9. Repercussions

Duncan came in a few minutes later, and I dressed quickly. I smoothed out my hair the best I could, because I couldn’t look a fright at this meeting, but I didn’t have time to make sure I looked top notch.

I practically ran down the hall, with Duncan at my heels, and I reached the top of the stairs at the same time as Willa. Her dress was a bit askew, and her hair was tangled, so she’d obviously gotten dressed in a hurry. I was happy to see that she’d listened.

“Duncan said you wanted me to come to the meeting?” Willa asked, sounding confused as we went down the stairs.

“Yes,” I said. “I need you to start getting involved with this.”

“Wendy, you know I’m not good at this kind of stuff,” Willa said.

“I don’t know why you say that. Public relations are your forte. And even if it wasn’t, this is your job. You are one of the highest Marksinnas we have. You should be helping shape the kingdom instead of letting others destroy it.”

“I don’t know,” she shook her head, and when we reached the bottom of the steps, I stopped to face her.

“Look, Willa, I need you on my side,” I said. “I’m going into a room full of people who think I’m an idiot and a liability. People are in trouble in Oslinna, our people. I don’t have time to fight with them, and people are fond of you. I need you to help me. Okay?”

“Of course.” Willa smiled nervously. “I will help you in any way I can.” 

Before we even reached the War Room, I could hear them arguing. There were too many voices to clearly understand what they were fighting about, but they were upset.

“We all need to calm down!” Finn was shouting to be heard over them when Willa, Duncan, and I arrived. Finn stood at the front of the crowded War Room, but nobody paid attention to him.

Tove leaned on the desk, watching them all. The Chancellor, his face beet red, was yelling so much at poor Markis Bain that spittle flew from his mouth. Marksinna Laurent was standing up and screaming at Garrett, who tried to keep his expression neutral, but I knew he wanted to smack her.

“Excuse me!” I shouted, but nobody even noticed me.

“I’ve been trying to get them to calm down.” Finn looked at me apologetically. “But they’re in a complete frenzy. They think we’re next.”

“I got this,” Willa said.

She climbed up onto the desk behind Tove, carefully because she was wearing a short dress, and she put two fingers in her mouth and let out a loud whistle. So loud that Tove actually covered his ears.

Everybody stopped talking and looked up at her.

“Your Princess is here, and she’d like to talk to you, so you should give her your attention,” Willa said with a smile.

Duncan walked over to the desk and gave Willa his hand to help her to the ground. She thanked him, then smoothed out her dress, and I walked over to stand between her and Tove.

“Thank you, Marksinna,” I said, then turned my attention to the angry mob. “Who knows the most about the attack on Oslinna?”

“I do,” Thomas said, stepping forward from behind Aurora Kroner.

“Tell me everything you know,” I said.

“We’ve already gone over this,” Marksinna Laurent said before he could say anything. “We shouldn’t be rehashing the same things. We should be plotting our attack.”

“I am sorry to be wasting your time, but nobody is making any decisions until I know what’s going on,” I said. “This will all go much faster if you simply let Thomas tell me what happened.”

Laurent muttered something and looked away. When I was certain she was done, I turned back to Thomas and nodded for him to continue.

“Sometime late last night, the Vittra attacked Oslinna,” Thomas said. “It’s one of the Trylle’s larger compounds located in northern Michigan. Reports vary, but we believe it started around 10:30 p.m.”

“Are we certain it’s the Vittra?” I asked.

“Yes,” Thomas said. “The King wasn’t there, but a message was sent on his behalf.”

“And the message was?” I prompted him.

“‘This is only the beginning,’” Thomas said. Whispers filled the room, but I held up my hand to silence them.

“Do we know how many Vittra they had with them?” I asked.

“It’s hard to say concretely,” Thomas shook his head. “They’ve begun using hobgoblins in their battles, so we are assuming the numbers of actual Vittra are running low.”

“Ugly little creatures,” Laurent snorted at the mention of hobgoblins, and a few chuckled in response.

“So the hobgoblins comprise most of the Vittra army?” Tove asked dubiously. “How are they a threat? They’re small and weak.”

“They may be small, but they’re still Vittra,” Thomas said. “Physically, they have tremendous strength. They seem to be slow mentally and more susceptible to Trylle abilities than their human counterparts, but not that many of the Trylle in Oslinna even have abilities anymore.”

“These hobgoblins caused real damage to Oslinna then?” I asked.

“Yes,” Thomas said. “The town is completely devastated. We don’t have an exact figure of how many lives were lost, but we suspect the number to be at least two thousand, and they only had a population of three thousand to begin with.”

Someone gasped in the back, and even Willa made a sound, but I kept my face blank. Here, compassion would be a sign of weakness.

“Do we know what kind of casualties we caused on the Vittra army?” I asked.

“No, but I don’t think it was substantial,” Thomas said. “Possibly a hundred. Maybe more.”

“So they killed thousands of our people, and we killed maybe a hundred of them?” I asked. “How is this possible? How did this happen?”

“They were sleeping,” Thomas said. “It was an ambush during the night. They might have underestimated the hobgoblins. We had no idea exactly how strong they were until this attack.”

“What kind of strength are we talking about?” I asked. “Stronger than me? Stronger than Finn? What?”

“Strong enough to lift a house from its foundation,” Thomas said, and the room erupted in more nervous chatter.

“Quiet!” I snapped, but it took them longer to silence.

“We’re next,” Laurent said and stood up. “You heard the King’s threat. They are coming for us, and we’re completely exposed! We can’t stand up to that.”

“There’s no need for hysteria.” I shook my head. “We have the most powerful Trylle in the world, the most powerful of any creature on Earth. Marksinna, you can create fire. Tove and I can move anything. Willa can harness the wind. We have more than enough power here to defend ourselves.”

“What about those of us who can’t?” the Chancellor asked. “We’re defenseless against little monsters that can throw our homes!”

“We are not defenseless,” I said, and I looked over at Finn.

“We should call the trackers in,” Finn said, understanding my gaze. “We need the guards at home.”

As much as I hated to do it, we would have to. That left our changelings unprotected, and they were just kids. We had no idea what the Vittra did with them when they took them, but we had no choice. We couldn’t waste the manpower to possibly protect one child when we had the whole kingdom to worry about.

“Do it,” I said, and he nodded. “Until they get here, we need to figure out what to do about Oslinna.”

“Why would we do anything with Oslinna?” Laurent looked confused.

“They were just attacked,” I said, speaking as if I was talking to a small child. “We need to help them.”

“Help them?” the Chancellor asked. “We can barely help ourselves.”

“We don’t have the resources,” Aurora agreed.

“We have more resources than any other compound,” Tove said. “How can you even say that?”

“We need them for us,” Laurent said. “This is what I’ve been saying all along. We knew this day would come. Ever since that bastard Princess was born – ” She gestured to me.

“Marksinna!” Willa snapped. “She is your Princess. Remember who you’re speaking to.”

“How can I forget?” Laurent asked. “She’s the one that will get us all killed!”

“Enough!” I held up both my hands before everyone joined her. “This is what we are going to do. First, Thomas will call back all trackers. Every last one of them. When they return, we can work on establishing an army to defend ourselves, but that also means defending the other compounds.

“Second, we will send a team to Oslinna to assess the damage. While there, the team will help them clean up and also try to learn more about the Vittra so we can prevent further ambushes.

“Lastly, you will all learn to use whatever abilities you have. We are powerful. I am not going to waste a soldier or a guard defending people who can protect themselves.”

“You can’t expect us to fight in the war!” Laurent was appalled.

“I am not asking you to, although it would be nice if some of you who can fight would offer to,” I said.

“This is obscene,” Aurora said. “You can’t seriously mean for us to fight.”

“Yes, I can,” I said. “And frankly, I don’t give a damn what any of you think of this. This is our best hope to protect our kingdom.”

“Who do you propose goes on the team?” Garrett asked.

“People who can help,” I said. “I will go.”

“Princess, it’s unwise of you to leave Förening,” Finn said. “The embargo with the Vittra King states that he will not attack our people here. He says nothing for the ones outside of Förening.”

“You shouldn’t travel,” Willa agreed. “Not during a time of war.”

“Why not?” Laurent asked. “Let her go and get herself killed! It would save us all the headache! Not that I even think she would be killed. She’s probably working with them.”

“Marksinna Laurent,” Tove said, glaring at her. “The next time you speak out against the Princess I will have you banished from Förening on the grounds of treason, and we’ll see how well you do against the Vittra.”

“Treason?” Her eyes widened. “I’ve committed no such thing!”

“Under the Treason Act, Article XII, anyone who plots or imagines the death of our King or Queen or their eldest child and heir has committed treason,” Tove said. “And in a room full of witnesses, you just wished for the Princess’s death.”

“I…” Laurent started to defend herself, then gave up and simply stared down at her hands.

“Who will go on the team, then?” Aurora asked, returning to the topic.

“I would like volunteers,” I said. “A high-ranking official does need to go as my proxy, and I will order people if I must.”

“I’ll go,” Finn said. “My father can stay here and get the army ready. I can help lead a team into Oslinna.”

“I’ll go,” Markis Bain offered. “My sister lives there. I should help her.”

“Anyone else?” I asked, but I was met with blank stares. “A healer would be particularly useful now.”

“Marksinna Kroner?” Willa prompted when Aurora said nothing.

“I’m the Prince’s mother.” Aurora was aghast. “I can’t possibly go.” Tove gave her a hard look, so she floundered for an excuse. “The Chancellor! He has some healing powers.”

“Not as great as yours,” he said defensively. “I’m nothing compared to you.”

“You’re an elected official,” Aurora said. “These people voted for you. They deserve your help.”

“Why don’t you go, Chancellor?” Tove asked. “You can work as my liaison.”

“Do I have a choice?” the Chancellor asked, sounding defeated, and Tove answered him with a glare.

The meeting went on for a few minutes longer. Willa gave an impassioned speech about the importance of helping our brethren. A few people seemed moved by it, but nobody else volunteered until Willa pointed out that if we helped them, the people from Oslinna could come back here and fight for us. That got a couple more hands in the air.

In the end, we managed to assemble a team of ten, and that was about the most I could hope for. Everyone dispersed, resolving that the team would leave from the palace in two hours. After everyone else had gone, Tove, Willa, Duncan, and I lingered in the War Room.

“I think that went well.” Willa leaned back up against the desk.

“What if the Vittra start attacking other towns?” I asked. “What are we going to do?”

“There’s nothing more we can do,” Tove said. “Not right now. We need to get the trackers back. I’m sure that’s what the King’s plan was. To get all the trackers out after the changelings and leave us exposed.”

“And I had to send them out,” I sighed. “The Vittra were kidnapping children. I couldn’t let them.”

“You did the right thing,” Willa said. “And you’re doing the right thing now. You’re bringing the trackers back. You’re helping Oslinna.”

“Not enough.” I shook my head and stepped away from them. “I should be going there. I should be helping. If these hobgoblins are throwing houses, they’ll need people like me to move the rubble.”

“Princess, you’re a leader now,” Duncan said. “You need to stay here and give orders. Let other people do the work.”

“But that’s not how it should be!” I argued. “If I have the most power, I should do the most work.”

“Wendy, you are doing work,” Willa said. “They wanted to leave the people there to die in Oslinna without help. You need to stay here and organize. And if things are safe, maybe you can go out there and help clean up later, okay? The team needs to go out and investigate first.”

“I know.” I rubbed the back of my neck. “I’ve been trying so hard to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but Oren is determined to bring it on no matter what I do.”

“That’s not your fault, though,” Willa said. “You can’t control what he does.”

“None of us can control our parents,” Tove said. “But at least I shut Laurent up.”

“That was nice,” Willa laughed.

“That was really nice,” Duncan agreed.

“Thank you for that,” I said, smiling despite myself. “Were you really going to banish her?”

“I don’t know,” Tove shrugged. “I just got sick of her always bitching about everything.”

“What are you going to do now?” Willa asked.

“Now?” I exhaled heavily when I realized what I had to do. “I have to go tell Elora about this.”