“I guess.” Rhys shrugged like he hadn’t really thought about it. “He’s just around a lot.”
“Like how often?” I pressed as casually as I could.
“I don’t know.” He took a bite and thought for a minute. “It’s hard to say. Storks move around a lot.”
“Yeah, trackers.” Rhys smiled sheepishly. “You know how you tell little kids that a stork brings the babies? Well, trackers bring the babies here. So we call them storks. Not to their faces, though.”
“I see.” I wondered what kind of nickname they had for people like me, but I didn’t think that now was the best time to ask. “So they move around a lot?”
“Well, yeah. They’re gone tracking a lot, and Finn is in pretty high demand because he’s so good at it,” Rhys explained. “And then when they come back, a lot of them stay with some of the more prestigious families. Finn’s been here off and on for the past five years or so. But when he’s not here, somebody else usually is.”
“So he’s a bodyguard?”
“Yeah, something like that.” Rhys nodded.
“But what do they need bodyguards for?” I thought back to the iron gate and the security guard who had allowed our entrance into Förening in the first place.
When I had looked around the entryway, I remembered seeing a fancy alarm system by the front door. This all seemed like an awful lot of trouble to go to for a small community hidden in the bluffs. I wondered if this was all for the Vittra, but I didn’t want to ask.
“She’s the Queen. It’s just standard procedure,” Rhys answered evasively, and he purposely stared down at his plate. He tried to erase his anxiety before I noticed, and forced a smile. “So how does it feel being a Princess?”
“Honestly? Not as awesome as I thought it would be,” I said, and he laughed heartily at that.
Rhys kind of straightened up the kitchen after we finished eating, explaining the maid would be in tomorrow to take care of the rest of it. He gave me a brief tour of the house, showing me all the ridiculous antiquities that had been passed down from generation to generation.
One room only held pictures of previous Kings and Queens. When I asked where a picture of my father was, Rhys just shook his head and said he didn’t know anything about it.
Eventually we parted ways. He cited some homework he had to get done and having to get to bed because he had school in the morning.
I wandered around the house a bit more, but I never saw either Finn or Elora. I played around with the stuff in my room, but I quickly tired of it. Feeling restless and bored, I tried to get some rest, but sleep eluded me.
I felt incredibly homesick. I longed for the familiar comfort of my regular-sized house with all my ordinary things. If I were at home, Matt would be sitting in the living room, reading a book under the glow of the lamplight.
Right now he was probably staring at the phone, or driving around to look for me. And Maggie was probably crying her eyes out, which would only make Matt blame himself more.
My actual mother was somewhere in this house, or I assumed she was, anyway. She had abandoned me with a family that she knew nothing about except that they were rich, and she knew there was a risk that I could be killed. It happens sometimes. That’s what she said. When I came back, after all these years away from me, she hadn’t hugged me, or even been that happy to see me.
Everything felt way too big in this house. With all this vast space between everything, it felt like I was trapped on an island. I had always thought that’s what I wanted, to be my very own island. But here I was, and I felt nothing but isolated and confused.
It didn’t help that people weren’t telling me things. Every time I asked something, there were only half answers and vague responses before the person I’d asked quickly changed the subject. For being set to inherit a kingdom of sorts, I was pretty low on the information ladder.
After sleeping fitfully, I got up and got ready for the day. I wandered around the house, but not intentionally. I had been trying to get to the kitchen, but I took a wrong turn somewhere and got lost. Rhys had given me an explanation of the palace layout the day before, but not enough, apparently.
The palace was divided into two massive wings, separated by the grand entryway. All official business took place in the south wing, which housed the meeting rooms, ballroom, a massive dining hall, offices, the throne room, as well as staff quarters and the Queen’s bedroom.
The north wing was more casual and contained my room, guest bedrooms, a living room, the kitchen, and the sitting parlor.
I was wandering around the north wing, opening doors and investigating. As far as I could tell, this place had almost as many guest rooms as a Holiday Inn, only they were a whole lot fancier. I eventually found Elora’s parlor, but she wasn’t there, so it didn’t help me any.
I moved on and tried to open the door across the hall from Elora’s space, but it wouldn’t budge. So far, this was the only door I’d found that had been locked, and I found that strange. Especially in this wing. I suppose in the south wing, locking up official business would make sense.
Fortunately, I knew a thing or two about lock-picking. In attempts to keep from being expelled, I had broken into a few school offices and stolen papers. I don’t recommend it, and in the end, it was usually ineffective.
I pulled a bobby pin from my hair and looked around. I didn’t see anyone, and hadn’t so far this morning, so I set about breaking in. After a few unsuccessful twists in the lock, I felt something give, and I turned the knob.