“The Queen lives in service as much as a tracker, maybe even more so. Your mother’s whole life has been given to the people here. There is no greater honor than that. No greater deed. That is going to be your honor, Princess.”
“I know,” I said, feeling even more overwhelmed by the prospect.
“In the end, you find that with sacrifice, you receive more than you give,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed talking with you, Princess, but I will let you get to your room.”
“Yes, of course,” I said.
Thomas bowed before me, and I turned away. I ran all the way up to my room, lifting my dress so I wouldn’t trip on my hem. My hair had come loose so it fell around my face, and I was grateful for it. I didn’t need anyone to see the shame in my expression or the tears that stained my cheeks.
“You look amazing,” Willa assured my reflection for the hundredth time.
I stood in front of the mirror. Willa was at my back. I was sure I appeared as if I were admiring my white gown, but I barely even recognized myself.
Only days before my engagement party, I’d kissed two different guys. It was odd because, of the two kisses, I found myself replaying Loki’s more often. His kiss felt oddly refreshing, breathing new life into my soul. Even though Finn’s had felt amazing at the time, once it was over, it only seemed to drain me of the energy I had. Loki had asked me to marry him, and Finn had pushed me away, the way he always did. The way he always would.
After everything that happened, I’d wanted to cry, but in the end, the way I felt about either Loki or Finn didn’t matter. Not anymore. I was a Princess, with a duty to her kingdom and her fiancé. Tove and Förening deserved more, so I had to be more. I had to become what they needed.
“Come on, Wendy.” Willa grabbed my arm, pulling me away. “The party is about to start. We don’t have time for you to keep staring at yourself.”
I nodded and followed her, thinking I’d have time to compose myself, but as soon as I stepped out of my room, I found Tove waiting by the door.
“Sorry,” he said when he saw my expression. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“No, it’s okay.” My mouth felt numb, and it was hard to speak.
“I’ll leave you two lovebirds alone.” Willa winked at me as she walked away.
“I hope it’s not bad luck to see you before the engagement party.” He dug in his pocket. “I’m not sure what the protocol is, but I had to give you something. I thought it’d be better to do it before the party.”
“You didn’t need to get me anything.”
“Yeah, I did.” Tove pulled a ring box out of his pocket. “It’s kinda my job. I should’ve given it to you when I proposed, but that was kind of a lame proposal.”
“I liked it.” I smiled at him. “It was sweet.”
“Well, I hope you like the ring.” He held it out to me, the velvet lid still closed. “My mom hates it.”
“I’m sure I’ll love it, then,” I said, and he laughed.
I took the box from him, and with trembling hands, I opened the lid. It was a thick platinum band, designed to look like ivy wrapped around the giant emerald inlaid in the center. A few small diamonds were dotted around the band.
“Oh, Tove, it’s beautiful.” As I slid it on my finger, I was actually getting choked up. It was a lovely ring, and such a lovely gesture.
Even though he hadn’t told me, and I didn’t plan on calling him out on it, I knew Finn was right. Tove was gay. We would never be in love with each other, but we were friends, and we could find some kind of happiness together. Hopefully.
“Yeah?” Tove had a relieved lopsided grin and ran a hand through his hair. “Good. I was really worried. I had no idea what you would think.”
“No, it’s absolutely perfect.” I smiled up at him with tears in my eyes.
“Good.” He bit his lip. “You look really beautiful today.”
“Thank you. You look really good yourself.” I motioned to his nice suit pants and vest. “You clean up good, Markis.”
“Thank you, Princess.” He held out his arm so I could take it. “Shall we head down to our engagement party?”
“We shall,” I said and looped my arm through his. We walked toward the ballroom to become the leaders the Trylle needed.