A figure stood by the hedge. It appeared to be a man with hair far lighter than my own, but the shadows made it hard to tell. He stood in the distance, making his face too blurry to be distinguishable.
Even though I couldn’t see much, there was something menacing about him. Or at least Elora thought so when she painted him. I got that vibe from the canvas.
“When did you know the Vittra had gotten me?” I asked, realizing she might’ve known all along.
“When Finn told me,” she answered absently. “He came and retrieved Tove, and then left to get you.”
“And you just…” I was about to ask why she let them go without sending along help, like an army, perhaps. But my gaze had moved on to the other painting and I stopped.
This one showed me, a close-up from my waist up. The background was a blur of blacks and grays, giving no indication of where I stood. I appeared much the same as I did now, except dressed much better. My hair was down and the dark curls were arranged beautifully. I had on a gorgeous white gown, decorated with diamonds that matched my necklace and the ones in my earrings.
But what was most striking was that on my head I wore a crown, ornately twisted silver adorned with diamonds. My face looked expressionless, and I couldn’t tell if I was pleased or upset to be crowned, but there it was. A picture of me as Queen.
“When did you paint this?” I pointed to the picture and turned to Elora. She had her arm draped over her eyes, but she lifted it up to see what I was asking about.
“Oh, that.” She dropped her arm. “Don’t concern yourself with that. You’ll drive yourself mad trying to discern and prevent the future. It’s much better letting things unfold.”
“Is this why you never seemed worried about me dying?” I asked, surprised at how angry I felt.
She knew I wouldn’t die. She had proof that I’d someday be Queen, and she hadn’t bothered letting me in on that.
Elora sighed. “Among other things.”
“What does that mean?” I snapped. “Why do you always have to be so damn cryptic all the time?”
“It doesn’t mean anything!” She sounded exasperated. “For all I know, that painting means you’ll be the Vittra Queen. The future is far too fluid to ever understand or change. And just because I paint something doesn’t mean it’ll come true.”
“But you predicted the attack at my christening ceremony,” I countered. “I saw the painting. You painted the ballroom on fire.”
“Yes, and I couldn’t stop it,” she said icily.
“You didn’t even try! You didn’t warn me or cancel the ceremony!”
“I tried to stop it!” She shot me an angry glare that would’ve made me cringe before, but not anymore. “I met with people. I discussed it with everyone. I told Finn and all the trackers. But I had nothing to go on. I only saw fire and chandeliers and smoke. No people. Not the room. Not even a time frame. Do you know how many chandeliers there are in the south wing alone? What was I supposed to do? Tell everyone to avoid chandeliers forever?”
“No. I don’t know,” I stammered. “You could’ve done … something.”
“It’s not until after that I understand what the vision means,” Elora said, more to herself than me. “It’s that way with all of them. It’s almost worse being able to see the future. I don’t know what it means, and I can’t stop it. Only after, it all seems so obvious.”
“So then what are you saying?” I asked. “I won’t be Queen?”
“No. I’m saying that the painting doesn’t mean anything.” She closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I’m getting a terrible migraine. I’d rather not continue this conversation.”
“Fine. Whatever.” I threw my hands up in the air, knowing I couldn’t force things with Elora. I was lucky she hadn’t summoned Finn to drag me out of here.
Then I remembered him, Finn. I hadn’t been able to say much of anything in the car ride to Förening, but I definitely still had a lot to say to him.
I left the parlor to go track down Finn. I should have been more concerned with other things, but right then I only wanted to find a moment alone with him. A moment when we could really talk and I could … I don’t know. But I had to see him.
Instead of Finn, I found Duncan waiting a little ways down the hall. He’d been leaning against the wall, playing with his phone, but when I came out of the room he straightened up. He offered a sheepish smile, and his attempt at quickly shoving his phone in his pocket only made him drop it.
“Sorry.” Duncan scrambled to pick it up as I approached. “I just wanted to give you alone time with your mother.”
“Thanks.” I continued down the hall, and he followed along. “Why were you waiting for me? Did you need something?”
“No. I’m your tracker now. Remember?” He looked embarrassed. “And the Vittra are really after you, so I’m on guard all the time.”
“Right.” I nodded. I’d been hoping that since Finn had saved my life—again—he’d be reinstated as my tracker. “Where’s Finn? I need to talk to him.”
“Finn?” Duncan’s steps faltered. “Um, he’s not your tracker anymore.”
“No, I know that. And it’s not a condemnation of your ability.” I forced a smile. “I wanted to talk to Finn for a minute.”