- Crystal Kingdom
For a long time, we didn’t say anything. We just stood that way—me holding her as she sobbed. Eventually, she began to collect herself and pulled away from me, wiping at her eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” I said again.
She shook her head, sniffling a little. “You don’t need to be sorry. I know that you never would’ve hurt Kasper or let anything happen to him. Not if you could help it.”
“I never meant for things to happen the way they did,” I said.
“What did happen?” Tilda asked, looking down at me with moist eyes. “I don’t believe anything the Queen says, and nobody else was there. Nobody knows what really happened but you.”
I motioned to the bed, and Tilda and I sat down. Then I began telling her the story of how her husband had been killed. How we’d gone to tell the Queen about how Kennet Biâelse and the Skojare head guard Bayle Lundeen had been working together to hurt the Skojare royalty. And how Kasper and I had escaped from the dungeon and went to confront Kennet, and he’d gotten the best of us and killed Kasper, and how I’d fought with Kennet and he’d fallen to his death.
She didn’t say anything as I spoke. She only stared at me, listening intently as I wove together the whole story. I even added in the pieces I’d learned from Konstantin, and how I’d found out that Mina was Viktor Dålig’s daughter.
When I’d finally finished, she nodded once. “It’s good that Kennet is dead. I’m in no shape to hunt him down and kill him, but that’s what I would’ve had to have done. Thank you for getting rid of him for me.”
“You’re welcome,” I said, instead of explaining that I hadn’t meant to kill Kennet. I’d been hoping to get him to tell me who he was working for, but since Konstantin had filled me in later, it didn’t seem to matter now.
And then I realized something. “What are you doing here? I heard Doldastam was on lockdown.”
“It is.” Tilda grimaced. “Everything has completely gone to hell since you left, and I couldn’t stay any longer. There was no way I could have a baby there, so I had to get out when I could.” She’d absently rubbed her stomach as she spoke.
“How far along are you now?” I asked.
“Almost five months.” She smiled. “It’s so weird because I’m already starting to feel more like a mom.”
Hearing her say the word made me think of my own parents and how I hadn’t heard anything from them since I’d been gone.
“Do you know how my parents are doing?” I asked.
Her smile fell away. “I’ve seen them around. I won’t lie to you—things are hard for them right now. They’ve both lost their jobs, and people don’t trust them. But they’re safe, and they’re still together. They’re as free as anyone else in Doldastam.”
I let that sink in for a moment. My parents were safe, and they were together.
“How did you get out of Doldastam?” I asked.
“Pretty much the same way you did,” Tilda said. “I snuck out with Ridley.”
My heart skipped a beat at the mention of his name. “What do you mean, Ridley?”
“He can explain it to you better. He convinced Mina to send him out on an errand.”
“He can explain it?” I asked, and my mouth suddenly felt dry. “What do you mean? Where is he?”
“He’s here.” Tilda motioned toward the door. “I think he’s outside talking with Finn. But you can go see him.” She slowly got to her feet. “Mia offered me tea when we got here, and I think I’m going to take her up on the offer.”
I stood up, feeling dazed. “Tilda. I am glad you got out, and I’m really glad that you’re safe.”
She smiled. “Me too. And you have no idea how happy it makes me, knowing that you’re safe.”
We hugged again, this time quicker than before, and then she left me so I could find Ridley.
The clouds that had moved in earlier, darkening the lunch with Queen Wendy and King Loki, had brought rain along with them. It was a heavy garden shower, with thunder rumbling in the distance.
I stepped out into it, not minding the cold drops that fell on my bare shoulders, and looked around for Finn and Ridley. They weren’t far from the house, standing underneath the awning that stretched past a barn that had once housed goats.
Ridley had his back to me as I approached, but the lines of his body were unmistakable to me. His strong shoulders, the narrowing of his waist beneath his loose olive jacket, the dark curls of his hair that could never be completely tamed.
When I reached them, Finn excused himself, and nodded at me as he walked toward the house. It seemed to take ages for Ridley to turn around to face me, but in reality, it was probably only a few seconds.
And then he was looking at me—the strong line of his jaw darkened by a few days’ stubble, the richness of his olive skin, his lips barely parted as he breathed, and the dark mahogany of his eyes burning with an intensity that made everything inside me melt.
Ridley was really here. My Ridley.
It wasn’t until then that I realized I’d been holding my breath, and I breathed in deeply. He lowered his eyes, hiding his gaze behind his heavy lashes.
“What are you doing here?” I asked finally.
“I came to find you,” he said, his voice low and thick, and it sounded strangely far away. Like he was holding something back.