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“Why would Helge do that?” Finn asked.

“Viktor traded our men for a few sapphires. Helge has been selling off our tribe bit by bit for a few lousy blue rocks.” Bekk shook her head in disbelief. “He even sent off the Queen’s own nephew, and he got killed running errands for Viktor!”

The Queen’s nephew was Bent Stum. From what I’d gathered from Konstantin, shortly after Bent had been exiled, he’d joined up with Viktor and was immediately paired with Konstantin to track down changelings. Viktor had brought Bent to help ensure that Konstantin would do his job.

“How do you know all this?” Mikko asked. “I’m not saying I doubt your story, but I can’t imagine that Helge just confessed this all to you himself.”

“I’ve never trusted Helge, but I started putting it together when we arrived in Doldastam and I met Viktor Dålig,” Bekk explained. “I realized it wasn’t the first time I’d seen him. He’d been sneaking around Fulaträsk before, whispering with Helge in the hallways of the palace.

“But last night I overheard Helge and Viktor talking and laughing about how their plans were coming together.” Her lip curled in disgust. “They didn’t even care if anybody overheard anymore. They think they’ve won already, that Viktor will be King of the Kanin and Helge will be King of the Omte, and then they will take out the rest of you, until the tribes and all your jewels are theirs.

“That’s why I came here,” she finished. “I can’t let that happen. I’d rather see the entire Omte kingdom destroyed than those two bastards win.”

Mikko stared at the floor, his hands on his hips as he breathed in deeply through his nose. Baltsar and Finn exchanged a look, one that appeared as if they’d just realized they were in deeper shit than they’d originally thought.

“Thank you for coming here with this,” Mikko said finally, and he lifted his head to look at Bekk. “What you have said is interesting, perhaps even valuable information, but it won’t help us win this war or defeat Helge Otäck or Viktor Dålig.”

“How about this, then?” Bekk challenged him. “The Högdragen and Kanin soldiers are inside the walls at night. If you want to avoid fighting the Kanin, attack at first light. It will only be Omte and Viktor’s men on the outside.”

Mikko nodded once. “Now, that might actually help.”

Mikko, Baltsar, and Finn began talking among themselves, coming up with a revised battle plan. When it became apparent that Bekk and I were no longer needed, Baltsar told us that we should go rest as much as we could.

“Thank you bringing me to them,” Bekk said as we walked back to my tent. I didn’t know where else to put her, and it would be good if we could get some sleep tonight.

“Well, thank you for helping us,” I said, then I stopped to look at her. “I do just have one favor that I’d like to ask you.”

She cocked her head, appraising me. “You’ve got balls so big they’d make an ogre jealous. Whatever you want, I’m game.”


battle cry

The snow came up past our knees, but we marched on down the hill toward Doldastam. Mikko led the way, with each of the captains leading their respective armies—Baltsar headed the Skojare, Finn the Trylle, and Ludlow the Vittra.

Konstantin, Bekk, and I had no real allegiance, so we simply walked near the front, following Mikko’s long strides through the drifts. This time, since I wasn’t sneaking around the town, I’d gone for a Skojare sword made of Damascus steel.

Before dawn even broke, we had started our descent down the hill. Most of the Omte were sleeping, and we’d nearly reached them before one of them caught sight of us and sounded the alarm.

Within moments the Omte were in formation. Mikko yelled his battle cry, and the war officially began.

I had a very singular plan—to get to the wall. I didn’t want to be slowed down by fighting, but I would plow through anyone who stood in my way. Bekk had agreed to help me, and she quickly proved herself to be an amazing ally, knocking a giant ogre out of my way.

I’d drawn my sword, and I sliced through anyone who came at me. An Omte wielding an ax—I cut off his head. A scraggly ex-Kanin-looking guy with two swords—I cut off one hand, and then stabbed him through the chest.

I didn’t think about what I was doing. I just moved on instinct, jumping over bodies and broken tents. The Omte had been living here for days, and bones littered the ground. It was a mess of garbage, rotting food, and expired campfires. It was like an obstacle course, but with murderous maniacs charging at me.

Bearded vultures circled above us, squawking their rage. All around me, I heard people crying out in pain. I saw a Skojare soldier fall to the ground, bleeding profusely from his neck.

But my mission was clear, and I couldn’t save him. So I charged on.

Bekk stayed near me the entire way, stabbing or punching anyone who got too close. By the time we’d reached the wall, both of us were covered in blood. So far, none of it was our own, but that was bound to change.

I sheathed my sword and stared up the wall. It was still slippery from the ice and snow, and with all the fighting going on around us, it would be an impossible climb.

“Ready?” Bekk asked, right after stabbing a man through the head who had come running at us.

“Yeah, I’d better be,” I said.

She grabbed me by the back of my jacket and the waistband of my pants, and with a grunt, she swung me back and then tossed me up. I flew into the top of the wall, with it hitting me right at the waist. I started to slip down, so I hurried to get a foothold. With my arms I brushed the snow out of my way and finally managed to get a grip on the wall and hoist myself up onto it.