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Loki shook his head, trying to shake off whatever he’d been feeling, and gave me a crooked smile that looked surprisingly dismal. “I thought for once that acting decent ought to be rewarded. That’s why I let you go, and that’s why I didn’t bring you back to the King.”

“If it’s so horrible there, why don’t you stay with us?” I asked without thinking.

“No.” He shook his head and lowered his eyes. “Tempting though the offer may be, your people wouldn’t allow it, and my people … well, let’s just say they wouldn’t react well if I didn’t come home. And whether I like it or not, it is my home.”

“I know that feeling all too well.” I sighed. Though Förening was starting to feel more like home, I wasn’t sure that it ever would completely.

“See? I told you, Princess.” Loki’s smile returned more easily. “You and I aren’t all that different.”

“You say that like it means something.”

“Doesn’t it?”

“No, not really. You’re leaving today, going home to my enemies.” I let out a deep breath, feeling an ache inside my chest. “If I’m lucky, I’ll never see you again. Because if I do, that means we’re at war, and I’d have to hurt you.”

“Oh, Wendy, that’s perhaps the saddest thing I’ve ever heard,” Loki said, and he looked like he meant it. “But life doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Don’t you ever see the silver lining?”

“Not today.” I shook my head. I heard Garrett summon me from down the hall, which meant that lunch was over and the meetings were about to start up. “I have to get back. I’ll see you when we make the exchange with the Vittra Queen.”

“Good luck.” Loki nodded.

I turned to walk away, and I hadn’t made it very far when I heard Loki calling after me.

“Wendy!” Loki leaned out into the hall, so far it made him grimace with pain. “If you’re right, and the next time we see each other is when our kingdoms are at war, you and I never will be. I’ll never fight you. That I can promise you.”

The meetings continued on, each one with the same grueling pace. The participants kept repeating the same information. What to do if the Vittra reneged on the deal. What to do if the Vittra attacked. What to do if the Vittra tried to kidnap me.

And it all boiled down to one answer—fight back. Tove and I would use our abilities, the trackers would use their strength and skill, and the Chancellor would cower in the corner.

Our last step before the Vittra Queen officially arrived was to sign the treaty. It’d already been sent over to the Vittra first, so Oren’s name was scribbled across the bottom in blood red. Garrett had to take it up to Elora in her room, and she added her own signature. Once he came back down with it, all we had to do was wait in the War Room for Sara to arrive.

At two-thirty, Elora released Loki, and he promised to be on his best behavior. Just the same, Thomas and Finn treated him like they thought he was a bomb about to explode.

Since we were meeting the dignitary of an enemy nation, I thought I’d better look the part of the Princess, especially since Elora was unable to join us. I dressed in a dark violet gown, and I’d enlisted Willa to help me with my hair.

“If I’d known you’d look so beautiful, I would’ve gotten dressed up,” Loki teased when Finn and Thomas brought him into the War Room. Finn shoved him into a seat unnecessarily hard, but Loki didn’t protest.

“Don’t get familiar with the Princess,” Duncan told him, giving him a stony look.

“My apologies,” Loki said. “I wouldn’t want to get familiar with anyone.”

Loki looked about the room. Duncan, Finn, Thomas, Tove, the Chancellor, and I were the ones set to meet Sara. The rest of the house was on standby, should we need them, but we didn’t want to look like we were ambushing Sara when she arrived.

“Did you change your mind and decide to execute me?” Loki asked, looking us over. “Because you all look like you’re going to a funeral.”

“Not now,” I said, fidgeting with my bracelet and watching the clock.

“Then when, Princess?” Loki asked. “Because we only have about fifteen minutes until I leave.”

I rolled my eyes and ignored him.

By the time the doorbell chimed, I’d taken to pacing the room. I nearly jumped when I heard it. The exchange was supposed to be clean and simple, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. My father had lied and betrayed the Trylle before.

“Here we go,” I said and took a deep breath.

I carried the treaty in my hands, a tube of paper rolled up and tied with a red ribbon, and I led the way down the corridor to the front hall. Duncan followed directly behind me on my left side, and Tove was at my right. Finn and Thomas each took one of Loki’s arms, in case he decided to struggle or fight, and the Chancellor brought up the rear.

Two other guards had let the Queen in, and they waited with her. She stood in the center of the rotunda, flakes of snow sticking to her crimson cloak. She’d pushed the hood down, and her cheeks were rosy from the cold. She’d arrived alone, except for Ludlow, the small hobgoblin I’d seen in the Vittra palace.

“Princess.” Sara smiled warmly when she saw me. She did a small curtsy, and I returned it, making sure to keep it equally small.

“Queen. I trust you traveled well,” I said.