- Crystal Kingdom
Whenever I’d drop to the ground, Calvin would sniff my hair, as if it to make sure I was okay. I was on about my twentieth burpee when I heard the gate to Finn’s property swing open. I stopped what I was doing long enough to look over and see the Chancellor, Bain Ottesen, standing just inside the gate.
“Finn’s inside the house,” I told him, wiping the sweat off my brow with the back of my arm.
“Actually,” Bain said with a sheepish expression, “I’m here to see you.”
With my heart pounding in my chest, I walked across the field to meet Bain. There weren’t guards with him, so it felt safe to assume that the Queen hadn’t decided to recant her amnesty and arrest me. But that didn’t mean that she hadn’t decided that it might be better for her kingdom if she sent me away.
Bain stepped carefully toward me, avoiding particularly muddy spots in the yard since he was barefoot. Because they had nicer weather in Förening than we did in Doldastam, the Trylle got to spend a lot more time free from footwear.
He was dressed nicely in black slacks and a dress shirt with a tie, and his brown hair was styled off his forehead. With his earnest expression and clean-cut appearance, Bain reminded me of those guys who went door-to-door dropping off religious pamphlets.
“What’d you want to see me about?” I asked when I reached him.
He pursed his lips for a moment. “I have some strange questions to ask you, and I don’t know if you’ll be able to answer them. But it would be helpful to us if you did.”
“I’ll do the best I can,” I replied carefully.
Calvin had followed me over, and he began sniffing Bain. When Bain spoke, he began absently petting the pony.
“What do you know about what’s happening in your kingdom?” Bain asked.
My stomach clenched, and I shook my head. “Not much. I haven’t really been in contact with anyone there since I left. I briefly talked to the Överste, Ridley Dresden, but he wouldn’t say much beyond the fact that everything is falling apart there.”
“Did he tell you that King Evert was dead?” Bain asked, watching for my reaction.
“Yes, he did.”
“And I am assuming that you had nothing to do with Evert’s death?” he asked, and it did sound more like a formality than a serious inquisition.
“No, of course not!” I said, probably too forcefully. “I was in—” I stopped myself before I accidently let it slip that I’d been locked up in the Omte palace when Evert had died. “I was long gone by then.”
“I thought as much.” Bain looked away from me, staring out at the river below, and a warm breeze blew past us. “The Kanin Queen has begun acting very . . . strangely.”
I tensed up. “How so?”
“About a week and a half ago, your kingdom sent out a blast of WANTED posters.” He glanced back over at me. “Of you, obviously. But along with them was a letter stating that Doldastam would no longer be allowing visitors of any kind.”
“That’s insane. Did the letter say why?” I asked.
“Just that they were running an investigation. But that’s not the really strange part,” Bain went on. “It was signed by Queen Mina. And with the Kanin, every official letter or decree I’ve ever seen from them has been signed by the King. Sometimes the Queen cosigns, but she’s never alone.”
I shook my head. “The Queen is never allowed to make pronouncements like that, not on her own.”
“When King Evert died, our Queen Wendy called to offer her condolences,” Bain said. “Mina talked to her briefly, but she also informed her that, unlike every other royal funeral I’ve heard of, no other royalty was allowed to attend. Only those already living in Doldastam could go.
“Mina cited safety being her priority, but it all felt off to Wendy,” he concluded.
“Holy shit.” I exhaled shakily. “She has them completely isolated and totally dependent on her. Everyone in Doldastam is trapped.”
“Which brings us to this morning and the strangest part about all of this.” He reached into his back pocket, where he’d tucked a rolled-up tube of paper out of sight. “We received these, along with a lengthy letter.”
He handed a tube to me, and I unrolled it to reveal two sheets of paper. The top one was a black-and-white poster of myself. The photo was the official tracker picture taken every three months. In it, I stared grimly ahead, my eyes gray and blank.
LARGE REWARD IF FOUND
WANTED: BRYN DEL AVEN
HAIR/EYES: BLOND, BLUE
COMMITTED CRIMES AGAINST THE KANIN AND SKOJARE
INCLUDING CONSPIRING TO KILL THE KANIN KING AND SKOJARE PRINCE
SUSPECTED OF WORKING WITH KONSTANTIN BLACK
The beginning wasn’t much of a surprise, but it was the last line that made my heart stop cold.
Mina knew that we’d been together. She knew that he’d helped me.
My hands were trembling slightly when I moved my wanted poster to see the one behind it. And as soon as I saw Konstantin’s face staring up at me in harsh black-and-white, my stomach lurched.
KANIN’S #1 MOST WANTED
HUGE REWARD FOR ANY INFORMATION
KONSTANTIN ELIS BLACK
And I didn’t need to read anything beyond that.
They’d turned on him. They’d figured out that Konstantin had defected, and now they were sending everyone after him. It wouldn’t just be Dålig and his men—it would be the entire troll community.