- Crystal Kingdom
“Just to let you know, there’s a couple bodies in the back of the SUV you probably want to take care of,” Ridley told Baltsar as he walked by.
“We already killed them for you, so it shouldn’t be that much of a problem,” Konstantin added.
“Pardon?” Baltsar asked, looking startled. “Who did you kill?”
“Don’t worry,” Konstantin said over his shoulder as we entered the grand main hall. “They were Viktor Dålig’s men.” When Baltsar still appeared puzzled, Konstantin elaborated. “The men that declared war on you.”
Linnea had been walking ahead, intent on showing us all in and seeming to ignore the exchange between Konstantin, Ridley, and Baltsar, but as soon as the word war was uttered, she’d stopped cold.
In the rotunda, sandblasted glass shaped like waves surrounded us—opaque, with a hint of light turquoise showing through. Below us, the floors were glass, windows to the pool. Chandeliers sparkled with diamonds and sapphires, casting light all around us. It gave the effect of standing in a whirlpool, and right now Linnea was in the dead center of it.
“Well, the Kanin actually declared war,” Ridley said, correcting Konstantin in a conversational tone. “If you want to get technical.”
“He seems like the kind of guy who’d want to get technical.” Konstantin pointed toward Baltsar.
“That’s true,” Ridley agreed. “But either way, Viktor Dålig’s men will attack the Skojare. They’re probably helping the Kanin, so it’s all the same difference.”
“Yeah.” Konstantin looked over at Baltsar. “The point is that we helped you by killing those men.”
Linnea still had her back to us, and she turned around slowly to face everyone. All the lightness and playfulness that usually enveloped her had fallen away. Her skin had paled even more than normal, and the translucent gills on her neck weren’t moving.
“Did you say war?” Linnea asked in a voice so soft I wasn’t sure that Ridley or Konstantin had heard her from where they stood several feet back. Tilda and I were right behind Linnea, and even I barely heard it.
“Didn’t you . . .” Ridley glanced over to me, looking for help, but I had none to give. “Didn’t you get the proclamation? From the Kanin?”
Linnea shook her head once. “No. We’ve received no correspondence from the Kanin since they told us of Kennet’s death.”
“I saw it yesterday.” Ridley motioned to me. “We both did. At the Trylle palace. Mina—um, excuse me, Queen Mina sent the scroll to the Trylle Queen declaring war on the Skojare.”
“That’s why we came here,” I explained. “We wanted to see if you needed help preparing for it.”
“Of course we need help,” Linnea replied emptily, and then she looked past me at Baltsar. “Our worst fears have come true. They’re going to kill us all.”
Marksinna Lisbet Ahlstrom—the acting ruler of the Skojare and Linnea’s grandmother—stood with her back toward the meeting room as she stared out at the dark water that surrounded us. Her golden hair was up, and her sapphire chandelier earrings hung past the high collar of her jacket. Wavelike designs were embroidered in the cerulean fabric, and the hem of her jacket just hit the floor.
We were in the meeting room underwater, where half of the room stuck out from the palace with a domed wall of glass, creating a fishbowl effect. The last time I had been here, King Mikko had been arrested. And now we were discussing war. Baltsar, Ridley, Konstantin, and I sat at the end of the very long table. Linnea had been too shell-shocked to be of much assistance, and Tilda had feigned needing help to keep her preoccupied. For the past hour we’d been in the meeting room, explaining to Lisbet and Baltsar everything we knew.
While we spoke, Lisbet had paced the room, listening to us tell them about Mina’s relation to Viktor, her involvement in Kennet’s scheme, and her plot to steal the jewels now that Kennet and Bayle were out of the picture.
When we’d finished, she stopped and stared out at the lake. Night had fallen upon us, making the water too dark to see anything, but Lisbet kept staring out, as if an answer to all their problems would come swimming up to the glass.
“After he was killed, I realized that Kennet had to be involved in Mikko’s imprisonment somehow,” Lisbet said finally. “I wore black for three days until Kennet’s funeral, as is customary, but I haven’t worn it since. I mourned publicly because I had to, but I won’t shed a tear for anyone that tries to hurt my granddaughter.”
Then she turned to face us. In her sixties, she’d begun to show the signs of her advancing years, but she still carried the grace and beauty of her youth. She commanded the room like a Queen, even though she’d never really been one.
“What would you have us do?” Lisbet asked. “How do we stop this?”
Konstantin sat with his elbows on the table and his hands together in front of his face, almost like he was praying except that his hands were clenched too tightly. “You can’t stop this. Once Mina has her mind set, there’s nothing you can do to talk her out of it.”
“What if we offered her our jewels?” Lisbet suggested, almost pleading. “We have so many, we must be able to spare a great deal.”
“She wants them all.” Konstantin lowered his hands. “And even that won’t be enough. Since she’s had to wait for them, she’s annoyed. And she’ll want you to suffer for that.”