It really wasn’t that surprising, and honestly, I’d been thinking of it myself. Based on everything Kennet had told us, it sounded like the King was feigning grief to stonewall our investigation. Combine that with his marriage to a lonely child bride, and contrast his indifference at the meeting with his overt distress at her disappearance, like he was overcompensating, and something didn’t add up.
“No, of course not.” Tove shook his head. “If the King did kill her, there’s nothing we can do about it. If we were to say anything, it would only start a war between our kingdoms. The only ones who could lobby accusations without the risk of treason would be the Prince or maybe Marksinna Lisbet.”
“But if King Mikko did kill her, why call us here?” I asked, deciding to play devil’s advocate in all of this. “He’d already gotten away with it. Why draw more suspicion on himself?”
“You know why,” Ridley said, making me look back at him. “Konstantin Black.”
“What would he have to do with this?” I asked.
“The King has to blame his missing wife on someone, and with everything Konstantin has been up to lately, he would make an excellent scapegoat,” Ridley said. “And of course, there is the chance that Konstantin is actually the one behind the Queen’s disappearance.”
“Who?” Tove asked.
“The Kanin traitor,” Bain reminded him. “He’s been kidnapping Kanin changelings.”
Tove grimaced. “Right. Sorry. I’m bad with names.”
“You really think Konstantin had something to do with this?” I asked Ridley and shook my head. “It doesn’t make sense. It’s a totally different MO.”
“I’m not saying he did it. There’s no evidence supporting he has anything to do with this,” Ridley said. “But everyone’s a bit jumpier with him and Bent Stum running around, especially since we don’t really know why they’re doing any of this.”
“A Queen is a big leap from changeling, though,” Tove reasoned. “Especially the Queen of another tribe.”
“Bent Stum is Omte and he’s been going after Kanin,” I argued. “Maybe their plan is to hit all the tribes. The Skojare don’t have changelings, so maybe this is his way of attacking them.”
Bain and Tove exchanged a look. Bain pursed his lips, then shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
“That traitor guy probably has nothing to with this.” Tove put his hand on Bain’s arm, and he seemed to relax a bit.
“Tove is right, and number three is the most likely choice,” Ridley said. “But if the King did kill her, or even if she ran away, there’s probably not a lot we can do. So while we’re here, we might as well go on the assumption that someone kidnapped her. It’s the only way we can actually help.”
“Even if she was kidnapped, what can we do?” I asked. “We’ve read over the guards’ report, and there’s nothing there.”
“There was something I saw in the file.” Bain turned around and grabbed it, flipping through it quickly. “It caught my eye, then Tove asked Kennet to leave, and I forgot for a moment, but … yep. Here it is. The Queen had gone down to the pool area to swim, and she’d discarded her robe, which they found at the side of the pool. And in the blue satin of her fabric, they found a solitary black hair.”
“Oh, shit,” I said under my breath, and my heartbeat sped up.
“Now, I haven’t met everyone in the palace, but the Skojare have always been very picky about mixing bloodlines,” Bain said, explaining something I already knew. “If you marry out of your tribe, you’re gone. So I sincerely doubt that anybody in this place has hair darker than blond.”
He was very right. There was absolutely no way my father would’ve been allowed to live here after he married my mother. In fact, he’d never been allowed to even visit. For a black hair to get on Linnea’s robe, it had to come from someone outside of the Skojare.
And although I couldn’t say for certain who it came from, I did know for sure that Konstantin’s hair was charcoal-black.
The rocks stung my bare feet, but I paid them no mind as I walked with Tove Kroner along the shore of Lake Superior. I had changed into jeans and a sweater before heading out, since a dress didn’t seem appropriate for scouting the area for signs of Konstantin Black, Bent Stum, or Queen Linnea herself. The weather was warm enough to go without boots, and I always felt better with my feet touching the earth, so I’d forgone footwear.
During our meeting, we’d come to the conclusion that the only way for anyone to make off with Linnea was through the water. The pool in the lower level of the palace was freshwater, with a tunnel that led out into the lake. Someone could’ve come inside and taken her out that way. Admittedly, it would be harder for someone who didn’t have gills and couldn’t breathe underwater, but not impossible.
If Linnea had been taken that way, she would’ve come out on the nearby shore of the lake. So we’d decided to split up and search the shore. Ridley suggested that we mix the search parties, with him pairing with Bain, and me with Tove.
I couldn’t help but think he was looking for a reason to avoid me. We’d been getting along well since we’d gotten to Storvatten, but I was sure it was because there was work to be done.
Ridley and Bain had gone east, starting at the bridge and moving outward, and Tove and I went west. Thick evergreen forests lined the shore, going right down to the rocky banks of the lake.
Storvatten was more of a village, with scattered cabins and cottages hidden in the trees. There were no paved roads—only dirt and gravel paths connecting them. As Tove and I walked along the lake, I’d glance over and only occasionally get a glimpse of a house. Most of them were overgrown with moss, making them nearly invisible among the trees, but they were all within feet of the lake.
“Should we ask them if they’ve seen anything?” I asked Tove, and motioned to nearby house.
It was built very low to the ground, so I assumed it was more of a burrow, like Ridley’s house. Moss covered the thatched roof, and low-hanging branches shaded it. But in the small front window I saw a face staring out at me—the bright blue eyes locked on me and Tove.
Tove considered my suggestion, then shook his head. “If they’d seen something, they would’ve told the guards. And if Linnea was kidnapped, her captor was smart enough to get in and out of the palace without being seen, so they were probably smart enough to bring her to the shore outside of the Storvatten city limits, past the prying eyes.”