“I am really and truly sorry for everything that I said to you at the meeting yesterday,” I told her emphatically. “I was upset about things that weren’t your fault and really had nothing to do with you, and I shouldn’t have yelled at you. You’re my friend, and I should’ve been happy for you.”
“That’s true.” She relaxed a bit. “You have your own bag of issues with love and relationships that I don’t even wanna get into, but that is your deal, and you had no right to take it out on me.”
“No. You’re absolutely right,” I agreed. “I acted like a jerk for no reason, and I’m sorry. Honestly, I’m very happy for you. If you’re happy and this is what you want.”
“I am happy, and this is what I want.” Her whole face lit up when she put her hand on her stomach. “I love Kasper, and although this baby wasn’t exactly planned, I’m happy about it.”
“You’ll make a great mom,” I said, and I meant it.
She smiled gratefully at me. “Thank you.”
The kettle whistled, so she turned away and poured the hot water into cups. Carefully, she scooped the fresh tea leaves from the tin, and filled two acorn-shaped infusers with the leaves before dropping them in the cups.
“Now, what’s going on with you this morning?” Tilda asked as she handed me a cup.
I leaned back against the counter and sipped my tea before replying. “What do you mean?
“Bags under your eyes, your hair isn’t brushed, and you look like hell,” she said bluntly. “Did you get any sleep last night?”
I ran my fingers through my tangles of hair, trying to smooth it out, before giving up. “I got some sleep.”
“So what was keeping you up?” she asked.
Last night, I kissed Ridley, and then ran away so fast that by the time I got home I could barely breathe. It was a horrible, terrible mistake that I had no idea how to correct, but it was also wonderful and magical, and part of me—too large of a part, really—kept trying to figure out how to make it happen again.
“That might be too much to get into right now,” I said, because it was much easier than explaining anything else, and I bobbed the infuser up and down in my cup.
A key clicked in the lock, and both Tilda and I looked at the front door to her apartment. Her boyfriend Kasper pushed open the door, dressed in his Högdragen uniform. The fabric fit snugly on his broad shoulders, and his black hair was cropped in short, neat curls.
“I didn’t expect you home so early,” Tilda said. “I thought you were working today.”
“I am, but I’m actually here looking for Bryn.” He motioned to me, and I straightened up and away from the counter.
“Me? Why? And how did you even know I’d be here?” I asked.
“I stopped by your place, and you weren’t there, so I thought maybe Tilda might know where you were,” Kasper explained. “There’s urgent business at the palace.”
I set my cup of tea down. “What do you mean?”
“Is something wrong?” Tilda asked.
“I don’t know.” He gave her an apologetic look and shook his head. “They just sent me to get Bryn, and said the King and Queen want to see you immediately.”
“I’m sure it’s fine.” Tilda smiled at me, but worry filled her eyes. “And when you’re done, just let me know if you need anything, okay?”
I nodded, and then waited as Kasper kissed her briefly on the lips. Tilda walked us to the door, and I followed Kasper down the stairs and out to the street. He took long, deliberate steps, the way all the Högdragen were taught to. I tried to match my pace to his, but he was much taller than me, which made it a bit harder.
“I don’t know what it’s about, but I don’t think you’re in trouble.” He glanced back at me, making sure I was keeping up.
“Then what is it?” I pressed.
“I really can’t say more, Bryn.”
He shook his head, and looked ahead again, quickly weaving through the busy marketplace as we made our way toward the palace. People parted for him out of respect for his uniform, and some of the younger kids even stopped to stare.
I had no idea what could possibly be going on, but the King and Queen had a sent a member of the Högdragen to personally retrieve me. That did not bode well.
The King sat in his high-backed chair beneath the massive portrait of himself as a younger man at his coronation. His wife paced the meeting room, and this was the least formal I’d ever seen the Queen. She wore a simple white dress underneath a long silver satin robe that billowed out around her as she moved, and the length of her hair lay in a braid down her back.
My father stood at the end of the table near the King, with a piece of paper before him. The paper had been rolled, and the ends kept trying to curl back up, so I could see the wax seal at the top. It was blue, imprinted with a fish—the seal of the Skojare.
“Your Majesties, Chancellor.” Kasper bowed when he entered the room, and I followed suit before he introduced me. “Bryn Aven has arrived to see you.”
“Thank you.” King Evert waved at him absently, the heavy rings on his hand catching the light from the chandelier above us.
Kasper left, closing the door behind him, and I stood at the end of the table, opposite the King, and waited to be told why I’d been brought here.
“Thank you for coming here so quickly.” Evert spoke to me, but his eyes were elsewhere and he shifted in his seat.
“This is unnecessary,” Mina hissed. She’d stopped pacing to glare down at her husband.
“I really do think this is the best course of action,” my dad said, looking between the two of them. “Given this letter, and the situation we’ve been dealing with, it does make sense.”
“Sorry for interrupting, Your Highness,” I began, and they all turned to look at me, as if they’d forgotten I was there even though I’d just arrived. “But why have you summoned me?”
“Tell her about the letter,” the King directed my dad with a heavy sigh.
“This morning we received this letter from Mikko Biâelse, the King of the Skojare.” Dad held up the paper. “His wife Linnea, the Queen, has gone missing.”
“Missing?” I asked.
“She’s only a child. Perhaps she found being married to an old man unbearable and ran away,” Mina argued. “I’ve heard of far stranger things.”