15. Oslinna

It looked like a bomb had gone off. I’d never seen Oslinna before to have a real comparison, but everything was devastated.

Oslinna was a small town, even smaller than Förening. It was settled in a valley at the base of several low mountains. By the looks of what was left of some of the buildings, it had been quite beautiful.

All of the trackers’ homes were smashed. Trackers lived in small cottages, most of them nestled in trees or the mountains, and the floors were usually just dirt. They were very easily destroyed. But the nicer homes of the Markis and Marksinna were mostly decimated too, with parts of the roofs missing and walls collapsed.

The palace in the center was the only thing still standing. It was like a version of my own palace, except on a smaller scale and with fewer windows. While the back of my palace overlooked the river, this one was built into the mountain behind it.

Half of the palace had crumbled, and it was blackened, as if burnt. The other half looked okay, at least from the outside. There had been some obvious damage, like broken windows and a destroyed fountain, but it looked much better than the rest of the town.

We’d driven slowly through the town, in awe of the carnage, and Tove had to swerve a few times to miss debris in the road. He stopped in front of the palace, parking next to an uprooted oak tree.

“This is too much for us to handle,” Aurora said from the backseat. She’d been complaining about helping the entire way here, but we’d left her without a choice. She was the strongest healer, and the people of Oslinna had been hurt.

“We’ll do all that we can,” I said. “And if we can’t do any more, then so be it.”

I got out of the car before she could voice any more complaints, and Duncan pulled up in another Cadillac behind us. He had Willa, Matt, and Loki with him. Finn had wanted to come too, but he was still healing and Thomas needed him to help with the trackers. Matt had insisted on coming along, and at first, I’d been against it, but we really could use all the hands we could get.

“This is even worse than I thought it would be,” Willa said. She wrapped her arms around herself and shook her head. “I can’t believe they did this.”

“This is who you’re fighting?” Matt asked, looking around. “The people who did this?”

“We’re not fighting anyone right now,” I said, cutting off his train of thought. “We’re cleaning this up, and that’s the only thing we need to worry about.”

Loki lifted up a heavy branch and moved it off of the path to the palace. It had been cobblestone, but many of the stones were missing, tossed about the lawn.

Tove and I approached the palace, trying to look both dignified and remorseful. The remorse part wasn’t that hard. Seeing that much damage was devastating.

Before we got to the palace, the door was thrown open. A girl not much older me than came out, her dark hair pulled up in a tangled mess, and smudges of dirt and ash covered her face and clothes. She was small, even shorter than I was, and she looked as though she might cry.

“Are you the Princess?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m the Princess from Förening,” I said, then gestured to Tove. “This is the Prince. We are here to help you.”

“Oh, thank god.” She burst into tears and actually ran toward me and hugged me. “I didn’t think anybody would come.”

“We’re here now.” I patted her head because I wasn’t sure what else to do and exchanged a look with Tove. “We’ll do everything we can for you.”

“Sorry.” She pulled herself away from me and wiped at her eyes. “I didn’t mean to do that. I’ve… There is much that needs to be done.” She shook her head. “My father would be angry at me for behaving this way. I’m sorry.”

“There’s no need to apologize,” I said. “You’ve been through so much.”

“No, I’m in charge now,” she said. “So I should act like it.”

“Kenna Tomas?” I asked, hoping I remembered her name correctly.

“Yes,” she smiled at that. “I’m Kenna, and with my parents dead, I’m now the Marksinna of Oslinna.”

“Do you have any survivors here?” I asked. “Any people who need medical treatment? We brought a healer.”

“Oh, yes!” Kenna nodded. “Come with me.”

As we followed her into the palace, Kenna explained what had happened. While they were sleeping, the hobgoblins had come in and started tearing the town apart. As far as she could tell, that was actually their main goal. People got hurt because the hobgoblins happened to be destroying homes with people in them, or throwing trees that would land on bystanders. It was like a tornado hitting a town in the middle of the night, without any sirens to give warning.

They had very few trackers here when the attack started, but they hadn’t lasted long. Kenna saw a tracker go up against a hobgoblin, and the hobgoblin snapped him in half. The hobgoblins retreated pretty quickly after the Markis and Marksinna started defending themselves.

In the Oslinna palace, a small ballroom had been turned into a makeshift care unit. Some of the more injured Trylle had left to go to nearby hospitals, but most of them would rather die than be treated by humans.

It was horrifying to see. Cots were set up all over for survivors, and most of them were bloody and battered. Mänsklig children with broken arms and dirty faces were crying as their host parents held them.

Aurora immediately went to work without any prompting from me, which was nice. Willa and I went around talking to the people and giving them water, helping them if we could.

Kenna took Tove, Duncan, Loki, and Matt outside to show them where the most work needed to be done, and I wanted to go out with them. I would be much more useful lifting heavy objects than Matt or Duncan, because I could move them with my mind.

But I felt like I needed to be inside with the people, at least for a little while. Most of them I couldn’t help, other than handing out bottled water, but I think some of them just wanted to talk, to know that somebody cared.

Their stories were heart-breaking. Wives had lost their husbands, children had lost their parents, and most trackers had lost everything. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. It felt wrong and selfish. I needed to be calm and assure them that we would fix this, that I would make everything better.

I stayed long enough to talk to every person in the room, but then I had to move on. I could be of more help to them outside than I could in here. Willa went with me for the same reasons, leaving Aurora alone to heal them as much as she could.

As we were leaving, Willa was tearing up. She had a small, dirty teddy bear clutched in her hands, and she wiped at her eyes.

“That was pretty rough in there,” I said, holding back my own tears.

“This little tracker boy gave me this.” She held up the bear. “His whole family died. His parents, his sister, even his dog. And he gave me this because I sang him a song.” She shook her head. “I didn’t want to take it. But he said it was his sister’s, and she’d want another girl to have it.”

I put my arm around her, giving her a half-hug as we walked down the hall toward the palace door.

“We have to do more for these people,” Willa said. “That little boy isn’t hurt, but if he was, Aurora wouldn’t heal him. She wouldn’t want to waste her energy on him.”

“I know,” I sighed. “It’s insane.”

“That’s got to change.” Willa stopped and pointed back to the ballroom. “Every one of those people in there has been through hell, and they all deserve help just as equally.”

“I know, and I’m trying to make it better,” I said. “When I’m going to all those meetings, this is what I’m trying do and why I want you to help me with them. I will change this, and I will make it better. But I need help.”

“Good.” She sniffled and played with the teddy bear. “I will start going to the meetings. I want to be a part of what it is you’re doing.”

“Thank you,” I said, feeling some small bit of relief in that. “But right now, the best way to help these people is to get this place cleaned up so they can go back to their homes.”

Willa nodded and walked with me again. Outside, I could see some improvement. Half of a roof had been on the lawn of the palace, but it was gone now, as well as the uprooted oak by the cars. I could hear the boys a few houses down arguing about what to do with the debris.

Matt suggested they make a pile in the road for now, and they could worry about moving it later. Loki started to argue against it, but Tove told him to just do it. They didn’t have time to waste arguing.

Willa and I joined them, and we all went to work. Loki, Tove, and I did most of the lifting, while Matt, Duncan, and Willa tried to clean things and straighten up the houses. Just moving the garbage out of the way wouldn’t solve their problems, but it was the first step in being able to go back and fix it up.

As the day wore on, I started to feel exhausted, but I pushed through it. Loki had to physically move everything, so despite the chill, he ended up warm and sweaty. He took off his shirt, and the ordinarily pleasing sight pained me. The marks on his back looked better than they had before, but they were still there. Reminders of what he’d gone through, for me.

“What happened to him?” Willa asked me while we cleaned out one of the houses. A tree had gone through the window. I got it out, and she cleaned up the glass and branches.

“What?” I asked, but I saw her staring out the open window at Loki as he tossed a destroyed couch on the garbage pile in the road.

“Loki’s back,” she said. “Is that what the King did to him? That’s why he has amnesty?”

“Yeah, it is.”

Wind came up around me, blowing my hair in my eyes, as Willa created a small tornado in the middle of the living room. It circled around, blowing all the glass and little bits of tree into the funnel, so Willa could send it out to the garbage.

“So what’s going on with you and him?” Willa asked.

“Who?” I said. I tried to pick up one of the couches that had been tipped over, and Willa came over to help me.

“You and Loki.” She helped me flip the couch back on its feet. “Don’t play dumb. There’s something major there.”

“There’s nothing anywhere.” I shook my head. 

“Whatever you say.” She rolled her eyes. “But I’ve been meaning to ask you, how’s the marriage going?”

“The past three days have been fantastic,” I said dryly.

“What about the wedding night?” Willa asked with a smile.

“Willa! This isn’t the time to be talking about that.”

“Of course it is! We need to lighten the mood,” she insisted. “And I haven’t had a chance to talk to you about any of this yet. Your life has been all drama since the wedding.”

“You’re telling me,” I muttered.

“Take five minutes.” Willa sat down on the couch and patted the spot next to her. “You’re visibly exhausted. You need a break. So take five and talk to me.”

“Fine,” I said, mostly because my head was beginning to throb from all the objects I’d moved. That last tree had been hard to get going. I sat down next to her, and a bit of dirt billowed up from the couch. “This is never going to be clean.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Willa said. “We’ll get this place picked up, and then we can send out our maids to help them clean or something. We’ll get it all taken care of.”

“I hope so.”

“But Wendy, how was your wedding night?” Willa asked.

“You really wanna talk about this?” I groaned and leaned my head on the back of the couch.

“Right now, there’s nothing else I’d like to talk to about.”

“You’re in for a real disappointment,” I said. “Because there’s nothing to tell.”

“It was that bland?” she asked.

“No, it was nothing,” I said. “And I mean literally nothing. We didn’t do anything.”

“Wait.” She leaned back on the couch, as if to look at me better. “You mean that you’re married and still a virgin?”

“That is what I mean.”

“Wendy!” Willa gasped.

“What? Our marriage is weird. Really weird. You know that.”

“I know.” She looked disappointed. “I was hoping you could have a happily ever after is all.”

“Well, it’s not ever after yet,” I pointed out.

“Wendy!” Matt yelled from outside the house. “I need your help with something!”

“Duty calls.” I stood up.

“That was barely even a minute,” Willa said. “You do need to take a break, Wendy. You’re running yourself ragged.”

“I’m fine,” I said as I walked out of the house. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

We worked well into the night. We ended up getting most of the big debris cleared out and piled up. I might have pressed on to do more work for the night, but it was clear that everybody else couldn’t.

“I think we need to call it a night, Wendy,” Loki said. He rested his arms on an overturned refrigerator, leaning on it. 

Matt and Willa were sitting on a log next to the pile, and Tove stood next to them, drinking a bottle of water. Only Duncan still helped me as we struggled to pull a shredded mattress from a tracker house. I had to stop using my powers, because it killed my head every time I did.

Only three streetlights in the entire town still worked, and Matt, Willa, Tove, and Loki had taken their break by one. They’d stopped working about fifteen minutes ago, but I insisted that I keep going.

“Wendy, come on,” Matt said. “You’ve done as much as you can do.”

“There’s more stuff to do, so clearly I haven’t,” I said.

“Duncan needs a break,” Willa said. “Let’s quit. We can do more tomorrow.”

“I’m fine,” Duncan panted, but I stopped pulling on the mattress long enough to look up at him. He was filthy and haggard. I’d actually never seen him look so terrible.

“Fine. We’re done for the night,” I relented.

We walked back over and sat down on the log next to Matt and Willa. She had a small cooler of water and handed a bottle to each of us. I opened it and drank it greedily. Tove paced in front of us, fidgeting with his bottle cap, and I don’t know how he had the energy to walk that much.

“We’re getting this cleaned up, and that’s good,” Matt said. “But we’re not doing anything to rebuild. We’re not even qualified.”

“I know,” I nodded. “We’ll have to send another team down that can rebuild and do more specialized cleaning. After we get back to Förening, we’ll really have to get people down here.”

“I could work on some blueprints, if you want,” Matt offered. “I can design stuff that’s quick and easy to build but doesn’t look cheap.”

“Yeah, that would be really fantastic,” I said. “It’d be a great step in the right direction.”

Matt was an architect, or at least he would’ve been if I hadn’t dragged him to Förening with me. I’m not entirely sure how he spent his days at the palace, but it would be good for him to work on something. Not to mention that it would be good for Oslinna.

“The good news is that the damage seems to support what Kenna was saying,” Loki said. He stopped leaning on the fridge and walked over to sit next to me.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The hobgoblins aren’t vicious or mean, not really,” Loki said. “They’re destructive and irritating, sure, but I’ve never known them to kill anybody.”

“They have now.” Willa gestured to the mess around us.

“I didn’t think murder was their ultimate goal, though,” Loki said. “They were trying to destroy the town. And even when they fought with that team the other night, they didn’t kill most of them.”

“How does that help anything?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Loki shrugged. “But I think they aren’t as hard to defeat as we once thought. They’re not fighters.”

“I’m sure that will be real comforting to all the dead people here,” Tove said.

“Alright.” Willa stood up. “That’s enough for me. I’m ready to go inside and get cleaned up and get some sleep. What about you guys?”

“Do we have places to sleep?” Duncan asked.

“Yes,” Willa nodded. “Kenna told me that most of the bedrooms in the palace weren’t that damaged, and they have some running water if we want to get cleaned up.”

“Well, I definitely want those things.” Loki got up.

We all walked back to the palace, but Tove lagged behind. I slowed down to walk with him, and he twitched a lot. He kept swatting at his ear, like there was a mosquito or a fly buzzing by, but I didn’t see any. I asked if he was okay, but he just shook his head.

Kenna showed us to the extra rooms in the palace, and I felt bad for taking them. She pointed out that were too many people for the bedrooms, so she didn’t want to divvy them out amongst the survivors in the ballroom.

Besides that, the rooms she showed us weren’t in such great of shape. They were small, and while they didn’t have major damage, they were in disarray. Our whole room seemed to slant slightly to the side, and books and furniture were tossed all over.

I straightened the room up and let Tove shower first. Something seemed off with him, and I thought it would be better if he had a chance to rest instead of doing more work.

“What are you doing?” Tove asked. He came back to the room after the shower, his hair all wet and a mess.

“I’m making the bed,” I said. I was smoothing out the sheets but I turned to face him. “How was your shower?”

“Why are you making the bed?” he snapped and rushed over to it. I moved out of the way and he pulled down the sheets.

“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know it would upset you. I thought it would be –”

“Why?” Tove whirled around to face me, his green eyes burning. “Why would you do that?”

“I just made the bed, Tove,” I said carefully. “You can unmake it if you want. Why don’t you get into bed? Okay? You’re exhausted. I’ll go shower, and you get some sleep.”

“Fine! Whatever!”

He ripped the sheets off the bed and muttered to himself. He’d done too much today and overloaded his brain. My head was still buzzing, and I was stronger than him. I couldn’t imagine how he felt.

I gathered up the duffle bag I’d packed from Förening and went down to take a shower. Leaving him alone to rest would probably be the best thing I could do for him. I wanted to take a long hot shower, but by the time I got to it, the water was cold, so I showered quickly.

Even before I made it to the room, I could hear Tove. His mutterings had gotten louder.

“Tove?” I said quietly and pushed open the bedroom door.

“Where have you been?” Tove shouted, his eyes wide and frantic. All the cleaning I had done in the room had been undone. Everything was strewn about, and he was pacing.

“I was in the shower,” I said. “I told you.”

“Did you hear that?” He froze and looked around.

“What?” I asked.

“You’re not even listening!” Tove yelled.

“Tove, you’re tired.” I walked into the room. “You need to sleep.”

“No, I can’t sleep.” He shook his head and looked away from me. “No. Wendy.” He ran his hands through his hair. “You don’t understand.”

“What don’t I understand?” I asked.

“I can hear it all.” He put both his hands to the side of his head. “I can hear it all!” He kept repeating it, and he held his head tighter. His nose started to bleed, and he groaned.

“Tove!” I rushed over to him and I reached out, just to comfort him, but when I did, he slapped me hard in the face.

“Don’t you dare!” Tove turned on me and threw me back on the bed. I was too startled to do anything. “I can’t trust you! I can’t trust any of you!”

“Tove, please calm down,” I begged him. “This isn’t you. You’re just tired.”

“Don’t tell me who I am! You don’t know who I am!”

“Tove.” I slid to the edge of the bed, so that I was sitting, and he stood in front of me, glowering down at me. “Tove, please listen to me.”

“I can’t.” He bit his lip. “I can’t hear you!”

“You can hear me,” I said. “I’m right here.”

“You’re lying!” Tove grabbed me by my shoulders and started shaking me.

“Hey!” Loki shouted, and Tove let go of me.

I’d left the bedroom door open when I came in, and Loki had been on his way back to his room from his own shower. He was still shirtless, and his light hair was dripping water onto his shoulders.

“Go away!” Tove yelled at him. “I can’t have you here!”

“What the hell are you doing?” Loki asked.

“Loki, it’s not him,” I said. “He’s used his abilities too much, and it’s done something to him. He needs to sleep.”

“Stop telling me what I need to do!” Tove growled. He raised his hand like he meant to slap me again, and I flinched.

“Tove!” Loki shouted and ran over to him.

“Loki!” I yelled, afraid that he would hit him, but he didn’t.

Loki grabbed Tove by the shoulders, making him look at him. Tove tried to squirm away, but within seconds, he was unconscious. His body slacked, and Loki caught him. I moved out of the way so Loki could lay him back down on the bed.

“Sorry,” I said, unsure of what else to say.

“Don’t be sorry. He was the one hitting you.”

“No, he wasn’t.” I shook my head. “I mean, he was. But that’s not Tove. That’s not who he is. He would never hurt anybody. He just…”

I trailed off. I wanted to cry. My face stung from where Tove had slapped me. But that’s not even why I wanted to cry. He was sick, and he was only going to get sicker. Tomorrow he’d be better, but eventually his powers would eat away at his brain. Eventually, there wouldn’t be any Tove left.

“Hey.” Loki touched my arm. “Come on. You can’t stay here with him tonight.”