There wasn’t time to waste. If we wanted to rescue our families, it would be best to use what little time we had before the sun rose.
Just before we left, Konstantin stopped me at the bottom of the hill. He held one of his prized daggers, the handle pointed toward me. “Take it, white rabbit. It’ll come in handy if we run into trouble.”
I’d planned to grab one of the swords from the arsenal, but a dagger would be easier to carry. Not to mention that none of the weapons here would be as nice or as strong as Konstantin’s.
“Thank you,” I started to say as I tucked it in the back of my waistband, but he’d already turned and started walking up the hill.
Climbing back up the hill outside of Doldastam was much harder work than it had been last night, thanks to the ice. Once we reached the peak and looked down below, I had to pause to marvel at the beauty of it.
Even in the dim light, the ice made it all sparkle. Every inch of it was frozen. It looked like a kingdom made of crystal.
Ridley soundlessly came up beside me, and I didn’t even know he was there until he started to speak.
“It’s so strange to see the town this way.” He exhaled deeply, his breath coming out in a plume of white fog. “I don’t just mean the way the ice makes it look like diamonds. From up here, so far away, it looks like a quiet, peaceful little village. You’d have no idea about the lives it holds, or all the dark secrets it’s hiding.”
“I know,” I agreed. “But it really is beautiful.”
I looked over at Ridley. A strange expression was on his face, somewhere between wistful and pained. But I understood exactly, because Doldastam made me feel the same way. Homesick and angry and scared and happy and terrified.
Doldastam was the only home we’d ever really known, and it was home to everyone we’d ever really loved. And we were trying to save it, assuming that it didn’t kill us or that we didn’t destroy it in the process.
I reached out, taking Ridley’s cold hand in mine. He squeezed it, the intensity of his grip promising me that somehow we would be strong enough to take this on.
“Ready to go back home?” he asked with a crooked smile.
“Are we going, or are you gonna stand up there all day having a chat?” Konstantin called up at us, and he was already a quarter of the way down the hill.
I tried to give Ridley a reassuring smile. “Let’s go.”
Then we were moving again, skidding down the hill, and sneaking around the camp. We stuck close to the bay, which put about four miles between us and Doldastam. There weren’t any trees along the shoreline, but the distance from where the Omte and Viktor’s men were camped made it nearly impossible for them to see us.
Eventually we reached the frozen stream that let water waste flow out from the town. It was in a trough dug eight feet down, so we were able to walk along it without fear of being seen. Assuming, of course, that no one came over and looked in.
Underneath the stone wall there was an iron grate to keep people or bears from getting in. Icicles hung from the bars, and Konstantin knocked them off. At the ends, where the grate met the wall, he used the handle of his dagger to hammer on the grate until it started to come free. Then, with Ridley’s help, he pulled the grate back, creating a gap large enough for someone to slide through.
He stepped aside, looking at me, and then motioned to the gap. “Ladies first.”
I smiled at him, then squeezed in through the gap, and entered Doldastam for the first time in almost a month.
We came up in the cemetery. There were other access points, Konstantin explained, but most of them led into highly visible areas. This would be the least conspicuous place to climb up out of a sewer grate.
The cemetery was a narrow rectangle a few blocks from the center of town. Evergreen hedges created a living fence around the outside of it, providing us with some much-needed cover.
Thick, dark deciduous trees surrounded us, and their branches came together overhead, creating a canopy. In the summer, they bloomed brightly with flowers, but now icicles hung down from them, like diamond ornaments.
Almost hidden in the dim light, I saw a bearded vulture perched on one of the branches. It cocked its head, its sharp eyes locked on me. I held my breath, waiting for it to cackle and give away our position, but it only watched us before taking flight.
Four large mausoleums sat in the center of the cemetery, pointing to each of the four directions, and the royal family and high-ranking Markis and Marksinna were buried within them. Since plots were scarce, most people had burials at the bay. What few spaces were left were usually reserved for dödsfall—or a hero’s death, someone who died in service to the kingdom.
We crept along, keeping our heads low in case guards were patrolling nearby, then Ridley stopped short, causing me to run into him. Konstantin was leading the way, weaving through headstones, with Baltsar and Finn following close behind.
I was about to ask Ridley why he’d stopped, but then I looked to see what he was staring it. It was a headstone, broken in half. The bloody carcass of a fish with its guts hanging out had been left on the stone, the blood and entrails frozen to the granite.
Even though it was broken, I could still make out most of the words, and I filled in the rest:
REINHARD MIKAEL DRESDEN
HERO TO THE KING
BELOVED FATHER AND HUSBAND
Ridley’s father had been killed protecting the King during Viktor Dålig’s revolt. He’d been revered as a hero . . . until Ridley had defected from Doldastam, and now, based on the dead fish, they were punishing Reinhard for Ridley’s assumed loyalties to the Skojare. To me.