- Crystal Kingdom
“If you loved her so much that you were willing to give up everything you worked for, everything you believed in, how can you go against her now?” I asked. “How can I trust you?”
He thought for a minute before finally saying, “I am still in love with the idea of her, the mirage that Mina showed me that was beautiful and warm and loving. But now I’ve come to know her well enough to see that that was nothing but a lie. The idea I had of her never existed.”
“What made you realize that?” I asked.
“I’d started to realize that she was far more cold and calculating than I’d first suspected, but it was when she asked me to kill the changelings,” he replied. “Initially we were only supposed to scare them off so they’d never go back with their tracker. But after Linus Berling, she told me to start murdering these innocent children . . . and that’s when I knew her lust for power was the only thing that mattered to her.
“Well, that and her damn rabbit,” he corrected himself.
Like many other Kanin royals, Mina had a pet Gotland rabbit. They were a symbol of hope and prestige for our people, and Mina used to carry hers around everywhere she went, until Evert made fun of her for it at a party once. Then she started leaving the white rabbit in her room, but she still brought it with her anytime she went on a trip out of Doldastam.
“If she’s as awful as you say she is—and I do believe you that she is—then how did it take you so long to figure it out?” I asked.
“For starters, I couldn’t see her that often, because I was a wanted traitor,” Konstantin expounded. “It was very tricky for her to sneak out to nearby villages to see me, usually under the guise of visiting royalty or family members. Once I think she said she’d gone for a spa weekend in a human town, but she really spent it with me.
“So I only saw her for small glimpses, and she was always putting on a good show of being this helpless victim.” He sighed. “And I—being the lovesick idiot I was—ate it up.”
“Why has it been so long?” I asked, realizing that he’d been lying in wait for years. “Between your initial attack on my dad until Linus Berling, there was a four-year silence. Why didn’t Mina command you to make a move sooner?”
“Viktor had been trying to gather more men, and Mina had been trying to gather more money,” Konstantin explained. “But time was running out. Evert was getting more impatient about having children, and Mina refused to have kids.”
I shook my head. “Why?”
“Because if something happens to Evert, then her kids will inherit all his power—not her.”
“Holy crap. She really is power-hungry.” Then something else occurred to me. “She’s been plotting her attack for four years?”
Konstantin lifted his eyes to meet mine. “Honestly? I think she’s been plotting her attack since the day she met Evert, and she is one determined bitch.”
Lying on top of the covers, I was still fully clothed in my jeans and tank top. Konstantin promised me that he wouldn’t murder me in my sleep, and even though we had struck an uneasy alliance, I still wasn’t sure how much I could trust him.
In the darkness of the motel room, I lay awake for a long time, trying to process everything that Konstantin had told me. I reanalyzed every interaction I’d had with the Queen, and the more I thought about it, the more I saw that everything Konstantin had said added up.
It explained all kinds of little things about her—her insistence on wearing her crown so often, even when Evert didn’t, her constant mood shifts from warm to icy, her unreasonable hatred of me.
And then everything that had happened with Kennet. She must have instructed Kennet to flirt with me in Storvatten in an attempt to keep me too distracted to figure things out. When Kasper and I had put the pieces together, we’d told her, and she’d had us arrested before we could find out her involvement.
For the first time, some of my guilt about Kasper’s death had eased. There was no way that either of us could’ve known that Mina was involved, and she would’ve had us executed. Escape had been the smartest move we could have made.
I lay awake, letting my thoughts go over the scenarios again and again, because it was so much better than sleeping. When I closed my eyes, I knew that only nightmares awaited me. Horrific images of Kasper’s death haunted me every night, replaying in nauseating clarity.
Other times, my dreams would start out nicer, with Ridley. We would be in the middle of nowhere, with the aurora borealis dancing above us, and he’d look down at me with that heat in his eyes that made my heart flutter.
He’d pull me close to him, and his lips would meet mine. Somehow, in the dream, I knew this would be the last time I’d ever be with him, and I kissed him desperately.
Then, without warning, he’d be ripped from my arms. An unknown force would pull him away, dragging him off into the darkness, and I would scream his name. I would run after him, but no matter how fast I ran, I never caught up to him.
Over and over, I had these nightmares of Kasper dying and Ridley being taken away. So I fought sleep as much as I could, but eventually it won out, and darkness enveloped me.
It didn’t last for long tonight, though, before it was interrupted by bright blue water. It shimmered like sapphires, and it seemed to fill every corner of my vision. I could almost feel it, cool and delicious running over my skin.
I heard her shouting before I saw her—“Bryn! Bryn!”