“You look really nice,” Ridley said, pulling my attention back to him. His hands were folded neatly in front of him, and he looked straight ahead at the door. “I always thought you looked good in dresses. You’ve got the gams for them.”
“Gams?” I asked in surprise.
He smirked. “It’s a cooler word for legs.”
I gaped at him, trying to think of a way to respond, but then the palace door swung open, and we stepped inside.
Inside, the palace reminded me of ice. Many of the walls were made of frosted glass several feet thick. The glass itself appeared bluish, but it had been sandblasted to make it opaque. The other walls were covered in a silvery blue wallpaper that looked like frost.
The glass walls that surrounded the spacious main hall had been shaped to look like waves, making it seem as if we were standing in the center of a whirlpool. The floor was made of several large panes of glass, allowing us to see down into the pool below.
“Look at that,” Ridley whispered, and pointed to a girl in a bathing suit as she swam beneath us.
We’d been left here by the footman who greeted us at the door, while he went to retrieve the King. That gave us plenty of time to admire the unusual and lavish décor of the Skojare palace.
“So good of you to make the trip,” a woman said, startling us from our admiration.
As she strode across to meet us, a length of her elegant sapphire dress trailed on the floor behind her, and her lips pressed into a thin smile that didn’t quite reach the ice-blue of her eyes. Her porcelain skin had been softly lined by age, and I suspected she was in her early sixties, although she still held all of the beauty she had certainly had in her youth.
“We’re very glad to help,” Ridley told her.
“And you are…?” She turned to Ridley, her sharp eyes now fixed on him.
“Ridley Dresden. I’m the Rektor for the Kanin.”
“Hmm.” She considered us both for a moment, then let out a resigned sigh. “I am Marksinna Lisbet Ahlstrom. My granddaughter is the Queen, Linnea.”
“We’re sorry for your situation, and we will do our best to help you find her,” I said.
Her eyes rested on me. “You must be Bryn Aven. You look so much like your mother.” She smiled when she said it, but there was something about her voice that made me believe it wasn’t a compliment. “Runa was my niece.” She corrected herself. “She still is, of course, but since she defected so many years ago, I’ve gotten in the awful habit of referring to her in the past tense.”
“That’s understandable,” I said evenly.
“Anyway, to the business at hand.” Her smile twitched, betraying the sadness underneath, and she absently touched her blond coif. “Linnea is my granddaughter. A tragic car accident left her orphaned eleven years ago, and I’ve been raising her ever since.” Tears formed in Lisbet’s eyes, but she blinked them back. “She’s all I have.”
“Do you have any idea where she might have gone?” Ridley asked. “Was there any indication that she might be unhappy, or that she’d wanted to leave?”
A massive door on the other side of the hall was thrown open, the heavy wood slamming loudly into the wall, and King Mikko burst through, accompanied by his brother Kennet. Like Lisbet, Kennet was dressed formally. He wore a gray suit made of a material that reminded me of shark’s skin.
Mikko, on the other hand, looked like an absolute mess as he hurried over to us. One of the tails of his shirt had come untucked, the top few buttons were undone, and his suit jacket didn’t match his pants. But beyond that, he was unshaven, his eyes were red-rimmed, and his hair was disheveled.
“You need to find my wife,” he insisted, his voice a low rumble. Kennet put his hand on his shoulder, trying to calm his brother.
“They’re here to help,” Lisbet told him, speaking to him the same way one might speak to a frightened child. “But they’ve only just arrived.”
“She’s…” Mikko shook his head, then gave me the most demanding, panicked look. “Something bad has happened. She wouldn’t just leave. You need to find her before…” He choked up, and Lisbet put her arm around him.
“This has been very hard on the King,” Lisbet said. “Perhaps it’s best if I take him to lie down while the Prince fills you in on the details.”
“I want to help,” Mikko insisted, but though he was much bigger and invariably stronger than Lisbet, she pulled him away from us without a struggle.
“You need to rest now. That will be a great help to us,” Kennet assured his brother.
He watched as Lisbet led Mikko away, and turned back to us once they’d disappeared through the doors that Mikko had burst in through.
“The King seems to be taking it very hard,” Ridley commented.
“I’m a little surprised by his display,” I said, choosing my words as carefully as I could. “When I met him before, he seemed somewhat … aloof.”
Kennet gave me a knowing smile. “My brother is a very complicated man.”
“What exactly has happened with the Queen?” Ridley asked. “What do you know of her disappearance?”
“The King and Queen retired to their chambers two nights ago,” Kennet explained. “Linnea couldn’t sleep, so she told the King she was heading down for a swim. He went to sleep, and when he awoke at three in the morning and realized she hadn’t returned, he alerted the guards and began a search for her.” Kennet gave a helpless shrug. “She hasn’t been seen since.”
“We would like to speak to the guards who conducted the search, if that’s possible,” Ridley said.
“Definitely.” Kennet nodded. “We’ll have a meeting to brief you with the details as soon as the others arrive.”
“The others?” I asked.
“Yes. The Trylle have offered to send help as well, and they should be arriving shortly,” Kennet said, and though his expression was somber, a light played in his aqua eyes as he looked down at me. “But we very much appreciate you coming. I’m not sure what we would’ve done if you hadn’t.”
“We’re always happy to help our allies,” Ridley said rather brusquely, and Kennet glanced over at him.
“I’m sure you’ve had a very long drive here.” Kennet’s expression shifted instantly from grave to megawatt smile. “I’ll show you to your rooms, so you can rest and freshen up for a bit. As soon as the Trylle arrive, we’ll have the meeting.”