10. Aid

Elora wasn’t mad at me, but I hadn’t expected her to be. She’d already begun the process of entrusting me with the kingdom, which was overwhelming, but I’d never let that on. I asked for advice as infrequently as possible. I had to know how to do things on my own, and she accepted my decisions most of the time.

The news of the attack had upset her, and that’s what I had been afraid of. She wanted to get out of bed and go after Oren herself, but simply getting angry tired her out too much to sit up. She’d become so fragile, and it scared me to see her that way.

I left her in the care of Garrett, and I went to find Finn before he left. I wasn’t even sure how I felt about him leading the team. I had no right to stop him, and I knew that. I wouldn’t even ask it of him if I could.

But this might be dangerous. I didn’t know what the Vittra’s plans might be. I hadn’t expected them to start attacking us, so I’d clearly underestimated Oren’s determination to destroy us. Or, more specifically, me.

Even though Finn hadn’t been home for the better part of a month, his residence was still technically the palace. What few earthly possession he had were here in his room in the servants’ quarters. As I went to his room, I passed Loki’s, and I was pleased to see that the door was shut. He’d taken my advice to lay low.

Finn’s bedroom door was open, and he was packing a few clothes to take with him. I wasn’t sure how long he’d be gone, but it had to be at least a few days. It depended on how badly damaged Oslinna had been.

“Are you about packed?” I asked. I stood in the hall just outside his door, too afraid to go in further.

“Yeah.” Finn glanced back at me. He shoved a pair of boxers in the duffle bag and zipped it up. “I think so.”

“Good.” I twisted the wedding band around my finger. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I don’t have much of a choice.” Finn picked up his bag and turned to face me. He kept his expression blank, and I hated that he did that so well. I hated that I never knew what he was really thinking or feeling.

“Of course you have a choice,” I said. “I’m not forcing you to go.”

“I know that. But they need somebody experienced, someone who isn’t an idiot to go along. My father has to stay here, and I’m the next logical choice.”

“I could go,” I offered. “I should. I can be of more help.”

“No. What I said at the meeting is still true,” Finn said. “You’re needed here.”

“I’m not doing anything here except waiting until you get back.” I didn’t like the way that sounded, so I lowered my eyes.

“We won’t be gone that long,” Finn said. “We’ll probably bring the survivors back to Förening. They can have shelter here.”

“I should ready the palace for extra guests then,” I said, and I hated that. He would be out at battle, and I would be at home, making sure the beds were made. “I should be going with you. This is ridiculous.”

“Princess, this is the right place for you,” he said, almost tiredly. “But it’s time for me to go. I don’t want to make them wait for me.”

“Yes, sorry.” I stepped aside so he could walk past me. His arm brushed against me, but he didn’t even notice. As he walked by, I said, “Be careful.”

“You say that as if you care,” he muttered.

“I do care,” I said defensively. “I never said that I didn’t. That isn’t fair.” He stopped with his back to me.

“The other night, you made your intentions perfectly clear.”

“So did you,” I said, and he pivoted to face me. “And you made your choice.” He’d chosen duty time and time again, and if he had to sacrifice something, it had been me.

“I never had a choice, Wendy,” Finn said, sounding exasperated.

“You always did. Everybody does. And you chose.”

“Well, so did you,” he said finally.

“That I did,” I agreed.

He stared at me for a moment longer before turning and walking away. I hadn’t wanted that to be my last conversation with him before he left. Part of me still feared that something might happen, but Finn could handle himself.

There were going to be survivors coming, and I needed to get the palace ready. I had never considered myself domestic, but Willa and Matt would be good at that sort of thing.

I found them together in Matt’s room, and Willa was trying to explain to him what happened in Oslinna without freaking him out too much. That was our general approach with telling Matt stuff. We didn’t want to keep him completely out of the loop, but he would have had an aneurysm if he understood exactly what we were up against.

“The Vittra killed people?” Matt asked. He sat on his bed watching Willa straighten her hair. We may be in crisis mode, but that didn’t mean her hair had to look like it. “They actually killed people like you?”

“Yes, Matt.” Willa stood in front of the full-length mirror across from him, running the straightener through her long hair. “They’re the bad guys.”

“And they’re doing this because they’re after you?” Matt asked, turning to me.

“They’re doing it because they’re bad people,” Willa answered for me.

“But that Loki guy, he’s one of them?” Matt asked.

“Not exactly,” I said carefully. I stood off to the side of the room, and I leaned back against the wall.

“He was though,” Matt said. “He kidnapped you before. So why are you always hanging out with him?”

“I’m not.”

“Yeah, you are,” Matt insisted. “And the way you danced with him at your wedding? That’s not the way a married woman acts, Wendy.”

“I danced with a hundred guys that night.” I shifted my weight and stared down at the floor.

“Leave her alone, Matt,” Willa said. “She was having some fun at her wedding. You can’t blame her for that.”

“I’m not blaming her for anything. I’m trying to understand.” He scratched at the back of his head. “Where is your husband, by the way?”

“He’s down talking to the team before they leave,” I said. “Giving them instructions and words of encouragement.”

“You didn’t want to see them off yourself?” Willa asked, turning a bit to look at me.

“No.” I thought back to my conversation with Finn and shook my head. “No. Tove’s got it covered. He’s the Prince now. He can share some of the responsibility.”

“When do you think the refugees will get here?” Willa asked. She set the straightener down on the nearby dresser, and I could see burn marks on it from her doing the same thing many times before. She must pretty much live here now.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Maybe in a day or two or six. But we should have the rooms ready, just to be safe.”

“Well, we can definitely help you with that.” Willa leaned forward, inspecting her hair to make sure it was perfect, and then she turned around. “Where are the extra blankets and cleaning supplies?”

Most of the second floor of the South Wing were servants’ quarters, along with the Queen’s chambers, which was now my room. I’m not sure exactly why the Queen resided with the servants, except that the South Wing was where the more formal business took place.

Since we had almost no live-in servants anymore, other than two maids, a chef, and a couple trackers, most of the bedrooms were empty. They hadn’t been used in ages, so they were musty and needed freshening, but they weren’t exactly dirty.

Each room had extra bedding in it, so we just needed to dust and vacuum. We raided the supply closet at the top of the stairs, and Duncan came up to meet us. He’d been with Tove sending the team off.

Tove stayed with Thomas to work on calling all the trackers in. It was a long and arduous task, and I thought about helping them, but I felt better doing physical work. It felt more like I was accomplishing something.

Duncan helped carry supplies down to the rooms, and I decided to enlist Loki to help us. I wanted to keep him out of sight, but nobody would be checking the servants’ quarters. And if he was staying here, he might as well be of some use.

While we cleaned the first room, I asked Loki again if he knew anything about the Vittra plans. He insisted that he didn’t know anything about it, other than that Oren wanted me all for himself. His only advice was to stay the hell out of Oren’s way when he was pissed off.

Matt and Willa took a room of their own to clean, while Duncan, Loki, and I cleaned a different one.

“Are you sure I shouldn’t have gone with them?” Duncan asked. He’d gathered up the dirty bedding to throw down the laundry chute, while Loki helped me smooth out the fresh blankets on the bed.

“Yes, Duncan, I need you here,” I told him for the hundredth time. He felt guilty about not going with the others to Oslinna, but I refused to let him go.

“Alright,” Duncan sighed, but he still didn’t sound convinced. “I’m going to go throw this down. I’ll meet you in the next room.”

“Okay, thank you,” I said, and he left.

“What do you need him for?” Loki asked quietly.

“Shh!” I fixed the corner of the sheet and glared at Loki.

“You just don’t want him to go,” Loki smirked. “You’re protecting him.”

“I’m not,” I lied.

“Don’t you trust him in battle?”

“No, not really,” I admitted and picked up a dust rag and glass cleaner. “Grab the vacuum.”

“But he’s your bodyguard.” Loki grabbed the vacuum and started to follow me out of the room. “He’s supposed to be protecting you, not the other way around.”

“I don’t care how it’s supposed to be. It is how it is.”

“How wise,” he quipped as he walked into the next room.

He set down the vacuum and plugged it in while I went over to the bed to start stripping it.

“You know, Princess, instead of making that bed, we could close the door and have a roll around in it.” Loki wagged his eyebrows. “What do you say?”

Rolling my eyes, I went over and turned on the vacuum cleaner to drown out the conversation.

“I’ll take that as a maybe later!” Loki shouted over it, and I went back to making the bed.

We worked all afternoon, and by the end we were all tired and cranky. Somehow, that felt good. It meant we’d done something today, and while it hadn’t helped anybody in Oslinna yet, it would.

When supper time came around, I wasn’t hungry, so I retired to my room. I was exhausted, and I should’ve slept, but I couldn’t. Tove came in shortly after I got in bed, and we didn’t say much. He just crawled in bed, and both of us lay awake for a long time.

I wasn’t even sure I’d even fallen asleep when Duncan burst through door. He didn’t knock, and I was about to yell at him when I saw how he looked. He wore pajamas and his hair was mussed from sleep, but he was positively panicked.

“What is it, Duncan?” I asked, already throwing my legs over the side of the bed so I could get up.

“It’s Finn,” Duncan panted. “They were ambushed on the way to Oslinna.”