Lunch usually meant hurriedly devouring salads and hard-boiled eggs in the cafeteria at the school, all the trackers crammed in together like sardines since we were working at full capacity.
So that was why I didn’t mind skipping out on lunch to head over to Tilda’s apartment. Yesterday, while we’d been getting ready for her wedding, she had asked me if I could come over to get the keys to her place so she could show me how to feed her goldfish while she was on her honeymoon. She and Kasper were leaving this afternoon, so this was the last chance to do it.
I left the school feeling lighter than I had in days. After the conversation with Ridley, the future felt like it actually held the promise of something good. The dark days that had been surrounding me might actually be making a turn for the better.
We were still at war, and things weren’t over yet, but for the first time in a while, I felt optimistic. As I walked downtown, I caught myself humming.
A Land Rover was parked in front of the electronics shop below Tilda’s apartment, presumably rented from the King’s fleet, since other than a few of the very rich, nobody owned a vehicle in Doldastam. The tailgate was open, and Kasper was loading up two large duffle bags in the back.
“I thought you guys were only gonna be gone for a couple days,” I said and motioned to the overstuffed bags in the back.
“Three days, two nights at a bed and breakfast in Churchill.” Kasper shut the back of the SUV and turned to me with a look of resigned exasperation.
With everything that was going on, the King didn’t want them to be gone for very long, and for their own safety, Kasper and Tilda had chosen a human town only an hour’s drive from Doldastam.
“And Tilda actually has a bag upstairs still. But the pregnancy is making her worry more, and if what she needs to relax on this honeymoon is everything and the kitchen sink, then I’ll be more than happy to load it up.”
I smiled at him. “You’re gonna make a great husband.”
Kasper laughed. “Just remind Tilda of that when she gets mad at me, okay?”
We went down a narrow alley squished between the electronics shop and the taxidermist next door. Around the back of the shop was a doorway that opened to a set of stairs leading up to the small two-bedroom apartment. Tilda had lived there for two years by herself, and it had to be one of the most contemporary places in all of Doldastam.
I opened the door expecting her usual immaculateness. Tilda always kept it looking like something out of a magazine showcasing trendy New York apartments. Instead, I was greeted by an unexpected mess—clothes were strewn all over her sofa, several cardboard boxes were stacked up in the living room, and dirty dishes were piled up in the sink.
Tilda came out from her back bedroom and gave me a sheepish smile. “I know, I know. It’s a total disaster, but I haven’t had time to clean.”
“No, don’t worry about it,” I said as I made my way through the labyrinths of boxes and stepped over a glass punchbowl, which I assumed had been a wedding gift.
On the peninsula that separated the kitchen from the living room, Tilda had a fishbowl with two of the fattest goldfish I had even seen. Not only were they several inches long, they were completely rotund.
“These are Odin and Odessa.” Tilda pointed to the one with the longer fantail flowing out behind it as it swam. “That one’s Odessa. Odin is the fatter one. Kasper got them for me on my birthday in February.” She opened the cupboard below them and pulled out a cylinder of fish food. “They were smaller when I got them, but they’ve just kinda ballooned. Usually when I’m on missions, Kasper takes care of them, but I think he overfeeds them, which is why they’ve gotten so fat.”
Kasper had followed us, and he rested his arms on the granite countertop, leaning forward. “Thanks, dear.”
“Well, it’s true.” Tilda shrugged and went onto explain the exact right amount of food to give the fish and how to properly care for them in case of some kind of fish emergency.
“I think I can handle that,” I said when she’d finished.
“Knowing that you’re taking good care of them and that you’re watching the apartment will give me one less thing to worry about,” Tilda said.
“Yeah, thank you, Bryn,” Kasper added. “And not to change the subject, but what ended up happening last night with you at the palace?”
After Kennet and I had had our conversation, I’d gone home, since the night already felt exhausting. I’d texted Tilda to let her know I was okay, so she wouldn’t worry, but I hadn’t said anything more because I didn’t want to ruin her wedding night with work talk.
“That’s right!” Tilda put her hand on her face in distress. “I totally forgot to ask you about that! What happened?”
“It was just … strange.” I shook my head. “Prince Kennet came from Storvatten to personally thank the King and Queen for helping, and I guess he wanted to thank me too.”
Kasper’s brow creased in bewilderment. “That is rather strange.”
“Yeah, I thought so too,” I agreed. “Apparently, he’s the acting ruler now.”
“What?” Kasper appeared as surprised as I’d felt when I found out. “I thought Lisbet was gonna get that.”
“I don’t know exactly what happened, but Kennet is the King now.” I shook my head. “He got rid of Bayle, which is good, but the trial with Mikko is still on, which seems bizarre to me. I mean, if Kennet is in control can’t he just make it go away?”
“Yes, unless he doesn’t want to make it go away,” he replied.
I chewed the inside of my cheek, taking in Kasper’s response. “He gave Mina a necklace of sapphires.”
“Buying her loyalty?” Kasper asked, and I nodded. “The exact same way someone bought Cyrano Moen’s.”
The way Kasper said that made something click in my brain. Pieces that hadn’t fit together started falling into place.
“When Ridley and I went down to find Linnea before, Mikko barely spoke to us,” I remembered. “Kennet worked as his liaison, and he kept saying that all the attempts at blocking the investigation were coming from Mikko, but how would we know that? Kennet could’ve just as easily been doing it himself. And Boyle refused to let anyone look at the records, so he could’ve easily fabricated evidence to frame Mikko.”
“He planned the kidnapping of Linnea, and then he was involved in the investigation, so he could shift the blame however he wanted.” Kasper straightened up. “And he wanted to shift it onto his brother.”