He smirked darkly at me. “So you thought it would be better to blindside me in a meeting with the King and Queen?”
“No, I … I wasn’t thinking.” And that was the truth. Everything had been such a mess lately, and I hadn’t been able to think clearly—especially when it came to Ridley. “I screwed up. I’m sorry.”
“No.” Ridley waved his hands and took a step back from me. “I don’t need your apologies, Bryn. And I think for right now it’d probably be best if we stayed away from each other as much as we can.”
“Ridley,” I said lamely, but I didn’t argue with him.
Then he turned and walked away, his footsteps echoing heavily in the empty hall, and as my head began to ache again I felt more alone than I had in a long time.
When I stepped into the gymnasium, the noise from training fell to a dull murmur, and I could feel eyes turning toward me as the door groaned shut behind me. Thanks to my Skojare-esque appearance, I was used to being stared at in Doldastam—my blond hair and pale skin had always stood out in stark contrast to the tan skin and dark hair of the rest of the Kanin. But this was way beyond normal.
Since the King had officially declared war on Viktor Dålig, Konstantin Black, and all of their associates yesterday afternoon, the tracker school had been turned into an army training camp.
The changes had fallen over the city swiftly and quietly. As I’d walked to the tracker school in the blowing snow, I’d noticed Högdragen standing guard in front of houses—two in front of the more important Markis and Marksinna homes, while one was enough for the less notable families. In the least prominent neighborhoods, one guard would be enough for a whole block.
Even this room full of trackers seemed different: some stood in rows listening to an instructor, while others ran laps and still others did combat drills. Yesterday they had been merely trackers, but now they were soldiers, preparing for a war with an enemy that they might never encounter.
All these changes had taken place because of me, because of what I’d told the King, and because I’d let Viktor Dålig and Konstantin Black slip through my fingers once again. That’s why everyone looked at me, their expressions ranging from respect to skepticism to annoyance.
Ember Holmes broke through the trackers practicing combat drills. Her dark hair bounced in a ponytail behind her, but her bangs were damp with sweat, making them stick to her olive skin.
Boxing tape bound her hands, but her knuckles were still red and one of them was bleeding. To make up for her petite size, she fought twice as hard as anybody else, and I’m sure she’d given her training opponent a run for his money today.
“Haven’t any of you ever seen another tracker before?” Ember asked over her shoulder, casting an irritated glare at everyone in the gym as she walked toward me.
The teacher instructing the trackers barked an order, and that seemed to get everyone back in motion. The volume in the room returned to normal, and I could feel eyes shift away from me.
“You’re late,” Ember pointed out, as if I weren’t aware. “I thought you might be taking the day off to recuperate.”
“I had considered it,” I told her, but that was a lie. The headaches still flared up intermittently, and occasionally the vision in my right eye blurred for a few minutes. But I didn’t need any more time to rest. I was ready to get back to work.
I just hadn’t wanted to come here and deal with all this. Especially when I didn’t know what the point of the heightened security was. Viktor Dålig and Konstantin Black were dangerous, but we didn’t know where there were, and there were only two of them. It wasn’t like we were planning to invade another tribe or country. An army felt unnecessary.
“Bryn Aven.” Tilda Moller smirked down at me, but there was a playful gleam in her smoky eyes. “Nice of you to join us.”
Unlike the other trackers who were dressed in workout clothes, Tilda had on a tailored black linen jacket with epaulets on the shoulders and matching trousers—our army uniform. The jacket hung open, revealing a white shirt and the subtle curve of her belly. Her hair was pulled back into a smooth ponytail, and with a clipboard and papers in hand Tilda looked every bit the part of an officer.
“I didn’t expect to see you here.” I smiled up at her. “I was afraid you were on leave.”
“Modified duty,” she corrected me. “I won’t be fighting, but I can help organize and make assignments.”
“Where do you want me then?” It didn’t really matter where Tilda put me, as long I was doing something. I had plenty of frustration I needed to get out.
As Tilda ran her finger down the clipboard, I caught sight of a shiny new silver band wrapped around the ring finger on her left hand.
“Whoa, what’s that?” Ember asked, noticing the same thing I had.
“Oh, this old thing?” Tilda laughed, and her cheeks reddened as she held up her hand for us to get a better look. “Kasper actually proposed to me at the beginning of the month, but I’ve been waiting to tell anyone until after I’d told you about the baby. Since you guys know, I thought I ought to start wearing the ring.”
“Oh my gosh, Tilda! Congratulations!” Ember squealed and threw her arms around Tilda, giving her an awkward bear hug.
I smiled. “Yeah, congrats. That’s great news.”
“I’m glad you’re both so excited,” Tilda said, carefully prying herself out of Ember’s hug. “Because I was going to see if you two wanted to be my bridesmaids?”
“Are you kidding me?” Ember asked, and she was so excited I feared she might actually explode.
“Yeah, of course,” I said. “It would be an honor.”
“When is it? What do you want me to wear?” Ember asked in one quick breath.
“Well, that’s another thing,” Tilda said, appearing sheepish. “We were originally thinking we’d get married in a couple months, before the baby was born. But with everything that’s going on right now, we decided we want to do it sooner rather than later. So we’re thinking the third of May.”
“That’s only a little over a week away,” I said in surprise.
“I know, I know, but we’re all here, and you and Ember could get sent off on a mission at any moment,” Tilda explained. “We just wanted something small and intimate anyway, and we love each other, so why not do it now?”