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Lisbet rubbed her temple. “Then what do we do?”

“I’ve been working as the Överste for the Kanin,” Ridley said. “And Tilda’s been acting captain. We can work with your soldiers and get them ready. We know exactly how the Kanin fight and what they’re skilled at.”

Lisbet laughed darkly. “You say that as if we have soldiers.”

“If Mina hasn’t declared war yet, that means you might have some time,” I said. “Time to gather people and get them ready.”

“Unless, of course, she’s planning a surprise attack,” Konstantin corrected me, and I shot him a look. “Well, it’s true.”

“You have one huge advantage, and that’s this palace.” Ridley motioned around us. “It’s an island fortress.”

“And we have the spires,” Baltsar said, referring to the five towers that rose from the palace. “I’ve been doing bow training with the guards, so they can man them and shoot at possible intruders.”

“It’s not a lost cause,” Ridley said, trying to sound optimistic.

“There’s something else I think you should do,” I said. “You should release Mikko.”

“Talk to that one.” Lisbet pointed at Baltsar. “I want to let him go. I’ve known he was innocent for a while, but it’s Baltsar and the Chancellor and some of the other royals that don’t want him out.”

Baltsar shook his head. “It’s not that I don’t want him released. There’s not enough evidence to set him free. I was a Markis and I stepped down—I gave up my title and my inheritance because it was more important to me that Storvatten be kept safe. I took this job to make sure it was done right.”

“You’re going to war. You need him,” I persisted.

“I’m the acting monarch. I have all the same power he has,” Lisbet said.

“But you’re not King,” I told her emphatically. “Linnea may be Queen, but she’s not strong enough yet to lead anyone into war. Mikko has power and presence. And he has a brother he needs to avenge. If it wasn’t for Mina, I don’t think Kennet would’ve ever done any of this. Mikko needs to be on the forefront, fighting for your kingdom.”

Lisbet seemed to consider this, then she looked past me to Baltsar. “Do it. Let him go.”

“Marksinna!” Baltsar protested. “I’m trying to bring order to this kingdom.”

“And there won’t be a kingdom to bring order to if we don’t do everything we need to do!” Lisbet shot back. “Let Mikko go. He needs to be the one to end this.”



May 25, 2014

Dear Bryn—

Everyone’s gone and left, and it’s lonely without you all. Not that I blame Tilda and Ridley for getting out of here, especially not after what happened to Ridley. But with all of you gone again, the isolation feels so much more intense.

Thankfully, Delilah is still here. (She has become my rock, my light, my only salvation in this claustrophobic cage. Last night, I snuck into her room, carefully and quietly so none of the guards keeping watch would catch me. We went under the covers in her bed, hiding away from everything around us, and by the dim glow of the flashlight, we read poems by Gustaf Fröding, Karin Boye, and Pär Lagerkvist, and her Swedish is so beautiful to hear. Forgive me if I’m a little verbose today.)

I’m sorry for rambling on so much about Delilah. I could go on for pages and pages about the beauty of her eyes and the scent of her hair and the strength of her spirit and the warmth of her arms and the taste of her lips . . . But I’m not writing you to go on about her forever (though I could). It’s just the only time I feel even close to free anymore is when I’m with her.

It is so contradictory that life can be the worst it’s ever been and the best it’s ever been all at once. It’s strange how love can blossom even in the darkest places.

And it certainly is dark here in Doldastam, and not just because you and Tilda are gone. I know I could’ve gone with Ridley the way Tilda did, and maybe I should’ve. My mom would’ve preferred it if I had.

Four years ago, we left Förening to escape all the turmoil there. We chose Doldastam because my mom’s sister lived here with her husband, and it seemed like a quiet, safe place to live. My mom is starting to believe that there isn’t a quiet, safe place in the entire troll kingdom, and at night, when she thinks I can’t hear, she whispers to my dad about fleeing to live among the humans.

I wonder how you’re finding Förening. It’s been so long since I’ve been there. Are you sleeping in my old room? Finn says he hasn’t repainted my room yet, so I hope you’re enjoying the blotchy clouds I painted years ago.

Maybe I should have left with Delilah, gone back to my old room, gotten away from here. I’d certainly love to see Finn and Mia and the kids. But I couldn’t go.

Not just because of Delilah, or even Linus Berling. I’ve been training with him as often as I can, and while he tries harder than anyone I’ve ever met, I still feel like he can’t protect himself. And I know there’s other people like him here

For every Astrid Eckwell (who is a star pupil under the Queen’s new paranoia campaign), there is a Linus Berling. And for every townsperson that screams about stringing up traitors like you, there is a Juni Sköld, disobeying the wishes of the town by still serving your parents in her bakery. (They have, unfortunately, been blacklisted from most of the shops here.)