His mouth twitched, then he turned to me and said, “I think you get too familiar with people in authority.”
My jaw dropped. I’d expected maybe a small admonishment about my posture or something. The only thing he’d really corrected me for in Storvatten was that I didn’t stand tall enough.
“Don’t look so shocked.” Kasper sighed, and his shoulders relaxed. “I’m not trying to be mean, and it’s good that they like you. It speaks well of how you carry yourself and interact with others, especially those in power who are generally slow to grow fond of those who serve them.”
“You wouldn’t have brought it up if you didn’t think it was a bad thing,” I said.
“I think it’s a dangerous thing,” he clarified. “Queen Linnea treated you more as a friend than a servant—which is what a guard is, when it comes down to it.”
I lowered my eyes. “Things were strange in Storvatten. The Queen needed someone to rely on.”
“It’s not just there though,” Kasper said. “You’re too friendly with Ridley, and he’s your boss. You talk back to our King and Queen.”
“My job is to serve this kingdom to the best of my ability, and that means I won’t stand idly by if I think the wrong thing is being done, even if the one doing it is wearing a crown.” My voice grew louder as I spoke. Kasper had been speaking to me as gently as he could, but it was hard for me not to feel defensive.
“Bryn.” He glanced toward the door, as if expecting the King to come walking in, and he pushed his hand palm down in a gesture indicating that I should lower my voice. “I’m not attacking you. I know you have the best intentions, and you’re good at what you do.”
I folded my arms over my chest. “That’s not what it sounded like.”
“When I’m working, I set aside my opinions and feelings,” he explained. “I simply do as I am told. My job is to follow the King’s orders, and when I’m done, I’m done. My day is over, and I go home to Tilda, and soon I’ll come home to a baby. There I have opinions and thoughts, because that’s my life. That’s where those things fit.”
“You care about your job just as much as I do,” I countered.
“No, I take my job as seriously as you do,” Kasper corrected me. “The things that matter the most to me aren’t my job or the King or the Queen. They’re Tilda, and my family, and my friends. Those are things I’m passionate about. But at work, I keep my mouth shut and do my job.”
I shook my head. “Well, I guess my service is more than just a job to me. I’m willing to sacrifice anything to help our people”—I couldn’t help but think of Ridley, and I swallowed back the ache he always brought to my chest—“so if I overstep my role, it’s only because this job matters so much to me.”
“I’m not trying to upset you, Bryn,” Kasper said. “I admire your devotion—everyone does. It’s how you’ve gotten so far. All I’m saying is that it’s not good when you make your job your whole life, and it’s even more dangerous when you mistake the people who reign over you for your friends.”
I opened my mouth to argue but stopped myself when I realized I was being defensive. Because what he’d said was true. Every night when he went home to Tilda and their future child, I went home to an empty loft.
It was the life I’d chosen for myself. But was it really the life I wanted?
Even a ride on Bloom couldn’t help me shake my unease. The horse tried his best, galloping along the wall that surrounded Doldastam as fast as he could, but when I took him back to the stable I still wasn’t feeling any better. He nuzzled me more than usual, his mane as soft as silk as it rubbed against me, and I fed him an extra apple before leaving.
The debriefing with the King had gone about as I’d thought it would—he’d already heard about Mikko’s arrest and mainly been interested in who would be ruling the Skojare in his absence. But Evert had seemed more distracted than normal, and he left the meeting within a few minutes with brusque congratulations on a job well done.
I wanted to work off the anxiety that Storvatten and Konstantin and even Kasper’s lecture had caused, but that required dealing with everything that went along with going to work. So that left me walking around town, trying to clear my head. My path took me by the tracker school, but I deliberately gave it a wide berth in case I spotted Ridley. I definitely wasn’t prepared to see to him yet.
As I walked by, I glanced over at the training yard behind the school. A split-rail wooden fence surrounded the yard, in an attempt to keep out the children who mistook it for a playground. Most of it was flat, level dirt with the snow shoveled away, but there was a climbing wall and a few other obstacles.
With the temperature just below freezing and the air still, it was a perfect day for the trackers to be out running a course. Instead, I only saw two people, and because of the distance between us it took me a few seconds longer than it should’ve to realize that it was Ember training with someone else.
Her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she wore a black thermal shirt and boots that went halfway up her calf. Her sparring partner was a guy, dressed similarly to her but with the addition of a thick winter cap. Even though he was taller and broader shouldered than her, Ember had no problem pushing him around.
Since no one else was outside, I decided to walk over and say hi. I’d just reached the fence when I finally recognized her combatant, and I realized with dismay that Ember had just thrown Markis Linus Berling to the ground.
“What are you doing?” I asked, but instead of a friendly greeting it sounded much more like a demand.
I’d never seen a Markis or Marksinna training before, in large part because a tracker was never, ever supposed to lay their hands on one, especially not the way Ember just had.
“Bryn!” Ember grinned at me, apparently not noticing the accusation in my tone. “I heard you were coming back today.”
“Hey, Bryn.” Linus smiled at me, and Ember extended her hand and helped pull him to his feet.
“What are you two doing?” I managed to sound less angry this time as I leaned on the fence.
“Since you’ve been gone, I’ve been working as Linus’s tracker, helping him acclimate and all that.” Ember started walking over to me, and Linus followed, brushing snow off his pants as he did.