“No, I’m quite all right.” I gave him a polite smile before turning a severe gaze on Loki. “Did you see who my mother was with?”
“No.” Loki’s smile grew broader. “And I’m guessing neither did you.”
“Princess, this really doesn’t seem all that relaxing,” Duncan interjected.
“Duncan, I’m fine.”
Duncan! My mind-speak kicked in again, surprising me, and I hurried to use it while I still could. I turned to face him. I’m fine. Now please escort this guard somewhere else.
“Fine.” Duncan sighed. He turned to the guard. “The Princess needs a moment alone.”
“But I have strict orders—”
“She’s the Princess,” Duncan said. “Do you really wanna argue with her?”
Both Duncan and the guard seemed reluctant to go. As they walked away, Duncan stared at me, and the guard continued to sputter about how much trouble he’d be in if the Queen found out.
“I see you learned a new trick.” Loki grinned at me.
“I’ve got more tricks than you’ll ever know,” I said, and Loki arched an approving eyebrow.
“If you want to show me a few tricks, my door is always open.” He gestured to his room and moved to the side, in case I wanted to step in.
I don’t know exactly what I was thinking, but I took him up on the offer. I went inside his room, narrowly brushing past him as I did. I sat down on his bed, since he didn’t have any chairs, but I sat up as straight as possible. I didn’t want to look comfortable or give him the wrong impression.
“Make yourself at home, Princess,” Loki teased.
“I am at home,” I reminded him. “This is my house.”
“For now,” Loki agreed and sat down on the bed. He made sure to sit close to me, and I scooted away, leaving two feet of space between us. “I see how it is.”
“Tove told me about you,” I said. “I know how powerful you are.”
“And yet you come into my room, alone?” Loki asked. He leaned back, propping himself up with his arms and watching me.
“You know how powerful I am,” I countered.
“The King assigned you to guard me because of how strong you are,” I said. “You let me go.”
“Is that a question?” Loki looked away and picked a piece of lint off his black shirt.
“No. I know that you did.” I kept looking at him, hoping it would make him give something away, but his expression only grew sullen and bored. “I want to know why you let me go.”
“Princess, when you came into my room, I thought you wanted to play, not talk politics.” He pouted and rolled onto his side, so he could stare up at me despondently.
“Loki, I’m being serious,” I scoffed.
“So am I.” Loki sat up straight again, using the opportunity to move closer to me. One of his hands rested right behind me, so his arm brushed against my back.
“Why won’t you tell me why you let me go?” I asked, forcing my voice to stay even as I looked into his eyes.
“Why do you want to know so badly?” he asked, his voice deep and serious.
“Because.” I swallowed. “I need to know if you’re playing some kind of game.”
“And what if I am?” He kept his eyes locked on mine, but he raised his chin, defiant. “Will you have them kill me?”
“No, of course not,” I said.
He tilted his head, examining me, then realization dawned. “You’re actually appalled by the idea.”
“Yes, I am. Now will you tell me why you let me go?”
“Probably for the same reason you don’t want to kill me.”
“I don’t understand.”
I wanted to shake my head, but I was too afraid to break eye contact with him. I wasn’t using persuasion on him or anything, but I was keeping his attention, and if I lost that, he might stop talking.
“I think you do, Princess.” He swallowed hard and took a deep breath before speaking again. “I know what it’s like to be a prisoner, and I thought it would be nice to see somebody escape for a change.”
“I believe that,” I admitted. “But why come after me again? Why let me go just to track me down?”
“I already told you. King’s orders.”
“He sent you here alone?”
“Not exactly.” Loki shrugged, but never looked away from me. His eyes were almost piercing through me. “I asked to go alone. I told him you trusted me, and I could get you to leave with me.”
My heart skipped a beat, and I knew I should be nervous or upset with him, but I wasn’t. “Do you really believe that?”
“I don’t know. But I hadn’t planned on trying. I just knew that if Oren sent others along with me, they wouldn’t stop until they got you, and that didn’t seem fair.”
“So you’re not going to try to drag me back to Ondarike?” I asked.
He narrowed his eyes a little, as if really considering it. “No. It’d be far too much trouble.”
“Too much trouble?” I said doubtfully. “Couldn’t you just knock me out again and throw me over your shoulder? Or at least you could’ve when you first got here, before you let yourself become a prisoner.”
“I didn’t let myself.” He laughed. “Sure, I didn’t fight as hard as I could, but there wasn’t a point. I didn’t really want to take you away. I just wanted it to look like I did, so the King wouldn’t have any reason to kill me.”