“Our plan was to remove as many of the next-in-line royals as we could until it would just make the most sense for the Chancellor to leave Mina in charge,” Konstantin explained. “It wasn’t a guarantee, but the idea was also that if the community was in turmoil, they might be reluctant to change horses midstream. And in the meantime, Mina is doing her best to make herself seem beloved by all.”
“And she thought the best way to do that was to get hooked up with Viktor Dålig?” I asked.
Konstantin lowered his eyes. “It’s not that simple. Viktor promised men to help the kingdom feel threatened. Mina wanted there to be the threat of war so she could step up and show everyone how well she could rule, and she would get Evert out of the way so she could ‘crush’ the enemy herself and no one would depose her.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Get Evert out of the way how?”
“I don’t know exactly. I wasn’t privy to all the details of the operation.”
“If Mina’s got this great plan for war on her kingdom, why’d you end up sidetracked with the Skojare?” I asked.
“To get enough men for a war, we needed money, and Mina couldn’t very well take money from the Kanin. I don’t know exactly how it all started, but she was at some event or another hobnobbing with other royals, and she got to talking to Kennet Biâelse, and together they cooked up this great scheme where he would get her all the sapphires she needed in exchange for getting his brother dethroned.”
I sighed and sat down on the bed across from Konstantin. “So that’s how Kennet got involved. How did you?”
“I was the Queen’s guard. I spent night and day by her side for a year.” He stared down at a stain on the carpet, then swallowed hard. “She asked me to help her, and I couldn’t say no. I went after your father for Viktor. It was his revenge for your father choosing Evert for the crown, and Mina said I needed to do it to strengthen our alliance with Viktor.”
He sat at the side of the bed, with his hands holding the edge, and he gripped it more tightly every time he mentioned Mina. His brows bunched up, and his jaw tensed under his dark stubble.
“That’s not good enough,” I said at length, and he looked up sharply at me, his eyes flashing like freshly forged steel.
“You took an oath,” I reminded him, and then began reciting the key component to him: “In times of war, I swear to defend the kingdom and fight our enemies. In times of peace, I vow to protect the King at all costs. It is my duty to kill if necessary, but never murder. A life must only be taken in preservation of the kingdom.”
As I was speaking, Konstantin looked away and groaned loudly. “Come on, Bryn. You’ve seen enough to know that life is never that black-and-white.”
“My father was an innocent man,” I growled at him. “You tried to kill him because the Queen didn’t like being married but still wanted to be rich and powerful. Tell me what shades of gray I’m missing.”
“I’m sorry about your father! I made a mistake!” Konstantin shouted and stood up. “But I was trying to protect Mina.” He let out a rough breath. “I was in love with her.”
I waited a beat before deciding to ignore his confession about his feelings for Mina—at least for the moment. “Protect her from what?”
“Evert.” It was Konstantin’s turn to begin pacing the small motel room. “He was cold and cruel to her. When we were alone together, Mina would cry to me and tell me how awful the King was to her. That’s how the affair started between us. I only wanted to comfort her and make her happy . . . and it turned into something more.”
“Evert can be cold.” I agreed with his summation. “But I’ve never known him to be cruel to Mina. In fact, I’ve never seen him treat her with anything but respect.”
It hadn’t even been a week ago when I’d been in the King’s parlor with Evert and Mina, both of them drunk on wine. He’d been so tender and loving with her, asking her what he’d done to deserve her, and she smiled at him.
Not to mention that Mina was constantly professing her love for Evert. I knew that abuse wasn’t always obvious—people tended to do everything they could to hide it. But just the same, Evert didn’t seem to fit the description Konstantin had laid out.
“I’m not saying I believe her now,” Konstantin corrected me. “I’m saying I believed her then. I’ll be the first to admit that I was far too blinded by love.”
“Why didn’t you just run away with her, then? Why did you resort to murder and treason?” I asked.
“I suggested it, but where would we run to? She grew up in Iskyla—a frozen, isolated wasteland that doesn’t even have proper electricity. She wasn’t going back to that, and she wasn’t about to give up the life she’d created for herself.
“And killing Evert was out of the question, because he was the King. Somehow she convinced me that the only way for us to live happily ever after was for me to get rid of the Chancellor and start working for Viktor.”
He shook his head at his own ignorance. “I don’t even know how she did it. All I can say is that there is something very powerful about the conversations you have in bed with your forbidden lover.”
I scowled, trying not to let myself think too much about Konstantin in bed with Mina, his arms entwined with hers as they lay in the satin sheets of her bed.