- Crystal Kingdom
“Thank you for coming back for me.”
He smiled crookedly at me. “I’ll always come back for you.”
Finn led Konstantin and me down a narrow gravel trail. Hedges grew up around it, blocking out the world and reminding me of Alice playing croquet in Wonderland. The path curved around the palace, and I glanced back at Konstantin to make sure he was still following.
The Queen had invited us to join her for lunch, and Konstantin seemed convinced it was some kind of trick, so I kept expecting him to run off at any moment. But he’d agreed to come and even dressed up for it.
Finn had procured a black dress shirt and vest for him from someone in town. All Finn’s clothes were slightly too small, since Konstantin was taller and broader-shouldered. Before we’d left the Holmeses’ house, I’d told him that he cleaned up nicely.
He’d looked down at me, his eyes going over my body in a way that made my skin flush, and then he’d gruffly said, “You too, white rabbit,” before quickly averting his gaze and walking away.
Mia had given me something—a lovely white dress with an empire waist and a subtle train in the back. It was slightly too small for me, squeezing a bit on my ribs, but fortunately, my wounds were healing up nicely. It had only been a little over a day since I’d arrived in Förening and begun recuperating, but the psychokinetic healing had lingering effects, causing accelerated healing long after the healer had stopped.
The trail opened up into a lush garden on the bluffs. The balcony from the palace hung over, leaving some of the garden in shadows, but the warm spring sun bathed the rest of it.
Brick walls surrounded the garden, covered in flowering vines, with large fragrant blooms of pink and purple. Fruit trees of all kinds populated the garden—with pear, plum, and fig being just a few that I spotted right away.
The gravel trail had given way to a soft, mossy covering that felt wonderful on my bare feet, and Finn led us deeper into the garden. Konstantin had to hold back a few branches to keep them from hitting him in the head.
In the center of a small clearing, surrounded by flowering trees of white and blue, was an elegant wooden table with high-backed chairs. Wendy sat at one end of the table, while her husband Loki sat directly across from her, leaving two chairs open on either side.
A spread of tea and fruits was laid on the table. As Konstantin took a seat next to me, I was again reminded of Alice in Wonderland.
“Thank you for joining us for lunch today,” Wendy said, smiling at us.
I returned her smile warmly. “We’re more than happy to.”
“It seems like you’re recuperating all right, then?” Loki asked as he leaned over and took a crumpet from a plate.
“I’m doing much better. Thank you,” I said, alternating between looking at the King and the Queen. “I wanted to come see you yesterday, but Finn insisted I rest.”
Finn was pouring himself a cup of tea and looked over at me. “You’re better off taking your time and making sure everything is healing okay.”
“Finn has always been the cautious one.” Wendy laughed lightly, then turned her eyes onto me.
While she still held herself with the same authority I’d seen in the throne room, she seemed relaxed today. Her gown had been traded in for a peridot sundress, and the sunshine played well on her bronze skin. She’d done her hair more casually today, so the soft curls were ruffled by the breeze that went through the garden.
“We invited you to lunch to see how you are all doing and what your intentions are,” Wendy said directly, looking from Konstantin to me.
Loki laughed. “You make it all sound so formal.” With a softer gaze, he turned to us. “We’re just curious to know how long you planned on staying.”
“Since you granted me temporary amnesty, I hadn’t intended to outstay my welcome,” Konstantin said, speaking in the low, formal way a Högdragen would speak to authority. “I only wanted to make sure Bryn was stable, and now that she is, I am prepared to head out on my own again. If that’s all right.”
I shot him a look, unable to hide my surprise. He’d spent most of the past twenty-four hours with me, trying to get me to rest by reading to me, preventing Liam from climbing all over me, telling Ulla and me old Kanin stories, and just generally keeping me company. And he’d never once mentioned leaving.
I knew that he couldn’t stay here forever, and I hadn’t planned on it myself either. But I hadn’t expected him to leave so soon, and the thought sent an unwelcome pang straight to my chest that had nothing to do with my injuries.
“If you want to go, we won’t stop you. You’re not a captive here.” She’d leaned back in her chair, appraising him with the calculated gaze of a ruler twice her age. “But we’re also not throwing you out.”
Konstantin had taken a sip of his tea, and he dabbed at his mouth with an embroidered napkin before replying. “Thank you, but I think it’s best if I take my leave sooner rather than later.”
“What about you, Bryn?” Wendy asked. “Finn told me you absconded to find out what was happening with the Kanin. Did you find what you were looking for, or are you planning to leave again?”
“Thank you for extending your amnesty to me again, My Queen,” I said as gratefully as I could, clearing my mind of thoughts about Konstantin’s departure.
“You can thank my husband for that.” Wendy turned her loving gaze to Loki. “He pointed out that if I want the Trylle to be a more welcoming, accepting kingdom, then it must begin with myself.”