I stared out the window, unsure of what to say to that. There was something noble and dignified in that idea, but something about it felt a bit tragic. Believing that I would end up alone, that I would die alone, was never comforting.
“Besides that, I didn’t want Willa in line for the crown,” Elora said and began painting again. “That is what would’ve happened if I’d married Garrett. She would’ve become a Princess, a viable option for the throne, and I could never have that.”
“Willa wouldn’t be a bad Queen,” I said, and I was astonished to find that I actually did think that.
Willa had really grown on me since I’d been here, and I think she’d grown up as well. She had kindness and insight I’d initially thought her incapable of.
“Nevertheless, she won’t be Queen. You will.”
“Not for a long time, hopefully.” I sighed.
“You need to be ready, Princess.” She looked over her shoulder at me. “You must be prepared for it.”
“I am trying,” I assured her. “I’ve been training and going to all the meetings. I’ve even been studying in the library. But I still don’t feel like I’ll be ready to be a real Queen for years.”
“You don’t have years,” Elora told me.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “When will I be Queen? How long do I have?”
“Do you see that painting?” Elora gestured to a canvas I’d seen in her room before, resting against a shelf.
A close-up of me looking much as I did now, except wearing a white gown. On my head, I had an ornate platinum crown filled with diamonds.
“So?” I asked. “I’ll be Queen someday. We both know that.”
“No, look at that picture.” She pointed at it with the handle of her brush. “Look at your face. How old are you?”
“I’m…” I squinted and crouched in front of it. I couldn’t be sure exactly, but I didn’t look a day older than I did now. “I don’t know.” I stood up. “I could be twenty-five, for all I know.”
“Perhaps,” Elora allowed, “but that’s not the feeling I get.”
“What is the feeling you get?” I asked. She turned her back to me, not giving anything away. “How do I become Queen anyway?”
“You become Queen when the reigning monarchs are deceased,” Elora said matter-of-factly.
“You mean I’ll be Queen after you die?” I asked, and my heart thudded in my chest.
“So you think…” I had to take a fortifying breath before I could continue. “You’re dying soon.”
“Yes.” She painted on, as if I’d just asked her about the weather instead of her impending death.
“But…” I shook my head. “I’m not ready. You haven’t taught me everything I need to know!”
“That is why I have been pushing you, Princess. I knew we didn’t have much time, and I needed to be hard on you. I had to be sure you could do this.”
“And now you’re sure?” I asked.
“Yes.” She faced me again. “Don’t panic, Princess. You must never panic, no matter what obstacle you face.”
“I’m not panicking,” I lied. My heart wanted to race out of my chest, and I felt light-headed. I sat on the couch behind me.
“I’m not dying tomorrow,” Elora said, sounding slightly annoyed. “You have more time to learn, but you need to focus on all your training. You need to listen carefully to everything I say, and do as you’re told.”
“It’s not that.” I shook my head and stared at her. “I only just met you, and we’ve finally started getting along, and now you’re dying?”
“Don’t get sentimental, Princess,” Elora chastised me. “That we do not have time for.”
“Aren’t you sad?” I asked, tears stinging my eyes. “Or scared?”
“Princess, really.” She rolled her eyes and turned away from me. “I have painting to do. I suggest you go to your room and compose yourself. A Princess must never be seen crying.”
I left her alone to finish her painting. The one consolation I had was that Elora said a Princess must never be seen crying, not that I must never cry. I wondered if that was why she had me leave. Not so I could cry, but so she could.
If Loki had already known about my arranged marriage, it was only a matter of time before everybody else found out. I thought it would be better if my friends learned about it from me, so I gathered them all together.
Willa and Duncan would probably be excited, but I didn’t know how Matt or Rhys would take it. Probably not quite as well.
We met in the upstairs living room, which had been Rhys’s old playroom. The ceiling had a cloud mural on it, and there were still old toys stacked up on shelves in the corner. Matt sat between Rhys and Willa on the sofa, and Duncan sat on the floor with his back against the couch.
“I have something to tell you all.” I stood in front of them, twirling my thumb ring, and swallowed back my nerves.
The suspicious look Matt gave me wasn’t helping matters. On top of that, Rhys grinned like an excited fool. He’d been so happy when I invited him here, since we’d hardly seen each other lately. He’d been busy doing stuff with Matt, and I’d heard that he’d started dating Rhiannon.
“What is it?” Matt asked, his voice already hard.
“It’s good news,” I insisted.
“Spit it out, then,” Willa said with a confused smile. “You’ve been killing me with suspense.” She’d tried getting it out of me before everybody had arrived, but I wanted to tell them all at once.
“I wanted you all to know that I, um…” I cleared my throat. “I’m getting married.”
“What?” Matt growled.
“Oh, my gosh!” Willa gasped, her eyes glittering. “To who?”
“So it’s true?” Duncan gaped at me. Apparently he’d heard the rumor too.
“To Tove Kroner,” I said.
Willa squealed and clapped her hands over her mouth. I didn’t think she could’ve been more excited if she was the one getting married to Tove.
“Tove?” Matt asked, looking unsure. “That guy’s a spaz, and I didn’t even think you really liked him.”
“No, I like him,” I said. “He’s a good guy.”