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“So she’s awake? She’s alive? Is she okay? Does she know what happened? Did Aurora fix her?” I asked. My questions came out too rapidly for him to answer, but I couldn’t seem to slow myself.

“She’d rather tell you everything herself,” Finn said simply.

“That sounds like her.” I nodded. She was awake and wanted to see me. That had to be a good sign.

Willa and Duncan gave me reassuring smiles, but they couldn’t mask their anxiety. I told them I’d be back soon, and that I was sure everything would be fine. I didn’t know if that was true or not, but I had to ease their fears somehow.

I walked with Finn down the corridor to the parlor. Finn kept his pace slow and deliberate. I wanted to run to Elora, but I forced myself to stay with him. I wrapped my arms around myself and rubbed my hands along them.

“Is she angry with me?” I asked him.

“The Queen?” Finn seemed surprised. “No. Of course not. Why would she be?”

“I was arguing with her when she … If I hadn’t been antagonizing her, she might not have gotten so … sick.”

“No, you didn’t do this.” He shook his head. “In fact, it’s good that you were with her. You got her help right away.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You called for help using your thoughts.” He tapped his forehead. “We were too far away, and we wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t done that. Elora might be in a lot worse shape if you hadn’t been there.”

“What’s wrong with her?” I asked him directly. “Do you know?”

“She’ll need to tell you.”

I thought about pushing Finn for more information, but we were almost to her. Besides, it didn’t feel right to argue with him now.

His whole demeanor had changed, seeming softer and more somber. He’d let some of his guard down around me again, and while I wasn’t in the mood to take advantage of that, I did enjoy the familiar feel of being with him without a giant wall between us. I missed him.

Aurora came out of the parlor just before we reached it. Her normally flawless skin had gone gray. Her dark eyes were glossed over, and her hair hung in unruly waves around her face. She leaned up against the wall, supporting herself, and struggled to catch her breath.

“Marksinna?” Finn quickly went to her, putting his arm around her to steady her. “Are you all right?”

“I’m only tired,” Aurora said as Finn helped her to a chair in the hallway. She moved like an old woman, and her bones creaked as she eased herself down in the chair. “Will you get my son? I need to lie down, and I want him to help me home.”

“Yes, of course,” Finn said, and he gave me an apologetic look. “Princess, will you be all right seeing the Queen alone?”

“Yes.” I nodded. “Go get Tove. I’ll be fine.”

Finn hurried away to retrieve Tove for his mother, and I went on to the room. I felt guilty for leaving Aurora alone in the hallway looking so completely drained, but I had my own mother to attend to.

The door to the parlor was still open, and I stayed in the hall for a moment, watching.

Elora lay on her chaise lounge, the way she had when I arrived, but she had a black fur blanket over her. Her raven hair had gone even whiter, so it now appeared to be white streaked with black and not the other way around. Her eyes were closed, and the blood had been wiped from her face.

Garrett had pulled up a chair so he sat right next to her head. He held one of her hands in both of his, and gazed at her with worry and adoration. His tousled hair was even more unkempt than normal, and some of her blood stained his shirt.

On the other side of the chaise lounge, Thomas stood keeping watch. He had the same stoic stance all the trackers did when they were on guard duty, but his eyes rested heavily on Elora. They weren’t filled with the same intensity as Garrett’s, but something glimmered in them, some faint remembrance of whatever had transpired between Thomas and Elora years ago.

When she opened her eyes, it was Thomas that Elora looked up at. Garrett’s jaw flexed as he clenched his teeth, but he said nothing. He didn’t even drop her hand.

“Elora?” I said timidly and stepped inside the room.

“Princess.” Her voice sounded weak, and she made a poor attempt at a smile.

“You wanted to see me?” I asked.

“Yes.” She tried to sit up, but Garrett gently placed his hand on her shoulder.

“Elora, you need to rest,” Garrett told her.

“I am fine.” She waved him off but lowered herself back down. “I need to speak privately with my daughter. Can you both leave us for a moment?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Thomas bowed. “But for your sake, please take it easy.”

“Of course, Thomas.” She offered him a tired smile, and he bowed again before leaving.

“I’ll be right down the hall if you need me,” Garrett said, but he seemed hesitant to stand. He wouldn’t even walk toward the door until Elora glared at him. “If you need anything, call for me. Or send the Princess. Okay?”

“If it will get you to leave quicker, I will agree to anything.” Elora sighed.

Garrett paused as he passed me, and he looked like he wanted to say something, probably remind me to take it easy. Elora said his name, and he hurried along. He closed the door behind him, and I took his seat next to Elora.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.