“Chancellor, my trackers are trained to handle themselves in all situations.” Ridley bristled a little, as if my dad were calling into question his abilities as a Rektor.
“Well, what did they say?” Queen Mina asked, bringing us back on topic.
“They said they were following Linus and waiting for their chance to grab him,” I said.
The King sighed and shook his head. “Dammit.”
“Did they say why?” Mina pressed.
“No. They refused to say why. Then they tried to prevent me from leaving, and things became … violent,” I said, choosing my words carefully, and from the corner of my eye I saw my dad flinch, though he did his best to hide it. “One of the men—the one called Bent—was injured. But Konstantin Black evaded serious damage before I got away.”
Dad couldn’t help himself and whispered harshly, “You shouldn’t have gotten in the car.”
Ridley cast my dad a look from across the table. “Sir, Bryn can handle herself in a fight.”
“It was definitely Konstantin Black, then?” the Queen asked.
I nodded. “Yes.”
“How can you be so sure?” King Evert looked at me skeptically. “Did you ever meet him?”
“Everybody in the kingdom knew who Konstantin Black was,” Ridley interjected, attempting to spare me from explaining how I knew him so well.
“Only once,” I said, speaking loudly but still clear and even. It was getting harder to keep a steady tone when the King was patronizing me about something I was certain of. “When Konstantin stabbed my father. I’ll remember his face until I die.”
The King lowered his eyes, faltering only for a moment. “I’d forgotten you were there for his altercation with the Chancellor.
“What about this other man?” The King cleared his throat and continued, “The one called Bent. Do we know anything about him?”
“I’ve been doing some research and making a few calls.” Ridley flipped through the papers in front of him and scanned his notes. “Bryn thought he might be Omte, and they can be reluctant to give any information. However, the Queen did confirm that a young man named Bent Stum was exiled from their community last year, but they wouldn’t say why.”
“So a wanted Kanin and an exiled criminal Omte joined forces to track down a changeling in Chicago? Why?” Dad shook his head. “And how did they find him?”
“I’ve been looking over all the paperwork on Berling’s placement, and I can’t see any sign of why it went wrong.” Ridley shrugged helplessly. “The only people who should’ve known where he was were Linus’s parents, and then Bryn.”
“Did the Markis or Marksinna Berling tell anyone?” my dad asked.
“No.” The King dismissed this instantly. “Dylan and Eva are too smart for that. They know better.” Then he looked at me. “What about you, Bryn?”
“No, Your Majesty. I never tell anyone where I’m sent.”
“You sure?” King Evert pressed. “You didn’t mention it to any of your friends?”
“Bryn’s one of our best, my lord,” Ridley said. “If she says she didn’t tell anybody, she didn’t tell anybody.”
“Well, somehow they found one of our highest-priority Markis changelings. If nobody told anyone, how the hell did they manage that?” King Evert snapped.
“I’m not sure, sire,” Ridley admitted, but he met the King’s annoyed glare.
“What about your files? You have it all written down, don’t you?” the King asked.
“Yes, of course I do. But it’s all locked away.”
“Who has access to it?” King Evert asked.
“Myself and the Chancellor,” Ridley said. “And, of course, you and the Queen would have access to anything you wanted.”
My dad furrowed his brow as he considered this. “So, the people in this room.”
“Obviously it was none of us, so it must be someone else,” Queen Mina said.
The King looked over at Ridley. “What about you?”
Ridley shook his head. “I didn’t tell anyone, Your Highness.”
“Perhaps Konstantin Black was tracking the trackers,” Queen Mina offered, and she turned to me. “Were you followed?”
“I don’t believe so,” I said. “Konstantin didn’t know that Berling was being tracked at first, and I don’t think he realized I was Kanin.”
The King snorted. “Well…”
This time I didn’t even try to keep the emotion from my voice, though it was a struggle not to yell. “I was born in Doldastam and raised here. I have pledged my fealty to this kingdom. I am as much a Kanin as any of you.”
King Evert smirked, unmoved by my outburst. “I appreciate your service, Bryn, but you know that—”
“Evert, my King.” Queen Mina reached over and touched his hand, and she looked up at him with deference. “If the girl has pledged her loyalty to you, then she is a Kanin, and by saving the young Markis Berling, she’s proved it.”
He looked at his wife, then shifted in his seat and nodded. “You’re right, of course, my Queen. I apologize, Bryn.”
“No apology is necessary, my lord,” I said.
“Back to the matter at hand—what to do about Konstantin Black and Bent Stum?” my dad said. “Didn’t the Trylle have a problem like this once? Their changelings were kidnapped by an enemy. What did they do?”
“They went to war,” the King replied with a heavy sigh.
“We’re not prepared for war,” Queen Mina said quickly, as if anyone had actively proposed it. “The Trylle have a smaller population than us, but thanks to their heavier reliance on changelings they have many more trackers, and their army is at least twice that of ours.”
“More than that, the Trylle knew who their enemy was,” King Evert agreed. “They had that long-standing feud with the Vittra, so the Trylle knew exactly who to go after. Who would we even fight against?”
“Could the Omte be behind it?” Mina asked.
Ridley shook his head. “Doubtful. They’re not smart enough to have found the Berling changeling, and if the Omte Queen was aware of Bent Stum’s activities, she would’ve denied his very existence.”
“We don’t even know if this is going to be a recurring problem,” Dad pointed out. “The Berling boy may have been a onetime thing.”