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“Princess, yes, I do.” Her eyes locked with mine, her sincerity unmistakable.

“You saw it?” I asked and looked around the room for a painting. One that would show me the devastation that she’d seen.

“I saw that they need you,” Elora said. “They need you to survive.”

I’d never seen her look desperate before, and it scared the hell out of me. I liked Tove, but not romantically, and I didn’t want to marry someone I didn’t love. Especially when I might love someone else.

But Elora was pleading with me to do this. She believed everything she was saying, and I hated to admit it, but she had a compelling argument.

“Elora…” My mouth felt dry, and it was hard to swallow. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Marry him, Princess,” Elora commanded. “He’ll protect you.”

“I can’t marry someone so he’ll be my bodyguard,” I told her quietly. “Tove deserves to be happy. And I would like a chance at it too.”

“Princess, I’m not…” She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her fingers to her temple. “Princess.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to argue with you,” I said.

“No, Princess, I…” She reached out, grabbing the back of the couch to catch herself.

“Elora?” I rushed over to her and put my hand on her back. “Elora, what’s wrong?”

Blood seeped from her nose, but it was no simple nosebleed. It was like an artery had opened up. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and her body went limp. She collapsed, and I barely caught her in my arms.

“Help me!” I shouted. “Somebody! Help!”



Thomas rushed in first. I’d already lowered Elora to the floor, where she twitched like she was having a small seizure.

I’d crouched down next to her, but Thomas pushed me out of the way to tend to her. I leaned against the couch while he attempted to revive her, praying my mother would be okay.

“Wendy,” Finn said.

I hadn’t even heard him come in. I looked up at him with tears blurring my vision, and he held out his hand to me. I took it, and let him pull me to my feet.

“Get Aurora Kroner,” Thomas told Finn. “Now.”

“Yes, sir.” Finn nodded.

He still had my hand, and he pulled me out of the room. He walked fast because time was of the essence. My legs felt numb and rubbery, but I pushed them to hurry.

“Go find Tove or Willa. Even Duncan,” Finn said when we reached the main hall. “I’ll come and get you later.”

“What’s wrong with Elora?” I asked.

“I don’t have time, Wendy.” Finn shook his head, his eyes pained. “I’ll get you when there’s anything to tell you.”

“Go,” I said, nodding to hurry him along.

Finn raced out the front door, leaving me in the hall, alone and scared.

Duncan found me exactly as Finn had left me. He’d heard about Elora’s collapse from the other trackers, who’d gone into lockdown mode. I heard them bustling about the palace, but that was secondary. My mother might be dying.

Duncan suggested we go up to my room, but I didn’t want to be that far away. I needed to be close in case something happened. We sat in the living room, and he tried to comfort me, but it was futile.

Finn came back a few minutes later with Aurora, and they rushed down the hall. Her dress billowed out behind her, and her hair had come loose from its bun, blowing back as she ran.

Garrett and Willa came shortly after. Garrett went down to check on Elora’s progress while Willa sat with me. She put her arm around my shoulders and kept reminding me how strong Elora was. Nothing could stop her.

“But … what if she dies?” I asked, staring blankly at the unlit fireplace in front of me.

The living room had a horrible chill from the icy wind beating against the windows. Duncan knelt in front of the fireplace. He had been trying to light a fire for the past few minutes.

“She won’t die.” Willa squeezed me tighter.

“No, Willa, I’m being honest,” I said. “What happens if the Queen dies?”

“She’s not going to die.” Willa forced a smile. “We don’t need to worry about that right now.”

“I’ve almost got this fire lit,” Duncan lied to change the subject.

“It’s gas, Duncan,” Willa told him. “You just turn a knob.”

“Oh.” Duncan did as she said, and a bright flame roared up through the fireplace.

Staring down at Elora’s blood that had gotten on my shirt, I was surprised to find how scared I felt. I didn’t want her to die.

She always seemed so strong, so composed, and it made me wonder how much pain she was in. We’d met in the drawing room today, and she’d wanted to meet me in the study. She wasn’t well enough to move, I realized. She shouldn’t have been standing or exerting herself at all, let alone arguing with me. I’d made her already frail condition even worse.

Why hadn’t she told me about how debilitated she was? But I already knew the answer. Her sense of duty came before everything else.

“Princess,” Finn said, pulling me from my thoughts. He stood at the entrance to the living room, his face drawn.

“Is she okay?” I jumped up at the sight of him, pulling away from Willa.

“She’s asked to see you.” Finn pointed toward her drawing room and wouldn’t meet my eyes.