I didn’t know why Linnea had picked me to receive her lysa, but now that I had proof she was alive, I knew one thing for certain—I had to find her.
I’d wanted to rush out and talk to my mom immediately, but if I was unkempt and unshowered, that would alarm her. So I’d hurried back to my apartment and gotten cleaned up before trekking to my parents’ house. I had to be as careful and discreet as possible, since I was supposed to be working today. If someone saw me—especially Ember or Tilda or Ridley—things would get unnecessarily complicated, and I didn’t have time for that.
“Is something wrong?” Mom asked, narrowing her eyes in concern. She reached out, gently touching a gloved hand to the fading bruise on my temple. It had been worse the day I’d returned home after the attack, and when she had seen it then, she’d been frantic.
“I’m fine,” I tried to assure her with a smile. “I was hoping we could talk for a minute, though.”
“Yeah, of course.” She dropped her hand and motioned to the house. “Let’s go inside.”
I waited until after we’d both peeled off our winter jackets and heavy boots, and I even waited until after my mom made us cups of hot blackberry tea. All I wanted to do was rush through, asking my questions, but I did the best I could to make this seem like a normal visit.
“Your dad’s at a meeting in the palace,” Mom said as she set a cup of tea in front of me at the kitchen table, and then she sat down across from me, sipping her own tea.
“It has to be so hectic for him, with everything’s that’s going on,” I said.
She nodded. “I’m sure things are just as crazy for you.”
“Yeah, things are busy,” I said before lapsing into an awkward silence.
“Just spit it out.” Mom leaned back in her chair, appraising me with a bemused smile. “You came over here to talk about something, and there’s no point in dancing around it.”
I took a deep breath before launching into it. “Konstantin Black went to Storvatten to take Queen Linnea, but he didn’t. He swore on his life that he had no idea where she was, and it didn’t appear that anyone in Storvatten knew where she was either. At least not the people who cared the most about her.”
Mom considered this for a moment. “And you believe Konstantin?”
“I do,” I told her, and she inhaled sharply but said nothing. “There are three options—Konstantin took her and killed her, someone in Storvatten killed her and tried to frame Konstantin, or she ran off. In the first two scenarios, she’s dead, so the only one that’s really worth following up on is the third option.”
“You think she ran away?” Mom asked, her interest piqued. “Why would she run off?”
I pursed my lips, wishing there was another way to say it. My mom was not a particularly hateful or vengeful person, but I couldn’t blame her for the anger and distrust she still felt toward Konstantin. After all, he had nearly killed both her husband and her daughter.
“I think Konstantin warned her,” I said finally. Mom lowered her eyes and shifted her weight in her chair, growing irritated, but I pressed on. “After what happened with Emma Costar in Calgary, when Bent Stum killed her, I think Konstantin didn’t want anybody else to get hurt.”
“Bryn.” She raised her eyes so she could stare harshly at me. “You can’t possibly believe that.”
“There’s something really weird going on in Storvatten,” I said, ignoring my mom’s challenge. I couldn’t win that argument, so I didn’t engage it. “It doesn’t fit Konstantin’s pattern—he had been targeting Kanin changelings still living with humans. Linnea was a Skojare Queen in her palace, and she’d never even been a changeling.”
Mom fidgeted with her tea cup, twisting it on the table and staring down at it. Her shoulders were rigid, her entire body held at nervous attention.
“Let’s say I believe you,” she said, almost reluctantly. “Why are you here? What light do you hope I can shed on any of this?”
“If I’m right, and somebody warned Linnea that she had better get out of Storvatten, where would she go?” I asked.
Like my mother, Linnea had been born and raised in Storvatten. She had probably never met a human and hardly stepped out of the palace, except to go for a swim or visit other royalty. Thanks to her Skojare gills, she would never be able to blend with human society.
The Skojare didn’t have that much money anymore, and most of what they did have of value were jewels locked up in safes. None of it had been reported missing when Linnea had disappeared, so if she was on the run, she had no money with her.
Her options as a penniless, sheltered, beautiful but mutated teenager were extremely limited.
“When I was growing up in Storvatten, locked up in that frozen palace while my parents tried to sell me off to a suitor for the highest price, I often dreamed of running away,” Mom admitted quietly. “I finally did when I ran off with your father, but I hardly imagine that Linnea is hiding among us in Doldastam. We Skojare tend to stand out here.”
She offered me a weak smile then, and I knew how painfully true her statement was. Thanks to the unique fair skin of the Skojare, Linnea would be unable to blend in with any of the other tribes of trolls.
“There’s nowhere?” I pressed. “Didn’t you tell me once about how you and some of your friends took off somewhere for a week when you were a teenager?”
A look of wistful surprise passed across her face, and the corner of her mouth curled up slightly. “The tonåren. I’d nearly forgotten about that.”
“Yeah, the tonåren,” I said, trying to remember what she’d told me about it.
“It wasn’t an official thing,” Mom explained. “That’s just the word we used for when the royal teenagers grew restless and didn’t want to stay cooped up anymore. Those without gills would sometimes try to make a break for the human world, heading out to cities for a week or two before coming back.
“But my best friend had gills, and I didn’t want to leave her behind, so we had to choose another option.” Mom took a long drink of her tea. “Lake Isolera.”
“Lake Isolera?” I asked. “You never told me about that.”
“I’d nearly forgotten, and it feels like a half-remembered dream.” She shook her head. “It was a story we’d heard from our childhood. A magical place that an ancient powerful Queen had a put spell on, so it would always be warm and private. An oasis to swim in when the harsh Canadian winters bore down on us.