Fortunately, Mom didn’t have gills, the way some of the Skojare did. If she had, then I don’t know how she would’ve survived here, with the rivers and bay frozen over so often. The Skojare didn’t actually live in the water, but they needed to spend a lot of time in it, or they’d get sick.
When Mom stayed away from water too long, she’d get headaches. Her skin would become ashen, and her golden hair would lose its usual luster. She’d say, “I’m drying out,” and then she’d go take a long soak in the tub.
I don’t think that was the ideal course of action for her symptoms, but Mom made do.
“Supper smells good,” I said as I walked into the kitchen.
“Yeah. Your mom put it in before she got in the tub,” Dad said. “It should be ready soon, I think.”
Upstairs, I heard the bathroom door open, followed by my mom shouting, “Bryn? Is that you?”
“Yeah, Mom. I got here a little early,” I called up to her.
“Oh, gosh. I’ll be right down.”
“You don’t need to rush on my account,” I said, but I knew she would anyway.
A few seconds later, Mom came running down the stairs wearing a white robe. A clip held up her long wet hair.
“Bryn!” Mom beamed at me, and she ran over and embraced me tightly. “I’m so happy to see you!”
“Glad to see you too, Mom.”
“How are you?” She let go of me and brushed my hair back from my face, so she could look at me fully. “Are you okay? They didn’t hurt you, right?”
“Nope. I’m totally fine.”
“Good.” Her lips pressed into a thin line, and her aqua eyes were pained. “I worry so much when you’re away.”
“I know, but I’m okay. Honest.”
“I love you.” She leaned down and kissed my forehead. “Now I’ll go get dressed. I just wanted to see you first.”
Mom dashed back upstairs to her bedroom, and I sat down at the kitchen table. Even without makeup, and rapidly approaching forty, my mom still had to be the most stunning woman in Doldastam. She had the kind of beauty that launched a thousand wars.
Fortunately, that hadn’t happened. Although there had definitely been repercussions from her union with my dad, and they’d both sacrificed their titles and riches to be together.
Their relationship had been quite the scandal. My mom had been born in Storvatten—the Skojare capital—and she was a high-ranking Marksinna. My dad had been Markis from a prominent family in Doldastam. When Mom was only sixteen, she’d been invited to a ball here in Doldastam, and though my dad was a few years older than her, they’d instantly fallen in love.
Dad had become involved in politics, and he didn’t want to leave Doldastam because he had a career. So Mom defected from Storvatten, since they both agreed that they had a better chance to make a life here.
The fact that Dad was Chancellor, and had been for the past ten years, was a very big deal. Especially since his family had basically disowned him. But I’d always thought that the fact that my mom was so beautiful helped his case. Everyone understood why he’d give up his title and his riches to be with her.
I’d like to say that life had been easy for my mom and me, that the Kanin people had been as forgiving of us as they had been for Dad. But they hadn’t.
Other tribes like the Trylle were more understanding about intertribal marriages, especially if the marriage wasn’t among high-ranking royals. They thought it helped unite the tribes. But the Kanin definitely did not feel that way. Any romance outside your own tribe could dilute the precious bloodlines, and that was an act against the kingdom itself and nearly on par with treason.
Perhaps that’s why they were slightly easier on my mom than they were on me. Her bloodline was still pure. It may have been Skojare, but it was untainted. Mine was a mixture, a travesty against both the Kanin and the Skojare.
“So how are things going with Linus?” Dad walked over to the counter and poured himself a glass of red wine, then held out an empty glass toward me. “You want something to drink?”
“Sure.” I sat down at the kitchen table, and Dad poured me a glass of wine before joining me. “Linus is adjusting well, and he’s curious and easygoing, which makes the transition easier. He’s trying really hard to learn all of our words and phrases. He’s even tried mimicking our dialect.”
When trackers went out into the world, we were taught to use whatever dialect was common in that area, which was actually incredibly difficult to master. But in Doldastam, we returned to the usual Kanin accent—slightly Canadian but with a bit of a Swedish flare to it, especially on Kanin words. Linus’s Chicago accent wasn’t too far off, but he still tried to imitate ours perfectly.
Dad took a drink, then looked toward the stairs, as if searching for my mother, and when he spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper. “I didn’t tell her about Konstantin. She knows you were attacked, but not by whom.”
Dad swirled the wine in his glass, staring down at it so he wouldn’t have to look at me, then he took another drink. This time I joined him, taking a long drink myself.
“Thank you,” I said finally, and he shook his head.
My parents had a very open relationship, and I’d rarely known them to keep secrets from each other. So my dad not telling my mom about Konstantin was actually a very big deal, but I understood exactly why he withheld that information, and I appreciated it.
Mom would lose her mind if she found out. After Konstantin had stabbed Dad, she’d begged and pleaded for us all to leave, to go live among the humans, but both Dad and I had wanted to stay, so finally she had relented. It was my dad’s argument that we were safer here, with other guards and trackers to protect us from one crazed vigilante.
But if Mom knew that Konstantin was involved again, that he’d attacked another member of her family, that would be the final straw for her.
After changing into an oversized sweater and yoga pants, Mom came down the stairs, tousling her damp hair with her hand.
“What are we talking about?” Mom touched my shoulder as she walked by on her way to the oven.
“Just that Linus Berling is getting along well with his parents,” I told her.
She opened the oven and peeked in at whatever was simmering in a casserole dish, then she glanced back at me. “They don’t always?”
“Changelings and their parents?” I laughed darkly. “No, no, they usually don’t.”