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I looked back down at Bekk and gave her a thumbs-up. She smiled and proceeded to punch someone so hard that his face actually caved in. I’d never seen anything like it, and I hoped I never would again. We were incredibly fortunate that she was on our side.

Then I stood up and turned my attention toward Doldastam. Since the Omte had sounded the alarm, the Högdragen and Kanin soldiers were filling the streets. I was near the palace, which was where most of them were running to—to protect the Queen.

“People of Kanin!” I shouted as loud as I could. The sounds of the battle were raging on behind me, but thankfully, the walls had a somewhat dampening effect. “Listen to me!”

Some of the people were still running around, but many looked up at me. I wasn’t wearing a hood. I made no attempt to hide who I was, because I wanted them to know.

“Mina is not your true Queen!” I yelled. “You have been deceived! She killed your King! She’s lying to you because she is Viktor Dålig’s daughter!”

Some of the soldiers and even the panicked townspeople gasped. Others were skeptical, but I knew they would be. I knew I couldn’t reach all of them, but I hoped I could reach some.

Beneath me, the wall began to shake, and I glanced behind me to see that the Vittra hobgoblins had started going at it with an iron battering ram. They were knocking down the wall to make an entrance for our army.

The fight was still raging behind them, with the Skojare and their allies trying to take out as many of Viktor’s men and the Omte as they could. Bodies littered the ground, blood staining the fresh snow, but it was hard to tell for certain if the fallen were allies or enemies.

Either way, the hobgoblins had decided it was time to move in past the wall, to get to the Kanin before they organized themselves.

“Do not let her deceive you any longer!” I shouted at the ever-gathering crowd. More and more were coming closer to hear what I had to say. “You have no allegiance to her, because she is a liar, a traitor, and a murderer! Rip off your uniforms and fight with us today! Fight against the oppression! Fight against the Queen! Fight for your freedom!”

In the crowd, I saw Ember standing with Linus Berling, both of them smiling at me.

Then a dozen Högdragen made their way to the front of the crowd, took a knee, and pointed their bows and arrows at me. The wall beneath my feet felt very unstable, and I knew I had overstayed my welcome.

Just as they began to fire, I threw my sword to the ground on the village side and jumped down off the wall after it. The big drifts of snow helped cushion my fall, and I immediately rolled, attempting to limit the force on my legs and ankles. I grabbed my sword and scrambled out of the way to avoid getting hit by the stones that were tumbling down.

The hobgoblins had broken through, so the Högdragen turned their attention on them as the army began spilling in over the rubble. I ran back behind the buildings alongside the crumbling wall, toward the palace. Toward Ridley.



The sound of a little girl crying stopped me in my tracks.

From where I stood, with snow coming up to my knees, I could see a back door to the palace half a mile away. It wouldn’t be easy to break in, but that was all the more reason that I should get moving.

Just to my left was the wall, and to my right was the small dormitory where unmarried Högdragen lived. That meant this wasn’t the safest place for me to stop.

All around me I could hear men and women screaming, the clash of swords, and stones crashing against each other as the wall continued to crumble. The sounds echoed off the remaining walls and outlying buildings, and became the continuous growl of battle. But over all that, I could hear the little girl crying, which meant she had to be close. Which meant that I might be able to help her.

I took a few steps forward, following the sound of the crying, and I peered around the dorm. There in the corner, where the dorm met the Högdragen gym and the snow had drifted away, leaving a quiet spot, a little girl sat on the ground with her head buried in her arms.

I looked around, making sure there wasn’t anyone lying in wait, and I crouched down and made my way toward her.

“Hey,” I said softly when I got close, and she lifted her head.

When I finally saw her, I almost stumbled back in surprise. She looked so much like Kasper, it was like seeing a ghost. Since she was only ten, she had the chubbier cheeks of a child and her features were softer, more feminine, but she had his dark eyes beneath her black corkscrew curls, and his nose, and even his thick eyebrows.

It was Naima Abbott, Kasper’s little sister, and I knew that I couldn’t leave her.

“When the fighting started, I came here to get Kasper’s sword,” she explained with tears streaming down her cheeks, and I couldn’t tell if she recognized me or not. “But I couldn’t get in. I just wanted to protect my family the way Kasper would’ve.”

“That’s very noble, but Kasper would just want you to be safe.” I held out my hand to her, the one that wasn’t holding my sword. “We need to get you back to your family.”

She looked at me uncertainly, then she sniffled and took my hand, and I tried to figure out what I would do with her.

I knew I couldn’t take her into the palace with me, since that would be full of guards who wanted me dead, and there was a good chance she could end up as collateral damage.

The safest bet would be getting her back to her family, since her father was a former Högdragen and her other brother was going to tracker school. They could protect her, and if she stayed inside her home, odds were that nobody would attack her.