“You mean he knew?” I gaped at her.
“Yes. I made the agreement with him last night,” Elora said. He had known and hadn’t let me in on it, and hadn’t tried to steal me away.
“But . . . he saved my life!” I insisted, feeling a terrifying pain growing in my chest. It screamed that I couldn’t possibly survive without Finn. “He should be here to protect me!”
“He is emotionally compromised and unsuitable for the job,” Elora explained flatly. “Not only that, if he stayed around, you would be banished from Förening. He doesn’t want that, and neither do I.” She sighed.
“I shouldn’t have even given him last night, but . . . I don’t want to know what you did with him. Don’t tell me. Don’t tell anyone. Is that clear?”
“Nothing happened.” I shook my head. “But I want him back. He’ll protect me better than anyone!”
“Let me put it to you this way: he will do anything to keep you alive, Princess.” Elora looked at me evenly. “That means he would die to save you, without hesitation. Do you really want that? Do you really want him to die because of you?”
“No . . .” I trailed off, looking dazedly at my blankets. I knew she was right. Last night he had almost died to save me. If Tove hadn’t come out onto the balcony, he would be dead.
“Very well. It’s in his best interest that he’s not around you either,” Elora said. “Now you need to get up and get ready. We have much to go over.”
The next few days were an endless stream of defense meetings. There had never been an attack on Förening this severe. The body count was well into the double digits, including several visiting higher royal Trylle. Any loss of powerful Trylle was devastating for the kingdom.
Elora and Aurora led all the meetings, while Tove and I sat quietly in the back. He was the most powerful and should’ve had more of a say, but he didn’t seem that interested.
The twenty or so other people who always seemed to be in attendance offered advice that was completely pointless. Tove just said that our best defense was to get our abilities under control. Willa took this advice to heart and busied herself with self-defense classes and getting a better control of her wind ability. Elora barely spoke to me, and never uttered a kind word.
The one positive was that I’d been spared the christening ceremony, and Elora decided to allow me to keep my own name.
I wandered around in a fog. I didn’t care whether I lived or died. If they attacked again, I would deal with whatever happened.
“You’re gonna have to snap out of this one day,” Rhys said.
I lay in my bed, staring at the ceiling, while he leaned against the doorway. He still had a nasty cut above his eyebrow, since Aurora wouldn’t resort to healing a mänks. The wound was slowly getting better, but it pained me to see it. It was just a reminder that he had gotten hurt for me.
“Maybe.” I didn’t feel like I ever would, and I hoped I wouldn’t.
“Oh, come on.” Rhys sighed and came over to sit on the bed next to me. “I know that everything that’s happened has really taken its toll on you, but it’s not the end of the world.”
“I never said it was,” I muttered. “I just hate this house. I hate my mother. I hate being a Princess. I hate everything about being here!”
“Even me?” Rhys asked.
“No, of course not you.” I shook my head. “You’re about the only thing I like anymore.”
“I feel privileged.” He smiled at me, but when I didn’t smile back, his quickly faded. “Look, I hate it here too. It’s a hard place to live in, especially this house, with Elora. But . . . what else are we gonna do? Where else can we go?”
That’s when it occurred to me. I absolutely did not want this life, and this life truly didn’t want Rhys. He had grown up surrounded by a cold indifference that made his childhood even worse than my own, and he deserved so much more. Since I had been here, Rhys had been one of the few people to show me genuine kindness, and he deserved that in return.
I didn’t particularly care whether I lived or died, so I didn’t need protection, should anyone decide to come after me again, but I wasn’t so sure they would anymore. Tove had explained that the Vittra numbers had been damaged, and another attack anytime soon would be highly unlikely.
But somewhere out there, I knew that my brother Matt was worried sick about me. He and Maggie would welcome me back with open arms, and they would be delighted to have Rhys. I didn’t know how I would explain him to them, but I’d figure something out.
I was not a Princess, and I didn’t want to be one. It would feel so good to be home again. That wouldn’t really fix the Finn thing, but Matt and Maggie would know the best way to mend a broken heart.
Rhys wasn’t convinced that leaving was the best thing for me, pointing to the cut on his eye from when he’d been unable to protect me or himself. Reluctantly, I resorted to using my persuasion, but I didn’t really have another choice. Besides, I was only convincing him that he didn’t need to worry about me.
In the middle of the night, I decided to act. I gathered Rhys and we snuck out of the palace, which was more difficult than I’d expected. Guards and other Trylle walked the grounds in case of another Vittra attack. Even though they thought another one would be unlikely, they weren’t taking any chances.