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“He didn’t leave us,” Bodil corrected him, giving him a hard look from the corner of her eye. “We exiled him.”

Helge’s smile had finally fallen away. “Bent broke the rules. He wouldn’t fall in line.”

“I told you when we exiled him that this could happen.” Bodil ignored him and held her son closer to her. “It left him vulnerable to forces worse than he is, like this Viktor Dålig.”

“My Queen, we’ve already discussed the matter. Bent wouldn’t abide by the rules, and we must have order,” Helge said. “And besides, we don’t know if they’re exaggerating about this Viktor Dålig. He may not have had anything to do with Bent’s death. The Skojare said it was suicide.”

“The Skojare were misled,” Konstantin said. “I was there. I know Viktor did it.” Helge glared at him, and one corner of his lip pulled up in an angry snarl.

“I believe him,” Bodil decided. “Bent was my sister’s son. He was strong-willed and arrogant, and he’d never have killed himself. I told you that when we heard the news. None of it made sense, and you wouldn’t listen to me. Now we need to clean up the mess we’ve made.”

As furtively as I could, I exchanged a look with Konstantin of pleasant surprise. With only limited communication between the Omte and the Kanin, I knew next to nothing of the royal family. In Ridley’s conversations with the Queen after the initial incident in Chicago with Bent and Konstantin, she hadn’t let on that she had a connection to him, but that was typical for the Omte. They were a very secretive people.

Now that I knew that Bent was so closely related to the Queen, it boded well for our plan to enlist the Omte to help us.

Helge bent over, lowering his voice when he spoke. “Perhaps now isn’t the best time to talk about this.”

“My sister will never forgive me for what happened to Bent, but maybe there’s still time for me to make it right,” the Queen said, turning to us. “Do you know where this Viktor Dålig is?”

“Not his exact location, but he’s near Doldastam, planning an attack on the Kanin,” Konstantin said.

Bodil narrowed her eyes behind her long lashes. “So that’s what you wanted from us? To help you stop him from attacking?”

I nodded. “Yes. I thought we might share an enemy, and we could work together.”

“As strong as you are, even sending a few of your people would do irrevocable damage to Viktor and his men,” Konstantin elaborated.

“Why do you care what happens to the Kanin?” She shook her head, not understanding. “You’ve been banished.”

“Everyone I love is still in Doldastam. I don’t want them hurt or killed,” I told her honestly.

For a few moments, the room was filled with a tense silence as Bodil considered what I’d said. The vulture ruffled his feathers, and a crawfish crawled free from the platter, moving slowly onto the table.

“All right,” Bodil said finally. “We’ll help you.”

“My Queen, this Viktor Dålig has an army.” Helge was nearly shouting his protests. “We don’t need to get in the middle of the Kanin’s fight.”

“He killed Bent. No one gets away with killing one of our own,” Queen Bodil said firmly. Her strong jaw was set, and her dark eyes were filled with resolve. “We must be the ones that punish him.”



As Bekk led us up the long, winding staircase to our room, I lifted the length of my skirt to keep from tripping and tumbling to my death. I had to be careful because I’d smuggled a few figs in it, since I had no idea when we would eat again.

The Queen had directed us to wait in our room while she consulted with the Viceroy and other advisers to come up with a plan of attack. Helge had made it abundantly clear that he thought we’d be waiting a long while.

“How did your meeting go?” Bekk asked, looking over her shoulder at Konstantin and me.

“It went well, I believe,” Konstantin said, but he didn’t sound very confident.

I gave him a curious look. “It was better than I expected, actually.”

“Me too.” He met my gaze. “That’s what makes me nervous.”

“What exactly did you want from the Queen?” Bekk asked when we reached the landing. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

I looked over at Konstantin, who gave a noncommittal shrug. “I suppose if the Queen goes through with it, you’ll find out anyway,” I decided. “We asked for her help in fighting off Viktor Dålig.”

The smooth skin of Bekk’s brow furrowed. “I’ve heard that name before.” She looked away, thinking. “I can’t remember where, but it’s definitely familiar.”

“Maybe you’ve seen him on WANTED posters,” I suggested, since she’d seen me on one. “He’s been the Kanin’s number one enemy for fifteen years.”

“Maybe,” Bekk agreed, but without much conviction. “Anyway, why do you think the Queen would help you with that?”

“Because he killed her nephew,” Konstantin replied.

Bekk nodded. “And she agreed to it, then?”

“She said she would send people with us to help fight Viktor Dålig,” I explained. “She’s just deciding who and how many.”

“For what it’s worth, I’d be glad to go with you,” Bekk said. “To see something outside of these walls, and to fight any enemy that’s hurt our people. It would be a great privilege.”