Rune snarled, and Mikk dove to hold him back. “You can’t,” he told his younger brother.
“Yes, I can,” Rune said, his voice rumbling like a wolf’s growl. “One jab, and he’ll never speak again.”
“Too messy. We’re trying to leave, not get ourselves thrown in a cell,” Erick said, his voice lowered.
Falk placed a hand on Elise’s shoulder. “Elise almost died by his father’s hands; I would say it’s already messy.”
“Prince Toril, you cannot love me. You do not know the first thing about me,” Elise said.
“But I do,” Prince Toril said. “I have watched and talked with you while you have lived here in Verglas. I have paid attention to your actions.”
“But you have not heard me speak a word of my mind. You know nothing about my feelings or the state of my heart. The fact that you would ask me to stay here when your father almost killed me is proof enough. You do not love me, Prince Toril. Not really.”
Prince Toril’s eyes were glassy with pain. “I want to try to,” he said. “You are a good woman, Elise. You must be to sacrifice for your brothers as you have.”
Ah. That was it. “What you are searching for, Prince Toril, is for a girl to love you as deeply as I have proven to love my foster brothers,” Elise said, benevolently smiling.
“Yes,” Prince Toril said, his voice hushed.
Rune’s handsome face twisted. “For the love of—can I kill him now?”
Steffen studied the Verglas prince, as if considering the request.
“I’m not the only woman in this world who is capable of such love,” Elise said. “And before you can hope to woo such a woman, you must be able to give the same kind of love.”
“But didn’t I help you?”
Falk’s face grew stormy, and Elise worried that Rune might actually stab the foolish prince, so she spoke quickly. “You did help us. I thank you for the shelter you provided for me and my guard and my brothers. However, friendship is all I can offer you.”
“Finally,” Gerhart muttered when Verglas guards leading horses and a pack pony entered the city square. Nick and Brida were right behind them.
“Elise should ride my horse with me,” Falk said, taking his horse’s reins from Nick. “He’s large enough to carry two of us, and I doubt she can ride alone.”
“You mean to leave now?” Prince Toril said.
None of the Arcainian princes bothered to answer him as they set about divvying out mounts.
“Up you go,” Rune said to Elise before he boosted her onto Falk’s horse. Falk mounted up behind her a moment later, his arms sliding around Elise as he gathered up the reins.
“Wouldn’t you rather eat or change before you leave?” Prince Toril asked, reaching for the skirts of Elise’s damp dress. Falk wheeled his horse around before the prince was able to touch her.
“We will be fine. Thank you, Prince Toril. Take care,” Elise said.
Truth be told, she longed to eat and soak in water before riding out, but Elise wasn’t stupid. She knew the longer they stayed in King Torgen’s presence, the more danger and risk they put themselves under. Soon the King would decide that national debt or not, he could just as easily kill them all as he could send them off.
This was why Elise bore the swift pace her foster brothers picked as they left Ostfold, leaving the charming city behind. Her muscles ached; her eyes still stung, and her throat was sore, but Elise couldn’t stop smiling as she looked at her foster brothers.
The eight royal siblings, and Brida, made their way through Verglas. They camped only when the sun fell, and they rose before the sun so they could be on their way when the first rays crossed the horizon.
They were almost to the Loire border when Rune—who was in the lead—and his horse barely missed being bowled over by a comet.
Once her eyes adjusted to the light, Elise realized it wasn’t a comet, but Angelique on her night-sky mount.
“Lady Enchantress,” Steffen said.
“Greetings, princes and princess of Arcainia,” Angelique said, pulling her mount in a circle. “Allow me to extend my happiest of congratulations in breaking the curse,” she said, sliding from her mount. “It was fortuitous timing, might I add. I was almost to Loire when I felt your curse shatter; it made finding you an easy task. Elise, your dedication and sacrifice are to be commended.”
“Have you been cleared before the Veneno Conclave?” Erick asked.
“Sadly, no. But I do not think it will matter. I spoke to a close friend of mine, a fairy godmother from Erlauf,” Angelique said, clasping her hands together. “We concluded that outside aid would be unnecessary.”
“You can defeat Clotilde on your own?” Gerhart said.