It had only been a week ago that I’d met with Linnea, her husband, and her brother-in-law in a neighboring room for brunch. She’d been poised but friendly, and there had been a loneliness about her. And she’d been very young, with an aloof husband, so Mina’s claims didn’t seem unreasonable.
“In light of the current situation with our own changelings, I think we need to consider kidnapping,” Dad reasoned. “Mikko seems convinced that Linnea didn’t leave of her own accord and he’s asked for help in recovering her.”
“Husbands know so little of what their wives are up to,” Mina sneered, and Evert gave her a hard look, causing her to roll her eyes. “Oh, you know what I mean.”
“I agree with the Chancellor on this one,” Evert said, and Mina huffed and began to pace again. “With Konstantin Black out for blood, we need to take all of this seriously.”
“It’s because of Konstantin Black that we shouldn’t get involved!” Mina insisted. “We don’t know where he is or when he may strike again.”
“Our involvement will be very minimal,” Dad said. “Bryn would go to Storvatten, working as liaison for us, and would help if she can. There’s a good chance she won’t be able to do much more than offer condolences, but that will be enough to secure our position as their friend and ally.”
“I’m to be a liaison?” I asked, and though I should’ve been nervous, my initial reaction was one of pride. I let out an excited breath and tried my best to suppress a smile, but I still held my head up higher.
“Yes. With your Skojare blood, we thought you’d be the best tracker for the job,” King Evert informed me.
While I felt a little deflated upon learning I’d been chosen for the job because of who my mom was and not because I was the most qualified, I decided that being Skojare counted as a qualification, and whether the King knew it or not, I was the most capable for the job.
Being the liaison was a very high honor, and one that would certainly look outstanding on my résumé when I applied to join the Högdragen. But even in the immediate future, this role could lead to other important tasks. It could be the beginning of the career I’d spent my whole life working toward.
Mina shook her head, then looked over at me. “Have you ever even been to Storvatten, tracker?”
“No, my Queen, I have not,” I admitted, bristling slightly at being called tracker instead of my name, since I knew she knew it. “But my mother grew up there, and she has told me many stories about it and her family.”
Dad gave me a look, since I’d exaggerated. Mom very rarely spoke of her hometown, but I would say nearly anything at this point so I wouldn’t lose my chance at being liaison.
“See?” Evert gestured widely. “Bryn’s perfect for the job. She’ll make nice, and everything will be fine.”
“She may be the best one for the job.” Mina stopped walking and wrung her hands together. “I just think it would be very unwise to send away help when so much is going on here. The Skojare have done nothing for us, and we don’t need to risk our kingdom for them.”
“They need our aid.” Evert held his hand out to her, and reluctantly, she took it, letting him comfort her. “This will go a long way to furthering an alliance with them.”
“We don’t need an alliance with them,” Mina said. “Perhaps this is the beginning of their death rattle, and we shouldn’t interfere.”
“You say that as if their stockpile of sapphires means nothing to you.” The King gave her a knowing look, and Mina’s lips pressed into a bee-stung pout. “We are working toward a new era of peace, and they’ve asked for our help. We can spare one tracker.”
“Pardon, Your Highness,” my dad interrupted. “But given the state of things, wouldn’t it be prudent to send two trackers out on the mission? Just to be safe.”
“I’ve agreed to send this one tracker!” Mina pointed at me. “Not anyone else!”
“If I may offer a suggestion, My Queen, Ember Holmes is only on partial duty because of her injury, but she would still be a great asset to me,” I said, hoping to ease her anxiety.
“She’s suffered a fracture.” Dad dismissed the idea with a shake of his head. “It’s unfair to ask her to risk further injury by sending her out to work again.”
“The Chancellor is right, but so is Mina.” Evert still held her hand and offered her a sidelong glance. “I’d rather not spare another good set of hands when we’re not sure when Konstantin may strike again.”
“What about the Rektor?” Mina asked. “He adds little to our security, doesn’t he?”
“Ridley Dresden?” Dad considered this, and my heart dropped. “He’s a capable tracker.”
“Sire, I don’t think that Ridley is well suited for this,” I interjected, wanting to put an end to the idea before it got started. I didn’t really have any reason other than it sounded like an awkward hell traveling with him after our kiss last night.
Dad raised an eyebrow, surprised by my protest, and he continued on with his support for Ridley. “He’s actually more skilled in relations with other tribes than Bryn is, so he’d be a great addition to the mission.”
“I had asked him to stay back from the field for a while to focus on paperwork here…” Evert shrugged. “But we could spare him for a few days to go on this fact-finding mission with Bryn.”
“Your Highness, with all due respect, there are other trackers that may be better,” I tried again. “Simon Bohlin is—”
But Mina cut me off. “If they’re better, then we need them here, protecting us.”
“The Queen has spoken,” King Evert decreed. “Now I suggest you pack your things and get on your way as soon as you can. They are expecting you in Storvatten by tomorrow morning.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” I bowed before him and the Queen. “Thank you for the opportunity.”
I’d offered to drive, but Ridley had insisted he could do it. That was the last time we’d spoken to each other, and that had been over ten hours ago. We’d stopped for gas, bathroom breaks, and cheap gas station food, and we had managed to do it all without exchanging a word.
Our conversation before we left had been quick and to the point. My dad had been there—either fortunately or unfortunately, I wasn’t sure which—and he’d relayed the parameters of the mission to Ridley, so there had been little need for us to speak.