- Crystal Kingdom
As soon as the SUV stopped, I put it in park and jumped out to make sure Ulla hadn’t been hurt. After all, that had been an awfully big push.
“Ulla!” I shouted when I didn’t see her right away, and I charged through the drift.
She was standing in the middle of the road, staring off to the right of her, but she didn’t appear injured.
“Ulla,” I repeated. “That was amazing.”
“We should probably get out of here,” she said flatly.
“What? Why?” I asked, and I looked to see where she was staring.
There, a few feet off the road and almost invisible in the snow, were two small polar bear cubs. The bigger, fluffier one hung back, but for some reason the smaller one thought it would be a good idea to trot toward us—its big eyes wide and excited.
Growing up near the polar bear capital of the world in Doldastam, there was one important lesson I had learned—wherever there was a cub, nearby was an angry mama bear.
“Let’s go,” I commanded.
Ulla started hurrying toward the SUV past me. I turned to join her, but it was already too late. The mama bear had come out of nowhere. The giant white beast growled and stomped between me and the vehicle. I had nowhere to run, but that didn’t matter, because she wasn’t about to let me run anywhere.
Before I could dodge out of the way, she swung at me with her giant paw, and that was the last thing I saw.
Searing pain. That’s what kept waking me. I didn’t remember sleeping or being awake. It was all one blur of pain.
My right side felt like fire, like I had been ripped open and filled with hot coals, and my head throbbed above my right eye. I remembered jostling. My body moving around without my control, bouncing and swaying.
At some point, I became alert enough to realize I was lying in the back of the SUV. From the driver’s seat, Ulla kept looking back and telling me that everything would be all right.
I tried to tell her that I was okay and that she shouldn’t worry, but all I could muster was a strange gurgling groan. In the back of my mind, I realized that I might actually be dying, but then the pain flared up, blotting out any rational thought.
Some time after that—I’m not sure how long, it could’ve been five minutes or five hours—the SUV jolted to a stop, and I rolled forward, which caused enough agony that I screamed out.
Ulla apologized and asked if I was okay, but before I could respond (not that I would’ve been able to anyway), the driver’s-side door opened and a male voice was yelling at her.
“Who the hell are you?” he demanded.
“Who the hell are you?” Ulla shot back.
“Where’s Bryn?” he asked, and that’s when I faded out again.
I wanted to stay conscious and find out what exactly was going on, but the pain was too much. It overwhelmed everything, and I blacked out.
Then I felt a hand on my face, strong and cold against my skin. I struggled to open my eyes, but my right eye wouldn’t open. The vision in my left eye slowly focused, and I saw a face right above mine.
Dark gray eyes filled with worry, black curls falling forward—it took me a moment to realize it was Konstantin.
“Oh, white rabbit. What have you done?” he whispered.
“Am I dying?” I barely managed to get out, in a voice that sounded far too weak to be my own.
“No. I won’t let you die,” Konstantin promised me. Then to Ulla he shouted, “Drive faster! We need to get there now.”
Gingerly, he lifted my head and rested it on his lap. It still hurt, but I tried to hide my wincing as best I could. He took my hand in his, and it felt sticky from blood.
“If it hurts too bad, just squeeze my hand,” he said.
I wanted to tell him that it always hurt too bad. That the pain was so intense, I felt like I was suffocating, drowning in flames. But I didn’t. I just squeezed his hand and waited for darkness to come over me again.
Before I even opened my eyes, I felt the difference. My body still ached, especially on the right side, but it was no longer an excruciating fire burning me up from the inside out.
When I did open my eyes, they both opened with ease, which helped quell my fears that I had lost my right eye. They were both there, working properly, as I stared up at the mobile above me.
Sunlight spilled in through the open doorway, but the mobile still managed to cast a few dimly lit shapes of the moon and stars around me. My feet hung off the end of Hanna’s small bed. I was back in Förening, at Finn’s house.
I looked around, still getting my bearings, when I saw the dark silhouette of Konstantin leaning against the doorframe, backlit by the sun coming in from the front windows.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. I vaguely remembered him being in the SUV with me, but it all felt like a strange, terrible dream.
“I brought you here because you needed medical attention,” he said, his voice low.
“But before you said that you couldn’t come here because the Trylle would arrest you,” I reminded him.
“That Ulla girl didn’t know anything about where to go or what to do. I couldn’t just leave you with her.” He gave a half shrug. “Not if I wanted you to live, anyway. When we got to the gates, I talked to Finn, and he managed to convince the Queen to give me temporary amnesty since I was aiding an injured troll.”
“Temporary?” I asked. “How long will that last?”