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Loki had been sitting in a chair, but he stood up when we came in. Froud the small dog had disappeared entirely, and I hoped they hadn’t eaten it or something equally horrible.

“Ah, Princess.” The King smiled when he saw me but didn’t get up. His gaze flitted over to Loki for the briefest of seconds. “Loki, you are dismissed.”

“Thank you, sire.” Loki bowed and hastily departed. He left me with the impression that he didn’t enjoy the company of the King, and that made me all the more nervous.

“So are you gonna tell me what’s going on?” I asked the King directly, and his smile widened.

“I suppose we should start with the basics,” he said. “I’m the King of the Vittra. My name is Oren, and I am your father.”


kings & pawns

My first thought was the most obvious: He’s lying.

This was quickly followed by: What if he isn’t lying?

Elora, by all accounts, had been a horrible mother who cared very little for me. I thought of the encounter I’d had a few minutes earlier with Sara. She had lovingly caressed my dress, saying, I’ve imagined this day for a very long time.

Sara stood nearby, wringing her hands. She met my eyes for the first time and smiled hopefully at me, but there still seemed to be a sadness in her face that I didn’t understand.

I didn’t look like her, not any more than I looked like Elora. They both far surpassed me in beauty, but Sara appeared much younger, only in her early thirties.

“So…” I swallowed, forcing my mouth to work, and turned to Oren. “You’re saying that Elora isn’t my mother?”

“No, unfortunately, Elora is your mother,” he said with a heavy sigh.

This confused me even more. His admission gave more credence to his words, though. It would be simpler for him to lie to me. He could’ve told me that he and Sara were my parents, if his plan was to entice me into staying and taking his side.

But he’d told me that Elora was my mother, which left me with an alliance to her, which couldn’t possibly benefit him.

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked.

“You need to know the truth. I know how fond of games Elora is.” Every time Oren said her name, it came out bitterly, as if it hurt to speak it. “If you have all the facts, it will be easy for you to make a decision.”

“And what decision is that?” I asked, but I thought I knew.

“The only decision that matters, of course.” His lips twitched with a strange smile. “What kingdom you will rule.”

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to rule any kingdom.” I twisted a stray curl that had come loose from my hair tie.

“Why don’t you sit down?” Sara gestured to a chair behind me. After I sat, she took a seat nearer to the King.

“So…” I looked at her smiling sadly at me. “You’re my stepmother?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“Oh.” I sat in silence for a minute, taking it all in. “I don’t understand. Elora told me my father was dead.”

“Of course she did.” Oren laughed darkly. “If she told you about me, she’d have to give you a choice, and she knew you’d never choose her.”

“So how did you…” I floundered for the right word. “How exactly did the two of you … get together to … you know, conceive me?”

“We were married,” Oren said. “This was long before I married Sara, and it was a rather brief union.”

“You married Elora?” I asked and anger boiled up.

Initially, when he’d told me he was my father, I’d thought it was an illicit affair, like the one Elora had had with Finn’s father. I didn’t imagine that it’d be something of public record, something that every single person I’d met in Förening would’ve known about.

Including Finn. When he’d been going over the Trylle history, giving me a crash course on everything I needed to know about being a Princess, he’d failed to mention that my mother had been married to the Vittra King.

“Yes, briefly,” Oren said. “We were wed because we thought it would be a good way to combine our respective kingdoms. Vittra and Trylle have had their disagreements over the years, and we wanted to create peace. Unfortunately, your mother is the most impossible, irrational, horrible woman on the planet.” He smiled at me. “Well, you know. You’ve met her.”

“Yes, I’m aware of how impossible she can be.” I felt a strange urge to defend her, but I bit my tongue.

Elora had been cold, bordering on cruel at times, but for some reason, when Oren put her down, it offended me. But I nodded and smiled like I agreed completely.

“It’s amazing I even managed to conceive a child with her,” he said, more to himself than to me, and I cringed at the thought of it. I didn’t need to picture Oren and Elora being intimate. “Before you were even born, the marriage was over. Elora took you, hid you, and I’ve been searching for you all these years.”

“You did a horrible job of it,” I said, and his expression hardened. “You do realize that your trackers have beaten me up on three separate occasions? Your wife had to come in and heal me so I didn’t die.”

“I am terribly sorry about that, and Kyra is being dealt with,” Oren said, but he didn’t sound apologetic. His words were hard and angry, but I hoped that was directed more at Kyra than at me. “But you wouldn’t have died.”