“No. He’s too smart, too calculated. And now with this attack on Linus…” I chewed the inside of my cheek as I thought. “It’s all connected. He’s plotting something.”
“If he’s still working toward some ultimate goal, then he doesn’t regret it,” Ridley pointed out. “If he felt genuine remorse, he should be looking for absolution, not trying to hurt more people.”
“Not if someone else is pulling his strings,” I countered. “And if someone is, I need to find out who it is.”
“Konstantin might be an innocent pawn in all of this?” Ridley questioned doubtfully.
“No. I don’t know what is motivating him, but he drew his sword against my father with his own hand. That fault lies entirely with him.”
Konstantin may have come to regret what he’d done. He could even cry about it every night, but it didn’t change the fact that he’d done it, and he knew exactly what he was doing. When I went into the Queen’s office that night, he was preparing to finish the job as I watched.
Regardless of what guilt he might feel or what reason might drive him, Konstantin had still acted of his own accord.
“You want to leave here so you can find him and hold him responsible,” Ridley said.
“Yes.” I looked up at him, pleading with him to let me go, to let me finish what Konstantin had started. “He needs to be brought to justice, and so does anyone else he’s working with.”
“Justice? Does that mean you’ll drag them all back here? Or are you gonna kill them all?”
“Whichever one I need to do. But I’m not letting Konstantin get away again,” I told him, and I meant it with all my heart. I’d never killed anyone before, but I would do whatever I needed to do.
Ridley seemed to consider this for a moment, then he pulled his hand back from my leg—leaving it feeling cool and naked without his warm touch—and he rubbed the back of his neck. “You can’t go after him alone, and you can’t go right now.”
“Ridley—” I began, but he cut me off.
“I don’t care if you think Linus doesn’t need you and the King is an idiot. You are needed here right now.” Ridley held up his hand, silencing any more protests I might have before I could voice them. “At least for the time being. Once everyone is gone after the party, and Linus is settled in, if you still need to go on your personal vendetta, we can talk about it. We can make it happen.”
“We?” I shook my head. “You don’t have to be a part of this.”
“But I am anyway.” He lowered his head and exhaled deeply. When he looked up, his dark eyes met mine, and when he spoke, his voice was softer. “Stay.”
“Is that an order?” I asked, but by the look in his eyes, I knew it wasn’t.
“No. It’s not,” he admitted. “But stay anyway.”
By the time I’d finished with Linus for the evening, it was nearly eight o’clock. After my meeting with Ridley, I’d wanted to spend as much time as I could prepping Linus. The next few days were going to be filled with overwhelming madness for the new changeling, and I needed to set my personal feelings aside to do my job.
I ran home just long enough to grab Ember’s present, and then I made the trek to her place as quickly as I could. The cottage Ember lived in with her parents was over a mile away from the palace, nestled against the wall that surrounded Doldastam, separating us from the Hudson Bay.
The farther I went, the farther apart the houses were. Near the palace, the cottages and even some of the smaller Markis and Marksinna’s mansions were practically stacked on top of each other. But at Ember’s house, there was room enough for a small pasture with a couple angora goats, and I heard them bleating before I could even see them.
A rabbit hutch was attached to the front of a house, and a fluffy Gotland sat near the edge of the run, nibbling a pint-sized bale of hay. When it saw me, it hopped over, and I reached my fingers through the wire cage and stroked the soft white fur.
The sun was beginning to set, and Ember’s party had been under way for an hour. I knew that I couldn’t put it off any longer, so I said good-bye to the rabbit, and I knocked on the front door.
“Bryn!” Annali Holmes—Ember’s mother—opened the door and greeted me with a broad smile as the warm air from inside wafted over me. “Glad you could make it.”
“Sorry I’m late. I was stuck at work.”
I peered around to see who was in attendance, and the small cottage was nearly overflowing. Imagine Dragons played out of the radio loud enough that they hadn’t heard me yet, and I spotted Ember laughing in the center of the room. She always fared much better with attention than I did.
A toddler with dark brown hair sticking up like a troll doll came darting past, trying to escape out the door before Annali scooped him up.
“This is Liam,” she said, and the little boy stared up at me with wide eyes, looking too adorable for his own good, and then in a bout of shyness he buried his face in the blue folds of his grandma’s faded dress. “He’s my son’s youngest.”
“So they made it in okay?” I asked.
Ember’s older brother, Finn, worked as a guard at the Trylle palace. The King and Queen of the Trylle had come to town for the anniversary party, and Finn came with them as their guard. Since his parents lived in Doldastam, he’d brought his wife and two kids along for a visit.
“Yeah, they arrived early this morning. Why don’t you go in and say hello?” Annali stepped back and motioned toward the living room.
All the gifts were stacked on the dining room table, which had been pushed up against a wall to make more room. I snuck behind the people, nearly sliding up against the wall to add my gift to the pile. Mine was wrapped in butcher’s paper and tied up with twine, appearing rather plain compared to some of the brightly colored packages.
I’d meant to get Ember something nice in Chicago, but since I had to make an abrupt departure, I’d had to grab something quick in Winnipeg while Linus and I waited for the train. It ended up being a sweater that I hoped she didn’t hate, and a ring with a fox on it that I thought she’d actually like.
There had to be over twenty people crammed into the small living room and dining room. Most of them were fellow trackers, but a few were people Ember just knew from town. She was much more sociable than I was.