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“I’m not gonna let you die.” I sat on the edge of the bed beside him.

He laughed darkly. “Death is something that’s beyond even your control, white rabbit.”



Once Konstantin was asleep, Linnea had a footman move the body of the recruit and begin preparing it for a proper burial. She stood out in the hall, watching them carefully and reverently carry the fallen guard away.

I left Konstantin’s side to join her in the hall. Her mask rested in her hair, pushing back her ringlets so they stuck out haphazardly. She wrung her hands together absently, her eyes fixed on the retreating footmen.

“How are you doing?” I asked her.

“I haven’t even been Queen for a year.” She sounded as if she was speaking more to herself than me. “I turn seventeen on the sixteenth of June, and a week after that, it will be my one-year wedding anniversary. That will mark one year as Queen.”

“It’s been a very busy first year,” I commented.

“At first, I think I was only playing at Queen, and if I’m being honest, Mikko was only playing at King.” She turned back to face me, her eyes moist. “We’d never really been challenged, so we were only going through the motions and having parties and putting on these silly costumes.”

She lifted up the length of her gown and let it fall back down. “And now we must be the things that we were pretending to be. People are dying, and we must be the ones that protect them.”

A solitary tear slid down her porcelain skin. “I feel like I’ve already failed.”

“No, you haven’t failed.” I shook my head. “Despite how everything turned out tonight, the ball was a good idea. You need to create unity and order and a sense of happiness within Storvatten. While others are out fighting, you need to hold things down here, and when they come back, you take care of them. That’s your job as the Queen.”

“You really think I did the right thing tonight?” Linnea wiped away her tear.

“Yes, you did everything exactly right,” I told her. “But you need to be strong. A Queen must never be seen crying.”

She straightened up, pulling her shoulders back and raising her chin higher, and took a deep breath. “You’re right. I need to be a leader.”

I smiled at her. “You’ll be a fine leader.”

“I would hug you, but you’re covered in blood.” She motioned to the bright red splotches that covered the bodice of my dress, staining the lace and satin, from when I’d been attempting to comfort Konstantin.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t even thinking about it.”

“Bryn.” She gave me a hard look. “There are far greater things to worry about than my silly gown. I couldn’t care a fig about what happened to that dress while in service to this kingdom.”

I thanked her again, and she excused herself to sit with Konstantin. She didn’t want him to be alone, at least not until she was absolutely certain he was better. I looked in on her before I left, sitting at the bedside of an injured outcast without a kingdom, and I wondered how many other Queens would do that.

With Konstantin in her hands, I felt safe heading down to the meeting room. The palace had settled down while I’d been in with Konstantin, now that the imminent threat of attack had been called off. Guards were still stationed around more than normal, but people weren’t running around like madmen.

When I walked downstairs, I could even hear the orchestra from the ballroom playing. The ball was under way again, probably under the advisement of Lisbet. If we had been attacked, I imagined her still dancing to the music, like the orchestra that had played on as the Titanic sank.

I stopped only to wash the blood from my hands, and then I headed into the meeting room. Finn and Ludlow were seated at the long table, while Baltsar paced alongside it. Mikko stood at the head, his expression grave, and Ridley stared at the dark water outside, his back to the door. He glanced over at me when I came in the room but didn’t turn around.

“It all depends on how many Omte they have with them,” Finn was saying as I closed the door behind me.

“We’re strong,” Ludlow added. “But the Omte already outnumber the Vittra, and if they bring their whole army, I’m not sure how well we can hold against them.”

“They’ll break down the walls,” Baltsar grumbled as he paced. “You get those ogres charging, and the walls will shatter underneath their fists. They’ll destroy the palace.”

“We have to stop them before they get to the palace,” Finn said. “The battle needs to happen on land, far from the shore.”

“And what if they beat us down and charge past us?” Baltsar argued. “You get the Kanin army and the Omte army and who knows how many others Viktor Dålig’s collected, and they come charging at us? They’ll trample our army.”

“Once they get to the palace, it’s all over,” Finn said. “They’ll break the walls, take the sapphires, and kill anyone who is left.”

“I know!” Baltsar shouted. “That’s my point. How do we stop them from taking the palace?”

“We go to them,” Finn replied with a heavy sigh.

“We can’t do that,” I said, speaking for the first time since I’d entered the room, and everyone turned to look at me. “The people in Doldastam are innocent. They don’t need to end up casualties of our war against their Queen. They shouldn’t be punished for her sins.”