22. Offense

“We take the fight to them,” I said, and I was met with five blank stares.

Thomas, Tove, Willa, Finn, and Loki stood across from me, none of them looking pleased with what I proposed. I’d called them all into the War Room to discuss things, but so far, I’d done most of the talking.

“That’s your grand idea?” Loki asked, looking vaguely bemused, and that was the most positive response I’d gotten. “Get killed there instead of here?”

“The idea is not to get killed anywhere,” I said and leaned back against the table behind me.

“Well, if this is what you want to do, Wendy, I’ll support it,” Willa said, but she sounded reluctant. “But I don’t know how much it will help. The Vittra will have home-field advantage.”

“Loki knows his way around the Vittra palace.” I gestured to Loki, who grimaced when I volunteered him to lead the way. “And we’ll surprise them. That was how Finn survived the hobgoblin attack before.”

“I barely survived that, Princess,” Finn reminded me. “And we don’t have much of an element of surprise. The Vittra are about to come here and take the kingdom. As soon as they get word of your ascension to the throne, they’ll be on their way.”

“That’s why we need to move now,” I said.

“Now?” Finn and Willa said in unison, both shocked.

“Yes,” I nodded. “I’ve arranged to have my coronation in two hours. Then I’m Queen, and as my first order as the ruling monarch, I will declare war against the Vittra. We will go to them, we will attack, and we will win.”

“You want to hit them tonight?” Tove asked.

“Yes, when they’re sleeping,” I said. “It’s the best chance we have.”

“Princess, I don’t know if that’s possible.” Thomas shook his head. “We can’t plan a full scale attack in a few hours.”

“As soon as the King finds out I’m Queen, he will be at our door with an army of hobgoblins.” I pointed toward the door to emphasize my point. “We are talking a matter of days here. What more can you do in the next two days that will be superior to getting the jump on the Vittra?”

“I don’t know,” Thomas admitted. “But it doesn’t mean we should embark on a suicide mission.”

“You’re talking suicide?” I asked. “You saw the painting. Your son is dead. Everyone in this room, except for you, is dead.” I paused, letting that sink in. “We have to do something to change that.”

“Attacking the Vittra palace will only change the location that we die,” Finn said.

“Maybe so,” I agreed. “But so what? I have read book after book of Trylle history. And you know what it says? We concede. We wait. We avoid. We only defend. We never stand up and fight for ourselves.

“And now is the time to fight. This is our last chance. Not just ours, as in the people in this room, but our entire kingdom’s last chance to stand up and fight against the Vittra. If we don’t do this now, they will conquer us.”

“That’s a shame,” Willa said, looking awed.

“What is?” I asked.

“That you used that speech now instead of saving it to help me convince the Markis and Marksinnas to go fight with us tonight,” Willa said.

“So it’s agreed then?” I asked.

“You know that I’ll always have your back,” Tove said. “No matter what.”

“I almost hate to say it, but yes, I’m with you,” Loki said. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “I’ll attack the Vittra tonight.”

“I still think there’s a better way,” Thomas said. “But I don’t know what it is. If this is the best we have, then this is what we must do.”

“Is there nothing that can convince you to stay?” Finn asked.

“No,” I shook my head. “This is my fight as much as it is yours, if not more. I will be there.”

“Fine,” Finn sighed. “Then I’m in too.”

“Excellent,” I said. I wanted to smile. I felt like I should, to seal the deal somehow, but I didn’t. My stomach was twisted too much.

“We have a few hours until we leave then?” Thomas asked.

“Yes,” I said. “After my coronation.”

“I suppose that I need to brief everyone on the layout of the Vittra palace,” Loki said.

“That would be helpful, yes,” I said.

“Alright.” Loki scratched the back of his neck and looked over at Finn. “Let’s get to it then.”

Loki, Finn, and Thomas went to deal with the schematics of the attack, and Willa had the harder job of convincing the higher Trylle to fight today. Tove had to go with me, because he had to be crowned King.

We waited in our chambers, and we discussed the Vittra a bit, but mostly, we said nothing. There was so much to do and so little to say.

Markis Bain came in to officiate the coronation. It was normally a large ceremony, a huge spectacle for the entire kingdom to attend, but we didn’t have time for that. Duncan was on hand to witness, and Bain swore us in.

With a few simple words and a quick signature on a piece of paper, we were King and Queen.

Tove immediately left to talk to his mother. He needed to convince her to join the attack on the Vittra. Her healing powers would be invaluable in battle. Duncan went down to work with the trackers. I would go follow him soon, but I waited behind a moment to breathe.

I stared out the window. The snowy days had taken a break, resulting in a preternaturally warm one. It was just above freezing, and the air was thick with a winter fog. Heavy, white frost covered all the branches, like they had been wrapped in it.

“My Queen,” Loki said from behind me, and I turned around to see him smiling.

“You’re the first one to call me that.”

“How does it feel?” he asked, sauntering over. He touched a vase sitting on the table, then looked at me. “Do you feel like Your Royal Highness yet?”

“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “But I don’t know that I ever did.”

“You’ll have to get used to it,” Loki smirked. “I predict a long reign ahead of you. Years of being referred to as Your Majesty, Your Grace, Your Excellence, My Liege, My Queen, My Lovely.”

“I don’t think that last one is a formal title,” I said.

“It should be.” Loki stopped in front of me, his eyes sparkling. “You are a vision, especially with that crown.”

“The crown.” I blushed and took it off. “I forgot I was wearing it.” It was truly stunning, but I felt ridiculous in it. “I had to wear it for the ceremony, but… that’s over now.”

“It is a beautiful crown.” Loki took it from me, admiring the intricacies of it for a moment, before setting it aside. He stepped closer to me, so we were nearly touching, and I stared up at him.

“How are things going?” I asked. “Do they understand the layout of the Vittra palace?”



“No, I’m not going to do this,” Loki said, his voice firm but low. His hand went to my waist, feeling warm even through the layers of fabric. “Everything is about to go to hell very quickly, so I want one moment where we don’t talk about that. We pretend it doesn’t exist. I want one last quiet moment with you.”

“No, Loki.” I shook my head, but I didn’t pull away. “I told you that was one night and it could never happen again.”

“And I told you that one night wasn’t enough.”

Loki leaned down, kissing me deeply and pressing me to him. I didn’t even attempt to resist. I wrapped my arms around his neck. It wasn’t the way we had kissed before, not as hungry or fevered. This was something different, nicer.

We were holding onto each other, knowing this might be the last time we could. It felt sweet and hopeful and tragic all at once.

When he stopped kissing me he rested his forehead against mine. He breathed as if struggling to catch his breath. I reached up and touched his face, his skin smooth and cool beneath my hand.

Loki lifted his head so he could look me in the eyes, and I saw something in them, something I’d never seen before. Something pure and unadulterated, and my heart seemed to grow with the warmth of my love for him.

I don’t know how it happened or when it had, but I knew it with complete certainty. I had fallen in love with Loki, more intensely than anything I had felt for anyone before.

“Wendy!” Finn shouted, pulling me from my moment with Loki. “What are you doing? You’re married! And not to him!”

“Nothing slips by you, does it?” Loki asked.

“Finn,” I said and stepped away from Loki. “Calm down.”

“No!” Finn yelled. “I will not calm down! What were you thinking? We’re about to go to war, and you’re cheating on your husband?”

“Everything’s not exactly the way it seems,” I said, but guilt and regret were gripping my stomach. My marriage might be over, but I was still technically wed to another man. And I should be worrying about things more important than kissing Loki.

“It seemed like you had your tongue down his throat,” Finn glared at us both.

“Well, then, everything is exactly as it seems,” Loki said glibly.

“Loki, can you give us a moment alone?” I asked. He sighed and looked like he was about to protest. “Loki. Now.”

“As you wish, My Queen,” Loki muttered. He walked past Finn as he left the room, giving him one more discerning glare, but they said nothing to each other. Loki shut the doors behind him, leaving Finn and I alone in my room.

“What were you thinking?” Finn asked, sounding at a loss for words.

“I was thinking that we’re about to go to war, and my mother just died,” I said. “Life is so very, very short, and I… I love him.”

Finn winced. He looked away from me, and he chewed the inside of his cheek. It broke my heart to hurt him, but he needed to hear the truth.

“You barely know him,” Finn said carefully.

“I know,” I nodded. “I don’t know how to explain it. But… it is what it is.”

“It is what it is?” He laughed darkly and rolled his eyes. “Your love must not mean much the way you throw it around. It wasn’t that long ago you pledged it all to me, and here you are – ”

“Here I am married to another man because you wouldn’t fight for me,” I said, cutting him off. “I did love you, Finn. And I still care about you. I always will. You are good and strong, and you did the best you could by me. But… you never really wanted to be with me.”

“What are you talking about?” Finn asked. “I wanted nothing more than to be with you! But I couldn’t!”

“That’s it right there, Finn!” I gestured to him. “You couldn’t. We can’t. I mustn’t. You always took everything at face value, and you never even tried.”

“I never tried?” Finn asked. “How can you even say that?”

“Because you didn’t.” I ran my hands through my hair and shook my head. “You never fought for me. I fought so hard for you. I was willing to give up everything to be with you. But you gave up nothing. You wouldn’t even let me give up anything.”

“How is that a bad thing?” Finn asked. “I only wanted what was best for you.”

“I know that, but you’re not my father, Finn. You were supposed to be my…” I trailed off. “I don’t know what. You were never my boyfriend. You refused to be anything more to me, unless you saw me interested in another guy.”

“I was only trying to protect you!” Finn insisted.

“That doesn’t change anything.” I took a deep breath. “I have been fighting to change things around here, to make the kingdom better for trackers and all the Trylle. And you have been fighting to keep things the same. You are content to live in this ridiculous hierarchy.”

“I am not content,” he said fiercely.

“But you’re not doing anything to change it! You’re just taking it, and that I could live with. You’re willing to simply accept your fate. But you expected me to do the same, and that I can’t stomach, Finn. I wanted more. I need more.”

“And you think Loki will give that to you?” Finn asked, and most of the sarcasm had fallen away from his voice. He actually wanted to know if I thought Loki was good for me.

“Yes, he will,” I nodded.

“And how does your husband feel about all of this?” Finn asked.

“I don’t know exactly,” I said, purposely leaving out the part that I didn’t know how much Tove really knew about Loki and me. “But once everything is settled with the Vittra, Tove and I are getting our marriage annulled.”

“You’re leaving him for Loki?” Finn asked, and now he sounded astonished.

“No, actually,” I said. “Tove is leaving me. He wants to share his life with someone he actually loves, and that’s not me.”

His whole body slacked, and he stared off at the floor. Finn ran a hand through his hair, and I realized with some dismay that I would never again run my fingers through his hair. Whatever had happened between Finn and me, it was over. He was no longer mine.

“I’m sorry,” Finn said quietly.

“Pardon?” I asked, thinking I’d heard him wrong.

“You’re right, and I’m sorry.” He looked up at me, his eyes stormy. “I never fought for you. If anything, I fought to uphold a system that kept me from you. And… I am sorry for that.” He swallowed. “I will always regret that.”

“I’m sorry, too.” I bit my lip to keep tears from falling.

“But…” Finn sighed and looked away from me again. “At least he does love you.”

“What?” I asked.

“Loki.” He said his name bitterly and shook his head. “At first, I thought it was a trick, but I’ve been around him enough now and heard him talk about you.” Finn shifted his weight, seeming uncomfortable with the conversation. “And he does love you.”

He nodded his head, but I’m not sure why. He let out a shaky breath, and I think he was trying not to cry.

“So… I guess I can live with that.” He rubbed his forehead. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go down to finish getting ready to leave.”

“Finn,” I said, because I didn’t want to end things like that.

“We can talk more later, if you want to, but we have too much to do now.” He didn’t look at me when he said that. In fact, he didn’t look at me at all when he left.

I wanted to say more to him, but he was right. We had to leave.