“We’ve had a long day,” Ember supplied, since it seemed that I would stand there forever without saying anything.
“I’m just cold,” I said suddenly. “I think I should get inside.”
“Well, you stay warm,” Juni said, but she looked puzzled. “And take care.”
“Thanks, you too.” I ducked my head down and hurried toward the bakery as fast as I could.
“Why didn’t you say anything to her?” I heard Juni ask Ridley as I pulled open the door. “Are you two fighting?”
I practically ran inside the bakery so I wouldn’t have to hear his answer.
The day started rough, and it ended with me falling asleep among stacks of books in the palace library. It began with a five a.m. run around the outside of the school, shoving through the massive drifts of snow with all the other trackers. Ridley walked alongside us, barking orders and demanding that we push ourselves harder.
And I did. I pushed myself all day, through every workout and obstacle course and combat training session. The hope was that eventually I would be too exhausted to think. If I drove my body to the very brink, all my concerns about Konstantin and everything that had happened in Skojare would finally die out. Not because I wasn’t still worried, but because I no longer had the strength to worry.
It didn’t matter, though. My entire body ached from the strain, but the thought wouldn’t stop gnawing at the back of my mind—I had left unfinished business in Storvatten. I’d been sent to find Queen Linnea, and I hadn’t. And with all the signs pointing to the fact that Konstantin Black had to have had some part in her disappearance, Linnea had to know something. She might even be able to shed light on his connection to Viktor Dålig.
But since I had no idea where she was or if she was even alive, I had to move on to other sources. After training had finished up, Ember invited me to go out with her and a few other trackers to the wine bar in the town square. I declined, telling her that I needed to get some rest, but that was a white lie. Ember would offer to join me if I explained what I was up to, but she’d worked hard all day. She deserved to have fun instead of helping me to try to work off my guilt.
The library in the palace was always open to the public, but by the looks of it it had been at least a day or two since anyone had visited. It was an immense room with bookshelves lining the walls from floor to ceiling, nearly two stories above.
The room was dark and freezing, so the first thing I did was get a fire going in the hearth. A large window lined one wall, and all the panes had been frosted over. When I walked past it on my way to search for books, a cold draft blew in through the cracks.
The Kanin took their history very, very seriously. There were shelves upon shelves of tomes on lineage, public records, and accounts of events dating back hundreds of years. Fortunately, the ones I wanted were more recent, so they were located on the lower shelves, which meant I didn’t have to use the precarious ladders to reach them.
In trying to find a connection between Konstantin Black and Viktor Dålig, I decided to go to the most obvious place—family lineage. Before he had been condemned as a traitor and stripped of his title, Viktor had been a Markis, so his bloodlines were recorded in great detail in a fine, black leather-bound volume with gold lettering on the spine and cover.
Although Viktor had been a fairly high-ranking Markis, his wife had actually been higher—a Kanin Princess, with both her father and her brother holding the crown. Had she not died in childbirth twenty-two years ago, she would’ve most certainly been Queen after her brother King Elliot Strinne’s death, which meant Viktor would’ve been King.
But that was not how things had gone.
I went back several generations, trying to see if there had been overlap with any nonroyal Kanin, but Viktor’s bloodline remained unsoiled. He shared ancestors with my father, but that wasn’t a surprise to me. If I went back far enough, every Markis and Marksinna in Doldastam shared an ancestor.
While tracker lineage is important—the purity of all bloodlines is important to the Kanin—it’s valued less than that of the royalty. The book detailing Konstantin’s lineage wasn’t as well made, so it was more worn, with the older pages in the front coming loose.
Konstantin’s family records were just as detailed as Viktor’s, but his family was much smaller. He’d been an only child orphaned at an early age, and his parents had come from small families of trackers. Especially in the past, when medical treatment had been harder to come by, the infant mortality rate had been very high for trackers, and it showed in Konstantin’s family tree.
But he had come from a long line of trackers who had survived against the odds, which probably explained his determination and strength. He was the very best many generations had to offer.
Nowhere in Konstantin’s past did the records show any familial mingling with Viktor Dålig. The two were of no relation, classes apart. They should have no connection to each other.
When the bloodlines proved fruitless, I moved on to the records of recent history—most notably Viktor’s attempts at overthrowing the King. Much had been written about them, and I’d had to read about them often while I’d been in school, but I needed a refresher.
King Elliot Strinne had become very ill, very fast. It started with a severe headache, and within a few days he was dead. His death was eventually attributed to complications due to meningitis, and that winter there were three more cases of meningitis in Doldastam—including Chancellor Berit Abbott—although thankfully, no one else died from the disease.
The panic of the illness was also quickly overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the King’s death and the appointment of his heir. The most direct heir to the throne at the time was been his niece, but she was only ten.
There also hadn’t been a Queen in power without a King by her side in well over two hundred years, and while I would have liked to believe the patriarchal nature of Kanin society hadn’t affected the decision to pass over the King’s niece, that was most likely wishful thinking.
Chancellor Berit—along with a board of advisors—had decided to appoint Elliot’s cousin Evert Strinne as King, despite Viktor Dålig’s protests that his daughter should be next in line. On January 15, 1999—two weeks after Elliot’s death—Evert was crowned as the King of the Kanin.
It was then, while I was reading the passage about Evert being sworn in, that my heart froze.