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“What happened after you were married?” I asked.

Elora had been lost in thought for a moment, and when I brought her out of it, she shook her head.

“It didn’t go well,” she said simply. “He wasn’t outright cruel, which made things harder. I couldn’t leave him, not without just cause. Not with so much riding on it.”

“But you did eventually?”

“Yes. After you were conceived, he…” She paused, searching for the right word. “He became too much for me to bear. Right before you were born, I left him, and I hid you. I wanted a strong family to protect and shelter you, should he come looking.”

“Is that why Finn started tracking me so early?” I asked.

Trackers usually waited to retrieve changelings until they were eighteen or so, once they were legal adults with access to trust funds. Finn had been following me around since the beginning of my senior year, making me one of the youngest changelings ever to return.

He’d claimed it was because I moved around so much, they were afraid of losing me, but now I suspected that they’d been afraid the Vittra would get to me first.

“Yes.” Elora nodded. “Thankfully, I wasn’t yet Queen of the Trylle when we separated. Oren may have been King of the Vittra, but he was only a prince here. He had no standing over the kingdom. Otherwise things could’ve gone a lot differently.”

“When did you become Queen?” I asked, momentarily distracted from information about Oren.

I couldn’t imagine Elora as a Princess. I knew she must’ve been young and inexperienced at one time, but she had the regality of someone who had always been Queen.

“Not long after you were born.” Elora turned to me. “But I am glad that you’re here.”

“I almost didn’t make it back,” I said, trying to elicit some concern from her. She raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “Their tracker, Kyra, beat the crap out of me. I would’ve died if Oren wasn’t married to a healer.”

“You wouldn’t have died.” She brushed me off, the same way everybody seemed to when I told them of Kyra hurting me.

“I was coughing up blood! I think a broken rib punctured a lung or something.” My ribs still ached, and I’d been certain that I would die in that dungeon.

“Oren would never let you die,” Elora said dismissively. She stepped away from the window and sat down on the chaise lounge, but I stayed standing.

“Maybe not,” I admitted. “But he could’ve killed Matt and Rhys.”

“Matt?” She was confused for a minute, an expression that looked unusual on her.

“My brother. Er, my host brother, or whatever you wanna call him.” I grew tired of trying to explain him as anything else and decided that from here on out, I’d just call him my brother. As far as I was concerned, he still was.

“Are they here now?” Her expression shifted from confusion to irritation.

“Yeah. I wasn’t going to leave them there. Oren would kill them to spite me.” I wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but it felt true.

“You all made it out of there, then?” For a second she sounded and looked as if she actually cared. It was nowhere near Matt’s level of concern, but at least it resembled something human and loving.

“Yeah. We did. Finn and Tove got us out of there without any problem.” I furrowed my brow, remembering how easy it had been to escape.

“Did something happen?” Elora asked, homing in on my unease.

“No.” I shook my head. “And that’s just it. Nothing happened. We practically walked right out of there.”

“Well, that is Oren for you.” She rolled her eyes. “He’s too arrogant, and that’s always been his downfall.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s powerful, very powerful.” Elora’s tone held a sense of awe I hadn’t witnessed from her before. “But he’s always thought that he could take anything he wanted and no one would stop him. It’s true most trolls are too afraid to cross him. He incorrectly assumed I would fall into that category.”

“But I’m your daughter. He didn’t think you’d even try?” I asked dubiously.

“Like I said, he’s too arrogant.” She rubbed her temple and settled back on the chaise.

Elora had the gift of precognition, as well as some other telekinetic powers. I didn’t know the extent of them all, but I hoped to get a better grasp soon.

I turned to look at her paintings more closely, which she used to predict the future. She only had two completed in the room, and one she’d recently started. The new one only had a swatch of blue painted in the corner, so I couldn’t get anything from that.

The first finished one showed the garden behind the house. It started under the balcony and ran down the bluff, surrounded by a brick wall. I’d only been in it once, and it had been idyllic, thanks to the Trylle magic that kept it perpetually in bloom.

In her painting, the garden was covered in a light snow that glimmered and sparkled like diamonds. But the stream, flowing like a waterfall to a fountain in the center, hadn’t frozen over. Despite the wintry scene, all the flowers were still in full bloom. Petals of pink and blue and purple glistened with a light frost, making it all look like an exotic fairyland.

Elora had a breathtaking skill for painting, and I would’ve commented on it if I’d thought my opinion mattered to her. The beauty of the garden painting enraptured me so much it took me a moment to realize there was something dark lurking in it.