“I know,” he said. “I may not understand why, since I’d give anything to kill the man that killed my father, but I know that this is how you feel.”
I lifted my head to meet his gaze, so he could see that I meant it. “I just want to make sure the right person pays for the right crime, and … I don’t think that’s Konstantin.” I groaned, realizing how foolish it sounded. “What’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing,” Ridley assured me. “You just have strong convictions, and you want to do the right thing.”
“Are you going out on the mission?”
He shook his head. “No. The King wants me to stay back.” He studied me for a minute, then asked, “If you were to see him, would you kill Konstantin?”
Without hesitation, I answered, “The King ordered me to do something. I am a tracker, a member of the King’s court, and I took an oath that I would follow all the orders he gives me. So yes, I will do what’s required of me.”
Konstantin’s gray eyes stared back at me, unyielding, unforgiving. It was his first official photo when he’d joined the Högdragen, in full color on the top page of his file. He’d been younger then, clean-shaven, skin smooth, but unsmiling. The Högdragen were never supposed to smile, not when they were working.
It was strange because in the picture he looked harder than he did now. The years on the run had taken their toll on him, definitely, but he’d softened somehow.
I wish I could know what had changed between the time that proud young man had been photographed in his crisp uniform, and the night he’d run my father through with his sword.
After Ridley had confronted me in the locker room, I’d changed and gone back to apologize to Tilda, but she was already gone. But that might be for the best. She could probably use some space before I went to her and owned up to how unfair and cruel I’d been.
Ridley had gone off to take care of some pressing Rektor business with another tracker, so I took the opportunity to sneak in and grab Konstantin Black’s file from the cabinet behind his desk. Technically, anybody was allowed to look at Konstantin’s file, since he was a wanted man, so I had no need to sneak, but I didn’t want to talk to Ridley about it. At least not right now.
I sat cross-legged on my bed with Konstantin’s file spread out before me, hoping that it would give some kind of insight that would help me figure out what happened and what was going on.
But so far there wasn’t anything that I didn’t already know. His father had died when he was very young, and he’d been raised by his mother, who died around the time he joined tracker school. He’d graduated at the top of his tracker class, and he went on to successfully bring in 98 percent of the changelings he was assigned to in the eight years he worked as a tracker.
He joined the Högdragen at the age of twenty-three immediately following his retirement from tracking. He’d transitioned seamlessly into their ranks, rising quickly because of his diligence and charm. Shortly after Mina married the King, she’d appointed Konstantin as her guard, where he’d risen to even greater prominence.
Everything in his file showed him as a loyal, intelligent hard worker, even if he was occasionally noted for his pride. If he was arrogant, it seemed justified. He gave a superior performance at his job, and he was beloved by the people.
In every one of the King’s Games Konstantin had competed in, he’d walked away with top honors. He was a hero to the people, and a loyal servant to the King and Queen.
That was it. That was all that was in his file. Just accolades and praise, up until the night he attempted to kill my father. Then there was a report explaining the incident and that Konstantin had disappeared in the night’s snow.
But there had to be something more. Something I was missing that would make him change so drastically. From a guard full of swagger and promise to a traitor on the run, humbled and worn.
Ember’s footsteps pounding up the stairs to my loft interrupted my thoughts, and I scrambled to put everything back in the file. I’d just shoved it underneath my blankets when Ember threw open the door.
“I know, I know,” I said as soon as I saw her glaring down at me. “I acted like a jackass toward Tilda today.”
“You certainly did.” She trudged over to me, her boots leaving snowy prints on the creaking floorboards. “You really hurt her feelings.”
“I’ll apologize to her later,” I promised Ember. “I just thought I’d give her some space.”
“Good.” Ember kicked off her boots, then flopped back on the bed beside me. She wore thick leggings under a skirt that flounced around her. “It will suck not having Tilda to train with or work with around Doldastam. But she says she’s coming back after the baby’s born.”
“I know,” I said, without much conviction.
“I mean, my mom didn’t go back to tracking after she had my older brother.” Her eyebrows pinched together and her mouth turned down into disappointment. “And that other tracker Sybilla had her baby two years ago, and she still hasn’t come back.”
“Maybe Tilda will be different.” I tried to cheer Ember up. “And even if she doesn’t come back, she’ll still be in town, and we can still see her.”
“You think she’s wrong, though.” Ember leaned back on the bed, propping herself up with her elbows and looking at me. “You don’t think she should have a personal life, that any of us should.”
“I have friends, and I’ve dated, and I thought it was great when Tilda and Kasper started dating. So it’s not that we shouldn’t have personal lives,” I said, trying to explain my position. “I just think we made an oath to make this job our priority, and having strong attachments can interfere with that.”
“Is that why you and Ridley never hooked up?” Ember asked.
“What? I—we—we never…” I sputtered, and sat back on the bed, moving farther away from her. “We never did anything because neither of us wanted to. I don’t have those feelings for him, and I’m sure he feels the same way. He’s my boss, and both of us could lose our jobs, and now he’s dating Juni, and besides, we didn’t want to. So. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Ember raised her eyebrows and smirked at me. “Whatever you say, Bryn.”
“Nothing good ever comes from falling in love,” I told her definitively. “You act ridiculous and lose your mind and you forget what really matters to you, and then you end up sidelined and married or heartbroken and destitute, and neither of those are good options, so it’s better if you just avoid relationships altogether.”