23. Time

Throughout the long drive, we said hardly anything. I rode with Tove, Loki, Duncan, and Willa, and the fear was almost palpable. I had no idea if we were doing the right thing. I sounded so confident when I talked to them, but that was because this was the best I could come up with.

Before we left, I’d gone over the plan of attack with the heads of the teams. Loki thought it would be best to break up our army into several smaller teams that would sneak into different places in the Vittra palace.

Around two hundred trackers had joined our army, and most of the Trylle from Oslinna. Maybe two or three dozen Markises and Markisinnas had come along, including Marksinna Laurent. I promised myself to be nicer to her when we got back to Förening. If we got back.

 A few mänks had even volunteered. I’d sent Rhys and Rhiannon away this morning, and I tried to send Matt away, but he refused to leave Förening. Matt had even wanted to fight with us, but I’d convinced him that he would only distract Willa and me, and he agreed to stay behind.

Willa would be leading her own team of twenty trackers and two Markises. They would be going in a side door off the kitchen, and Loki thought there would be hobgoblins in there getting a midnight snack. But Willa could blow around the pots and pans, and one of the Markises with her could control water, so maybe they could flood the place.

Finn and Thomas led two different teams, but they would be doing about the same things. They were coming up through the dungeon. Loki had escaped through a cellar off the back of the palace that opened up into the dungeon. It was actually interconnected to the whole palace, like a long maze beneath it, and through there, Finn, Thomas, and their teams would be able to sneak up and deflect a lot of hobgoblins.

Tove had volunteered for the most dangerous mission. He would go through the front doors, leading a team of fifty trackers. His objective was to make noise and alert the hobgoblins that he was there. That way, the other teams could sneak up behind hobgoblins while they were busy trying to focus on Tove and his team.

Duncan had wanted to be on Tove’s team, but I reassigned him to Willa’s team. So far, hers sounded about the safest. Not that any of this was really safe.

Loki’s job would be to get me in the palace to Oren, and then he would go help Tove fight. He wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but he knew that I had to this, and I had to do it on my own.

In the long history of Trylle, we had never attacked. No matter how provoked we might be. That might be the one thing Oren would never expect, and it might be enough of an advantage to stop him.

Loki knew the palace best, so he drove our SUV and led the rest of the Trylle. We had a caravan of Cadillacs that we drove to the Vittra palace.  When we got near the palace, he cut the headlights, and the cars behind us did the same. He parked at the bottom of the hill, as close to the palace as he felt comfortable.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Loki asked me quietly after we got out of the car.

“Yes,” I said. “Are you?”

“Not as much as I’d like,” he admitted.

“Just get me to Oren.”

I looked back behind me, at all the other Trylle getting out of their cars. Finn was already directing a few of them up the hill, telling them how to get inside. Loki had gone over detailed maps with the team leaders before we left, but we hadn’t enough time to show all the Trylle.

“Everybody knows what to do?” I asked and looked over at Willa, Tove, and Duncan.

“Yeah, we’ll be okay.” Willa reached out and squeezed my arm. “Just stay safe.”

“We got it,” Duncan said, flashing a nervous smile.

“Don’t be a hero,” I told him sternly. “Protect yourself.”

“Take care of her,” Tove said to Loki.

“I’ll do my best,” Loki said.

Most everyone else had started up the hill, so we had to split up. Loki and I were going in an entrance on the far side of the palace, away from them. We were going a different route, sneaking around the hobgoblins, so I could face the King.

 We went through the trees, slipping through snow and branches cracking under our feet. On the far side of the palace, Loki led me to a small wooden door almost completely buried under vines. The vines looked brown and dead, but they were covered with sharp thorns that cut at Loki’s hand when he pushed them back.

He opened the door, then slid inside, and I followed. We stepped into a narrow, dimly lit hall. The floors were covered with red velvet carpets, and it helped silence our footsteps. As he led me through the back halls of the palace, I heard banging and yelling from far away. The fighting had started.

I jumped when something slammed into the wall right next us, leaving a large crack in the wood.

“What’s on the other side of that wall?” I asked, pointing to the crack.

“The front hall.” Loki took my hand and looked at me. “If you want to do this, we need to hurry. He’s going to hear this.”

I nodded, and we walked faster. The back hallways turned and twisted a few times before we came across a very constricted stairway. I almost had to turn sideways to climb up, the steps themselves were so thin, I had to stand on my tiptoes.

At the top of the stairs was a door, and when Loki pushed it open, I knew exactly where we were. Right across from us were the doors to Oren’s chambers. Vines, fairies, and trolls were carved into the oak, depicting a fantasy scene. The hall was deserted, and the cacophony of the fighting sounded farther away.

I heard a scream that sounded too much like Tove, and the entire palace shook.

“Go,” I said to Loki.

“I don’t want to leave you to face the King alone.”

“No, I can do this.” I put my hand on his chest and faced him. “They need you downstairs. I can handle the King myself.”

“Wendy, no,” he shook his head.

“Loki, please. You must help them. You’re strong. They need you,” I said, but I knew that wouldn’t convince him. “I will send you flying down the hall myself, but that will drain my abilities. I don’t want to do it, but I will if I have to.”

His eyes searched mine, and I knew he didn’t want to leave me. But I couldn’t let him come with me. I wanted him safe, or at least safer than he would be around Oren. And more importantly, my friends needed him to help fight against the hobgoblins.

“I can do this,” I repeated. “I was born for this.”

He didn’t want to, but he finally relented. He kissed me, quickly and fiercely on the mouth.

“I will help them, and then I will be back for you,” he said.

“I know. Now go.”

He nodded and dashed down the hall. Taking a deep breath, I turned around to face the doors. I went down the hall, prepared to kill my father.