Ascend / Page 3

Page 3


Finn had been gone almost continuously for months. He was the best tracker we had, and he’d been returning the changelings to all the Trylle communities. I hadn’t seen him since before Christmas, and although I still missed him, it was probably better this way.

I was marrying someone else, and even though I loved Finn, I had to put that behind me and move past it.

“Where is this party happening anyway?” I asked Willa, pushing thoughts of Finn from my mind.

“Upstairs,” Willa said, leading me toward the grand staircase in the front hall. “Matt’s up there putting on the finishing touches.”

“Finishing touches?” I raised an eyebrow.

Someone pounded on the front door, making the door shake. They knocked so hard that the chandelier above us began to tremble. Normally people rang a doorbell, but they were nearly beating down the door.

“Stay back, Princess,” Duncan said as he walked over to the door.

“Duncan, I can get it,” I said.

If somebody hit the door hard enough to make the front hall quake, I was afraid of what they would do to him. I made a move for the door, but Willa stopped me.

“Wendy, let him,” she said firmly. “You and Tove will be here if he needs you.”

“No.” I pulled myself from her grip and went after Duncan, to defend him if I needed to.

That sounded silly since he was supposed to be my bodyguard, but I was more powerful than him. He was really only meant to serve as a human shield if need be, but I would never let him do that.

When he opened the door, I was right behind him. Duncan meant to only partially open the door so he could see what waited for us outside, but a gust of wind came up, blowing it open, and sending snow swirling around the front hall.

A blast of cold air struck me, but it died down almost instantly. Willa could control the wind when she wanted to, so as soon as it blew inside the palace, she raised her hand to silence it.

A figure stood in the doorway, bracing himself with his hands on either side of the door. He was slumped forward, his head hanging down, and snow covered his black sweater. His clothes were ragged, worn, and shredded in most places.

“Can we help you?” Duncan asked.

“I need the Princess,” he said, and as soon as I heard his voice, a shiver shot through me.

“Loki?” I gasped.

“Princess?” Loki lifted his head. He smiled crookedly, but it didn’t have his usual bravado. His caramel eyes were tired and pained, and he had a fading bruise on his cheek.

“What happened to you?” I asked. “What are you doing here?”

“I apologize for the intrusion, Princess,” he said, his smile already fading. “And as much as I’d like to say that I’m here for pleasure, I…” He swallowed something back, and his hands gripped tighter onto the doorframe.

“Are you alright?” I asked, pushing past Duncan.

“I…” Loki started to speak, but his knees gave out. He pitched forward, and I rushed to catch him. He fell into my arms, and I lowered him to the ground.

“Loki?” I brushed the hair back from his eyes, and they fluttered open.

“Princess.” He smiled up at me, but it was weak. “If I’d known that this is what it would take to get you to hold me, I would’ve collapsed a long time ago.”

“What is going on, Loki?” I asked gently. If he hadn’t been so obviously distressed, I would’ve swatted him for that comment, but he grimaced in pain when I touched his face.

“Amnesty,” he said thickly, and his eyes closed. “I need amnesty, Princess.”  His head tilted to the side, and his body relaxed. He’d passed out.

2. Birthday

Tove and Duncan had carried Loki up to the servants’ quarters on the second floor. Willa went back to help Matt so he wouldn’t worry, and I sent Duncan to get Thomas because I had no idea what we should do with Loki. He was unconscious, so I couldn’t ask him what happened.

“Are you going to give him amnesty?” Tove asked. He stood next to me with his arms folded over his chest, staring down at Loki.

“I don’t know.” I shook my head. “It depends on what he says.” I glanced over at Tove. “Why? Do you think I should?”

“I don’t know,” he said finally. “But I will support any decision you make.”

“Thank you,” I said, but I hadn’t expected any different from him. “Can you see if there’s a doctor that will look at him?”

“You don’t want me to get my mother?” Tove asked. His mother was a healer, meaning she could put her hands on someone and heal almost any wound they might have.

“No. She would never heal a Vittra. Besides, I don’t want anyone to know that Loki is here. Not yet,” I said. “I need an actual doctor. There is a mänks doctor in town, isn’t there?”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “I’ll get him.” He turned to leave but paused at the door. “You’ll be okay with him?”

“Yes, of course,” I smiled.

Tove nodded, then left me alone with Loki. I took a deep breath and tried to figure out what to do. Loki lay on his back, his light hair cascading across his forehead. Somehow he was even more attractive asleep than he was awake.

He hadn’t stirred at all when they’d carried him up, and Duncan had jostled and nearly dropped him many times. Loki had always dressed well, and while his clothes looked like they had once been nice, they were little more than rags now.

I sat down on the edge of the bed next to him and touched a hole in his shirt. The skin underneath was discolored and swollen. Tentatively, I lifted his shirt, and when Loki didn’t stir, I pushed it up more.

I felt strange and almost perverse undressing him, but I wanted to check and make sure there weren’t obvious contusions. If he were seriously injured, like with broken ribs poking out of his skin, I would summon Aurora and make her heal him, whether she wanted to or not. I wouldn’t let Loki die because she was prejudiced.

After I pulled his shirt over his head, I got my first good look at him, and my breath caught in my throat. Under ordinary circumstances, I’m sure his physique would be stunning, but that’s not what shocked me. His torso was covered with bruises, and his sides had long, thin scars on them.

They wrapped around, so I lifted him a bit, and his back was covered with them. They crisscrossed all over his skin, some of them older, but most of them appeared red and fresh.

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