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I wished I’d been able to talk to her more, and I couldn’t wait for the day when this was all over so I could thank her for everything she’d done and tell her how proud of her I was.

Putting her letter down, I let myself indulge in a fantasy for a moment. One where there would be peace again, and Tilda, Ember, and I could go out together for a few glasses of wine the way we had before. And when I’d finished, I could go home and curl up with Ridley. Even though it hurt to think of Ridley, I couldn’t help myself. I closed my eyes, remembering the feel of his skin against mine and the safety of his arms.

But it hurt too much, so I moved the thoughts along, trying to think of all the other things I would do when this was over. Like taking Bloom for a very long ride. And having dinner with my parents and asking my mom to make her gooseberry pie for me. And Konstantin would—

The thought of Konstantin jarred me out of the daydream. We had grown close, and he’d definitely become someone I could rely on. When this was all over, I did want him to be a part of my life still, but I realized painfully that I had no idea where he would fit in it.

A scuffle outside brought me from my thoughts, and I grabbed the dagger from where it sat beside me. I opened the flap, pushing back the foot of snow that had built up around the tent since the last time I’d cleared it away.

Next to the King’s tent a campfire burned, and it cast enough light that I could see two guards dragging someone toward the large tent.

“Let me go,” a woman insisted. “You’ve got it all wrong.”

The guards didn’t listen, so she broke free. With a few well-placed punches, she had knocked them both to the ground, and the ease of her fighting immediately made me think Omte.

I jumped out of the tent, wielding my dagger, ready to stop any Omte who dared come into our camp. She stood over the guards with her back to me, snow clinging to her dark hair and fur-lined jacket. When she turned around, I got a good look at her for the first time, and I recognized her.

In her late twenties and beautiful, especially for an Omte, she had the face of a warrior, with determined dark eyes and smooth olive skin.

“Bekk Vallin,” I said, but I didn’t lower my dagger.

When Konstantin and I had been to Fulaträsk, she had been kind to us, and even helped save us from the wrath of an ogre. But she had been a Queen’s guard, and now she was sneaking into our base camp. So things didn’t look good.

“Bryn Aven.” Bekk sounded just as surprised to see me as I was to see her, but relief washed over her face. “I was trying to tell the guards but they wouldn’t listen to me. I came here to help you.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Why should I believe you?”

“Helge Otäck betrayed our Queen and our kingdom. He’s dragged us into a war that we have no place in, all for a few gemstones.” She wrinkled her nose in disgust. “He sold out our entire tribe. Queen Bodil doesn’t see it yet, but I do, and I won’t continue to do their bidding.”

“So you’re saying that you want to fight on our side?” I lowered my dagger a bit, and she nodded.

“I want to fight with whoever is going to kill Helge,” she replied coolly. “And I’ll help you however I can.”

“I think I should take you to see King Mikko, and I’ll let him decide what to do with you.”

She nodded. “That only sounds fair.”



Mikko pushed in the canvas door to the round tent that had been used for planning our strategy, his long silver fur robe dragging on the ground behind him. Baltsar and Finn followed.

I’d gotten his footman to wake him, and he’d apparently decided to wake Baltsar and Finn too, but that was just as well. Bekk and I had been standing by his table, warming ourselves by the thick pillar candles that covered it.

As soon as he came and eyed up Bekk, his mouth turned down into a deep scowl. “I thought we’d decided we’re taking no prisoners.”

“I’m not a prisoner,” Bekk said fiercely and stepped back from the table.

I put my hand on her arm in an attempt to calm her, and even through the thick leather of her jacket I could feel her thick muscles coiled. She could take us all out if she wanted to.

“She came here voluntarily to talk,” I interjected hurriedly.

“What does she have to talk about?” Baltsar asked, eyeing her with the same suspicion as Mikko.

“Why don’t you ask me yourself?” Bekk shot back, and I was beginning to wonder if bringing her had been a bad idea.

“All right.” Mikko took a deep breath, and his broad shoulders relaxed a bit, as he attempted to start over from a less offensive position. “If you came into our camp tonight, risking a great deal, you must have something valuable to tell us.”

Bekk responded by relaxing herself. “I do. I came to tell you about Helge Otäck. He duped Queen Bodil, and he’s been working with Viktor Dålig. He’s helped orchestrate the whole thing.”

Mikko’s brow furrowed. “Helge Otäck? I don’t think I’m familiar with him.”

“He’s the Viceroy to the Omte,” I said, and I bit my tongue to keep from adding that he was the bastard who was holding Ridley hostage.

“The Omte are working for the Kanin and Viktor Dålig. We all know that.” Baltsar shrugged. “How is this exciting news to us?”

Bekk glared at him, her amber eyes seeming to blaze in the candlelight. “Helge helped orchestrate this whole thing. For over a year, Helge has been getting the strongest members of the Omte tribe exiled on the tiniest infractions, then passing them along to Viktor for his army.”