Much like the rest of the palace, everything in this room looked as though it had seen better days, save for the steel vault on the other side of the room. It appeared to be sterling and new, as though it would fit better in a bank vault than an old office.
Hunched over one of the desks, a guard scribbled something down on a notepad. His golden hair was slicked back until it curled at the nape of his neck, with just a hint of silver at his temples revealing his age. Under the tailored sleeves of his dress shirt, his shoulders were broad and his biceps were rather thick.
Another man—younger than the first, closer to my age—with a slender build and a slightly upturned nose, sat perched on the edge of the desk. He’d been leaning over, watching what the older man was writing, but he instantly hopped to his feet when we walked into the room.
“Your Highness,” he said, bowing before Kennet.
The other man, who had been working on something, rose more slowly.
“No need for the formalities.” Kennet brushed them off and glanced back at Kasper and me. “Bayle can be old school at times. He’s a relic from Father’s reign.” The older guard grimaced, not that I blamed him, but Kennet turned back to him with a smile. “I’m just here to make the introductions. These are our friends from the Kanin, Bryn Aven and Kasper Abbott.”
“Nice to meet you,” the younger man said, but he didn’t really looked pleased to meet us, nor did he introduce himself.
“I’m Bayle Lundeen.” The older man came around the desk to shake our hands. “I’m the head guard. Anything you need, I should be able to help you.”
“They’re actually here to help you,” Kennet reminded him. “We need to revamp things so the Queen feels safe in her own home.”
“Yes, of course.” Bayle smiled wanly at us. “I’ll do my best to implement any changes that the King and Queen see fit to impose.”
“I just hope a uniform isn’t one of them.” The younger guard snickered, and Bayle shot him a glare.
Kasper had worn his Högdragen uniform, the way he did any time he was working. Since I wasn’t officially on the Högdragen, I wasn’t allowed to wear one, so I’d gone with a modified version of a tracker solider uniform: tailored black linen with epaulets, but not nearly as flashy as the silver and black velvet one Kasper wore.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your name,” Kasper said, his tone even and polite.
“Cyrano Moen.” The younger man straightened up, raising his chin. “I’m the Queen’s personal guard.”
“Well, Cyrano, it’s funny that you mention uniforms, because I was actually going to suggest them,” Kasper said, causing Cyrano to scowl.
“We’ve always had a dress code here.” Bayle gestured to his and Cyrano’s outfits, which were very businesslike—dark trousers, dress shirts, ties. Cyrano even had a suit jacket.
“A dress code isn’t the same as a uniform,” Kasper explained. “The Kanin have found that not only do those wearing a uniform tend to exhibit more pride and integrity on the job, but they also have more of a presence since they give the guard greater visibility. Ultimately, we’ve found that a uniform provides a sense of security and helps curb assaults.”
Cyrano looked at Kennet, almost pleading with him to stop Kasper, but Kennet shrugged and smiled.
“We actually do have uniforms,” Bayle said. “We only wear them for special occasions, like weddings or coronations, but it wouldn’t be unthinkable for us to start wearing them on a daily basis.”
“You’re all working together!” Kennet beamed and clapped Bayle on the back. Still grinning, he looked at me. “Is there anything more you need from me before I leave Bayle to show you around the place?”
“No, I’m certain Bayle will be more than helpful,” Kasper replied.
I didn’t say anything, but my gaze had wandered back to the strange vault door at the other side of the room. It stood in stark contrast to the worn look of everything else. I wondered if the armory was behind it, but I doubted the Skojare had much in the way of weapons.
“You wanna see what’s behind that door?” Kennet asked with a wag of his eyebrows.
Bayle cleared his throat. “My Prince, I’m not sure if that would be wise.”
“Nonsense!” Kennet strode across the room. “There are several guards here. Nothing will go wrong.”
I shook my head. “I don’t need to see anything if it will cause trouble.”
“It’s no trouble at all.” Kennet punched a few numbers on a state-of-the-art keypad next to the door, then scanned his thumb—both of which were light years ahead of the lock-and-key system the Skojare had for the dungeon.
Kasper pursed his lips and glanced over at me, as if I had intentionally brought this on. While Bayle seemed to have misgivings about Kennet opening the door, Cyrano had walked up behind Kennet, almost standing on his tiptoes so he could peer inside the second it opened.
There were several loud clicks, followed by a strange wooshing sound, and then the door slowly opened a bit. Kennet glanced around and, seeing that I wasn’t beside him, he waved me over.
“Come have a look,” he insisted with a smile. As soon as I’d reached him, he threw open the door, and I was nearly blinded by the sparkling inside.
I wish I could say that it didn’t hit me the way it did—that my jaw didn’t drop and my heart didn’t skip a beat for a moment. But despite my education, and even my career in service, I still had troll blood coursing through my veins, and if there was one thing trolls desired in life it was gems.
The round room behind the vault door wasn’t very large—maybe the size of standard swimming pool. White lights from the ceiling were aimed perfectly so there could be no shadows. Nothing could hide in here.
But the space was packed with sapphires. It actually seemed like a rather childish way to store them, with jewels simply piled up around the room. There were a few shelves where larger, more precious stones were displayed, but mostly they were just strewn about. Millions of dollars in gemstones were lying around the way a messy child might leave toy cars.
While most of the sapphires were a darker blue, they came in all shades ranging from pale turquoise to nearly black, not to mention some that were pink or red. Some were translucent, like diamonds, while others were opaque, like opals. But all of them sparkled like the night sky.