“I’m sure it’s hard for him,” I said gently, trying to offer Kennet a bit of comfort. “With everything that happened, and now with you being the King. Mikko is going through a very difficult time.”
“He never even wanted to be King,” Kennet muttered, still staring down at his glass. “I offered to take the crown in his place, but Mikko refused to go against Father’s decree.” He shook his head and took a long drink.
“When I left, Marksinna Lisbet told me she thought she’d be placed as acting monarch,” I told him.
“Did she?” Kennet laughed. “She is one crazy old bat.”
The sharpness of his words startled me, but I quickly recovered and asked, “What do you mean?”
“I’m next in line for the throne.” He looked at me like it should have been obvious. “If anything happens to Mikko, it goes to me. There’s no way that a Marksinna with no ties to our bloodline would ever be in charge, even for a moment.”
“Maybe it was just wishful thinking on her part,” I said. “She was just worried about Linnea’s safety.”
Kennet scoffed. “I can keep the kingdom safe.”
“Her biggest concern—and mine too, really—was continuing to allow Bayle Lundeen to remain in charge of the guard.”
“Then you can both rest at ease,” he smiled at me. “The first thing I did after being appointed was dismiss Bayle.”
“You fired him?” I asked, almost breathless in my relief.
He nodded. “I did, but I think he feared an investigation, so he immediately took off. We have a few guards looking for him, but I’m not sure what a guard like ours will really turn up.”
“So then are the charges against Mikko dropped?” I asked.
Kennet shook his head. “It’s not quite that simple. There’s still evidence against him, and we do have to wait for a trial. I’m sure this will all be sorted out soon.” He walked over to me, probably because I’d softened since our conversation had started.
“Is Linnea holding up okay?” I asked, since I didn’t know what to say to that.
“About as well as you’d imagine.”
“But you’ll keep her safe, won’t you?” I asked, and I tried to play on his pride to ensure that he would do everything in his power to protect her. “As long as you’re the acting King, you wouldn’t let anything happen to her, would you?”
“No, of course not,” he said, and a sparkle had returned to his eyes. “But if you’re really concerned about her, why don’t you come with me?”
“Prince—” I started to decline, but he silenced me.
“I know I was a little overzealous before, and I am truly sorry about that,” Kennet said, his voice low and apologetic. “But I like having you around, and Linnea would love to have you back. You can help us, and honestly, we do need you.”
“I appreciate the offer, I really do,” I said. “But as much as I enjoy your company and Linnea’s, I just don’t think can. There’s too much going on in Doldastam.”
Kennet frowned. “So that’s a no?”
“No.” I shook my head. “My place is here.”
“Oh, Bryn.” He let out a sigh, and he reached out to fix a lavender flower that had come loose from my hair. When he finished, he looked down at me sadly. “I don’t think you really know your place at all.”?
It was time to get back to reality.
That’s what I told myself after I’d finished getting changed in the locker room. I pulled my hair up in a ponytail and headed out to the gym, determined to head back to work.
With everything going on—Storvatten preparing for war, Viktor and Konstantin, not to mention things with Ridley, and Kennet’s bizarre invitation last night, and Tilda’s wedding, which was a good thing but still out of the ordinary—my life had been completely devoid of routine.
Since I’d joined tracker school when I was twelve, this place and this job had been my one constant. I was sent out on missions where I had to encounter changelings and deal with unique obstacles, but I always came back here.
And right now, when everything felt like it was crumbling down on me, I needed this more than ever. I needed to disappear into my work until I was completely gone.
So when I stepped into the gym, expecting my tiny little haven in the chaos of the world, I was caught off guard to see that things had been completely turned upside down.
All the trackers were training at once—some doing combat or sword fighting, others lifting weights, while still others were running laps—which filled the gym with far more people than I would’ve preferred. On top of all that there was also a group of around twenty-five Markis and Marksinna standing in formation as Ember commanded them.
I recognized a few of them, like Linus Berling, but the rest of them stood out thanks to their designer workout clothes. One girl was even training while wearing a diamond tennis bracelet and chandelier earrings.
“Down!” Ember shouted as I walked over to her, and her ragtag troops dropped to the floor.
Some of them moved more quickly than others, and I wasn’t surprised to see that Marksinna Tennis Bracelet had trouble keeping up. Linus did relatively well, but he relied more on effort than skill. A girl in the front was doing astonishingly well, though, as if she had been training for years.
When she hit the ground, I noticed a subtle change in her skin color—the deep olive darkening to match the black of her workout clothes for a second. Her long dark hair was in a loose braid that bounced when she dropped. Her large eyes were almost almond shaped, and she kept them locked on Ember as she awaited her next order.
“Up!” Ember commanded almost as soon as they hit the floor, and they hurried to get back on their feet. When Ember saw me, she smiled. “Why don’t we all take five? You’ve been working hard.”
“How’s it going?” I asked Ember as her troops took a breather or got something to drink. Linus offered me a quick wave before jogging over to the drinking fountain.
“Good.” She nodded. “They’re shaping up really well.”
“That’s only because we have such a good teacher.” The girl in the front wiped sweat from her brow, and she had a water bottle in her hand.
“Thanks.” Ember smiled, maybe a little too widely, and they looked at each other for what was beginning to feel like an uncomfortable amount of time. “Uh, sorry. Bryn, this is Delilah, I mean, Marksinna Delilah Nylen.”