11. Defeat

I don’t remember moving or running. It was all a blur of nothing until I was in the front hall with Finn. A small crowd had gathered around, including Thomas, but I pushed them out of the way to get to him.

Finn was sitting on the floor, and I fell to my knees next to him. He was alive, and I almost sobbed at the sight of him. Blood covered his temple, and his clothes were disheveled. His arm hung at a weird angle, and it took me a moment to realize it had to be broken.

“What happened?” I asked, and I touched his face with trembling hands, mostly to be sure he was real.

“We caught them off guard,” Finn said. He stared off at nothing, and his eyes were moist. “They were going home, I think, and we happened to run into them. We thought we could get the best of them. But they were too strong.” He swallowed hard. “They killed the Chancellor.”

“Oh shit,” Tove said, and I turned to see him standing in the gap I had left in the crowd.

“Tove, go get your mother,” I said. Tove nodded once and left, and I turned back to Finn. “Are you okay?”

“I’m alive,” he said simply.

Finn was in shock, so I didn’t push him for details. Markis Bain ended up filling in the details about what had happened. They were on their way to Oslinna when they saw the Vittra camped out. The way he described it, it sounded all very Rumpelstiltskin. The hobgoblins had a fire going, and they danced around it, singing songs and telling tales of how they defeated Oslinna.

The Chancellor thought they should get the drop on the hobgoblins. They could end the fight right there in the woods. Finn was initially against the idea, but if they had a chance to stop the Vittra before they hurt anybody else, they had to take it.

The only reason any of the team had survived was because they had surprised the Vittra, but the Chancellor wasn’t the only one who died. Another Markis had been killed, and another tracker was severely injured.

All of them were battered and bruised. When Aurora came over to heal them, Bain kept saying it was amazing that any of them were alive. Aurora healed Finn, but not completely. She wouldn’t waste her energy on a tracker, no matter what I said. 

Duncan and I helped Finn up to his room to rest, and Tove stayed behind. He wanted to make sure the others got home okay. We’d have to plan another way to help Oslinna, but we couldn’t do it now.

“I don’t need to lie down,” Finn insisted as Duncan and I helped him sit on his bed. “I’m fine.” He winced when I bumped his arm, and I sighed.

“Finn, you are not fine,” I said. “You need to rest.”

“No, I need to figure out how to stop those damned hobgoblins,” Finn said. “They’re going to come after us all eventually. We need to find a way to beat them.”

“We will,” I said, even though I wasn’t sure that was true. “But we aren’t going to do anything right now. It can wait until the morning, when you’ve slept some.”

“Wendy.” He looked up at me, his eyes stormier than normal. “You didn’t see them. You don’t know what they’re like.”

“No, I don’t,” I admitted, and the tone of his voice made my stomach twist up. “But you can tell me all about it. Tomorrow.”

“Let me at least talk to Loki,” Finn said, almost desperately.

“Loki?” I asked. “Why would you want to talk to him?”

“He has to know how to handle these things,” Finn said. “There’s got to be some secret to defeating them, and if anyone knows it, it would be a Vittra Markis.”

“He’s probably sleeping –”

“Then wake him up, Wendy!” Finn yelled, and I flinched. “People are dying!”

“Fine.” I twisted my ring around my finger and relented. “If you promise to lie down, I’ll let Loki talk to you. But once he’s done, you have to rest until tomorrow. Is that clear?”

“Fine,” Finn said, but I had a feeling he’d agree to anything if I got Loki.

“Duncan?” I looked back to where he waited in the doorway. “Can you get Loki? Tell him I asked for him.”

Duncan left me alone with Finn. I motioned for Finn to lie back. He sighed but did it anyway. I sat next to him, and he stared at the ceiling, looking annoyed. His shirt was torn and bloody, and tentatively, I reached out to a cut on his arm.

“Don’t,” he said firmly.

“Sorry.” I dropped my hand. “And I’m sorry about what happened. I should’ve gone with you.”

“Don’t be stupid. If you’d gone with us, you’d only have gotten yourself killed.”

“I’m a stronger fighter than you are, Finn.”

“I’m not going to argue with you,” he said, his eyes still staring straight up. “You don’t even need to be here. I’m fine. I can talk to Loki alone.”

“No, I’m not leaving you alone with him.” I shook my head. “Not when you’re weak.”

“You think he’d hurt me?” Finn asked.

“No, I think he knows how to push your buttons. And I don’t want you getting all riled up.”

Finn scoffed. I hated how strained things had become between Finn and me, but I didn’t know how to fix it. I wasn’t even sure it could be fixed. We sat in silence until Duncan came back with Loki.

“This is not at all what I had in mind when the Princess summoned me in the middle of the night,” Loki sighed and stood in the door to Finn’s room. His light hair stood up all over, and he had red marks on his face from sleeping.

“Thank you for getting up,” I said. “Did Duncan tell you what happened?”

“Obviously not, or I wouldn’t be here,” Loki grumbled.

“The team we sent out to help Oslinna was attacked by hobgoblins,” I said. “Some of our people were killed.”

“You’re lucky not all of them were killed,” Loki said.

“Good men died tonight,” Finn growled and tried to sit up in bed, but I put my hand on his chest and pushed him back. “They fought to protect the people here! To protect the Princess! I would think that was something that mattered to you!”

“That wasn’t a slam against the lives you lost,” Loki said, managing to sound apologetic and irritated at the same time. “The hobgoblins are hard to beat. And from what I heard about Oslinna, it’s astonishing to me that any of you lived.”

“We caught them by surprise.” Finn settled back down in bed again.

“That does help,” Loki said. “The hobgoblins may be strong, but they’re stupid.”

“How do we defeat them?” Finn asked.

“I don’t know,” Loki shrugged. “I’ve never tried defeating them.”

“You must know how it’s done,” Finn insisted. “There must be a way.”

“Maybe there is,” Loki admitted. “But I have never tried defeating them.” He shrugged again. “I’ve never even fought beside them. The King usually doesn’t let hobgoblins leave the grounds. He’s afraid that humans will catch on to what we are if they see them.”

“Why is he letting them out now?” Finn asked.

“You know why he is,” Loki sighed and sat down in a chair in the corner of Finn’s room. “The King’s fixated on the Princess. He’ll do anything to get her.”

“How do we stop that?” Finn looked over at him.

“I don’t know,” Loki said.

“What if we can’t stop him?” I asked.

“We’ll find a way,” Finn assured me, but he wouldn’t look at me when he said it.

“The hobgoblins aren’t very bright,” Loki added quickly. “And they’re helpless against abilities. Any power you have works twice as well on them as it does on humans.”

“What do you mean?” Finn asked.

“Like persuasion or any of Wendy’s abilities.” Loki gestured to me. “It works on them like that.” He snapped his fingers to demonstrate. “That’s why I was in charge of guarding her at the Vittra palace. She could’ve convinced the hobgoblins to do anything for her.”

“So the Markises and Marksinnas, they can defeat the hobgoblins?” Finn asked. “But I can’t?”

“Not in hand to hand combat, I wouldn’t think.” Loki shook his head.

“We’re not going to get a Markis or Marksinna to fight in the war,” I said. “Especially not when a Markis was killed tonight, along with the Chancellor. They’ll be too afraid.”

“We can convince them,” Finn said. “If it’s the only way we can stop them, they’ll have to do it.”

“It’s not the only way,” I said, but both Loki and Finn ignored me.

“Your people are spoiled,” Loki smirked. “You can’t convince them to do anything.”

“We’re spoiled?” Finn scoffed. “That would mean something if it weren’t coming from a brat Prince.”

“I don’t know how you find that so offensive.” Loki sat up straighter. “I’ve seen the way these people treat Wendy, and she’s their Princess. They’re insolent.”

“They don’t know her,” Finn said. “It takes time, and it doesn’t help that she spends so much of it with Vittra prisoners.”

“I’m not a prisoner.” Loki looked disgusted. “I’m here on my own.”

“I do not understand that.” Finn shook his head in disbelief.

“Finn, he asked for amnesty, and I granted it,” I said.

“But your motivations completely baffle me,” Finn said. “We’re fighting with the Vittra, and you let him stay without consequence.”

“It really pisses you off that she wants me around?” Loki asked with a sly smile, and Finn glared at him.

“I don’t –” I stopped myself and shook my head. “It doesn’t matter why Loki’s here, but he is here now. And his knowledge of the Vittra can help us.”

“I’ll tell you as much as I know, but I honestly don’t know that much that can help you, Princess,” Loki said. “If you want information about policies and procedures, I can help. But if I knew a way to stop the King, I would’ve done it myself.”

“Why?” Finn asked. “Why would you stop the King?”

“He’s a bastard.” Loki lowered his eyes and pulled at something on his shirt. “Beyond measure.”

“But hasn’t he always been one?” Finn asked. “Why did you defect now? Why here? There are other troll tribes and hundreds of cities that aren’t at war with your King.”

“But only the Trylle have Wendy.” Loki’s smile returned but his eyes were pained. “And how could I pass on that?”

“She is married, you know,” Finn said. “So it might be a good idea if you stopped trying to flirt with her. She’s not interested.”

“It’s up to her to decide who she’s interested in,” Loki said, with an edge to his voice. “And it’s not exactly like you’re following your own advice.”

“I am her tracker.” Finn sat up in bed, but this time I didn’t try to stop him. His eyes were burning. “It’s my job to protect her.”

“No, Duncan is her tracker.” Loki pointed to where Duncan stood in the doorway, staring wide-eyed at their confrontation. “And Wendy’s stronger than the both of you combined. You’re not protecting her. You’re protecting yourself because you’re a love sick ex-boyfriend.”

“You think you have everything figured out, but you don’t know anything,” Finn growled. “You are sneaky and manipulative, and if it were up to me I’d have you sent back to the Vittra in a flash.”

“But it’s not up to you, is it?” Loki tilted his head, taunting him. “Because you’re just a tracker. You can’t make decisions.”

“But I can!” I snapped. “And this conversation is over. Finn needs to rest, and you are not helping anything, Loki.”

“Sorry,” Loki said and rubbed his hands on his pants.

“Why don’t you go back to your room?” I asked Loki. “I’ll be over to talk to you in a minute.”

“Sure,” he nodded and got up. “Feel better, tracker.”

Finn grunted in response, and Loki and Duncan left. I wanted to reach out and touch Finn, comfort him in some way because I felt like he needed it. Maybe even I needed it. The thought of losing him had terrified me. He had nearly died.

I couldn’t let anybody else die over this. I had to do something.

“Get some sleep,” I told Finn, since I could think of nothing better to say to him. I got up, but he reached out and grabbed my wrist.

“Wendy, I don’t trust him,” he said, referring to Loki.

“I know. But I do.”

“Be careful,” Finn said simply and let go of me.

It was well after midnight, and the rest of the palace had fallen silent. Tomorrow would bring endless meetings, but for now, everyone had returned to their beds. The hall was dark, and I could see the warm glow from the lamp in Loki’s room.

He didn’t hear me in the hallway, so I stood outside, watching him. He was making his bed, and when he’d finished, he chewed his thumb and stared down at the bed. He shook his head and pulled back the blanket a bit, so it looked more unmade. Then he changed his mind and smoothed out the bedding again.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Nothing.” He looked startled for a second, then smiled and ran a hand through his hair. “Nothing. You wanted to talk? Why don’t you come in?”

“Were you just straightening up the room for me?” I asked.

“Well…” He ruffled his hair again. “Whenever I have a Princess stopping by, I try to make my room presentable.”

“I see.” I went into his room and shut the door behind me, which only delighted him.

“Why don’t you have a seat?” Loki gestured to his bed. “Make yourself comfortable.”

“I need to ask you a favor.”

“For you, anything,” he smiled.

“I want you to take me to the Vittra palace,” I said, and his smile fell away.

“Except that.”

“I feel horrible asking, because I know what Oren did to you, and I wouldn’t expect you to go inside or anything,” I said quickly. “I don’t know how to get there or how to get inside, but you could tell me and drop me at the door. I’d never put you in danger or risk your life.”

“But you expect me to risk yours?” Loki smirked and shook his head. “No way, Princess.”

“I can promise you your safety,” I said. “Once I am there, I doubt he’d even care about you. You don’t have to go anywhere near the palace even. Tell me how to get there.”

“Wendy, you’re not listening,” he said. “I’m not just worried about me. I won’t let you do that.”

“I’ll be fine,” I insisted. “He’s my father, and I’m strong enough to handle myself.”

“You have no idea what you’re up against,” Loki laughed darkly. “No. This is completely ludicrous. I’m not even going to entertain the idea.”

“Loki, listen to me. Finn almost died tonight –”

“Your boyfriend gets hurt, and suicide becomes the only viable option?” Loki asked.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” I corrected him.

“Fine. Ex-boyfriend,” he said. “That doesn’t make this better. And as much as I hate to admit it, Finn was right. We can find a way around this. I know I didn’t help very much tonight, but I’m sure, if given time, I can come up with something.”

“But we don’t have time, Loki!” I took a deep breath and ran my fingers through my hair. “I’m not saying that I’ll offer myself to Oren as a peace treaty, but I have to talk to him at least. I have to do something to postpone the war a little longer. We need more time to get an army ready. And he’s out there killing our people now.”

“So you want me to take you to the Vittra palace so you can have a little meeting with the King?” Loki asked. “While you’re in there, I’ll wait outside, and after the meeting is done, you’ll come out, and we’ll drive back here? Is that the plan?”

“Not exactly, but sorta,” I said.

“Wendy!” Loki sounded exasperated. “Why would he let you go? He is doing all of this for you. Once he has you there in the palace, why would he ever let you leave?”

“He can’t stop me, for one thing,” I said. “I can defend myself against him and the hobgoblins and anything else he might have. I can’t fight an entire war on my own and defend every person in the entire kingdom all at once. But if I’m alone, I can take care of myself.”

“Even if that’s true, it’s still too great a risk,” Loki said. “If you try to leave, he could kill you. Not just hold you hostage. Not just threaten you. Actually murder you. He would rather do that than see you return here.”

“No, not yet.” I shook my head. “Someday, yes, that’s true. But he wants me to be Queen. That’s why he agreed to the embargo. He wanted to ensure that I would be the Trylle Queen.”

“He wants both kingdoms,” he said quietly. “You’re going to give him what he wants?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “I will agree to rule alongside him over both the Trylle and the Vittra if he stops the bloodshed until I am crowned Queen.”

“He won’t rule ‘beside’ you. He’ll take it from you.”

“I know, but I would never let him rule anyway,” I said. “I don’t plan to follow through with it.”

Loki whistled and shook his head. “If you went back on your deal, he would destroy everything. And I do mean everything that you have ever cared about.”

“I won’t go back on it,” I said. “It will never get to that point. I’m only buying us time to build up the army, and then we’ll attack the Vittra, take them down, and I will kill Oren.”

“You’ll kill him?” He raised any eyebrow. “Do you even know how to kill him?”

“No. Not yet,” I admitted. “That’s why I haven’t killed him. But I will.”

“I don’t even know if he can be killed,” Loki said.

“Everyone can be killed.”

“Many, many people have tried,” he said. “And they’ve all failed.”

“Yes, but none of those people have his blood pumping through their veins,” I said. “I think I’m the only one strong enough to do it.”

“What if you can’t?” Loki asked. “What if you do all this, and you can’t find a way to stop him?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I will have to find a way. He’s going to keep coming until he has me. I would gladly hand myself over to him if I thought that would be enough, but I’m not sure that it is anymore.”

Loki stared down at the floor, his golden eyes wide as he thought it through. I didn’t know what he was thinking, but he didn’t look happy.

“So, will you take me?” I asked.

“No.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Princess. I can’t.”

“Fine.” I took a deep breath. “I’ll find someone who can.”

“Who?” Loki asked. “Who else would possibly take you?”

“I’ll find the way on my own,” I said.

Tove and a few other trackers probably knew how to get to the Vittra palace, but they didn’t know the intricacies of it like Loki did. But if I had to, I could take a map from the War Room.

I turned to reach for the door handle, but Loki stopped me before I could. He grabbed my wrist and stood right in front of me.

“You can’t go by yourself,” he said.

“Yes, I can.” I tried to pull my wrist from his grip. “Let go of me.”

“No, Wendy, I won’t let you do this,” Loki said.

“You can’t stop me.”

“I’m much stronger than you.”

I tried to shove him out of my way, but it was like pushing on concrete. He pressed me back against his bedroom wall and put an arm on either side of me. His body didn’t touch me, but it was so close I couldn’t move away.

“You may be physically stronger than me, but I can have you on the floor writhing in pain in minutes. I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if I have to.”

“You don’t have to,” Loki said emphatically. “You don’t have to do this.”

“Yes, I do. I will do whatever it takes to save lives,” I said. “I have to do this. If you can’t, that’s fine. But get out of my way.”

He bit his lip and shook his head, but he didn’t move away from me.

“It’s the middle of the night, and you want to run away with me,” Loki said. “What will you tell your husband?”


“Nothing?” Loki raised an eyebrow. “The Princess goes missing without any word? That would be total pandemonium.”

“I’ll have Duncan tell them in the morning where I’ve gone,” I said. “That’ll buy us a few hours to get there before somebody comes after us.”

“If the King doesn’t let you leave, he’ll kill the rescue party that they send,” Loki pointed out. “That would be Finn, Tove, Duncan, maybe even Willa. You’re willing to risk them on this?”

“This might be my only chance to save them,” I said thickly.

“I can’t talk you out of this?” he whispered, his eyes searching mine.


He swallowed and brushed back a hair from my forehead. His hand lingered on my face, and I let it. His eyes were strangely sad, and I wanted to ask him what was wrong, but I didn’t want to speak.

“I want you to remember this,” he said, his voice low and husky.

“What?” I asked.

“You want me to kiss you.”

“I don’t,” I lied.

“You do. And I want you to remember that.”


“Because.” Without further explanation, he turned away from me. “If you want to do this, hurry and put some clothes on. You don’t want to see the King in your pajamas.”