the corridor to the parlor. Finn kept his pace slow and deliberate. I wanted to run to Elora, but I forced myself to stay with him. I wrapped my arms around myself and rubbed my hands along them.
“Is she angry with me?” I asked him.
“The Queen?” Finn seemed surprised. “No. Of course not. Why would she be?”
“I was arguing with her when she … If I hadn’t been antagonizing her, she might not have gotten so … sick.”
“No, you didn’t do this.” He shook his head. “In fact, it’s good that you were with her. You got her help right away.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You called for help using your thoughts.” He tapped his forehead. “We were too far away, and we wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t done that. Elora might be in a lot worse shape if you hadn’t been there.”
“What’s wrong with her?” I asked him directly. “Do you know?”
“She’ll need to tell you.”
I thought about pushing Finn for more information, but we were almost to her. Besides, it didn’t feel right to argue with him now.
His whole demeanor had changed, seeming softer and more somber. He’d let some of his guard down around me again, and while I wasn’t in the mood to take advantage of that, I did enjoy the familiar feel of being with him without a giant wall between us. I missed him.
Aurora came out of the parlor just before we reached it. Her normally flawless skin had gone gray. Her dark eyes were glossed over, and her hair hung in unruly waves around her face. She leaned up against the wall, supporting herself, and struggled to catch her breath.
“Marksinna?” Finn quickly went to her, putting his arm around her to steady her. “Are you all right?”
“I’m only tired,” Aurora said as Finn helped her to a chair in the hallway. She moved like an old woman, and her bones creaked as she eased herself down in the chair. “Will you get my son? I need to lie down, and I want him to help me home.”
“Yes, of course,” Finn said, and he gave me an apologetic look. “Princess, will you be all right seeing the Queen alone?”
“Yes.” I nodded. “Go get Tove. I’ll be fine.”
Finn hurried away to retrieve Tove for his mother, and I went on to the room. I felt guilty for leaving Aurora alone in the hallway looking so completely drained, but I had my own mother to attend to.
The door to the parlor was still open, and I stayed in the hall for a moment, watching.