Somehow, while getting me ready, Willa had managed to ready herself. She had on a floor-length light blue gown that swept out at her hips, and she looked so beautiful, I had no hope of topping her.
After she had finally gotten me into my own dress, she forced me in front of the mirror, insisting that I looked too amazing to not see myself.
“Oh, wow.” Saying that to my reflection felt egotistical, but I couldn’t help it. I had never looked better in my life, and I doubted that I would ever look this good again.
The gown was a shimmery silver and white that flowed around me. It was strapless in an elegant way, and the diamond necklace Willa had chosen set it off. My dark curls fell perfectly behind me, and subtle diamond clips sparkled in my hair.
“You’re gonna rock it tonight, Princess,” Willa promised with a sly smile.
That was the last calm moment of the night. As soon as we stepped out of my bedroom, we were swept off by aides and staff that I didn’t even know Elora had. They gave me a rundown of the times when everything was set to happen and where I had to be and who I had to meet and what I had to do.
It was already more than I could comprehend, and at least momentarily I was spared the dull heartache I got from thinking of Finn. I looked helplessly at Willa, knowing that I would have to try to make this up to her later on. Without her, it would’ve been completely impossible for me to make it through.
First, there was some kind of meet-and-greet in the ballroom. Elora stood on one side of me, and thankfully, Willa stayed on my other side, taking on the role of some kind of assistant. The three of us stood at one end of the ballroom, flanked by security. A long line of people waited to meet me.
Willa filled in the names and titles as they approached. Most of them were famous in the Trylle world, but Elora explained that anybody could come meet me today, so the line was absolutely endless. My face hurt from smiling, and there were only so many different ways I could say, “Pleased to meet you” and “Thank you.”
After that, we went to the dining hall for a more exclusive function. The table only seated a hundred (that’s right—only a hundred), and with Willa sitting five places down from me, I felt lost.
Whenever I felt insecure, I instinctively searched for Finn, only to remember that he wasn’t there. I tried to concentrate on eating my food properly, which wasn’t that easy considering how nauseous I felt and how badly my jaw hurt from the forced smiles.
My mother sat to my right at the head of the table, and Tove Kroner sat next to me on my left. Throughout the dinner, he hardly said a thing, and Elora went about making polite conversation with the current Chancellor.
The Chancellor didn’t seem to remember me from the other day when I’d come in drenched from the rain, and I was glad for it. The way he looked at me creeped me out, and I found it impossible to smile at him out of fear I might vomit.
“Drink more wine,” Tove suggested quietly. Holding a wineglass in his hand, he leaned in a bit toward me to be heard over the din. His mossy eyes rested on mine briefly before he averted them, staring instead at an empty space across from us. “It relaxes the muscles.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“From smiling.” He gestured to his own mouth and forced a smile before quickly dropping it. “It’s starting to hurt, right?”
“Yeah.” I smiled lightly at him, feeling the soreness at the corners of my mouth.
“The wine helps. Trust me.” Tove took a long drink from his wine, much longer than was polite, and I saw Elora eyeing him as she chatted with the Chancellor.
“Thanks.” I took his suggestion, but I drank much more slowly than he did, afraid of inciting the wrath of Elora. I didn’t think she’d do anything publicly, but I knew she wouldn’t let me get away with anything either.
As the dinner wore on, Tove grew restless. He leaned back in his seat, laying his hand on the table. His wineglass would slowly slide over to his hand, then it would slowly slide away, without him ever touching it. I’d seen him perform a similar trick with his bowl of soup last week, yet I couldn’t help but stare.
“You pretty on edge tonight?” Tove asked, glancing at me. I wasn’t sure if he caught me watching his trick or not, but I looked down at my plate anyway.
I nodded. “Mmm, a little.”
“Yeah, I can tell.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table, and I imagined Elora was livid.
“I’m trying to stay calm.” I stabbed absently at some kind of vegetable I had no intention of eating. “I think I’ve been handling this very well, considering everything.”
“No, you’re acting fine. I can sense it.” He tapped the side of his head. “I can’t explain it, but . . . I know how tense you are.” He chewed his lip. “You project your emotions so forcefully. Your persuasion is immensely powerful.”
“Maybe,” I allowed. His gaze was unnerving, and I didn’t want to disagree with him.
“Here’s a tip: use it tonight.” Tove was barely audible over the chatter. “You’re trying to please so many people and it’s exhausting. You can’t be everything to everyone, so I try not to be anything to anyone. My mother hates me for it, but . . .” He shrugged. “Just use it a little bit, and you’ll charm everyone. Without really trying.”
“It takes effort to use persuasion,” I whispered. I could feel Elora listening to us, and I didn’t think she’d approve of what we were saying. “It would be just as exhausting.”