“Evert spoke with Prince Kennet on the phone yesterday before you arrived back in Doldastam,” Mina said, and her voice lilted with the subtle British accent she used on occasion, usually to impress visiting dignitaries or other royals. “We know exactly how everything went in Storvatten.”
I stiffened in my chair, instinctively pulling my shoulders back, but I kept my expression even. While I was disappointed in my own performance, I also knew that the failings in Storvatten weren’t entirely my fault. The Skojare had inadequate guards and security, not to mention a weakly protected prison.
King Evert held up his hand, the gaudy diamonds on his platinum rings catching the light, and silenced his wife. “I want to hear how you think it went in your own words.”
“Well.” Ridley shifted his weight in his seat and cleared his throat. “We were tasked with locating the missing Skojare Queen, but all our efforts for gathering information were stonewalled. The Prince refused to tell us anything or let us speak to any possible witnesses.”
Mina raised her chin haughtily, and her eyes were hard. “I didn’t realize the Prince had that much power.”
“He got his orders from the King, but we were almost solely in contact with the Prince. He was the one who directed us,” Ridley elaborated. “We went out to search the area for possible clues as to what happened to the Queen, and that’s when Bryn and a Trylle ambassador managed to apprehend Konstantin Black and Bent Stum.”
“You overpowered Konstantin?” Evert appraised me, appearing impressed for a moment.
“Yes,” I said. “I subdued him and brought him back to the palace, where he was placed in the dungeon, along with Bent Stum.”
“It’s my understanding that Bent killed himself?” Evert asked.
“Yes, we believe he took his life shortly after being placed in the cell,” Ridley answered. “Later, Bryn went down to question Konstantin further, and he’d gotten free from his cell. He assaulted her and knocked her unconscious, and then he fled.”
“That…” I took a deep breath, steeling myself for their reactions. “That’s not entirely accurate.”
From the corner of my eye, I could see Ridley turn to look at me, but I refused to look back. I kept my gaze fixed on the King.
“Oh?” Evert sat up straighter. “What did happen then?”
“I went down to question Konstantin, and he was already out of his cell—that part was true,” I said. “But what I didn’t realize initially was that he wasn’t alone. It wasn’t until it was too late that I saw that Viktor Dålig was also there.”
Mina breathed in sharply, and Ridley swore softly next to me. King Evert’s expression faltered, but only for a second, and then he narrowed his eyes at me.
“Viktor Dålig?” Evert asked. “You’re sure it was him?”
“I’ve been training as a tracker since I was twelve,” I said. “I’ve seen his Wanted poster hundreds of times. I’m sure it was him.”
Evert turned away, toying with his rings as he stared into the distance thoughtfully. The Queen looked like she had been punched in the stomach. Ridley’s hands were on the table, balled up into fists, and his breath came out in angry bursts through his nose.
“Why didn’t you say anything sooner?” Evert asked finally, still looking away.
“Viktor slammed my head repeatedly into the stone wall of the dungeon,” I explained. “I couldn’t remember things very well at first, and I wanted to be absolutely certain before I said anything.”
Evert turned to look at me, his dark eyes on mine. “And you’re certain now?”
“Yes, I am,” I told him honestly.
“Did he say anything?” Evert asked.
“He just told Konstantin to kill me, and when Konstantin didn’t act fast enough, Viktor grabbed me and attacked me.”
“This changes everything,” Evert said with a heavy sigh. “We must prepare for war.”
“Based on the word of a tracker with brain damage?” Mina nearly shouted in disbelief, and I bristled.
“Viktor Dålig has already tried to kill me once,” said King Evert, “and he’s been on the run for well over a decade. I have no idea what he’s been up to in that time, but if he’s been working with Konstantin Black I must assume he’s grown even more dangerous. I will not let him make an attempt on my life again.”
“These are all assumptions.” Mina shook her head. “You can’t prepare for war on assumptions, especially when we don’t know what we’re up against or where our enemy might be.”
“Mina, I value your counsel, but on this matter, my decision has already been made,” Evert told her firmly. “We will find him, and we will destroy him, and that’s final.”
Mina lowered her eyes, holding Vita more closely to her, and she said nothing more after that. Evert stood up, saying he needed to meet with advisors, but he’d be calling on Ridley soon. If we were preparing for war, Ridley would have to gather the trackers and start readying them to be soldiers.
As soon as we were dismissed, Ridley stood up and stormed out of the meeting room. I followed quickly, but his strides were long and angry and it took me a moment to catch up with him.
“Ridley,” I called after him as we walked down the palace hallway, empty apart from a few maids with their hands full of cleaning supplies. “Wait.”
He whirled on me then, his dark eyes blazing, his lips pressed together. I couldn’t help but think back to when his eyes had blazed in an entirely different way a few days ago, when he’d pulled me into his arms and pressed his lips passionately against mine.
But whatever desire he’d held for me was gone, replaced by barely restrained anger. “You should’ve told me, Bryn.”
“I wasn’t sure—”
“That’s bullshit!” he roared, and I flinched. The maids were at the other end of the hallway, and they glanced back at us before hurrying on. “That may be why you didn’t tell the King right away, but you should’ve told me.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, since there was nothing else I could say.
He ran his hand through his dark hair and looked away from me, his jaw set hard. “I know things have been … complicated between us lately, but that’s no excuse not to tell me this.”
“That’s not why.” I hurried to reason with him. “I just had to be sure. I couldn’t tell you something this big without being absolutely certain.”