13. The Truth

I’d forgotten how cave-like it was inside the King’s chambers. The room was windowless, and the walls were dark mahogany. The ceilings were high, and candelabras cast a pale glow over us. 

We sat in elegant red chairs, the only furniture in the room aside from a bookcase and large desk. Loki, Sara, and I sat, saying nothing, and waited for the King. Loki chewed his thumbnail, and his leg bounced nervously. Sara had her hands in her lap, and she stared off with a blank expression on her face.

As soon as we’d come inside the castle, Sara’s little Pomeranian had charged at us, barking. He growled at me, but he was thrilled to see Loki and peppered him with kisses. Sara came right after, responding to the sound of his barking.

When she saw us, she blanched. She only stopped and stared, and Loki asked if she was happy to see him. Instead of answering him, she sent a nearby hobgoblin to get the King, and she led us to his chambers to wait for him.

She handed the dog off to Ludlow, one of the hobgoblins, and motioned for us to sit down. We waited in silence for what felt like a long time but may have only been minutes.

“You shouldn’t have come here,” Sara said finally.

“I know that,” Loki said.

“You shouldn’t have brought her,” Sara said.

“I know that,” he repeated.

“Why did you come back?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Loki said, growing irritated.

That you don’t know?” Sara snorted. “He’s going to kill you.”

“I know,” he said quietly.

“I won’t let him,” I said firmly, and Loki turned to look at me.

“Forgive me, Princess, but you are so naïve,” Sara said.

“I have a plan,” I said, sounding more convincing than I felt. “I will make it work.”

“He will never let you go,” Sara said as if to warn me.

“He will,” I insisted. “As long as I offer him something larger than myself in return.”

“What do you have that’s more than that?” Sara asked.

“My kingdom.”

The double doors to the chamber were thrown open when the King walked in. Loki’s leg immediately stopped bobbing, and he dropped his hand to his lap. Oren smiled at us, and it made my skin crawl. Sara stood when he entered, so I did the same, but Loki was slow to follow.

“So you finally brought her?” Oren asked, giving him a discerning glare.

“I didn’t bring her, Sire,” Loki said. “She brought me.”

“Oh?” Oren looked surprised but he nodded approvingly at me. “You found the trash, and decided to return it, like I asked.”

“No,” I said. “He’s coming with me when I leave.”

“When you leave?” Oren asked, and his laugh echoed off the walls. “Oh, my dear sweet Princess, you’re not leaving.”

“You haven’t heard what I have to offer you,” I said.

“I already have everything I want in this room.” Oren had begun slowly walking around us in a large circle. Loki turned with him, to keep his eyes on him, but I didn’t.

“You don’t have Förening or any of the Trylle kingdom,” I said. “You don’t even have the remains of Oslinna. You may have devastated it, but it’s still ours.”

“I will get your kingdom,” Oren said, his voice right behind me.

“Perhaps,” I said. “But how long will it take you? Simply possessing the Princess doesn’t ensure a victory over them. In fact, they will only fight you harder.”

“What are you proposing?” Oren asked, and he walked around so he was in front of me.

“Time,” I said. “Give me time to get the people behind the idea so you can avoid the uprising that happened when you married my mother.”

“I quashed that uprising.” Oren smiled slyly at that, probably remembering fondly all the women and children he’d killed.

“But you lost the kingdom, didn’t you?” I asked, and his smile faltered.

“What could you possibly do to guarantee me the kingdom?” Oren asked.

“I will be Queen soon,” I said. “You saw Elora. You know it won’t be much longer.”

“And our embargo will end,” Oren said, his words threatening.

“If you let me have the time from now until I’m Queen to get the people in order and prepared for the transition, we could do it,” I said. “I could get them on your side. If I convinced them I was ruling with you, not under you, they would go along with me.”

“You would not rule with me,” he growled.

“I know,” I said hastily. “I just need to get them on my side. Get them behind you. Once everything is in place, and you are the King over all of the Vittra and Trylle, they would bow before you without complaint. They would serve you as you desire.”

“Why?” Oren raised a skeptical eyebrow and stepped back. “Why would you do this?”

“Because I know that you’re going to keep fighting, and eventually, you will win, but at the cost of thousands and thousands of my people’s lives,” I said. “I would rather work with you to ensure a bloodless takeover now than a brutal one later.”

“Hmm.” Oren seemed to think it over and nodded. “Smart. Very smart. What do you want in return?”

“No more attacks on any of our towns,” I said. “Stop all fighting against us. If you keep slaughtering them, it will be hard to convince my people to trust you. And besides that, if it’s all going to be your kingdom, you’re destroying your own property.”

“Those are valid points,” Oren said. He’d taken to walking again, and he had his back to me. “How does Loki play into all of this?”

“He’s Vittra,” I said. “By being kind to the Trylle, he will help convince them that you’re not bad. That this has been a misunderstanding. He’ll help gain the trust of the people on your behalf.”

“Are you sure you want him though?” Oren turned back to face us. “I could send Sara in his place.”

“They already know Loki,” I said. “They’re beginning to trust him.”

“You mean you trust him.” Oren smiled wider at that. “He didn’t tell you, did he?”

“That’s too vague,” I said. “I can’t possibly know what you’re referring to.”

“Marvelous!” Oren laughed. “You don’t know!”

I licked my lips. “Know what?” I asked.

“It’s a lie,” Oren laughed again.

“It’s not all a lie,” Loki said quickly. From the corner of my eye, I saw the way his skin paled, and I heard the tremor in his voice. “The scars on my back are not a lie.”

“Yes, well, you earned those.” Oren stopped laughing and gave him a hard look.  “You failed me one too many times.”

“I didn’t fail you,” Loki said carefully. “I refused you.”

“No, you failed.” Oren stepped closer to him, and Loki struggled to keep eye contact with him. “She didn’t run away with you. She chose someone else over you. So you failed.”

“What?” I asked, and a sick feeling grew inside my stomach.

“I wouldn’t have brought her back here,” Loki said, and he wouldn’t look at me.

“You say that now,” Oren said and stepped away from him. “But that’s not what you said when you got back.”

“I was in the dungeon, and you were beating me!” Loki shouted. “I would’ve agreed to anything.”

“You did agree to anything,” Oren said. “You agreed to seduce the Princess, to trick her into falling in love with you so you could bring her back here to me. Isn’t that right?”

“That’s right, but –” Loki started, but Oren cut him off.

“You went to her palace and got caught on purpose so you could stay with her, spend time with her, manipulate her,” Oren said.

“That’s not exactly how –” Loki said.

“And when Sara brought you back, you told me you almost had her,” Oren smiled, as if telling a funny anecdote. “You told me how she’d nearly kissed you, and the way she blushed when you suggested that she marry you instead of that idiot she’s with now.”

Loki said nothing. He stared at the floor and bit his lip. A horrible pain grew inside my chest, because I knew it was true.

“Didn’t you?” Oren yelled, and Loki jumped, but he kept looking down.

“I had no choice,” Loki said quietly. “I was following orders.”

“That’s okay then, isn’t it?” Oren smiled when he looked at me. “Everything that has ever transpired between the two of you is a lie. But he did it because I asked him to, so that makes it okay. Doesn’t it? It’s okay knowing every word he ever said is a lie?”

“That’s not true,” Loki said and lifted his head. “I didn’t lie. I never lied.”

“How can you trust anything he says?” Oren shrugged.

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked, surprised by how even my voice sounded.

“Because I was hoping you would reconsider,” Oren said. “You can go back to your palace, go back to your husband and your kingdom, but leave Loki here with me. You don’t want or need him. He’s useless. He’s trash.”

“No,” I said, meeting Oren’s eyes. “He goes with me. If you want the deal, if you want me and my kingdom as soon as I become Queen, then he goes with me now. Or the deal is off.”

“He means that much to you?” Oren asked. He walked up to me, stopping in front of me so close I could feel his breath on my face. “Even knowing how he’s betrayed you, you still want him back?”

“I promised I would take him back with me, and I will,” I answered deliberately.

“You keep your promises,” Oren said. “Good. Because if you don’t keep this one, if you don’t give me your kingdom as soon as you are Queen, Loki will be the first one I kill. I will do it right in front of you. Do you understand me?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Good,” he smiled. “Then we have a deal. All of Trylle will be mine.”

“And until then, you won’t lay a hand on any of the Trylle people or towns,” I said. “You will leave us all in peace.”

“Agreed,” Oren said and held out his hand.

I shook it and I couldn’t help but feel like I’d made a deal with the devil.

Sara walked us to the door, and I didn’t say anything the entire way. She said very little, but at the door she told us both to be careful. She hugged Loki, and it looked like she wanted to hug me, but I wouldn’t have let her.

Loki and I went out to the car, and I refused to even look at him. When we got in the car, I stared out the window, and he started in.

“Wendy, when I agreed to it, it was before I knew you,” Loki said.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”


“Just drive,” I snapped.

He sighed but said nothing more, and the car pulled away from the Vittra palace.

I should’ve felt more relief. I’d gone to talk to Oren, and I’d gotten what I wanted. Oren hadn’t killed either of us, which had actually been a very real possibility, and I’d bought more time for my people.

I didn’t even realize how much I’d cared about Loki until I found out it had all been a lie. Loki had just been following orders, and in a weird way I didn’t blame him for that. But I still felt like a foolish idiot, and I don’t know why he’d continued to play games with me even after he’d left the Vittra.

What hurt the most is that I had been tempted. The night that Loki had come for me in the garden, I had been tempted to run off with him. I even felt bad for turning him down. I’d been afraid that I’d hurt his feelings.

But it had all been a lie.

I kept twisting my wedding ring and refusing to cry. I suppose this is what I deserved for cheating on my fiancé, for wanting to cheat on my husband. Regardless of what kind of marriage Tove and I had, that didn’t justify whatever I had been feeling for Loki.

This could serve as a wakeup call. I should be concentrating on saving my marriage and my kingdom. Not some stupid boy.

“I am sorry,” Loki said after we’d been driving for an hour or more. I didn’t respond, so he went on, “I never meant to hurt you. I know I shouldn’t have agreed to it in the first place.”

I stared out the window. I hadn’t even looked at him since we left.

“Wendy,” he sighed. “Wendy. You have to talk to me. At some point, you’ll have to talk to me again.”

“I don’t have to do anything,” I said. “I got you out of there alive. I did my part.”

“I am sorry, Wendy!” Loki yelled. “But I did what I had to do. Alright? And it was before I knew you, and you didn’t even get hurt.”

“I didn’t get hurt?” I laughed darkly. “Thank you for telling me how I feel.”

“No, I meant the King didn’t get you.”

“But what if I had gone with you?” I asked, and I turned to him with tears in my eyes. “When you told me to marry you, if I’d agreed, you would’ve taken me back to him.”

“No,” Loki said. “I wouldn’t have. When I asked you to run away with me in the garden, I meant it. I wanted you to run away with me.”

“I don’t believe you,” I said and wiped at my eyes. “I can never trust anything you say again.”

“This is such bullshit.” He shook his head, and abruptly he pulled the car over and put it in park.

“How is this bullshit?” I yelled. “You’re the one that lied to me! You tricked me!”

“I never tricked you!” Loki shouted. “I never lied! Everything I have ever felt for you has been real!”

“Stop, Loki! You can stop! I know the truth now!”

“No, you don’t!”

“I can’t do this.” I shook my head. “I won’t do this.”

I had nowhere else to go, so I got out of the car. We’d travelled far enough so that we were in snow again, and I stepped barefoot into the cold. The stretch of highway was deserted, and empty cornfields went for miles.

“Where are you going?” Loki asked, jumping out of the car after me.

“Nowhere. I need fresh air.” I pulled my cloak tighter around me. “I need to be away from you.”

“Don’t do this,” Loki begged and walked after me. “You only heard it from him. You don’t know what really happened. You have to listen to me.”

“Why?” I asked, turning to face him. “Why should I listen to you?”

“He would’ve killed me. He executes everyone who doesn’t follow orders. I had to obey. When you came to the palace, he saw the way we interacted, and he thought he could use it against you. That you would fall in love with me.”

“I will never love you,” I said bitterly, and he winced.

“I’m only telling you what the King thought,” Loki said carefully. “So he told me to get you to willingly come back with me, and I said I would. Because I didn’t have a choice.”

“I understand that,” I said. “I really do. And I can even forgive that. But why didn’t you tell me when you broke down my door begging for amnesty?”

“Because it didn’t matter,” he said. “Oren may have told me to pretend to care about you, but I cared about you for real. Why would I tell you that somebody asked me to lie when I’d only been telling the truth?”

“I don’t know how I’m supposed to believe anything you say,” I sniffled and stared out at the bleak whiteness around us. I could see a car coming, far off down the road.

“I made a choice between you and the King, and I chose you,” Loki said.

“When?” I asked. “After he’d beaten you?”

“No, I chose you knowing what he’d do,” Loki said. “In the garden, we were alone. I could’ve knocked you out and thrown you over my shoulder, then taken you back to the King. It’s not exactly what he asked for, but he would’ve spared me if I had.

 “But I didn’t.” He stepped closer to me, and I looked back at him. “He told me what he’d do to me if I didn’t return you to him, but I couldn’t do it. And he tortured me, Wendy! I went through hell for you!”

“Why did you go back?” I asked thickly.

“Because if I stayed, it would break the embargo, or he could argue that it did,” Loki said. “So the King could come and take you. I didn’t want to risk that.”

I didn’t even notice how close the passing SUV had gotten until it squealed to a stop next to us, nearly hitting our Cadillac. Loki moved toward me, and Tove jumped out of the driver’s seat. Finn ran around the car and charged at Loki.