“But it had an enchantment on it, to keep humans or unwanted trolls from stumbling upon it,” Mom went on. “Everyone who says they’ve been there is never entirely sure if they really went or if they only imagined it.”
“So, is it real?” I asked her directly.
“I…” She furrowed her brow in concentration and sighed. “Honestly, I can’t say for certain. But if Linnea was running from someone, and she believed Lake Isolera was real, the same way I believed it was real when I was her age, then that’s where she would head.”
“Where is it?” I asked, stifling my excitement.
“Swim one day along the shore, and then walk half a day due north, and you’ll find it under the brightest star if you’ve followed the right course,” Mom said, sounding as though she were reciting an old nursery rhyme.
“You don’t have more accurate directions than that?” I asked hopefully.
She raised an eyebrow at me. “For a magical place that probably doesn’t really exist? No, I’m sorry, I don’t. It’s like asking for specific directions to Narnia.”
“You just go through the wardrobe to get to Narnia. That’s pretty specific.”
Mom rolled her eyes, but she pushed her chair back and stood up. “Let’s go to your dad’s study. If we look at a map, I might be able to figure it out better.”
I followed her back to my dad’s cluttered office, and she pulled down his heavy, worn atlas from a shelf and spread it out on his desk. Unlike the atlases humans might find in their world, this one was marked for troll territories, major cities, and places of importance, all overlaid atop the human landmarks so we could find the troll locations when we ventured out into the human world.
As Mom bent over the atlas, she mumbled to herself. I stood beside her. I didn’t catch every word she said, but from what I gathered she was trying to remember how fast she could swim.
Then finally, after some deliberation, she took a pen off my dad’s desk and circled a blank spot on the map in Ontario.
“There. That’s Lake Isolera,” she proclaimed rather proudly.
I leaned forward, squinting at the map. There were plenty of blue splotches covering the area, indicating all of the lakes. But the spot Mom had circled was completely devoid of water, an odd dry patch in an otherwise watery land.
“Are you sure that’s the right place?” I asked. “There’s nothing there, but there are tons of lakes around it.”
“Well, either it isn’t real or it’s hidden under a magic spell, so of course there wouldn’t be anything on the map.” She straightened up and folded her arms over her chest. “But if it does exist, that’s where it is.”
“If Linnea ran away, you think that’s where she would be?” I looked up at her.
“Either at the lake, or trying to find it.” Mom nodded, her lips pressed into a grim line. “Assuming she isn’t dead, of course.”
“You have to talk to Ridley,” Tilda told me firmly, and I groaned and slumped back against the wall.
After talking with my mom, I’d snuck into the school, barely managing not to be seen, and then lay in wait in the locker room that doubled as a women’s restroom. Thanks to her pregnancy, Tilda had to use the bathroom rather frequently—as she had lamented several times—so I knew it wouldn’t be too long before she came in.
In fact, I’d only hidden in a stall for fifteen minutes before she entered. I waited until she’d finished, and when she came out of the stall she nearly screamed at the sight of me. Once she calmed herself, she gave me a hard look—one that could cut twice as deep as any lecture.
I hurriedly explained my absence from training today, and my plan to find Linnea and why I thought it was so important. As she listened, the steel in her gray eyes began to soften, but she didn’t exactly look at me with approval either.
“But you’re my commanding officer,” I insisted. “You should be able to give me the go-ahead.”
Tilda shook her head. “You know I have no authority to release you from your duties. Even if I did, it would mean nothing. Unless you get Ridley’s approval, you’ll be considered AWOL.”
I leaned my head back against the wall and stared up at the ceiling, weighing my options. On one hand, if I left without permission, not only would I lose any hope of being on the Högdragen, but I’d most likely be fired as a tracker. I’d still have to stay in the army until after this “war” was over, but as soon as it was, I’d be out of work.
And on the other hand, getting permission meant I’d have to talk to Ridley.
“If you think this is the right thing to do, and it seems that you really do, then you need to talk to him,” Tilda said, her voice low and comforting. “Whatever is going on between the two of you, he’ll still be fair and hear you out.”
I looked up at her hopefully. “Will you get him for me?” She started to scoff, so I quickly explained. “If I go out there now, it’ll be a big spectacle because I’ve already skipped half a day. I just wanna get this over with and get out of here.”
Tilda sighed but smiled crookedly at me. “Fine. Wait here.”
While she went to retrieve Ridley, I sat down on one of the benches by the lockers. It may have seemed strange talking to the Överste in the girls’ locker room, but with so few female trackers, odds were that no one would use it. In fact, it was probably the least used area in the whole school.
Ridley pushed open the door hard enough to make it bang against the wall, and I hopped to my feet. He didn’t look at me when he came in, instead preferring to stare off at some point directly to the right of me, but finally, he forced his dark eyes to rest coldly on me.
His uniform looked good on him; like always, he’d left the top button undone, revealing just a hint of his chest. If the King or members of the Högdragen came around, he could get in trouble for that, but by the hard look on his face, I didn’t think he gave a damn.
“What the hell is so damn important that you think you can just blow off your job?” Ridley demanded.
“We already went over that—”
“I think I know where she is,” I cut him off, and that got his attention.
For a brief second, he looked at me the way he always had—his mask of anger momentarily displaced. A wave of heat flushed over me, reminding me of the way I felt about him, but I pushed it away. I didn’t have time for that, even if he didn’t hate me right now.