Finn climbed up, always keeping one hand out for me to grab if I slipped, but I did most of the actual climbing myself. I was surprised when my fingers didn’t give and my feet didn’t slide. When I pulled myself up to the top of the boulder, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of pride.
Standing up on the massive rock, wiping mud off my knees, I started to make some comment about my amazing agility, but then I caught sight of the view. The top of the boulder had to be the highest point atop the bluffs. From here I could see everything, and somehow it was even more amazing than the view from the palace.
Chimneys stood out like dots among the trees, and I could see the plumes of smoke blowing away in the wind. Roads curved and wound through the town, and a few people walked along them. Elora’s palace was masked with vines and trees, but it still looked startlingly large hanging on the edge of its bluff.
The wind whipping through my hair made the whole thing exhilarating. Almost like I was flying, even though I was just standing there.
“This is Förening.” Finn gestured to the hidden houses peeking out among the green foliage.
“It is breathtaking,” I admitted. “I’m totally in awe.”
“It’s all yours.” His dark eyes met mine, emphasizing the solemnity of his words. Then he looked away, scanning the trees. “This is your kingdom.”
“Yeah, but . . . it’s not actually mine.”
“Actually, it kind of is.” He offered me a small smile.
I looked back down. In terms of kingdoms, I knew this one was relatively small. It wasn’t as if I’d inherited the Roman Empire or anything, but it still felt strange to me that I might possess any kind of kingdom.
“What’s the point?” I asked softly. When Finn didn’t answer, I thought my words might have been carried away by the wind, so I asked louder. “Why do I get this? What am I to do with it?”
“Rule over it.” Finn had been standing behind me, but he stepped closer, moving next to me. “Make the decisions. Keep the peace. Declare the wars.”
“Declare the wars?” I looked at him sharply. “That’s really something we do?”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“Most things will already be decided when you take the throne,” Finn said, staring down at the houses instead of me. “The order is already in place. You just have to uphold it, enforce it. Mostly, you live in the palace, attend parties, trivial governmental meetings, and occasionally decide on something substantial.”
“Like what?” I asked, not liking the hard tone his voice had taken on.
“Banishments, for one.” He looked thoughtful. “Your mother once banished a Marksinna. It hadn’t been done in years, but she’s entrusted with making the decisions that best protect our people and our way of life.”
“Why did she banish her?” I asked.
“She corrupted a bloodline.” He didn’t say anything for a minute, and I looked at him questioningly. “She had a child with a human.”
I wanted to ask him more about that but I felt a drop of rain splash on my forehead. I looked up to the sky to be certain I’d felt rain, and the clouds seemed to rip open, pouring water down before I had a chance to shield myself.
“Come on!” Finn grabbed my hand, pulling me.
We slid down the side of the rock, my back scraping against the rough surface of it, and fell heavily into a thicket of ferns. Rain had already soaked through my clothes, chilling my skin. Still holding my hand, Finn led me to shelter underneath a giant pine tree.
“That came on really suddenly,” I said, peering out from under the branches. We weren’t completely dry under the tree, but only a few fat drops of rain made their way through.
“The weather is so temperamental here. The locals blame it on the river, but the Trylle have more to do with it,” Finn explained.
I thought back to Willa, and her complaint that she could only control the wind, and her mother, the clouds. The garden behind the palace bloomed year-round thanks to Trylle abilities, so it wouldn’t be hard to fathom that they could make it rain too.
The birds had fallen silent, and over the sound of the rainfall I couldn’t hear the river. The air smelled thick with pine, and even in the middle of the rainstorm I felt oddly at peace. We stood there watching the rain in companionable silence for a while longer, but soon the growing chill began to affect me, and my teeth started to chatter.
I shook my head. “I’m fine.”
Without further prompting, Finn put his arm around me, pulling me closer to him. The abruptness of it made me forget to breathe, and even though he felt no warmer than I did, the strength of his arm wrapped around me sent warmth spreading through me.
“I suppose I’m not much help,” he said, his voice low and deep.
“I’ve stopped shivering,” I pointed out quietly.
“We should get back inside, so you can change into dry clothes.” He breathed deeply, looking at me a moment longer.
Just as abruptly as he had grabbed me, he pulled away and started heading back down the bluff. The rain came down fast and cold, and without him to warm me, I had no urge to stay in it longer than I had to. I went down after him, half running half sliding to the bottom.
We ran inside the front doors, skidding on the marble floors, and water dripped off us into rapidly growing puddles. I only had a second to catch myself when I realized we weren’t alone in the entryway.