19. Relief

“I don’t know, Wendy.” Tove shook his head. “I don’t want you to die, but I don’t know what else to tell you.”

“I know,” I sighed. “That’s where I’m at too.”

Tove sat on the chest at the end of our bed, and I stood in front of him, chewing on my thumbnail. We were both still in pajamas, and I’m not sure how well either of us had slept the night before. I woke him early in the morning, when it was still dark out, and immediately began asking him what he thought I should do about Elora’s painting.

“You still don’t know how to kill the King,” Tove pointed out. “And you did promise him our kingdom when you’re Queen.”

“I won’t be Queen if I’m with him.”

“But he won’t let that slide,” Tove said. “Even if you go to him, he might reject you simply because he wants the kingdom.”

“I can tell him that you all booted me out when you found out my plan to combine with the Vittra,” I said. “Then he’ll have me.”

“But he still wants the kingdom,” Tove said. “He’ll still come after it, even if he has you. At best, you’re postponing the inevitable.”

“Maybe so,” I admitted. “But if that’s the best I can do, then that’s what I have to do.”

“But what then?” Tove asked, staring up at me. “What happens after the King has you?”

“You’ll become the Trylle King,” I said. “You’ll protect our people.”

“So that’s it?” Tove asked. “You’ll go, and I’ll stay?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

Loki threw open the bedroom doors, making them bang against the walls. I jumped, and Tove got to his feet. Loki’s eyes were fixed on me as he stormed in, ignoring my husband.

“What are you doing?” I asked, too startled to sound angry.

“I knew it!” Loki shouted, and his eyes never wavered from me. “As soon as Duncan told me, I knew you would immediately jump to suicide. Why are you so intent on being a martyr, Princess?”

“I’m not a martyr.” I straightened my shoulders for a fight. “What did Duncan tell you? And what are you doing bursting into my room at six in the morning?”

“I couldn’t sleep, so I came down to see if you were awake,” Loki said. “I heard the two of you talking, but I already knew that’s what you would do. Duncan told me about the painting, and I knew you’d try to go back to the Vittra.”

“You were eavesdropping?” I narrowed my eyes at him. “I’m in my personal chambers! You have no right to spy on me or come into my room without being invited!”

“I wasn’t spying on you.” Loki rolled his eyes. “Don’t be so dramatic, Princess. I paused outside your door to see if you were awake, and you clearly were, so I came in.”

“You still can’t just barge in.” I crossed my arms over my chest.

“Would you like me to go back out and knock?” Loki gestured to the doors behind him. “Would that make you feel better?”

“I would like you to leave and go back to your room,” I said.

I hadn’t talked to Loki, not really since we slept together, and I could see Tove from the corner of my eye, watching us. Loki wouldn’t look away from me, so I refused to, like we were having some kind of staring contest that I was determined to win.

“I will,” Loki said. “As soon as you admit that giving yourself to the King is completely preposterous.”

“It’s not preposterous,” I bristled. “I know it’s not ideal, but it’s the best we can come up with. I can’t let that painting come true.”

“How do you know that going with the King will change anything?” Loki countered.

“You didn’t see the painting. You don’t understand.”

“The only way to truly stop the painting is to kill the King,” Loki said. “And you’re the only one strong enough to do that.”

“But I don’t know how to,” I said. “And you’re strong. You can do it. I need to do something to divert the outcome of the painting until you can figure out how to stop him.”

“Wendy, if I could kill him, I would’ve done it by now,” Loki said with a lopsided smirk. “You know that.”

“It doesn’t matter.” I waved my hands and stepped away from him. “This isn’t open for discussion. I’ve decided what I’m going to do.”

“And you think I’ll just let you go?” Loki asked.

Let me?” I glared at him. “You don’t ‘let’ me do anything.”

“You know I can stop you.” His eyes met mine evenly, and he stepped toward me. “I will do everything in my power to keep you from him.”

“Loki, he will kill us all,” I said emphatically. “The King will kill Tove and me and you. This is the only way I can protect us.”

“I don’t care,” Loki said. “I would rather die fighting him. I would rather see you die fighting, than knowing that you surrendered to him. You can’t give up.”

I lowered my eyes and swallowed. Tove stood off to the side. I’d hoped he would jump in, say something, but he didn’t.

“What do you propose I do?” I asked quietly, still staring at the ground.

“We’ve still got time until he’ll come for you,” Loki said. “Learn how to kill him, and when he comes, fight him.”

“What if we lose?” I asked. “What if I can’t stop him?”

“If you can’t stop him later, then you can’t stop him now,” Loki said. “Giving up now doesn’t mean you can stand up to him later. It just means you’re dead.”

I glanced over at Tove, who still kept silent, and I thought about what Loki said. I hated that I didn’t know what the right thing was. All I wanted to do was keep everyone safe, and I was terrified that if I made the wrong decision I would get us all killed.

“Okay,” I said finally and turned back to Loki. “I’ll stay for now. But you need to work twice as hard with Finn. The trackers must be prepared for whatever happens.”

“As you wish, Princess.” Loki smiled slightly, the corner of his mouth turning up. But something glowed behind the usual sparkle in his eyes, something deeper, burning. When he looked at me like that, my heart pounded so loudly I was certain he could hear it.

I became acutely aware of how close Loki was to me. He could reach out and touch me if he wanted, and I made sure to keep my arms firmly folded across my chest so I wouldn’t be tempted to do the same.

In a way, I had been grateful for all the chaos in the palace because I hadn’t had a chance to think about Loki, but with him standing here, I could think of nothing else but the night we’d spent together.

More than the things we’d done, the imprints burned into my skin from where he touched me, was the memory of what we’d actually shared. A moment where I’d never felt closer to anyone, as if the two of us had become one.

The painting flashed in my mind, the image of Loki skewered at the hands of my father, and I knew that I would do whatever it took to save him, even if it went against Loki’s wishes. I could not let him die.

“I trust you have much to do, Markis,” I said, numbly, and my cheeks flushed when I realized we’d been staring at each other for some time. With my husband watching.

“Of course.” Loki gave a quick nod and turned to leave.

Tove walked after him, closing the double doors behind Loki. Tove stood in front of them for a moment, leaning his forehead against the wood. When he turned back around to face me, he didn’t look at me. His mossy eyes flitted around the room, and he pushed up the sleeves on his pajama shirt.

“Is everything alright?” I asked carefully.

“Yes.” He furrowed his brow and shook his head. “I don’t know. I’m happy that you’re not going off to die. I don’t think I would like it if you died.”

“I wouldn’t like it if you died, either,” I said.

“But…” Tove trailed off, staring intently at a spot on the floor. “Are you in love with him?”

“What?” I asked, and my heart dropped to my stomach. “Why would you…” I wanted to argue, but the strength had gone out of my words.

“He’s in love with you.” He lifted his head and looked up at me. “Do you know that?”

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I stammered. I walked over to the bed, needing to do something to busy myself, so I pulled up the sheets. “Loki is merely –”

“I see your auras,” Tove interrupted me, his voice firm but not angry. “His is silver, and yours is gold. But when you’re around each other, you both get a pink halo. Just now you were both glowing bright pink, and your auras intertwined.”

I stopped and didn’t say anything. What could I say to that? Tove could physically see how we felt about each other. I couldn’t deny it. I kept my back to him and waited for him to go on, for him to yell at me and accuse of me being a slut.

“I should be mad,” he said at length. “Or jealous. Shouldn’t I?’

“Tove, I’m sorry,” I said and looked back at him. “I never meant for this to happen.”

“I am jealous, but not the way I should be.” He shook his head. “He loves you, and I… I don’t.” He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “The other night, when I had the break down, and I hit you –”

“That wasn’t your fault,” I said quickly. “That never changed the way I felt about you.”

“No, I know,” he nodded. “But it got me thinking. I only have so much time before I completely lose it. These abilities, they’re going to keep eating at my brain until nothing is left.”

“No matter what happens, I’ll be by your side.” I stepped closer to him, trying to reassure him. “Even if I care for…” I paused, still not wanting to admit how I felt about Loki. “Other people don’t matter. You are my husband, and I am with you in sickness and in health.”

“You really would, wouldn’t you?” Tove asked, almost sadly. “You would take care of me if I lost my mind.”

“Of course I would,” I nodded.

It had never occurred to me to leave Tove, at least not because of what happened the other night, or if he became sick and frail like Elora. Tove was a good man, a kind man, and he deserved as much love and care as I could give him.

“That makes what I’m about to say so much harder.” He sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“What?” I sat next to him.

“I realized how little time I have,” he said, “before my mind completely goes. Maybe twenty years, if I’m lucky. And then it’s gone.

“And I want to fall in love with somebody.” Tove took a deep breath. “I want to share my life with somebody. And… that somebody isn’t you.”

“Oh,” I said, and for a moment I felt nothing. I didn’t know how to feel about what he was saying, so my body just went numb.

“I’m sorry,” Tove said. “I know what you’ve given up to be with me, and I’m sorry that I’m not strong enough to do the same for you. I thought I was. I thought because we were friends and I believed in you as Queen that would be enough. But it’s not.”

“No, it isn’t,” I agreed quietly.

“So, Wendy, I think…” He paused, taking another deep breath. “I want a divorce.”

And then it happened. I started to cry. I’m not sure why exactly. A combination of relief and sadness and confusion, and so much else that I’d been struggling to hold in. I was happy and relieved but sad and frightened, and a million other things all at once.

“Wendy, don’t cry.” Tove put his arm around me to comfort me, the first time he’d really touched me since we’d been married. “I didn’t want to make you sad.”

“No, I’m not sad.” I shook my head and wiped at my eyes. “I’m overwhelmed. And you’re right. We should get an annulment.”  I nodded and stopped crying almost as soon as I started. “Sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” Tove asked, eyeing me up.

“Yes, I am.” I smiled weakly at him. “It’s probably the best thing for us both.”

“Yeah, I hope so,” Tove nodded. “We’re friends, and I’ll always have your back, but we don’t need to be married for that.”

“True,” I agreed. “But I want to wait until after this is all over with the Vittra. In case something happens to me, I want you to be King.”

“Are you sure you want me to be King?” Tove asked. “I’m going to go crazy someday.”

“But until then, you’re about the only person I trust that has any power,” I said. “Willa would be a good ruler someday, but I don’t think she’s quite there yet. She can take over for you, if you need her to.”

“You really think something’s going to happen to you?” Tove asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But I need to know that the kingdom will be in good hands, no matter what.”

“Alright,” he said. “You have my word. We’ll stay married until after the Vittra are defeated, and if something happens to you, I will rule the kingdom to the best of my ability.”

“Thank you,” I smiled at him. 

“Good.” Tove dropped his arm and stared straight ahead. “Now that that’s out of the way, I suppose we should get ready. We have the Chancellor’s funeral at eleven.”

“I haven’t prepared my speech yet,” I sighed and Tove stood up. “What should I say about him?”

“Well, if you plan to say anything nice, you’re going to have to lie,” Tove muttered as he walked over to his closet.

“You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.”

“You didn’t hear what he wanted to do to you,” Tove said, talking loudly to be heard from the closet. “That man was a menace to our society.”

I sat on the bed, listening to my husband gather his clothes before he went to shower, and despite everything that was still going on, I felt as if this immense weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

I still had no idea how to stop the Vittra and save everyone I cared about, and I had to write a eulogy for the Chancellor. But for the first time in a long time, I felt like there might be a life after this. If I could defeat the King, if I could save us, there might really be something to live for.