Elora lay on her chaise lounge, the way she had when I arrived, but she had a black fur blanket over her. Her raven hair had gone even whiter, so it now appeared to be white streaked with black and not the other way around. Her eyes were closed, and the blood had been wiped from her face.
Garrett had pulled up a chair so he sat right next to her head. He held one of her hands in both of his, and gazed at her with worry and adoration. His tousled hair was even more unkempt than normal, and some of her blood stained his shirt.
On the other side of the chaise lounge, Thomas stood keeping watch. He had the same stoic stance all the trackers did when they were on guard duty, but his eyes rested heavily on Elora. They weren’t filled with the same intensity as Garrett’s, but something glimmered in them, some faint remembrance of whatever had transpired between Thomas and Elora years ago.
When she opened her eyes, it was Thomas that Elora looked up at. Garrett’s jaw flexed as he clenched his teeth, but he said nothing. He didn’t even drop her hand.
“Elora?” I said timidly and stepped inside the room.
“Princess.” Her voice sounded weak, and she made a poor attempt at a smile.
“You wanted to see me?” I asked.
“Yes.” She tried to sit up, but Garrett gently placed his hand on her shoulder.
“Elora, you need to rest,” Garrett told her.
“I am fine.” She waved him off but lowered herself back down. “I need to speak privately with my daughter. Can you both leave us for a moment?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Thomas bowed. “But for your sake, please take it easy.”
“Of course, Thomas.” She offered him a tired smile, and he bowed again before leaving.
“I’ll be right down the hall if you need me,” Garrett said, but he seemed hesitant to stand. He wouldn’t even walk toward the door until Elora glared at him. “If you need anything, call for me. Or send the Princess. Okay?”
“If it will get you to leave quicker, I will agree to anything.” Elora sighed.
Garrett paused as he passed me, and he looked like he wanted to say something, probably remind me to take it easy. Elora said his name, and he hurried along. He closed the door behind him, and I took his seat next to Elora.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
“I’ve been better, obviously.” She readjusted the blanket over her, getting more comfortable on the chaise. “But I will live to fight another day, and that’s what matters.”
“What happened?” I asked. “Why did you just collapse?”
“How old do you think I am?” Elora asked, turning so her eyes met mine. A few days ago they’d been almost black, but now they had the gray haze of cataracts.
Her age was a hard question to answer. When I’d first met her, I’d have pegged her for fifty-something. A very beautiful fifty, but even then, she’d had an aged quality under her stunning features.
Now, lying on the chaise, frail and tired, Elora looked even more advanced in age than that. She looked like an old woman, but I didn’t want to say that to her, of course.
“Um … forty, maybe?”
“You’re kind, and a bad liar.” She pushed herself up, so she was sitting up a bit. “That’s something you’ll need to work on. The horrible reality is that being a leader involves a lot of lying.”
“I’ll practice my poker face later,” I said. “You look good, though, if that’s what you’re asking. Just tired and run-down.”
“I am tired and run-down,” Elora admitted wearily. “And I’m only thirty-nine.”
“Thirty-nine what?” I asked, confused, and she propped her head on her hand so she could look at me.
“Thirty-nine years old,” she said, smiling wider. “You seem shocked. I don’t blame you. Although I’m surprised you didn’t catch on sooner. I told you that I married your father when I was very young. I had you when I was twenty-one.”
“But…” I stammered. “Is that what’s wrong with you? Are you aging too fast?”
“Not exactly.” She pursed her lips. “It’s the price we pay for our abilities. When we use them, they drain us and age us.”
“All the stuff you do—like the mind-speak and holding Loki prisoner—that’s killing you?” I asked.
She nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
“Then why do it?” I wanted to shout at her, but I kept my voice as even as I could. “I can understand defending yourself, but calling Finn with mind-speak? Why would you do something if it’s killing you?”
“The mind-speak doesn’t use as much.” Elora waved it off. “The things that are really draining I only do when I have to, like housing a prisoner. But what uses it the most is the precognitive painting, and that I can’t control.”
I glanced at several paintings Elora had leaned up against the windows. Across the hall, she had a locked room filled with these paintings.
“What do you mean, you can’t control it?” I asked. “Just don’t do it.”
“I can’t see the visions, but they fill my head.” She gestured to her forehead. “It’s an agonizing blackness that takes over until I paint and get them out. I can’t stop them from coming, and it’s too painful to ignore them. I would go insane if I tried to keep them all inside.”
“But it’s killing you.” I slumped in the chair. “Why even teach other Trylle how to use their abilities, if it means they’ll grow weak and old?”
“That’s the price.” She sighed. “We go mad if we don’t use them, we age if we do. The more powerful we are, the more cursed we are.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “I’ll go crazy if I stop?”
“I don’t really know what will happen to you.” Elora rested her chin on her hand, eyeing me. “You’re your father’s daughter too.”
“What?” I shook my head. “You mean because I have Vittra blood too?”
“Tove told me about them. He said they’re very strong, but I’m not strong.” I remembered all the fights I’d been in throughout my illustrious school career, and how I’d taken a beating as often as I’d given one. “I’m not like that.”
“Some are physically strong, yes,” Elora clarified. “That Loki Staad, I believe, is very strong. If I recall correctly, he could lift a grand piano by the time he could walk.”