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“There is no such thing as a good war, Bryn,” Konstantin said. “Good people will die. Innocent lives will be destroyed. And in the end, one unfit person will still hold the crown.”

“But Mina is evil, and she needs to be stopped,” I argued. “How do you propose we do that without war?”

“She does need to be stopped, and you’re correct that this is probably the only way to do it,” he agreed. “But that still doesn’t make it good or easy or bloodless.”


kingdom of ice

The flaps to the tent were frozen shut when we awoke, and when I kicked them open with my foot, ice shattered to the ground like broken glass.

My tentmate had found herself another place to sleep, and Ridley had taken residence in my tent. Despite our exhaustion, we had stayed up for a while, trying to concoct a plan to save our families from the worst of this war, but eventually we succumbed to sleep, our bodies pressed together for warmth, as the rain beat down on the canvas.

While we were sleeping the temperature had finally dropped enough to freeze, but the rain must’ve kept on for some time. When we emerged from the tent, the sky was beginning to lighten, casting us in an ethereal blue glow, and everything around was covered in a thick layer of ice.

Overnight, the world had turned into a frozen wonderland. Branches were encased in ice, their early buds trapped in crystal tombs. As difficult as it was getting around on the ice, there was something oddly magical about it. The way it changed the landscape completely.

Mikko held court in a large round tent, the sides of which now looked like panes of glass. He stood inside, hunched over a table with a map of Doldastam spread out on it, wearing a dark gray fur coat. Someone had made a pot of tea over a fire, and he sipped from a chalice as he studied the map.

The large hill kept our armies and the fires mostly hidden from Doldastam, but the Skojare tower guard cloaked any smoke or light that might be visible. Still, the guards’ powers weren’t very strong, so we kept the fires to a minimum.

Ludlow, Finn, and Baltsar were already in with him when Ridley and I arrived. None of them were speaking, so it didn’t seem like we’d missed much.

“It’s damn early for all this,” Ludlow muttered, pouring himself a cup of tea.

Darkness only lasted for roughly six hours this time of year, and the plan before we’d gone to bed was that we wanted to hit Doldastam as close to daybreak as possible. Well, that was the old plan, at least. I was hoping to change it.

“If we go around—” Finn began to say, but I cut him off and stepped closer to the table.

“Sire, I would like to make a request,” I said, and Mikko slowly lifted his head to look at me. “I would like it if you waited to launch the assault against Doldastam and allowed myself and a few others to sneak in past the walls so we can get people out before the bloodshed starts.”

Mikko straightened up, resting his solemn gaze on me. “I know that you’ve grown up here, so you have friends and family to consider. But you can’t evacuate half the town, at least not without everybody noticing.”

“I’m not asking for half the town,” I persisted. “I’m asking to get my parents out, and Ridley wants to get his mother.” I motioned to Finn. “Finn’s parents and sister are there.”

Mikko’s gaze hardened, and though I wanted to go on and on listing people I’d like to get out of there—like Tilda’s parents, her sister and brother-in-law, and her three-year-old niece, or Kasper’s family, which had already had enough loss. Even Linus Berling and his parents, who had been nothing but kind, a rarity among royals.

I knew Mikko’s fear. I would evacuate the whole town if I could, but that wasn’t an option. But I’d be damned if I left my parents trapped behind those walls. Tilda had told me that the town was already turning against them, and I wouldn’t let them die there.

“Do you know a way that you can get in without being seen?” Baltsar asked, his curiosity clearly piqued.

“Yes, we think so.” Ridley moved to the map and tapped on the east side of the wall. “There’s a narrow pipe that drains out to the Hudson Bay. It wouldn’t be large enough to sneak an army in, but a few of us should be able to go in undetected.”

“I would like to get my family out of there,” Finn said. “They have no part in this.”

“I’d like to go too, my lord,” Konstantin said, appearing behind us in the tent, and I turned to look at him. “I’ve already had to escape Doldastam once by going out through the sewers. I can get back through them.”

Baltsar rubbed his chin, staring down at the spot on the map. “I would like to see the interior of Doldastam so I can plan my attacks better, but I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

“You’ve been looking for a weak spot in the wall,” Konstantin pointed out, walking over to him. “And it’s hard to detect from this distance. If we were inside, I could show you the weakest points, and you can decide where you want to attack.”

Baltsar arched an eyebrow. “That would be invaluable information. Our only way into Doldastam will be by taking down that wall.”

“It will only take us an hour, maybe two,” I persisted. “Baltsar could gather information that would give us a great advantage in the war, and then we’ll return. We can go to war without anything lost.”

“Go, then,” Mikko said, his thunderous voice rumbling with irritation. “Leave before anybody else decides to join you.”