Mikko nodded once. “Go ahead.”
“Do you know how Cyrano Moen could have come into possession of sapphires?” Kasper asked.
“No.” Mikko’s hands were resting on his lap, and he began to rub one palm against his leg anxiously. “Sapphires are the most plentiful stones in our kingdom, though. Perhaps he bartered with someone for them.”
“We had considered this, but the ones he had were very valuable,” Kasper explained. “Bayle estimated their worth at upwards of twenty thousand apiece.”
Mikko’s expression remained hard, unchanged by the news Kasper had given him, and his eyes were now locked on the floor. He sat stoically, not responding, for nearly a minute before he said, “He shouldn’t have had those.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“I don’t know how a guard would come by those.” Mikko looked up at us and shook his head. “I have no idea how he would’ve gotten them.”
“We suspect he might have been paid,” Kasper said, “for his attempt on your life.”
The King lowered his eyes and didn’t say anything. He’d stopped moving his hand on his leg, and aside from the subtle movement of his gills when he breathed, he was as still as a statue.
“Do you know who would have access to those kinds of sapphires and would want to hurt you?” I asked him, speaking slowly and carefully.
Of course, Kasper and I already knew who had access to the sapphires, and that list was only four people long. The only person I’d really crossed off was Marksinna Lisbet. I believed she cared too much about her granddaughter to risk anything that might get Linnea hurt.
But even Queen Linnea—who seemed friendly and naive—could be putting on an act, and she could be behind everything. Most of what I knew about things here in Storvatten had come from her, and I really had no way of knowing if she was lying or not.
Despite my newfound friendship with Prince Kennet, I still didn’t trust him farther than I could throw him. As the younger brother of the King, I could think of a very obvious motive for him to want his brother out of the way, but I had no idea why he’d have planned an attack on Linnea.
That was assuming of course that Cyrano’s attack on Mikko and Konstantin’s on Linnea were related, which was the theory that Kasper and I were going on at the moment.
And as for Mikko, with his hardened expression and clipped answers, I honestly had no idea what to make of him. I had been hoping that talking to him would clear things up, but he seemed even more cagey than usual.
“No.” Mikko shook his head. “I can think of no one.”
“According to Marksinna Lisbet, only four people can get to the vault,” Kasper said, pushing Mikko a bit since he wasn’t being forthcoming.
“Sapphires can come from anywhere, not just the vault,” Mikko replied curtly.
I glanced over at Kasper. We had considered this too, but given how many sapphires were in the vault and how poor the rest of the community was, it seemed very unlikely that they came from anywhere else.
“The four people who can get into the vault are your grandmother-in-law, your brother, your wife, and yourself,” Kasper went on as if Mikko hadn’t said anything.
“Thank you for informing me of things of which I’m already aware, but I don’t think I can be of help to you.” Mikko stood up abruptly. “I’m sorry I don’t know more, but I should begin preparing for the day. Bayle Lundeen is running a meeting later today, and I am certain that I’ll see you both there.”
Both Kasper and I were taken aback, and it was a few seconds before we could gather our wits. We thanked the King for his time and then left his chambers, since there was nothing else we could really do.
We saw ourselves out, and once we were in safely in the hall with the door closed behind us, I turned to Kasper. “He knows something.”
“But who is he protecting?” Kasper asked. “Himself, or someone he cares about?”
Kasper told me to go rest, but I had other plans in mind.
After spending the morning going over our notes and talking to anyone we could, we still had an hour left until the meeting with Bayle Lundeen was set to start. Kasper and I had tried to speak with him, but he kept insisting that he was busy and he’d talk to us during the meeting.
Apparently, I still wasn’t looking so hot, so Kasper had all but commanded me to go lay down, promising he would get me in time for the meeting. I considered it, but I knew sleep wouldn’t make me feel better. So I changed into a tank top and leggings and headed outside.
On the back of the palace was a stone patio, curved along the edge to mimic the waves on the outer walls. A hundred rounded stairs led down from the patio to the bottom of the lake, and I descended them slowly, pushing through the shock of the cold as I waded into the water.
Even in May, Lake Superior barely got above freezing. The Skojare kept the ice at bay through a combination of practical tools and magic, but that didn’t mean the water was warm by any means.
A human would succumb to hypothermia in as little as fifteen minutes, but I was no human. The Skojare thrived in the cold water. Spending their entire existence in Scandinavia, northern Europe, and Canada, they had adapted to handle the harsh temperatures of swimming in freezing lakes.
Even the Kanin had adjusted to the cold, but I doubted Kasper or Tilda would fare as well stepping into the icy lake as I would. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant feeling—like an electrical current running over my skin. But I couldn’t deny that there was something strangely enjoyable about it.
The chill took my breath away, and it felt as though it was waking up parts of my body I hadn’t even known were sleeping. I lay on my back, floating on the surface. The sun warmed me from above, while the cold water rocked me from below.
I just needed to be able to clear my head. The last twenty-four hours had been a blur of insanity, and I couldn’t seem to process any of it.
I knew that I’d killed Cyrano, and I knew that it had been the correct thing to do given my job and his actions. But I couldn’t make sense of how I felt about it. Numb perhaps, the numbness was mixed with sadness and regret and pride.
Sadness because a man had died, and regret because I was convinced I could’ve done something differently so he’d still be alive. And pride because I had done exactly what I had been trained to do. When it came down to it, I had acted and saved the King.
It seemed nearly impossible to reconcile those three emotions.