Linnea held my hand as we ran down the hall, practically dragging me along behind her, and as we entered Lisbet’s chambers, she continued to do so. I wanted to let go or pull free, but she squeezed so tightly I thought she needed it.
“What are you all doing here?” Lisbet asked, sounding more harried than surprised.
Despite the early hour, Lisbet was already up and getting ready for the day. Instead of her usual gowns and dresses, she wore suit pants with flowing wide legs and an elegant top, while her matching jacket lay carefully on her bed. She flitted about the room, putting in large dangling earrings, barely stopping to look at us.
“We want to talk to you about Mikko,” Linnea said, summoning all her strength.
“I have a great many meetings today, all centered on him,” Lisbet replied tiredly. She began rummaging through the drawer on her vanity. “I can’t imagine there’s anything more I have to say about him.”
Linnea stepped away from me, letting go of my hand. “But Nana, he’s innocent! Bryn and Kasper think so too!”
Kasper appeared startled by this declaration, since he’d never said anything indicating he felt that way.
Lisbet apparently found what she was looking for—a heavily jeweled bracelet—and she straightened up and looked over at us as she put it on. “Is that true?”
“I haven’t seen any evidence that’s shown King Mikko’s guilt definitively,” I replied, choosing my words very carefully so as not to alienate Linnea, but I need to be truthful. “But I haven’t been allowed to see very much evidence at all.”
Lisbet nodded. “That is an unfortunate necessity.”
Every time Kasper and I had tried to get more information yesterday, we’d hit a wall. While I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest that Lisbet declare Mikko wrongfully accused the way Linnea had, I did realize that now was the perfect opportunity to see if Lisbet could remove some of those walls.
“If we had more access, I’m certain we could be of help—” I began, but Lisbet held up her hand, silencing me.
“You’ve already been more than enough help,” she said. “But I’m afraid your time here has run its course. Members of another tribe—no matter how well-meaning and how educated—cannot be involved in deciding the fate of our King.”
I lowered my eyes. “Of course.”
“Things are changing a great deal here, and I truly believe my granddaughter is much safer, and that is because of you,” Lisbet went on. “Both of you have been integral in improving our way of life here in Storvatten.”
“We have been compiling a report of our recommendations,” Kasper said, since it seemed clear that Lisbet was about to give us leave. “What would you like us to do with it?”
“I would like you to complete it. We will definitely be taking all your recommendations under advisement,” Lisbet said.
“But Nana, Mikko…” Linnea whined, impatient with all the talk not about her husband—which was understandable given her desperation.
“Linnea, my love, we have already gone over this many times.” Lisbet spoke sweetly, but strain was visible in her face—the tight smile, the irritation in her eyes. “The inquest will decide what happens. I know you love him, but you must wait—as I must, as the entire kingdom must—to find out the truth, and then you must learn to be satisfied with whatever that may be.”
“But this isn’t fair! It’s not right!” Linnea shouted with tears in her eyes, then turned to me. “Bryn! Tell her!”
At first, I said nothing, caught off guard at being put in such a position, but I finally came up with, “My Queen, you know my thoughts on this won’t affect the outcome.”
“She is right, Linnea,” Lisbet said. “You must learn to be patient.”
Linnea pushed back her platinum ringlets and tried to stay collected, but she’d only had the most tenuous grasp on composure all morning. It all became too much for her, and she burst out sobbing. Her grandmother reached out to comfort her, but Linnea pushed Lisbet off. Mumbling apologies, she ran into the adjoining bathroom and slammed the door shut behind her.
“I’m sorry for her outburst,” Lisbet said. “She’s still very young, and the past few weeks have been very hard on her.”
“No need for apologies,” I assured her. “But it sounds as if you’re saying our time here is done.”
Lisbet walked over to the bed and put on her suit jacket, a large sapphire brooch already pinned to the front. “I do think you’ve helped as much as you can.”
“What of the Queen’s safety? And your own?” I asked.
In the back of my mind was Konstantin’s warning that my life was in danger in Storvatten—assuming he had actually visited me in a lysa, and it wasn’t simply a stress dream. Either way, it didn’t matter. If I felt that Linnea wasn’t safe or that I had a job to do here, I would argue to stay.
“I am looking into it, off the radar of the guard, and I will get to the bottom of things. And I can assure you that I value Linnea’s life more than my own,” Lisbet told me emphatically. “Her safety will be my utmost priority.”
“Marksinna, I know how much you love your granddaughter, but with all due respect, the kingdom has already been falling down around you,” I said. “And I fear the both of you will continue to be in danger. At least as long as Bayle Lundeen is in charge.”
“Today, I will attend a meeting where the acting monarch is declared in Mikko’s absence,” Lisbet said. “I am going to do all I can to ensure that I get the position, and my very first act will be removing Bayle.” She stared down at me severely. “This kingdom will not fall apart as long as I’m around.”
I wanted to argue with her, but the truth was that Lisbet had far more power than I did. She was much better equipped to handle the heft of the Skojare problems than I was. By removing Cyrano Moen, and by convincing Lisbet to remove Bayle, I had done all I could to keep Linnea safe.
“I’m sorry I don’t have more time to talk to you, but as you can imagine, it’s a crazy time here in our kingdom,” Lisbet said. “Once you complete the report, deliver it to me. Then you are free to head back to Doldastam.”
In the week since Kasper and I had left, Doldastam had warmed up some, but it was still buried under snow, which was typical even for May. I’d gotten so used to looking out the windows of the Skojare palace and seeing the dark water surrounding us, it was a strange relief to see the overcast sky and snow-covered landscape.