“How exciting! The towers are my favorite part of the palace,” Linnea enthused.
“When do you think you’ll be ready to brief me on the changes you’d like to make?” Mikko asked, surprising me by showing an actual interest in what we were talking about.
“A few more days, I think,” I said.
He nodded. “Let me know when you’re ready, and we’ll get something on the books.”
“We’re all excited to hear what recommendations you have,” Linnea said.
“We’ll certainly be honored to share them with you,” Kasper said.
“Queen Linnea, how are you finding being back in the palace?” I asked her.
Since we’d gotten back, I’d had hardly a moment to check in with her, and I was curious to find out if she still felt out of sorts. I’d have preferred to ask her when we were alone in hopes of getting a more honest answer, but since I wasn’t sure when that would be I thought now was better than never.
“I couldn’t be happier to be home. I’m a bit embarrassed for all the trouble I caused for disappearing like I did. That strange man spooked me, I suppose, but I’m glad that you brought me back where I belong.” She reached over and squeezed Mikko’s hand on the table, looking up at him in adoration, but he barely glanced at her.
“We have already tried to make a few changes to keep her safe,” Mikko said, lifting his eyes briefly to look at me. “Her personal guard was sent away and replaced with a new one.”
“I graciously offered her the use of Cyrano until they find a more permanent solution,” Kennet said. “I am a very generous man. In every aspect of my life,” he added, winking at me.
“I do already feel safer,” Linnea said, turning the conversation back and smiled brightly at me. “But it does help knowing that you and Kasper are here.”
I wanted to reassure her that she was indeed safer with us, but honestly, I wasn’t sure who exactly she needed protection from, so I remained quiet.
With the icy wind blowing through my hair, I leaned farther out the window than I knew I should have, but I couldn’t help myself. We were in the highest room in the tallest tower of the castle, and the lake had to be at least a hundred meters below us.
“I think that’s far enough, Bryn,” Kasper said, doing his best not to sound nervous.
“He’s right,” Bayle Lundeen agreed, and that’s when I reluctantly pulled myself back inside.
I wasn’t sure what it was about being here, but the power of the Skojare in my blood seemed to be stronger. The water seemed to call to me more than it normally did, and when I’d been in the sapphire room yesterday, I’d felt an uncharacteristic moment of greed.
Maybe it was being around Skojare people that amplified something inside me. Or it could simply have been the room we were in, since it was full of magic.
The tower rooms themselves weren’t overly spectacular. They were somewhat small, cylindrical spaces at the top of about a thousand stairs. (There were actually several landings along the way with couches, water fountains, and restrooms, since you’d inevitably have to take a break getting up there.)
The walls were iridescent, reminding me of the inside of clam shells, and there were two windows: one facing the shore in front, and one facing the lake to the back. Both windows opened outward, with no screen. Kasper pointed out that it seemed dangerous, but Bayle assured us there’d never been any accidents and only three suicides over the past century.
A bed curved along the wall, covered in soft blankets and plush pillows. To one side of the room was what appeared to be a large white armoire, but when Bayle showed us the inside, it contained a small toilet and pedestal sink.
Across from it was a desk made of marble, also built to curve right against the wall. Ornate designs were carved into the legs and edges, and rising from the desk was a tall bookcase, lined with all kinds of books ranging from tomes dating back hundreds of years to the latest novel by George R. R. Martin. It was a small yet varied library.
This room was a self-contained little unit meant to house the tower guards.
“So this is how you keep the palace hidden?” I asked, admiring the room around me.
Bayle nodded. “We used to have a guard in each of the five towers, but with the cloaking abilities dwindling, we don’t want to run the risk of burning out the guards we have, so we only have three on duty at all times. Since this is the tallest tower, it’s the least used.”
That made sense. If I had the choice of walking up several hundred stairs instead of a thousand to go to work, I would gladly choose the smaller tower. But Bayle had wanted to show us the full breadth of the kingdom, and we weren’t disturbing anyone by checking out this one.
The tower guards were more like trackers than they were like the Högdragen. The Skojare might not have had changelings, but like trackers, the tower guards had special abilities that were specifically nurtured in their bloodlines.
Most of the Skojare lacked psychokinesis. Like all the tribes, our abilities had begun to wane over time. The royalty tended to blame this on diluting bloodlines. I suspected there was truth to that, but I also wondered if declining use and losing touch with our heritage impacted it.
Regardless, there were still some Skojare who possessed the ability of cloaking. They couldn’t make themselves invisible, only objects and places. The power didn’t seem to work as well on trolls as it did on humans, meaning a troll could see their tricks while a human would be fooled into seeing nothing.
But that was really who they needed it for. It was how they kept humans from spotting their massive palace on the lake, and it was how they kept Lake Isolera hidden.
Unlike the palace, though, which required upkeep from tower guards, Lake Isolera had been placed under a spell long ago by one of the first Skojare queens. Her power had to have been incredibly strong, since her enchantment was the only thing that kept it cloaked. Eventually, the spell would fade, and Isolera would become an ordinary lake in the Canadian wilderness.
From what I understood, the tower guards would sit in the room and project the idea of a force field—thinking of an invisible wall that would hide everything behind it, and pushing out with their mind the way I would push against a boulder with my hands. It was a very taxing job, one that could burn people out quickly, so the guards worked in shifts and took frequent breaks lying down or reading a book.
It was necessary work, if the Skojare didn’t want to be discovered by humans, and I couldn’t imagine that discovery would go for well them.