“I still don’t completely understand what’s happening here or who these people are,” Matt said finally. “I have to trust you on this, and I need to know that you’re safe.”
“I’m safe. Honest. You don’t need to worry about me anymore.” I gave him a sad smile, realizing that was true. “But how have you been? Have you been finding stuff to keep you busy?”
“Yeah, I’ve been spending some time with Rhys, which has been nice,” Matt said. “He’s a good kid. A little … weird, but good.”
“I told you.”
“You did.” He smiled.
“And I see you found something to read.” I pointed to the book he held.
“Yeah, Willa found this for me, actually.” Matt uncrossed his arms so he could show me the book. It was hand-bound in faded leather. “It’s all the blueprints and designs for the palaces over the years.”
“Oh, yeah?” I took it from him so I could leaf through the yellowed pages. They showed the ornate designs of all the lush homes the royalty had lived in.
“I told Willa I was an architect, and she tracked down this book for me.” Matt moved closer to me so he could admire the drawings with me. “Her dad had it, I guess.”
I instantly felt stupid. Matt’s only real passion in life was architecture, and we lived in a luxurious palace perched on the edge of a bluff. Of course he would love this, and I couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me sooner.
Matt started pointing things out in the drawings, telling me how ingenious they were. I nodded and sounded amazed when it seemed appropriate.
I talked to Matt a bit longer, then headed down to my room to take a break. No sooner had I flopped down on my bed than I heard a knock at the door. Sighing, I got out of bed and threw it open.
Then I saw Finn, standing in my bedroom doorway, his eyes the same shade of night they always were.
“Princess, I need you,” he said simply.
“Beg pardon?” I said when I found my voice.
“The Queen has found time to see you,” Finn said. “But you need to hurry.”
With that, he turned to walk down the hall. I stepped out and shut my bedroom door behind me. When Finn heard it, he slowed a bit, so I assumed I was supposed to catch up to him.
“Where is she?” I asked. I didn’t hurry to catch him, so he glanced at me. “Where am I meeting Elora?”
“I’ll take you to her,” Finn replied.
“You don’t need to. I can find her myself.”
“You’re not to be left alone.” He paused until I reached him, then we continued side by side.
“This place is swarming with guards. I think I can manage walking down the hall to see Elora,” I told him.
I hated that I had to walk down the halls with him and pretend like I didn’t care about him. The silence felt too awkward between us, so I struggled to fill it.
“So … what’s it like working with your father?” I asked.
“It’s acceptable,” Finn said, but I heard the tightness in his voice.
“‘Acceptable’?” I glanced over at him, searching for any sign that would give away how he really felt, but his face was a mask. His dark eyes stared straight ahead, and his lips were pressed into a thin line.
“Yes. That’s an apt way to describe it.”
“Are you close to your father?” I asked, and when he didn’t answer, I went on. “You seemed close to your mother. At least, she cares a great deal for you.”
“It’s hard to be close to someone who you don’t know,” he said carefully. “My father was gone most of my childhood. When he started being around more, I had to leave for work.”
“It’s good that you get to be around each other now,” I said. “You can spend some time together.”
“I could give you the same advice in regard to the Queen.” He gave me a sidelong glance, something teasing in his eyes that played against the ice in his words.
“Your father seems much easier to know than my mother,” I countered. “He seems at least vaguely human.”
“You know that’s an insult here,” Finn reminded me. “Being human is something we strive against.”
“Yeah, I can tell,” I muttered.
“I’m sorry for the way things went at the defense meeting.” He’d lowered his voice, speaking in that soft, conspiratorial way he did when it was only the two of us.
“It’s not your fault. In fact, you came to my aid. I owe you a debt of gratitude.”
“I don’t agree with the things they said in there.” Finn slowed to a stop in front of a heavy mahogany door. “The way they blamed you and your mother for what’s happened here. But I don’t want you to hold it against them. They’re just afraid.”
“I know.” I stood next to him, taking a deep breath. “Can I ask you something, honestly?”
“Of course,” he said, but he sounded hesitant.
“Do you think it would be better for me to go with the Vittra?” I asked. His eyes widened, and I hurried on before he could answer. “I’m not asking if it’s best for me, and I want you to put your feelings aside, whatever those may be. Would it be in the best interest of the Trylle, of all the people living here in Förening, if I went with the Vittra?”