“Okay.” I nodded.
“All right.” He randomly patted me on the shoulder, then nodded again, and walked away.
I had no idea what I’d just agreed to. I wasn’t in love with Tove, and I really didn’t think he was in love with me.
Tove and I understood and respected each other, and that was something. But more important, it was what the kingdom needed. Elora was convinced that marrying Tove was the best thing for me and for the Trylle.
I had to do what was best for our people, and if that meant marrying Tove, then so be it. There were a lot worse people I could end up married to.
I changed out of my gown, then I took Duncan with me to the library. He helped me find some good history texts about the Trylle, and I began reading through them. Finn had had me skim some things before my christening ceremony, but if I planned to rule these people, I needed to understand who they were.
I spent the rest of the evening in the library, getting as much information as I could. Duncan ended up passed out and curled up in one of the chairs. It was late when I woke him up to walk me to my room. I wasn’t sure how much protection groggy Duncan really offered, but I doubted I needed it anyway.
The next morning, Tove and I went to the atrium to do some training, and I enjoyed getting back in a routine. Duncan went along, and if things seemed awkward between Tove and me, Duncan didn’t say anything. It did feel weird being newly engaged, but Tove did a good job of keeping me on task.
I was getting a better mastery of my abilities, and they were becoming stronger. I lifted the throne off the floor, with Duncan sitting in it, and it didn’t require as much concentration as it had before. Right behind my eyes pain throbbed dully, but I ignored it.
When Tove moved a chair, levitating it in a circle to demonstrate what he wanted me to do, I couldn’t help but think of Elora. How weak and frail she looked from being drained by her powers.
I knew that we needed to use our powers to keep from going crazy, and with Tove especially, draining his abilities was the only thing that kept him sane. But it made me nervous. I didn’t want him to end up like my mother, dying of old age before he was even forty.
When we’d finished practicing, I felt tired, but in a pleasant way. I was becoming stronger and more self-reliant, and I liked that.
Elora was still in her drawing room, recuperating, so I went down to see her. She’d gotten off the chaise, which was a good sign, but she’d taken to painting again.
She sat on a stool facing the windows, an easel in front of her. The shawl wrapped around her had slipped off one shoulder, but she didn’t seem to notice. Her long hair hung down her back, shimmering silver now more than black.
“Are you sure you should be doing that?” I asked as I came into her room.
“I’ve had a terrible migraine for days, and I need to get rid of it.” She made a sweeping stroke across the canvas.
I walked up behind her so I could get a better look at it, but so far it was only dark blue sky. Elora stopped painting and set her brush down on the easel.
“Is there something you needed from me, Princess?” Elora swiveled around to face me, and I was relieved to see that the milkiness had vanished from her eyes.
“No.” I shook my head. “I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”
“Better,” she said with a heavy sigh. “I will never be quite the same again, but I’m better.”
“Better is something.”
“Yes, I suppose it is.” She turned to the window and the overcast day.
The sleet and wind had finally let up, but the skies remained gray and murky. The maples and elms had given up most of their leaves and stood dead and barren for winter. The evergreens that populated the bluff looked brittle after the beating they’d taken lately, and ice clung to their branches, weighing them down.
“Tove asked me to marry him,” I told her, and she whipped her head to face me. “And I agreed.”
“You’ve accepted the arrangement?” Elora raised her eyebrow, in wonder and approval.
“Yes.” I nodded. “It’s … it’s what’s best for the kingdom, so that’s what I must do.” I nodded again, to convince myself. “And Tove is a good guy. He’ll make a good husband.”
Immediately after I’d said it I realized that I had no idea what would make a good husband. I’d spent almost no time around married couples, and I’d never had a boyfriend. I didn’t know what category Finn and I fell into, but it couldn’t count for much.
Elora was still watching me, so I gulped and forced a smile. Now wasn’t the time to worry about what I’d agreed to. I had time to learn what it meant to be a wife before we were wed.
“Yes, I am certain he will,” Elora murmured and turned to her painting.
“Are you really?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, with her back still to me. “I won’t do to you what was done to me. If I thought you needed to do something terrible, that it was in the best interest of the Trylle, I would still ask it of you. It would still be your duty, but I would tell you exactly what you were doing. I’d never let you go in blind.”
“Thank you,” I said, meaning it. “Do you regret marrying my father?”
“I try not to have any regrets,” Elora said wearily and picked up her paintbrush. “It’s unbecoming of a Queen to have misgivings.”
“How come you never married again?” I asked.
“Who would I marry?”
I nearly said Thomas, but that would only enrage her. She couldn’t have married him. He was a tracker, and he was already married. But that wasn’t where her anger would come from. I was sure she’d be incensed that I had learned of the affair.
“Garrett?” I asked, and Elora made a noise that sounded like a laugh. “He loves you, and he’s a distinguished Markis. He’s eligible.”
“He’s not that distinguished,” she said. “He is kind, yes, but marriage isn’t about that. I told you before, Princess, that love has nothing to do with marriage. It’s an alignment between two parties, and I have not had any reason to align myself with anyone else.”
“You don’t want to marry for the sake of doing it?” I asked. “Don’t you ever get lonely?”
“A Queen is many things, but alone is never one of them.” She held the brush, poised right above the canvas as if she meant to paint, but she didn’t. “I don’t need love or a man to complete me, and someday you’ll find that’s true for yourself. Suitors will come and go, but you will remain.”