- Crystal Kingdom
“I wasn’t. I just came out to talk to you, and then you were in the middle of something, and I didn’t want to interrupt the moment, so I just thought I’d hide out and wait for it to be over,” Konstantin said. “And it’s over now.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “That’s creepy. Don’t be creepy.”
“What was going on with that guy anyway?” he asked. “Is he your boyfriend?”
I ran my hand through my wet hair and turned away from Konstantin. “Never mind.”
“That’s just as well. I didn’t come out here to talk about him anyway.”
“What did you come out for?”
“Mia got a call from the palace.” He motioned vaguely behind me, in the direction of where the palace sat hidden among the trees a mile down the road. “Those friends of yours came in through the gate, so the Queen got word of it. She wants to meet with you and Ridley in the morning to discuss what’s happening.”
“Discuss what?” I asked.
“Probably why there’s like half a dozen people hiding out in Finn’s house, and how long everyone plans on staying here,” he said.
I nodded. “That makes sense.”
“I overheard Mia say that Ridley is the Överste now?” Konstantin asked.
“He was before I left. I’m not sure if he still is. I’m not sure about anything anymore . . .” I trailed off.
“Ridley’s younger than me, and he wasn’t on the Högdragen, so I didn’t really know him,” Konstantin explained. “But you know how small the tracker school was, so I knew of him. He always seemed like a punk kid with a chip on his shoulder. I didn’t know he had it in him to be the Överste.”
“That was a long time ago,” I reminded Konstantin. “He’s grown up since then. We all have.”
“Time does have a way of doing that to you.”
He was right, and I realized how much the last few months had changed us—me, Ridley, Tilda, and even Konstantin. It was strange to look back and realize how much simpler things had been before I caught sight of Konstantin following Linus Berling.
“That one moment changed everything and put it all in motion,” I said, thinking aloud.
Konstantin’s thick brows rose in surprise, and then, as if reading my mind, he said, “When you got into my car in Chicago. It changed the course of my life entirely.”
“Good. Your life needed a change of course.”
He smirked. “That it did.”
I turned away, staring out at the pouring rain around us. “Now where do we go from here?”
“I don’t know. But I can’t see anything good for you in Doldastam.” He shook his head. “Only death and destruction.”
An awkward night spent in Finn and Mia’s increasingly cramped house did nothing to ease the tension between Ridley and me. I wanted to talk to him, to find out what was going on, but it was impossible to get a moment alone. There was always someone—usually Liam—in the way.
I’d taken the floor in Hanna’s room, so Tilda could have the bed, and Ulla had gone back to Liam’s room again. Ridley slept on the couch, while Konstantin strangely took the stables, insisting he’d gotten used to sleeping anywhere.
In the morning, I awoke with an awful crick in my neck. The bandages on my side were a bit bloodier than normal, probably from pressing too hard on the floor, but it was nothing that I couldn’t survive.
First thing after breakfast, Ridley and I walked down to the palace for the meeting with Queen Wendy. We spoke very little on the way there, mostly commenting on the weather or the way the gravel stung my feet. Even though we were together for the first time in ages, the distance between us stretched further than ever before.
We’d been shown into the palace and left to wait outside the Queen’s office. Presumably, she had some business to attend to before she’d let us in. There was no waiting area, so we stood in the hall just outside the office.
Ridley leaned back against the wall, staring down the corridor with a look of boredom and annoyance. The top few buttons of his shirt had been left undone, the way they usually were, but I noticed that his rabbit amulet was absent. It had been his gift from the kingdom upon becoming Rektor three years ago, and I’d never seen him without it before.
I wanted to ask him where it was or why he wasn’t wearing it, but I doubted I’d get any kind of answer from him. Everything he’d said to me since he’d been here had been little more than a word or a grunt. It was like he couldn’t even bring himself to speak to me.
I did my best to keep my head up and my expression neutral, like this wasn’t breaking my heart all over again.
“One thing’s for sure,” Ridley said at length. “We can’t all keep staying at Finn’s house.”
“I plan on leaving soon anyway,” I told him honestly.
He jerked his head to look at me. “Why? Where are you going?”
His eyes darkened. “You can’t go back there. Mina will have you killed.”
“I didn’t realize you even cared,” I replied wearily.
“What are you talking about? Of course I care,” Ridley said in an angry whisper.
I studied him, standing across from me. His hands were clenched on the chair rail that ran along the wall behind him, and his expression had softened. For one of the first times since he’d arrived in Förening, I could actually see the guy I’d fallen in love with.