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From what I understood, Mikko and Kennet’s father, the late King Rune, was not a good man. My mom had bordered on calling him a sadist. He had hoarded sapphires and let the palace and the kingdom fall into disrepair. He’d been more focused on maintaining his wealth than the welfare of anyone, including his own children.

Even after his father’s death, Mikko had seemed afraid to undo his proclamations. The continuing policies of Rune had led to an inept guard and rifts in the kingdom. It was also one of the motivations for Kennet’s attempt at overthrowing Mikko.

“Despite everything Kennet did, I do believe that he loved you,” I said.

Mikko lowered his eyes. “I know he did. That’s what makes it harder.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“No. In an awful way, this has all been good for me.” He looked up at me, making eye contact for one of the first times since I’d met him. “I’ve realized that I need to step out of my father’s shadow and lead in my own right.”

“Queen Linnea has talked about the greatness she sees in you,” I said. “They need a strong leader, and I think you’re the one to do it.”

“The Skojare are good people, and they deserve a strong King.” Mikko stood up straighter. “I must become that King for them.”

I smiled. “I’m looking forward to seeing you in action.”

“You can stay for as long as you want,” he said. “I know things with your kingdom have become a terrible mess, but I want you to know that you are always welcome here. As far as I’m concerned, you have a home here in Storvatten.”

A footman came running around the corner, going so fast he skidded on the floor. He caught himself, then raced toward us. As soon as he saw the King, he started yelling, “Sire! Sire!”

“What?” Mikko turned back to face him. “What’s the matter?”

The footman reached us, gasping for breath. “The . . . they sent me to get you.” He paused, gulping down air. “There’s an army waiting at the door for you.”



Mikko was about to go to the door by himself, but I ran back into the ballroom and grabbed Baltsar and Ridley. I wasn’t about to let the King get himself killed when the Skojare had just gotten him back.

Konstantin and Tilda stayed back with the troops, preparing to command them if they needed to. The hope was that since the army had come to the door, they wanted to have some kind of sit-down with Mikko. Maybe he’d even be able to sway them away from battle and come to some sort of compromise.

That seemed unlikely, but at this point it appeared to be our only hope to avoid massive bloodshed.

Before I left, following Ridley and Baltsar behind the King, Konstantin grabbed my arm.

“Do not leave the King alone with her,” he warned in a low voice, referring to Mina. “She’ll kill him the second she has the chance.”

“I won’t.” I started to turn away, but Konstantin still hung on to my arm, so I looked back at him.

“Be careful,” he said and finally released me.

I ran out after the King. He, Ridley, and Baltsar were walking quickly and purposefully toward the front door. Baltsar was talking to Mikko, telling him everything that he should do and say, and what response he advised based on what the leader of the army might say to him.

“What should we do?” I asked Ridley in a hushed voice as I fell in step beside him.

“Try not to let the King get killed, and try not to get killed ourselves.” He glanced down at me. “That’s the best I’ve got.”

We reached the front hall, and I was doing my best to slow the racing of my heart. Seven guards—veteran ones who had been working around the palace and not training—stood at attention around the hall. Their hands were on their swords, ready to act if they needed to.

If Mina and Viktor had sent their full army, it didn’t matter if the entire Skojare force were in the hall. They weren’t ready, and they’d be slaughtered.

Ridley and I flanked the King on either side, while Baltsar went to open the large front door. Mikko stood tall with his head high, and it was definitely a good choice to release him from the dungeon. He was far more intimidating than Marksinna Lisbet.

Baltsar looked back at us, making sure we were ready, and the King nodded. So Baltsar opened the door.

Standing right outside on the dock was a small hobgoblin, maybe three feet tall. In some ways, hobgoblins were like miniature ogres, except that they were far more symmetrical in appearance. His features were humanoid, but his skin appeared slimy, with thick grayish brown hair sticking up wildly on his head. Like ogres, hobgoblins were insanely strong.

I’d met hobgoblins before, and I realized that I’d actually met this one in particular. He was Ludlow Svartalf, the right-hand man of Sara Elsing, the Queen of the Vittra. He’d accompanied her on trips to the palace in Doldastam before.

Just to the right and slightly behind him stood Finn Holmes, offering us an uneasy smile.

Standing behind both Finn and Ludlow were rows of troops, lined up down the dock. Most of them wore the dark emerald uniforms of the Trylle, but a fair amount had the deep burgundy uniforms of the Vittra, worn by both hobgoblin and troll alike.

“Queen Wendy Staad of the Trylle heard about the plight of Skojare, and after considering it, she decided to send half of her army to aid you in your fight against the Kanin,” Finn explained.