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“Yeah, I’m safe. I’m okay. But what happened after I left? Are you all right?”

He hesitated for so long I was afraid that the call might’ve dropped. “I don’t want to talk about that now.”

My heart sank, and I felt like throwing up. “Ridley, I’m so sorry. I never meant to get you in trouble.”

“No, don’t be sorry. I did what I had to do to protect you, and I would do it again,” he said. “And I’m fine now.”

“Are you really? Promise me that you’re okay.”

“I’m okay. I am.” He sighed. “I mean, I’m as okay as anyone else in Doldastam.” He paused. “The King is dead.”

I thought about lying to him, but I didn’t want to lie to Ridley. Not now, not ever. “I know.”

“You know?” The tension amped up his voice. “What do you mean, you know? How?”

“It doesn’t matter.” I brushed him off, because explaining Konstantin seemed like too much.

“Of course it matters!” Ridley was nearly yelling.

“Ridley, I just know, okay? Let that be enough for right now.”

“Fine,” he relented. “I can’t talk long, and I don’t want to spend this time arguing with you. I just called to tell you that you need to go to Förening and see the Trylle.”

“What? Why? They’re allies of the Kanin. They’ll arrest me on sight.”

“No, I don’t think they will,” Ridley said. “Ember talked to her brother, and he thinks that you might be able to sway the King and Queen into granting you amnesty.”

“That’s a huge risk to take. I can’t end up back in the dungeons of Doldastam. They won’t let me out of there alive.”

“I know, but Ember seems convinced that the Trylle are your best hope. Her brother says that the Queen has granted amnesty before,” he said. “And I know it’s not safe for you out there, on the road alone like that. You need to get somewhere where you’re protected.”

“Okay,” I said finally. “If it’s what you think is best.”

“I do.” He breathed deeply. “I should get going, though.”

“So soon?” I asked, hating that I could hear the desperation in my voice.

“Yeah. I can’t raise any suspicions right now,” he said huskily. “But it was worth it to hear your voice.” He paused. “I miss you.”

“I miss you too.”

“Be safe, okay?” he asked, sounding pained again.

“You too, Ridley. Don’t do anything dangerous.”

“I won’t if you won’t,” he said, laughing softly. “Good-bye, Bryn.”

“Good-bye, Ridley.”

I kept the phone to my ear long after it had gone silent, as if I’d be able to hear him after he’d ended the call. Talking to Ridley had somehow left me feeling more heartbroken and yet rejuvenated all at once. I missed him so much, and I hated it that I couldn’t be there with him and that I didn’t know what he was going through.

But now at least I knew that he was alive and okay, and he’d given me a direction. I had to reach the Trylle.



I can drive,” I offered, not for the first time. The journey from our bed-and-breakfast in Wyoming to the Trylle capital of Förening on the bluffs of the Mississippi River was over twelve hours, and so far Konstantin had driven all of it.

“I took this car so I could drive it,” Konstantin said, and pressed his foot down on the gas of the Mustang, pushing it over eighty to prove his point.

“I’m just saying. If you need me, I’m here.” I sat slouched down in the seat with my bare feet on the dash and stared out the window at the world flying by.

He softened and let the speedometer fall back a bit. “I’m used to doing things on my own.”

“Yeah, I’ve kinda figured that out.”

“Are you sure that the Trylle will give you amnesty?” Konstantin asked, retreading a conversation we’d had a dozen times since I’d told him about Ridley’s phone call.

“No, I’m not sure. But I trust that Ridley and Ember wouldn’t send me somewhere to get hurt.”

He didn’t say anything right away. His lips were pressed into a thin line, and his eyes stayed fixed on the road before us. His knuckles momentarily whitened as he gripped the steering wheel tighter, then relaxed again.

“What?” I pressed, since Konstantin seemed anxious.

“Trust and love can be very dangerous things,” he said finally. “I loved Mina, and I trusted her with everything, and you’ve seen how that worked out for me.”

“Ridley and Ember are nothing like Mina.” I paused as something occurred to me. “You trust me.”

He glanced at me from the corner of his eye. “I do,” he said, his voice low and gruff, like he hated to admit it, even to himself. “But everything’s different with you.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I agreed quietly.

I turned away to look out the window again. An odd tension settled in the car, and I felt like talking would only make it worse.

The roads became more winding, reminding me of a piece of string tangled up among the overreaching maples and evergreens. The car rolled up and down the hills along the bluffs, and between the branches I’d occasionally get a glimpse of the dark waters of the Mississippi racing along beside us.