I had a feeling Elora had just dragged me with her because misery loves company. As for Aurora, I didn’t really get why she was interested in me. The best I could figure was that she hoped to understand me in order to bring about my demise. The too-big way she smiled at me kept making me want to cringe.
Finn had snuck into my room early in the morning, and my initial excitement faded when I saw how frantically he picked out my clothes. He instructed me to get ready with lightning speed and to be on my best behavior all day. I hated the way he treated me like I was five and it was my first day of kindergarten.
But sitting there, watching them analyze every minute detail of a flippin’ seating chart, I really felt like a five-year-old. One who had gotten in trouble and had to sit in a very agonizing time-out. I tried to look studious and interested in all of this, but I didn’t know any of these people.
We were in the War Room in the south wing where walls were plastered with maps. Red and green patches speckled all of them, indicating other tribes of trolls. I’d been trying to study them while Elora and Aurora talked, but Elora kept snapping my attention back every time it wandered.
“If we put the Chancellor here, then Markis Tormann will have to move from this table entirely.” Aurora tapped the paper.
“I don’t see another way around it.” Elora smiled as sweetly as she could manage, and Aurora matched it perfectly.
“He’s traveling a great distance to be here for this.” Aurora batted her eyes at Elora.
“He’ll still be near enough where he can hear the christening,” Elora said and turned her attention to me. “Are you ready for the christening ceremony?”
“Um, yeah,” I said. Finn had mentioned it to me, but I hadn’t been paying that much attention. I couldn’t say that to Elora, though, so I just smiled and tried to look confident.
“A Princess doesn’t say ‘um.’” Elora narrowed her eyes at me, and Aurora did a poor job of trying to mask a snicker.
I sighed. “Sorry.”
Elora looked like she wanted to chastise me further, but Aurora watched us both like a hawk. Elora pursed her lips, biting her tongue so she wouldn’t show any sign of weakness.
I didn’t understand what Aurora was doing here or what Elora had to fear from her. She was the Queen, and as far as I could tell, Aurora’s only ability seemed to be making backhanded compliments and veiled threats.
The Marksinna looked radiant, wearing a long burgundy gown that made me feel incredibly underdressed in a simple skirt. Aurora’s beauty nearly overshadowed Elora’s, and that was really saying something, but I don’t think that kind of thing mattered to Elora.
“Perhaps you should continue your training elsewhere,” Elora suggested, glaring at me.
“Yes. Excellent idea.” I jumped to my feet so quickly I almost knocked the chair over behind me. Aurora’s amused expression changed to downright disgust, and Elora rolled her eyes. “Sorry. I’m very excited about all of this.”
“Contain yourself, Princess.”
Using restraint, I left the room as calmly as I could. I wanted to rush out, feeling much like a kid on the last day of school. I wasn’t sure that I knew my way back, and I had no idea where Finn was, but as soon as I thought it was safe, I picked up my pace, nearly jogging away.
I’d made it a little ways down the hall, past several closed doors, when somebody stopped me.
“Princess!” a voice called from one of the few open doors.
I stopped, tentatively peering inside the room. It appeared to be more of a den, with a lush red rug in the center surrounded by leather chairs. One wall was made of glass, but the shades had been pulled shut over most of it, leaving the room in shadows.
A heavy mahogany bar sat in the corner, and a man leaned in front of it, holding a glass in his hand. I squinted, trying to get a better look at him. His hair looked disheveled, and he was dressed nice but casual.
“Don’t you recognize me, Princess?” He had a smile in his voice, so I thought he might be teasing.
“It’s just hard to see,” I said, stepping into the room.
“Garrett Strom. Willa’s father,” he told me, and I could see his grin widening.
“Oh, right. It’s good to see you.” I smiled back, feeling more at ease. I’d only met him at dinner the other night, but I liked him. “Can I help you with something?”
“Nope. I’m just waiting for your mother, but I’m assuming it’ll be a long day, so I got a jump start.” Garrett motioned to the drink in his hand.
“Do you want something to drink?” Garrett offered. “I’m sure you need one, with Elora putting you through your paces.”
I chewed my lip, thinking. I’d never drank before, other than a glass of wine with dinner, but after the last few days I definitely could use something to take the edge off. However, Elora would kill me if she found out, and Finn would be more than disappointed in me.
“No, I’m good.” I shook my head. “Thanks, though.”
“Don’t thank me. It’s your liquor,” he pointed out. “You do look worn out. Why don’t you take a load off?”
“All right.” I shrugged and sat down in one of the chairs. The leather may have looked distressed, but the chair had the hard buoyancy of being brand-new. I moved around, trying to get comfortable, before eventually giving up.
“What is she having you do?” Garrett asked, sitting down across from me.