Ascend / Page 23

Page 23


Most of the second floor of the South Wing were servants’ quarters, along with the Queen’s chambers, which was now my room. I’m not sure exactly why the Queen resided with the servants, except that the South Wing was where the more formal business took place.

Since we had almost no live-in servants anymore, other than two maids, a chef, and a couple trackers, most of the bedrooms were empty. They hadn’t been used in ages, so they were musty and needed freshening, but they weren’t exactly dirty.

Each room had extra bedding in it, so we just needed to dust and vacuum. We raided the supply closet at the top of the stairs, and Duncan came up to meet us. He’d been with Tove sending the team off.

Tove stayed with Thomas to work on calling all the trackers in. It was a long and arduous task, and I thought about helping them, but I felt better doing physical work. It felt more like I was accomplishing something.

Duncan helped carry supplies down to the rooms, and I decided to enlist Loki to help us. I wanted to keep him out of sight, but nobody would be checking the servants’ quarters. And if he was staying here, he might as well be of some use.

While we cleaned the first room, I asked Loki again if he knew anything about the Vittra plans. He insisted that he didn’t know anything about it, other than that Oren wanted me all for himself. His only advice was to stay the hell out of Oren’s way when he was pissed off.

Matt and Willa took a room of their own to clean, while Duncan, Loki, and I cleaned a different one.

“Are you sure I shouldn’t have gone with them?” Duncan asked. He’d gathered up the dirty bedding to throw down the laundry chute, while Loki helped me smooth out the fresh blankets on the bed.

“Yes, Duncan, I need you here,” I told him for the hundredth time. He felt guilty about not going with the others to Oslinna, but I refused to let him go.

“Alright,” Duncan sighed, but he still didn’t sound convinced. “I’m going to go throw this down. I’ll meet you in the next room.”

“Okay, thank you,” I said, and he left.

“What do you need him for?” Loki asked quietly.

“Shh!” I fixed the corner of the sheet and glared at Loki.

“You just don’t want him to go,” Loki smirked. “You’re protecting him.”

“I’m not,” I lied.

“Don’t you trust him in battle?”

“No, not really,” I admitted and picked up a dust rag and glass cleaner. “Grab the vacuum.”

“But he’s your bodyguard.” Loki grabbed the vacuum and started to follow me out of the room. “He’s supposed to be protecting you, not the other way around.”

“I don’t care how it’s supposed to be. It is how it is.”

“How wise,” he quipped as he walked into the next room.

He set down the vacuum and plugged it in while I went over to the bed to start stripping it.

“You know, Princess, instead of making that bed, we could close the door and have a roll around in it.” Loki wagged his eyebrows. “What do you say?”

Rolling my eyes, I went over and turned on the vacuum cleaner to drown out the conversation.

“I’ll take that as a maybe later!” Loki shouted over it, and I went back to making the bed.

We worked all afternoon, and by the end we were all tired and cranky. Somehow, that felt good. It meant we’d done something today, and while it hadn’t helped anybody in Oslinna yet, it would.

When supper time came around, I wasn’t hungry, so I retired to my room. I was exhausted, and I should’ve slept, but I couldn’t. Tove came in shortly after I got in bed, and we didn’t say much. He just crawled in bed, and both of us lay awake for a long time.

I wasn’t even sure I’d even fallen asleep when Duncan burst through door. He didn’t knock, and I was about to yell at him when I saw how he looked. He wore pajamas and his hair was mussed from sleep, but he was positively panicked.

“What is it, Duncan?” I asked, already throwing my legs over the side of the bed so I could get up.

“It’s Finn,” Duncan panted. “They were ambushed on the way to Oslinna.”

11. Defeat

I don’t remember moving or running. It was all a blur of nothing until I was in the front hall with Finn. A small crowd had gathered around, including Thomas, but I pushed them out of the way to get to him.

Finn was sitting on the floor, and I fell to my knees next to him. He was alive, and I almost sobbed at the sight of him. Blood covered his temple, and his clothes were disheveled. His arm hung at a weird angle, and it took me a moment to realize it had to be broken.

“What happened?” I asked, and I touched his face with trembling hands, mostly to be sure he was real.

“We caught them off guard,” Finn said. He stared off at nothing, and his eyes were moist. “They were going home, I think, and we happened to run into them. We thought we could get the best of them. But they were too strong.” He swallowed hard. “They killed the Chancellor.”

“Oh shit,” Tove said, and I turned to see him standing in the gap I had left in the crowd.

“Tove, go get your mother,” I said. Tove nodded once and left, and I turned back to Finn. “Are you okay?”

“I’m alive,” he said simply.

Finn was in shock, so I didn’t push him for details. Markis Bain ended up filling in the details about what had happened. They were on their way to Oslinna when they saw the Vittra camped out. The way he described it, it sounded all very Rumpelstiltskin. The hobgoblins had a fire going, and they danced around it, singing songs and telling tales of how they defeated Oslinna.

The Chancellor thought they should get the drop on the hobgoblins. They could end the fight right there in the woods. Finn was initially against the idea, but if they had a chance to stop the Vittra before they hurt anybody else, they had to take it.

The only reason any of the team had survived was because they had surprised the Vittra, but the Chancellor wasn’t the only one who died. Another Markis had been killed, and another tracker was severely injured.

All of them were battered and bruised. When Aurora came over to heal them, Bain kept saying it was amazing that any of them were alive. Aurora healed Finn, but not completely. She wouldn’t waste her energy on a tracker, no matter what I said.

Duncan and I helped Finn up to his room to rest, and Tove stayed behind. He wanted to make sure the others got home okay. We’d have to plan another way to help Oslinna, but we couldn’t do it now.

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