“I’m not close to the King.” Loki shook his head. “Nobody is close to the King. But I do have history with the Queen. His wife, Sara, was once my betrothed.”
“What?” My jaw dropped. “She’s … she’s much older than you.”
“Ten years older.” Loki nodded. “But that’s how arranged marriages work a lot of the time, especially when there are so few of the marrying kind in our community. Unfortunately, before I came of age, the King decided he wanted to wed her.”
“Were you in love with her?” I asked, surprised to find myself caring at all.
“It was an arranged marriage!” Loki laughed. “I was nine when Sara married the King. I got over it. Sara thought of me like a little brother, and she still does.”
“And what about your father? Elora said she knew him.”
“I’m sure she did.” He ran a hand through his hair and shifted his weight. “She lived with the Vittra for a while. First, right after they were married, they lived here in Förening, but once Elora became pregnant, Oren insisted she move to his house.”
“And she did?” I asked, surprised that Elora had been coerced into anything.
“She didn’t have a choice, I suppose. When the King wants something, he can be very…” Loki trailed off. “I was in their wedding. Did you know that?”
When he looked at me, he smiled at the memory, and his cocky demeanor slipped. There was something disarmingly honest about his smile, missing his usual snark, and when he looked like that, he was almost impossibly handsome. He was truly one of the best-looking guys I’d ever laid eyes on, and for a moment I felt too flustered to say anything.
“You mean my mother and my father’s?” I asked when I found my words.
“Yes.” He nodded. “I was very young, maybe two or three, and I don’t remember it much, except that my mother took me, and she let me stay up all night dancing. I walked down the aisle and threw petals, which is a very unmasculine thing to do, but there were no other children of royal blood to be in the wedding.”
“Where were the children?”
“The Vittra didn’t have any, and the Trylle were all gone as changelings,” Loki explained.
“You remember Elora and Oren’s wedding? And you were only a toddler?” I asked.
He smirked. “Well, it was the wedding of the century. Everyone was there. It was quite the spectacle.”
I realized that he was constantly using sarcasm and humor to keep me at a distance, much the same way that Finn protected himself with a hard exterior. A moment ago, as he remembered his mother, I’d seen a glimmer of something real, the same glimmer I’d seen in Ondarike when he’d empathized with me about being a prisoner.
“Do you know why they got married?”
“Oren and Elora?” His eyebrows furrowed. “Don’t you know?”
“I know that Oren wanted an heir to the throne and Vittra can’t have kids, and Elora wanted to unite the tribes,” I said. “But why? Why was it so important that the Vittra and Trylle unite?”
“Well, because we’ve been warring for centuries.” Loki shrugged. “Since the beginning of time, maybe.”
“Why?” I repeated. “I’ve been reading the history books, and I can’t find a clear reason why. Why do we hate each other so much?”
“I don’t know.” He shook his head helplessly. “Why did the Capulets hate the Montagues?”
“Lord Montague stole Capulet’s wife from him,” I answered. “It was a love triangle thing.”
“What?” Loki asked. “I don’t remember Shakespeare saying that.”
“I read it in a book somewhere.” I waved Loki off. “It doesn’t matter. My point is—there’s always a reason.”
“I’m sure there is one,” Loki agreed.
For a moment, he let his gaze linger on me, his caramel eyes almost seeming to stare right through me. I became acutely aware of how close he was to me, and that we were hidden away in the privacy of his room.
Lowering my eyes, I took a step back from him and demanded that my heart stop racing.
“Now the principals have become too different,” Loki said at last. “The Vittra want more, and the Trylle want to hang on to their crumbling empire for dear life.”
“If anyone has a crumbling empire, it’s the Vittra,” I countered. “At least we can procreate here.”
“Ooh, low blow, Princess.” Loki put his hand to his chest with false hurt.
“It’s the truth, isn’t it?”
“So it is.” He dropped his hand and returned to his usual sly grin. “So, Princess, what’s your plan for getting me out of here alive?”
“I don’t have any plan,” I said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. They want to kill you, and I don’t know how to stop them.”
“Princess!” Duncan called from the end of the hall.
I looked back to see him standing in front of the irritated tracker. I didn’t know what Duncan had said to hold him off from guarding Loki, but Duncan had clearly exhausted that avenue.
“I have to go,” I told Loki.
“Your tracker is summoning you?” Loki glanced down the hall. Duncan gave me a sheepish smile as the guard walked toward us to resume his post.
“Something like that. But listen, you need to be good. Do what they say. Don’t cause any trouble,” I said, and Loki gave me an exaggerated innocent look, like, What, me? “It’s the only chance I have to convince them not to execute you.”