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“I will.” Elora actually laughed at that, but it sounded hollow and sad.

“Wait. I don’t understand. The King agreed to peace until after I’m Queen?” I asked. “Won’t that be too late to kidnap me?”

“Oren’s always believed he can take anything he wants,” Elora said. “But he wants valuable things, and you’re far more valuable as a Queen. I imagine that he thinks you’ll be an even greater ally then.”

“Why would I be his ally?” I asked.

“You are his daughter,” she said, almost regretfully. “He sees no reason that you won’t come around to his way of thinking.” She looked up at me, her dark eyes distant. “You must protect yourself, Princess. Rely on the people around you, and defend yourself by any means you can.”

“I’m trying,” I reassured her. “Tove and I have been training all morning, and he says I’m doing quite well.”

“Tove is very powerful.” Elora nodded in agreement. “That’s why it’s essential to keep him close to you.”

“Well, he’s staying down the hall from me,” I said.

“He is powerful,” Elora reiterated. “But he’s not strong enough to lead.”

“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “He has good insight.”

“He’s scatterbrained and often irrational.” She stared off at nothing for a moment. “But he is loyal, and he will stand by your side.”

“Yeah…” I didn’t understand what she was getting at. “Tove’s a great guy.”

“I am relieved to hear you say that.” Elora exhaled and rubbed her temple. “I didn’t have it in me to fight with you today.”

“Fight with me about what?” I asked.

“Tove.” She looked at me like it should be obvious. “I didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?” I leaned forward, totally confused.

“I thought I just told you. A moment ago.” Her brow furrowed, showing even more wrinkles. “It’s all going so fast.”

“What is?” I stood up, feeling real concern for her. “What are you talking about?”

“You only just got here, and I thought I’d have more time.” She shook her head. “Well, anyway, it’s all been arranged.”

“What?” I repeated.

“Your marriage.” Elora looked up at me, wondering why I didn’t understand what she meant already. “You and Tove are to be married as soon as you turn eighteen.”

“Whoa.” I held up my hands and took a step back, as if that would defend me somehow. “What?”

“It’s the only way.” Elora lowered her eyes and shook her head, as if she’d done everything she could to prevent it. And considering how much she loathed Aurora, she probably had done everything she could. “To protect the kingdom and to protect the crown.”

“What?” I repeated. “But I turn eighteen in three months.”

“At least Aurora will be planning it all,” Elora said wearily. “She’ll have the wedding of the century ready by then.”

“No, Elora.” I waved my hands. “I can’t marry Tove!”

“Why ever not?” She batted her dark lashes at me.

“Because I don’t love him!”

“Love is a fairy tale that mänks tell their children so they’ll have grandchildren,” Elora said, brushing me off. “Love has nothing to do with marriage.”

“I … You can’t really expect me…” I sighed and shook my head. “I can’t.”

“You must.” Elora stood up, pushing herself up with her arm. She steadied herself on the chaise for a moment, as if she might fall. When she was certain she was steady, she stepped toward me. “Princess, it is the only way.”

“The only way to what?” I asked. “No. I’d rather not be Queen than marry someone I don’t love.”

“Don’t say that!” Elora snapped, and the familiar venom returned to her words. “A Princess must never say that!”

“Well … I can’t do it! I refuse to marry him! Or anyone, unless I want to!”

“Princess, listen to me.” Elora gripped my arms and looked directly in my eyes. “The Trylle already think you should be shipped to the Vittra because of who your father is, and that is all the ammo Aurora needs to get you overthrown.”

“I don’t care about the crown,” I insisted. “I never did.”

“Once you’re overthrown, you’ll be exiled to live with the Vittra, and I know that you don’t think the Markis Staad seems that bad,” Elora went on. “Maybe he isn’t. But the King is. I lived with him for three years, but when you were born, I left him, knowing what that would mean for our kingdom. But I had to leave him, that’s how bad a man he is.”

“I won’t go back to the Vittra,” I said. “I’ll move to Canada or Europe or something.”

“He will find you,” Elora said. “And even if he doesn’t, if you left, it would be the end of our people. Tove is powerful, but he is not strong enough to run a kingdom or stand up to Oren. The Vittra would attack and destroy the Trylle. He would kill everyone, especially the ones you love.”

“You don’t know that.” I backed away so she wasn’t touching me.