“Excellent.” Loki leaned forward, as close to me as he could before he’d be racked with pain from attempting to leave the room. “Don’t marry someone you don’t love.”
“What do you know of love or marriage?” I asked. “You were all set to marry a woman ten years older than you before the King stole her away.”
“I wouldn’t have married her anyway.” Loki shrugged. “Not if I didn’t love her.”
“Now you’ve got integrity?” I scoffed. “You kidnapped me, and your father was a traitor.”
“I’ve never said a nice word about my father,” Loki said quickly. “And I’ve never done anything bad to you.”
“You still kidnapped me!” I said dubiously.
“Did I?” Loki cocked his head. “Because I remember Kyra kidnapping you, and me preventing her from pummeling you to death. Then, when you were coughing up blood, I sent for the Queen to help you. When you escaped, I didn’t stop you. And since I came here, I’ve done nothing to you. I’ve even been good because you told me to be. So what terrible crimes have I committed against you, Princess?”
“I—I—” I stammered. “I never said you did anything terrible.”
“Then why don’t you trust me, Wendy?”
He’d never called me by my name before, and the underlying affection underneath it startled me. Even his eyes, which still held their usual veil of playfulness, had something deeper brewing underneath. When he wasn’t trying so hard to be devilishly handsome, he actually was.
The growing connection I felt with him unnerved me, but I didn’t want him to see that. More than that, it didn’t matter what feelings I might be having for him. He was leaving today, and I would probably never see him again.
“I do trust you,” I admitted. “I do trust you. I just don’t know why I do, and I don’t know why you’ve been helping me.”
“You want the truth?” He smiled at me, and there was something sincere and sweet underlying. “You piqued my curiosity.”
“You risked your life for me because you were curious?” I asked doubtfully.
“As soon as you came to, your only concern was for helping your friends, and you never stopped,” Loki said. “You were kind. And I haven’t seen that much kindness in my life.”
He looked away from me then, staring at an empty spot down the hall. I think he was trying to hide the sadness in his eyes, but I saw it just the same—a strange loneliness that looked out of place on his strong features.
Loki shook his head, trying to shake off whatever he’d been feeling, and gave me a crooked smile that looked surprisingly dismal. “I thought for once that acting decent ought to be rewarded. That’s why I let you go, and that’s why I didn’t bring you back to the King.”
“If it’s so horrible there, why don’t you stay with us?” I asked without thinking.
“No.” He shook his head and lowered his eyes. “Tempting though the offer may be, your people wouldn’t allow it, and my people … well, let’s just say they wouldn’t react well if I didn’t come home. And whether I like it or not, it is my home.”
“I know that feeling all too well.” I sighed. Though Förening was starting to feel more like home, I wasn’t sure that it ever would completely.
“See? I told you, Princess.” Loki’s smile returned more easily. “You and I aren’t all that different.”
“You say that like it means something.”
“No, not really. You’re leaving today, going home to my enemies.” I let out a deep breath, feeling an ache inside my chest. “If I’m lucky, I’ll never see you again. Because if I do, that means we’re at war, and I’d have to hurt you.”
“Oh, Wendy, that’s perhaps the saddest thing I’ve ever heard,” Loki said, and he looked like he meant it. “But life doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Don’t you ever see the silver lining?”
“Not today.” I shook my head. I heard Garrett summon me from down the hall, which meant that lunch was over and the meetings were about to start up. “I have to get back. I’ll see you when we make the exchange with the Vittra Queen.”
“Good luck.” Loki nodded.
I turned to walk away, and I hadn’t made it very far when I heard Loki calling after me.
“Wendy!” Loki leaned out into the hall, so far it made him grimace with pain. “If you’re right, and the next time we see each other is when our kingdoms are at war, you and I never will be. I’ll never fight you. That I can promise you.”
The meetings continued on, each one with the same grueling pace. The participants kept repeating the same information. What to do if the Vittra reneged on the deal. What to do if the Vittra attacked. What to do if the Vittra tried to kidnap me.
And it all boiled down to one answer—fight back. Tove and I would use our abilities, the trackers would use their strength and skill, and the Chancellor would cower in the corner.
Our last step before the Vittra Queen officially arrived was to sign the treaty. It’d already been sent over to the Vittra first, so Oren’s name was scribbled across the bottom in blood red. Garrett had to take it up to Elora in her room, and she added her own signature. Once he came back down with it, all we had to do was wait in the War Room for Sara to arrive.
At two-thirty, Elora released Loki, and he promised to be on his best behavior. Just the same, Thomas and Finn treated him like they thought he was a bomb about to explode.
Since we were meeting the dignitary of an enemy nation, I thought I’d better look the part of the Princess, especially since Elora was unable to join us. I dressed in a dark violet gown, and I’d enlisted Willa to help me with my hair.
“If I’d known you’d look so beautiful, I would’ve gotten dressed up,” Loki teased when Finn and Thomas brought him into the War Room. Finn shoved him into a seat unnecessarily hard, but Loki didn’t protest.
“Don’t get familiar with the Princess,” Duncan told him, giving him a stony look.
“My apologies,” Loki said. “I wouldn’t want to get familiar with anyone.”
Loki looked about the room. Duncan, Finn, Thomas, Tove, the Chancellor, and I were the ones set to meet Sara. The rest of the house was on standby, should we need them, but we didn’t want to look like we were ambushing Sara when she arrived.