“I miss my husband terribly, and my grandmother,” Linnea hurried to explain. “But there is something going on in Storvatten. I don’t feel safe there.”
Evert shifted uneasily in his chair, unsure of how to deal with a frightened teenage queen. “You have guards, and you have your husband. Talk to them, and I’m sure you’ll sort it out.”
“I don’t trust the guards there.” Linnea shook her head.
“Speaking from experience, I would say the guards in Storvatten are rather inept,” I added. When we’d been at the palace right after Linnea had gone missing, I’d found the guards to be lazy, incompetent, and entirely unfit.
“That may be.” Evert cleared his throat. “But this is something you must talk about with King Mikko. We have no control over the happenings in your kingdom.”
Linnea lowered her head and nodded once. The last thing I wanted to do was send Linnea someplace where she was unsafe, but I couldn’t think of a way to disagree with the King. He couldn’t control the guards in another kingdom. That was up to Linnea and her husband.
“What if we send a couple guards with her, to help keep her safe?” Mina suggested. “At least until she and her husband get the situation sorted out in Storvatten.”
Evert shook his head. “My Queen, you know we can’t spare anyone right now.”
“Surely we can spare one or two,” Mina insisted, and I was aware that this was the exact opposite position she had held the last time I went to Storvatten. Then, she’d been fighting the King who wanted to send aid to the Skojare, saying we couldn’t spare anyone.
It was also surprising how kind Mina seemed to be tonight. When I’d returned a few days ago, she’d been cold bordering on mean, which really wasn’t like her. But now she seemed to have returned to her normal self.
I wondered if something had happened, or maybe her current disposition was simply because Linnea was here. I couldn’t tell if Mina was genuinely concerned for her, or if our queen just wanted to save face in front of foreign royalty.
“What about Bryn?” Mina gestured to me. “She’s familiar with the Skojare, and she’s already proven herself to be a great help to Queen Linnea.”
King Evert considered it for a moment, then nodded with some reluctance. “Bryn can go to Storvatten, if it’s as Queen Linnea wishes, but we cannot spare Ridley. He’s too important here.”
“What about him?” Linnea asked, pointing to where Kasper stood next to the fireplace, and he appeared as startled as the rest of us. “I’d feel better going with someone I’ve already met, even if it’s only briefly, than someone chosen at random.”
“A member of the Högdragen would be good,” Mina decided. “He can help retrain the guard in Storvatten.”
“It’s settled then,” King Evert declared, probably before either Mina or Linnea suggested that anyone else tag along. “Bryn Aven and Kasper Abbott will accompany Queen Linnea back to Storvatten.” He stood up. “Now, I will call her husband to let him know she’s safe, and then I will return to bed since it’s very late.”
“If you’re going to represent the Högdragen, then you need to act like one.”
Kasper stood in the center of the Högdragen training hall. Since he’d taken time out of his busy schedule specifically to work with me this morning, I knew that I should be paying attention to him, but I couldn’t help but look around in awe.
The Högdragen area was located off the back of the palace, so I’d only ever caught glimpses inside it when I’d been in school, touring the palace. Attached to the training hall was a gym fully loaded with all kinds of equipment and a small dormitory, where the unmarried guards lived.
The training hall itself had less square footage than the tracker gymnasium at the school, but the ceilings seemed to go on forever, with iron lighting fixtures hanging from exposed beams and skylights above them. Tapestries of silver and black—the colors of the Högdragen uniform—adorned the walls. The floors were a glossy black walnut hardwood.
A few black wrestling mats were spread out in the center of the room, and Kasper stood on one. His dark tank top revealed the thick muscles of his arms, which were crossed over his chest. He was tall and broad-shouldered, especially for a Kanin, who tended to be on the slight side.
“I have had training before, you know,” I reminded him as I walked out to meet him. We were the only two in the room, and my footfalls echoed through the cavernous space.
He smirked. “Not like this.”
Since I would be going to Storvatten to help guard Linnea and I’d be accompanying Kasper, I’d technically be working as a liaison for the Högdragen. King Evert hadn’t sorted out all the details before he’d gone to bed last night, but we’d gotten enough of them for Kasper to feel that some Högdragen training would be good for me.
For as long as I could remember, it’s been my dream to be a member of the Högdragen, so I was doing my best to hold in my excitement and act professional. Ridley said it wasn’t absolutely necessary, but I wasn’t one to turn down doing anything that might help me join the Högdragen someday.
So I’d helped get Linnea settled in last night—along with Queen Mina, who insisted on personally seeing her to the guest chambers—and then I’d gone home, gotten a few hours of sleep, and woken up bright and early to meet Kasper for training.
“So what are we working on?” I asked.
“Since I probably only have about a day to get you ready, it’s gonna be a crash course,” he said grimly. “I wanna see where you’re at, and we’ll take it from there. And I want to work on how you carry yourself.”
“How I carry myself?” I bristled. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
One thing I took pride in was how I carried myself. Trackers had to learn to stand tall, shoulders back, chin up, feet together. We were slightly more relaxed than the Högdragen, who tended to stand and march like toy soldiers, but because of my aspirations, I mimicked the Högdragen the best I could.
“We’ll talk about it when we get to it.” Kasper held up his hand, silencing my argument. “But we should get started.” He lowered his arms and stood with his feet shoulder length apart. “Show me what you’ve got.”
I shook my head, not understanding, and my ponytail swayed behind me. “What do you mean?”