“Yeah, I can’t do that.”
“Oren isn’t that way. He is…” She trailed off, thinking. “You met him. How old do you think he is?”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “A few years younger than you, maybe.”
“When I married him, he was seventy-six, and that was twenty years ago,” Elora said.
“Whoa. What?” I stood up. “You’re telling me that he’s nearly a hundred? He’s over twice your age? So you look older, and he looks younger? How?”
“He’s something like immortal.”
“He’s immortal?” I gaped at her.
“No, Princess, I said he’s something like immortal,” Elora said carefully. “Oren ages, but at a much slower rate, and he heals very quickly. It’s hard for him to be hurt. He’s one of the last pure-blooded Vittra to be born.”
“That’s what makes me so special, and that’s why you weren’t worried when I told you that my host mother almost killed me.” I rested my hands on the back of the chair, supporting myself with it. “You think I’m like him.”
“The hope is that you’re like us both,” Elora said. “You’ll have the Trylle abilities to move and control things, and the Vittra abilities to heal and be strong enough to handle them.”
“Holy hell.” My hands trembled, and I sat down. “Now I know how a racehorse feels. I wasn’t conceived. I was bred.”
Elora bristled a bit at the accusation. “That’s not exactly how it was.”
“Really?” I looked over at her. “That’s why you married my father, wasn’t it? So you could make me—your perfect little biological weapon. Once you did, you left him and tried to keep me all for yourself. That’s what this whole feud is about now, isn’t it? Who can control me?”
“No, that’s not right.” Elora shook her head. “I married your father because I was eighteen and my parents told me to. Oren seemed kind at first, and everyone told me it was the only way we could stop the fighting. I could stop the bloodshed if I would only marry him, so I agreed to it.”
“What bloodshed?” I asked. “What were the Trylle and the Vittra fighting over?”
“The Vittra are dying. Their abilities are fading, they’re running out of money, and Oren’s always believed that he’s entitled to anything he wants.” Elora took a breath. “What he wanted was everything we had. Our wealth, our population.
“But what he wanted most was my power,” she went on. “My mother’s, originally. When she refused his advances, he waged endless battles against us. We used to be a great people with cities all over the world, but now he’s left us with a few isolated pockets.”
“And you married that? A man who killed your people because your mother wouldn’t have him?” I asked.
“They didn’t explain it all to me when we became engaged, but Oren agreed to peace in exchange for my hand in marriage,” Elora said. “My parents believed they didn’t have a choice, and Oren turned on the charm. He might not have telekinesis, but Oren can be very persuasive when he wants.”
“So you married him and united the people. What went wrong?” I asked.
“Some of the cities revolted, refusing to mix with the Vittra,” Elora said. “My parents were still King and Queen, and they wanted to reason with them. They sent Oren and me as ambassadors, to sway them to our way of thinking.
“In the very first city, people questioned us. Him in particular,” Elora continued. “He managed to charm them, and using some of my own persuasion, we convinced even the most ardent doubter to join the Vittra alliance. Later, this would prove to be a fatal mistake.
“I never loved Oren, but in the beginning of our marriage, I cared for him. I thought I might one day grow to love him. What I didn’t realize was how hard he had to work to be that way, and as we went on our tour, his mask began to slip.
“We stopped in a village in Canada, and we had a town hall meeting with all the Trylle, the way we had in the other cities.” Elora paused, staring out the window at the icy weather. “Everyone was there. Even the mänsklig children, all the trackers and their families.
“Someone asked Oren what he hoped to gain from all this, and for some reason, it was more than Oren could bear.” She let out a deep breath and lowered her eyes. “He began yelling and attacking them, and the villagers began fighting back. So … Oren killed them all. We were the only two survivors.
“He spun the story, and I went along with it because I didn’t know what else to do. My parents had convinced me that we needed him for peace. Oren was my husband, and I had been complicit in the murders of our own people because I didn’t stand up to him. If I had, I would’ve been killed too, but that didn’t change the fact that I did nothing to save them.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, unsure how else to respond to her confession.
“Oren was labeled a war hero, and I…” She trailed off, picking absently at the fur that covered her.
“Why did you stay with him?” I asked.
“You mean after I realized that I’d married a monster?” Elora asked with a sad smile. “I didn’t used to be the way I am now. I was much more trusting, much more willing to hope and believe, and follow. That is one thing I can thank your father for. He made me realize that I had to be a leader.”
“What made you finally leave?” I asked.
“Oren made an effort after we got back. He tried to be kind, or as kind as he could manage. He didn’t beat me or call me names. He would be patronizing to my every thought or word, but we had peace. No war. No deaths. A bad marriage seemed worth it to me. I could handle that if no one else had to die.
“Then I became pregnant with you, and it all changed.” Elora rearranged herself on the chaise. “What I didn’t realize then was that you were all he ever wanted. A perfect heir to his throne. We tried for nearly three years before I conceived, and the wait had worn on him as it was.
“As soon as he found out he was having a child, it was like a switch flipped inside him.” Elora snapped her fingers. “He was even more domineering. He never let me leave the room. He didn’t even want me to leave the bed, in case it would risk losing you.
“My mother and I began looking into families for you to go to. I knew I had to leave you as a changeling, not because it was what we did, but because I couldn’t let Oren raise you.” She shook her head. “Oren did not want that. He wanted you all for himself.