17. Consequence

The curtains were still drawn around the bed, but if Aurora pulled them back, she would find me naked in bed with a guy that was not her son. I heard her moving about the room, and I was too scared to speak or even breathe.

My mind raced to remember what had become of our clothes. Were Loki’s pajamas pants on the bedroom floor? And what became of the panties he’d torn off me?

“Princess?” Aurora said again, and I could see her silhouette through the curtain. She was right outside. “Are you in here?”

“Yeah,” I said, afraid that she would open the curtain if I didn’t answer. I tried to quiet the panic in my voice. “Uh, yeah. Sorry. I’m really… out of it. Yesterday was… exhausting.”

“I understand,” Aurora said. “I’ll take my whole bag so I can get ready and give you time to wake up.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“Of course.” Aurora’s footsteps went toward the door, then she stopped.  “Tove feels terrible about what happened last night. He never meant to hurt you.”

 “I know that.” I winced at the mention of Tove. The warm memories of last night turned into painful truths. I’d cheated on my husband.

“He’ll want to apologize for himself, but I wanted to be sure you knew,” Aurora said. “He’d never hurt you on purpose.”

That was like a knife to my heart, and it cut so deep I could barely breathe for a second. I knew that Tove didn’t love me, but I doubted he’d be happy about me having sex with another guy. And he deserved so much better than that.

“I will see you downstairs for breakfast,” Aurora said.

“Yes,” I said, my voice tight to keep back tears.

The bedroom door shut behind her, and I let out a long shaky breath. I pulled away from Loki and sat up. I’d never felt so conflicted in my life. I wanted nothing more than to lay with him forever, but being with him made me feel guilty and horrible.

“Hey.” Loki put his arm around my waist, trying to pull me back to him. “You don’t have to rush away. She left.”

“We have a lot of stuff to do today.” I pushed his arm off me, hating that I had to reject him, and grabbed my nightgown from where it lay crumpled at the end of the bed.

“I know,” Loki said, sounding a little hurt. He sat up as I pulled the nightgown on. “I’d never try to keep you from you work, but can’t you spend five more minutes in bed with me?”

“No, I can’t.” I shook my head and refused to look back at him. I didn’t want to see the look on his face or think about what we’d done. I could still taste him on my lips and feel him inside me, and I wanted to sob.

“So… that’s it then?” Loki asked.

“I told you that last night was all we could have,” I said.

“That you did.” He breathed deeply. “I guess I was hoping that I could change your mind.”

I got out of bed and found my torn panties sticking out from under the dust ruffle. The bed creaked as Loki got out after me. I turned back to face him. He’d pulled on his pants, but he hadn’t worn a shirt here.

“You’ll have to sneak back to your room,” I told him. “Nobody can see you.”

“I know,” he nodded. “I’ll be careful.”

We stood there, staring at each other and not saying anything. There were only a few feet between us, but it felt like miles. There was so much that I wanted to say but couldn’t. Any words would only make it worse.

If I said aloud how much last night had meant to me, it would make it too real.

Loki walked toward the door but stopped next to me. His hands were balled up into fists, and I could see him struggling with something. Without saying anything, he grabbed me suddenly and pulled me toward him.

He kissed me so passionately, my knees felt weak. I wasn’t sure I would be able to stand when he let go, but I did.

“That was the last time,” I breathed when we stopped kissing.

“I know,” he said simply. Then he let go of me and walked out of the room.

As soon as he was gone, I folded my arms across my chest, hugging myself. My stomach lurched, and I was certain I would throw up for a moment, but it passed. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. I repeated it over and over in my head, but I couldn’t use my own persuasion on myself. I reached behind me and grabbed onto the bedpost, afraid that my legs would give out.

What had I done? To Loki? To Tove? To myself?

“Princess?” Duncan knocked on the door, but I couldn’t form the words to answer him. The lump in my throat was too great. “Princess?” He opened the door, and I did my best to compose myself. “Wendy, are you okay?”

“Yes.” I nodded and swallowed back tears. “I’m tired. Yesterday was too much.”

“Yeah, I know,” Duncan said. “I slept like the dead, but I had all these weird dreams about banging noises. Did you hear anything last night? My room was right next to yours.”

“No,” I shook my head. “Sorry.”

“I just wanted to check on you,” Duncan said. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine,” I lied.

“I talked to Kenna this morning, and she’d like to send those whose homes are unlivable to Förening for now,” Duncan said. “Willa suggested that we all return today and get the survivors settled in at the palace. Then we can send back people that actually know how to rebuild Oslinna, since none of us really know how to build a house.”

“Um, yes, I think that sounds good,” I said. “I’ll have to speak with Kenna first.”  I realized something and looked back at him. “Is everyone awake then?”

“Yeah, everyone but you, Tove, and Loki,” Duncan said. “But I just saw Loki in the bathroom, so I guess he’s up now. What happened with Tove last night? Aurora said that he was sick or something?”

“Yes,” I said quickly. “He’s… sick.” I rubbed at the bruise on my arm, trying to cover it up. “I need to talk to him. Is he in his room?”

“As far as I know,” Duncan said.

“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll go talk to him and get dressed, and then I will meet everyone downstairs. Does that sound alright?”

“Yeah, that sounds great,” Duncan said. “And, Princess, you should really take it easy today. You look like you’re coming down with something.”

I waved him off, and he left. As I walked down to Tove’s room, I kept trying to think of what I wanted to say. Should I tell him about Loki? Not here. Not now. We had too much to do for the people here. I didn’t want to waste time on a fight.

Timidly, I knocked on the door. I still hadn’t come up with what I was going to say to Tove. He opened the door, and the sight of him made it worse. He looked like hell. His hair was always disheveled, but not this bad. I know he’d slept, but he had bags under his eyes. His normally mossy-tan skin had paled, and worst of all, he appeared to have aged a few years overnight.

“Wendy, I am so sorry,” were the first words out of his mouth, and for a second, I didn’t understand what he had to be sorry for. “I never meant to hit you. I’d never do that. Not if I was thinking clearly.”

“No, it’s okay,” I said numbly. “I know. Yesterday took a lot out of everybody.”

“That’s no excuse.” Tove shook his head. “I should’ve… done something.”

“You couldn’t have,” I said. “And I understand.”

“No, you don’t. What I did, it wasn’t okay. It’s never okay to hit a woman, let alone my wife.”

The word wife made me flinch, but I don’t think he noticed. I didn’t want to have this conversation anymore. I couldn’t handle listening to him apologize to me after what I’d done. I didn’t condone hitting women either, but that wasn’t Tove. He hadn’t been in his right mind. I had been when I slept with Loki. My crime far outweighed his.

I brushed past him and went over to my suitcase to get a change of clothes. Tove tried apologizing again, and I reiterated that he had nothing to be sorry for. Before he could bring up last night again, I changed the subject to talk about all the things we had to get done today.

We had gotten all of the major cleaning done, so there was nothing more we personally could do for Oslinna.

I got dressed and went down to start figuring out how to get people out of here. Some vehicles were still in working order, but not enough for everyone. We’d have to send out more cars once we got back to the palace.

As we helped organize the transport, deciding who would go and who would stay, Willa commented on how strange I seemed. I was acting as close to normal as I could, except any time Loki came near me, I left in a hurry. I couldn’t even be around him.

Once everyone was loaded up, we drove home. Kenna stayed behind to run what was left of Oslinna, but I promised her that more help would be on the way soon. Rebuilding the town would be my top priority. Well, right after protecting the kingdom from Vittra domination.

Willa and Matt rode with Tove and me to Förening, and I was grateful. I don’t think I would’ve been able to handle a long car ride with just Aurora and Tove. Matt sat in the back seat, sketching and talking about all the things we could do for Oslinna.

When we got back, we helped get the refugees set up in the spare rooms in the palace. It would be weird having so many people living here, but it might be good too. I tasked Willa with getting the resources together to rebuild Oslinna, and Matt was more than happy to take over the plans.

As soon as the people from Oslinna were settled, I went down to the library to continue my research. I still had to find a way to kill Oren and stop the hobgoblins. Eventually, we would be up against the Vittra, and I needed to know how to defeat them.

Besides that, it would do me good to immerse myself in work. I didn’t want to think about the mess I’d made of my personal relationships.

I spent most of the evening searching through old Tryllic texts to no avail. None of them mentioned anything about immortal trolls, or at least not that I could understand. I went back over to search for a different book. When I looked up, I saw Finn standing in the doorway to the library.

I didn’t think my guilt could get any deeper until I saw him. Despite the fact that Finn and I had never even really been together, not to mention that whatever we had was officially over, I still felt as if I’d cheated on him too.

“Are you alright, Princess?” Finn narrowed his eyes in concern and came into the library.

“Um, yeah, I’m great.” I lowered my eyes and walked back to the desk I’d been studying at. I wanted space between us, and a huge wooden desk would definitely help out.

“You look so pale,” Finn said. “The trip must’ve taken a lot out of you.”

“Yeah, we all worked really hard there,” I said and flipped open a book so I would look busy. I wanted anything to keep my mind off of Finn and his dark eyes.

“That’s what I heard.” He leaned on the desk in front of me. “Loki came to see me today.”

“What?” My head jerked up, and my stomach dropped. “I mean, did he?”

“Yeah.” Finn gave me an odd look. “Are you sure everything is okay?”

“Yeah, it’s all great,” I said. “What did Loki say?”

“He told me what he learned about the hobgoblins from your visit to Oslinna,” Finn said. “All of the damage was focused on property, and people happened to get in the way. He seems to think the hobgoblins are relatively peaceful, but he’s still coming down to help me train the trackers tomorrow.”

“Oh.” I fidgeted with my wedding ring and lowered my eyes again.

“I’m starting to think he might not be quite as bad as I thought he was,” Finn said, almost grudgingly. “But you still spend too much time with him. You have to be careful about appearances.”

“I know.” My mouth suddenly felt very dry. “I’m working on it.”

Finn stood on the other side of the desk, as if waiting for me to say something, but I had nothing to say. I stared down at the book, almost too nervous to breathe.

“I just came to see how the trip went,” Finn said.

“It went well,” I said quickly, nearly cutting him off.

A few minutes later he left, and I let out a shaky breath.

I buried myself in the books, although it didn’t do much good. I couldn’t find anything. I’d tear apart the entire library if I had to, but I really hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

It was getting late when Willa knocked on the open door.

“Wendy, I know you’re really busy, but you need to come see this,” Willa said. “The whole palace is talking.”

“About what?” I asked.

“Elora’s new painting.” Willa pursed her lips. “It shows everyone dead.”