The shower lasted a very long time. I know this because it started out hot, but when I’d finished, the water was icy cold. I walked across the hall from the bathroom, wearing only a white robe. I’d thrown my clothes away in the trash can. I didn’t need them anymore.
When I went into my room, I still felt vaguely as though I was in a dream. I just couldn’t seem to feel my body. It was as if I were floating above everything, not a part of this world, and I wondered if this was what it felt like to be a ghost.
“Bryn?” Kennet asked, and I looked over to see him sitting on my bed. His usual smile was gone, and his eyes were dark.
“How long have you been there?” I asked.
“Long enough,” he said, like I would know what that meant, and he stood up so he could walk closer to me. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted, and I wasn’t sure I had the ability to lie right then. It seemed out of the realm of my abilities to make things up. “I just killed a man.”
I waited a beat before adding, “I’ve never killed anyone before.”
It was so much simpler than I expected. Taking a life seemed like it should be a much greater challenge, but my sword had gone through him just like it would through anything else. And then he was dead.
There was a weight to that that I hadn’t expected. No amount of training or even belief that I had done the right thing could change the way it felt. A man had been alive. Now he wasn’t. And it was because of me.
“You were doing your job, what you needed to do,” Kennet said. “That’s why I came here. To thank you for saving my brother’s life.”
“Is the King okay?”
I tried to collect myself, realizing that I had a job to do. I was a tracker. I’d been training for years to do what I’d just done. I just needed to get through the shock of it all.
“Yes, he’s fine, thanks to you.” Kennet smiled. “Mikko wanted me to extend his gratitude to you, and I’m certain he’ll do it personally later on. He thought you might need time to collect yourself.”
“No, I’m fine.” I brushed my fingers through my tangles of wet hair and turned, walking away from Kennet and toward the window. It was still daylight out, and a few rays of light managed to break through the murky water. “I’ll do whatever they need me to do.”
“No one needs you to do anything right now.” Kennet followed me, his steps measured to match my slow place, before stopping behind me. “The King has given you the night off to do as you wish.”
“But isn’t there an investigation to be done?” I turned back to face him.
“The King, Kasper, and Bayle are handling it right now,” Kennet reassured me. “You can join them tomorrow. But for now, I think it’s best if you get some rest.”
I shook my head. “I’m fine. I don’t need rest. I need to figure out what’s going on.”
“Bryn, take a break when you’ve earned it.” Kennet sounded weary, probably growing exhausted from trying to convince me that there was more to life than work. “And by Ægir’s might, you’ve earned it.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Kennet was close enough that I could breathe him in again—the heady scent of the sea and fresh rain and ice. He smelled of water in all its forms, so wonderful and soothing.
Without thinking, I leaned into him, resting my head against his chest, and he responded by wrapping his arms around me and holding me to him.
“I’m sorry if I come on too strong.” His words were muffled in my hair as he spoke. “It’s just that this palace can be awfully lonely day after day. But I don’t want anything from you that you don’t want to give.”
I buried my head deeper in his chest.
“You smell like home,” I whispered, realizing too late that my inability to lie had also become an inability to filter. Words were tumbling out without hesitation. “But not like the house I grew up in.”
“It’s water that you smell,” he explained, his words muffled in my hair. “And water is your home.”
Home. It was the last word that echoed through my mind when sleep finally overtook me that night.
I remembered nothing from my dreams, but I couldn’t shake the fear. I was sitting in my bed, in the strange darkened room of the Skojare palace, covered in a cold sweat and gasping for breath, and I didn’t know why I was so terrified.
Kennet had slipped out after I’d fallen asleep, which was only proper. But I missed the comfort of his presence, and I realized that in spite of all my best intentions, I now considered Kennet a friend.
“Bryn?” Kasper cautiously pushed open my bedroom door and looked in. “Are you awake?”
“Yeah.” I sat up straighter and used the blanket to wipe the sweat from my brow. “Yeah, you can come in.”
“Are you okay?” Kasper asked. Even in the darkness, my distress must’ve been apparent.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I brushed it off. “What do you need?”
“I know I told you to rest, and I understand if you want to—”
“Just tell me what’s going on,” I said, rushing him along.
“We’re going to check out Cyrano Moen’s house, and I thought you’d want to join us.”
The clock on my nightstand said it was nearly midnight. “Now? Why haven’t you already gone?”
He let out an irritated sigh. “I don’t know. Bayle insisted that we do all this other pointless stuff first.” He shook his head. “Honestly, I want you to join me so I can have another set of eyes that I can trust.”
“I’ll go with you.”
I hopped out of bed, and Kasper turned away since I’d been sleeping in just a tank top and underwear. I hurried to throw on a pair of jeans and a shirt, and then we left my room.
Cyrano Moen’s house was three miles from the palace, counting the long walk on the dock that connected the palace with the mainland. Storvatten itself was a strange, quiet village with no street lights and no real roads to speak of, just dirt paths meandering through the darkness.
Most of the houses were burrows—squat little houses half-buried in the ground with thatched roofs and moss growing up over them. Cyrano’s was no different, but unlike the other houses surrounding it, his actually had the lights on.