“Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.” I shrugged. “But I love this town. I think you do too.”
A smile twisted across her face. “You are mistaken again.”
“Fine.” I sighed. “But haven’t you ever loved a place?”
“No, I’ve loved people. I love you, and I love your dad.” She reached out, taking Dad’s hand in her own. “Wherever the two of you are, I’ll be happy. But that doesn’t mean I love Doldastam, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I love you risking your life to protect it. I tolerate it because I have no choice. You’re an adult and this is the life you chose.”
“It is. And it would be great if every time I visited didn’t turn into a fight about it.”
“Is it so wrong that I want something better for you?” Mom asked, almost desperately.
“Yes, yes, it is,” I replied flatly.
“How is that wrong?” She threw her hands in the air. “Every mother just wants the best for her child.”
I leaned forward again and slapped my hand on the table. “This is the best. Don’t you get that?”
“You’re selling yourself short, Bryn. You can have so much better.” Mom tried to reach out and hold my hand, but I pulled away from her.
“I can’t do this anymore.” I pushed back my chair and stood up. “I knew coming over was a mistake.”
“Bryn, no.” Her face fell, her disapproval giving way to remorse. “I’m sorry. I promise I won’t talk about work anymore. Don’t go.”
I looked away from her so I wouldn’t get suckered in by guilt again, and ran my hand through my hair. “No, I have stuff I need to do anyway. I shouldn’t have even agreed to this.”
“Bryn,” Dad said.
“No, I need to go.” I turned to walk toward the door, and Mom stood up.
“Honey. Please,” Mom begged. “Don’t go. I love you.”
“I love you too,” I told her without looking at her. “I just … I’ll talk to you later.”
I yanked on my boots and grabbed my coat from the rack. My mom said my name again as I opened the door and stepped outside, but I didn’t look back. As I walked down the dirt road my parents lived on, I breathed in deeply. The cold hurt my lungs and stung my cheeks, but I didn’t mind. In fact, I didn’t even put on my coat, preferring the chill. I just held my jacket to my chest and let the fresh air clear my head.
“Bryn!” Dad called after me just as I made it around the corner past the house.
An errant chicken crossed my path, and when I brushed past, it squawked in annoyance. But I didn’t slow down, not until I heard my dad’s footsteps behind me.
“Wait,” he said, puffing because he was out of breath from chasing after me.
I finally stopped and turned back to him. He was still adjusting his jacket, and he slowed to a walk as he approached me.
“Dad, I’m not going back in there.”
“Your mom is heartbroken. She didn’t mean to upset you.”
I looked away, staring down at the chicken pecking at pebbles in the road. “I know. I just … I can’t deal with it. I can’t handle her criticisms tonight. That’s all.”
“She’s not trying to criticize you,” Dad said.
“I know. It’s just … I work so hard.” I finally looked up at him. “And it’s like no matter what I do, it’s never good enough.”
“No, that’s not true at all.” Dad shook his head adamantly. “Your mom takes issue with some of the practices here. She gets on me about it too. But she knows how hard you work, and she’s proud of you. We both are.”
I swallowed hard. “Thank you. But I can’t go back right now.”
His shoulders slacked but he nodded. “I understand.”
“Tell Mom I’ll talk to her another day, okay?”
“I will,” he said, and as I turned to walk away, he added, “Put your coat on.”
Books were stacked from the floor all the way up to the ceiling thirty feet above us. Tall, precarious ladders enabled people to reach the books on the top shelves, but fortunately, I didn’t need any books from up that high. Most of the ones people read were kept on the lower, more reachable shelves.
The height of the ceiling made it harder to heat the room, and since Linus and I were the first people here this morning, it had a definite chill to it. Disturbing dreams of Konstantin Black had filled my slumber last night, and I’d finally given up on sleep very early this morning, so I’d decided to get a jump start on acclimating Linus. He had quite a bit to learn before the anniversary party tomorrow night, where he’d be introduced to all sorts of royalty—both from the Kanin and from the other tribes.
I doubted anybody else would come to the library today, which would make it the perfect place for studying. The halls in the palace had been chaotic with the bustling of servants and guards as dignitaries from other tribes arrived.
Linus had very nearly gotten trampled by a maid carrying stacks of silken sheets, and I’d pulled him out of the way in the nick of time. The upcoming party had turned the normally sedate palace into bedlam.
The library was still a bastion of solitude, though. Even when everyone wasn’t distracted by a hundred guests, it wasn’t exactly a popular place to hang out. Several chairs and sofas filled the room, along with a couple tables, but I’d almost never seen anyone use them.
“It’s okay that we’re here, right?” Linus asked as I crouched in front of the fireplace and threw in another log.
“The library is open to the public,” I told him and straightened up. “But as a Berling, you’re allowed to move freely in the palace. The King is your dad’s cousin and best friend. The door is always open for you.”
“Cool.” Linus shivered, and rubbed his arms through his thick sweater. “So is it winter here year-round?”
“No, it’ll get warm soon. There’s a real summer with flowers and birds.”
“Good. I don’t know if I could handle it being cold all the time.”
I walked over to where he’d sat down at a table. “Does it really bother you that much?”
“What do you mean?”
“Most Kanin prefer the cold. Actually, most trolls in general do.”
“So do all the tribes live up around here?”