“So when my father, the King, decreed that you must be a changeling, the way all heirs to the throne had been, Oren took me, and we left. We lived in Ondarike, where he had me locked up as a prisoner.
“Two weeks before you were due, my mother and father broke me out of his palace. My father was killed in the fight, along with many other brave Trylle. My mother took me away to a family she’d been secretly researching—the Everlys. It was a hasty switch, but they seemed to have everything you would need.
“After I had you, I…” She stopped, completely lost in thought.
“You what?” I prompted when she didn’t say anything.
“It was the best thing for you,” she said. “I know you had problems with your host family, but I didn’t have time to pick or be choosy. I just needed you hidden from Oren.”
“Thank you,” I said lamely.
“As soon as you were born, I left. Your grandmother held you, but I didn’t have the chance. We had to run to keep the Vittra off your scent. We went to a safe house, a chalet in Canada. When Oren had lived here, we hadn’t trusted him enough to tell him of all our secret places.” She closed her eyes and took a breath. “But he found us in the chalet.
“That Markis you’re so fond of?” Elora gestured in the direction of Loki’s room. “It was his father that led Oren to us. He’s the one who got everyone killed.
“Oren killed my mother in front of me, and he vowed to get you as soon as you returned.” Elora swallowed. “He let me live because he wanted me to see him follow through on his promise. He wanted me to know that he’d won.”
I wanted to ask Elora more questions, but she already looked so worn. She would never admit to being exhausted, but it was painfully clear that she should’ve been sleeping instead of speaking to me in the first place.
We talked for a bit more, and then I excused myself. I paused when I reached the door and looked back. Elora had already sunk down on the chaise, and she held her hands over her eyes.
Garrett waited outside the door, pacing the hall. Thomas stood a few yards down, giving him space, and Aurora and Finn were long gone.
“How is she?” Garrett asked.
“She’s … good, I think.” I really wasn’t sure how Elora was doing. “She’s resting, and that’s what counts.”
“Good.” Garrett nodded. He stared at the closed drawing room door for a moment, then turned his concern to me. “Your talk went well, then?”
“Yeah.” I rubbed the back of my neck. I didn’t know what to make of it all.
Elora had been so cold to me since I’d met her, to the point where I’d been certain she hated me, but now I wasn’t so sure. I had no idea how she must feel about me.
Elora hadn’t been much older than me when she married a man over three times her age, a man she didn’t even know. He turned out to be ruthless and cruel, but she sacrificed her happiness and well-being for her kingdom.
Then, to defend her unborn child, to save me, she risked everything. Both her parents lost their lives in a matter of months, killed by her own husband, for a child she couldn’t even be around.
I wondered if she hated me, if she blamed me for her parents’ deaths, for all the trouble Oren had caused her since I’d been born.
I didn’t know how close Elora had been with her parents, but before the christening ceremony, she suggested that I take the name Ella, after her mother.
And Elora had spared Loki. His father had gotten her mother killed and nearly cost both Elora and me our lives, yet when given the chance for vengeance, Elora hadn’t taken any on Loki. I was starting to think I had misjudged her completely.
Elora’s insistence on perfection and on me being Queen became much clearer. So much had been lost for me, to ensure that I would someday take the Trylle throne.
My stomach twisted with shame as I realized how ungrateful I must have seemed to her. After everything she and her family and the entire Trylle population had done for me, I had given them so little in return.
When I looked up into Garrett’s worried eyes, I realized something else. His wife—Willa’s mother—had died long before Willa had come home. I wondered if she had died in one of the battles my father had waged against the Trylle. If Garrett had lost someone he loved because of me.
“I’m sorry,” I told him with tears stinging my eyes.
“What on earth for?” Garrett moved toward me, surprised by my display of emotion, and put his hand on my arm.
“Elora told me everything.” I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Everything that happened with Oren. And I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?” Garrett asked. “All of that was before you were even born.”
“I know, but I feel like … I should’ve been better. That I should be better,” I corrected myself. “After everything you went through, you deserve a great Queen.”
“That we do,” Garrett admitted with a small smile. “And you know that, so we should be on the right track.” He lowered his head to meet my eyes. “I’m certain you’ll be a great Queen someday.”
I wasn’t sure if I believed him, but I knew that I had to do everything I could to make that happen. I would not let my kingdom down. I couldn’t.
Garrett needed to tend to Elora, so I left him to it. Thomas stayed outside the door, still standing guard but giving them alone time.
Duncan, Willa, and Matt were waiting for me by the stairs. As soon as I saw Matt’s face, I couldn’t hold it together any longer. Tears spilled down my cheeks, and Matt wrapped his arms around me.
Once I calmed down, we went up to my room. Duncan got us all hot tea, and I made him sit down and pour himself a cup. I hated when he acted like a servant. Willa curled up next to me on the bed, comforting in a way that made me miss my aunt Maggie.
“So she’s dying?” Matt asked. He leaned against my desk, rolling the empty teacup between his hands.
I wasn’t sure how much Duncan or Willa knew about my parentage or about how the Trylle abilities hurt us. I didn’t want to tell them too much, especially Matt, and make them worry. So I left out all the major plot points, and only let them know that Elora was sick.
“I think so,” I said. She hadn’t said that exactly, but she had aged so rapidly. She looked to be in her seventies now, and that was after Aurora Kroner had healed her.