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“Elora!” I threw open the drawing room door without knocking. I knew it would piss her off, but I didn’t care. Maybe, if I was insubordinate enough, she would send me away too.

Elora stood in front of the windows staring out at the black night, and she wasn’t startled at all by the door slamming open. Without turning to look at me, she calmly said, “That’s completely unnecessary, and it goes without saying that that is not at all how a Princess behaves.”

“You’re always going on about how a Princess should behave, but what about how a Queen should act?” I countered icily. “Are you such an insecure ruler that you can’t handle the slightest bit of dissension? If we don’t bow instantly to your opinion, you ship us off?”

Elora sighed. “I assume this is about Finn.”

“You had no right to fire him! He did nothing wrong!”

“It doesn’t matter if he did anything wrong, I can ‘fire’ anyone for any reason. I am the Queen.” Slowly she turned to me, her face stunningly emotionless. “It is not the act of disagreeing that I had a problem with; it was why.”

“This is about my stupid name?” I spouted incredulously.

“There is much you still have to learn. Please, sit.” Elora gestured to one of the couches, and she lay back on the chaise lounge. “There’s no need to get huffy with me, Princess. We need to talk.”

“I don’t want to change my name,” I said as I sat down on the couch across from her. “I don’t know why it’s such a big deal to you. Names can’t be that important.”

“It’s not about the name.” Elora waved it off. Her hair flowed out like silk around her, and she played with it absently. “I know that you think I’m cruel and heartless, but I’m not. I care very deeply for Finn, more than a Queen should care for a servant, and I am sorry that I have been so negligent in the examples that I have set for you. It pains me to see Finn go, but I can assure you that I did it for you.”

“You did not!” I yelled. “You did it because you were jealous!”

“My emotions played no part in this decision. Not even the way I feel about you factored into this.” Her lips tightened, and she stared emptily at me. “I did what I had to do because it was best for the kingdom.”

“How is getting rid of him best for anybody?”

“You refuse to understand that you are a Princess!” Elora paused and took a deep, fortifying breath. “It doesn’t matter whether or not you understand the gravity of the situation. Everyone else does, including Finn, which is why he is leaving. He knows this is best for you too.”

“I don’t understand. How can his leaving possibly help me? I count on him for everything, and you do too. And now you’re telling me you let him go, just like that?”

“I know you think this is all about money, but it’s about something more powerful than that. Our bloodline is rich with tremendous abilities, far exceeding the general Trylle population.” Elora leaned in closer to me as she spoke. “Unfortunately, Trylle have become less interested in our way of life, and the abilities have begun to weaken. It is essential to our people that the bloodline is kept pure, that the abilities are allowed to flourish.

“The titles and positions seem arbitrary,” Elora continued. “But we are in power because we have the most power. For centuries, our abilities outshone every other family’s, but the Kroners are rapidly overtaking us. You are the last chance for hanging on to the throne and retaining power for our family.”

“What does this have to do with Finn?” I demanded, growing tired of political talk.

“Everything,” Elora answered with a thin smile. “In order to keep the bloodlines as pure and powerful as possible, certain rules were put into effect. Not just for royalty, but for everyone. It’s not merely as a repercussion for behaving outside of societal norms, but also so half-breed spawn won’t weaken our bloodlines.” Something about the way she said “spawn” sent a chill down my spine.

“Consequences vary in severity,” Elora continued. “When a Trylle becomes involved with a mänsklig, they are asked to leave the community.”

“There’s nothing going on between Rhys and me,” I interjected, and Elora nodded skeptically.

“While trackers are Trylle, they don’t possess abilities in the conventional sense,” Elora went on, and I began to realize what she was getting at. “Trackers are meant to be with trackers. If Trylle are involved with them, they are looked down upon, but it is allowed.

“Unless you are royalty.” She looked severely at me. “A tracker can never have the crown. Any Marksinna or Princess caught with a tracker is immediately stripped of her title. If the offense is bad enough, such as a Princess destroying an essential bloodline, then they would both be banished.”

I swallowed hard. If anything happened between Finn and me, I wouldn’t be able to be a Princess, and I wouldn’t even be able to live in Förening anymore. That was shocking at first, until I reflected that I didn’t even want to be a Princess or live here. What did I care?

“So?” I said, and Elora looked momentarily surprised.

“I know that right now all of this means nothing to you.” Elora gestured widely to the room around us. “I know you hate this, and I understand. But this is your destiny, and even if you don’t see it, Finn does. He knows how important you are, and he would never let you ruin your future. That is why he offered up his resignation.”