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“Bryn.” His arm was around my waist, and he put his other hand on my face, gently encouraging me to look at him. “Are you okay?”

“The kingdom is in chaos. Many of my friends and neighbors are dead. Ember is dead. Konstantin is dead. I killed the Queen.” I shrugged my shoulders limply. “I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be okay again.”

“It will be okay,” he promised me, with his fingers in my hair. “You’re stronger than this, and you will be okay again.”

“How can you be so sure?” I asked, looking up at him. In the darkness of his eyes, I saw the same despair that I felt, but also his perseverance pushing him on.

“Because I know you, and I know how much fight you have in you. You won’t let anything keep you down for long.” He ran his thumb along my cheek. “That’s why I love you so much.”

He leaned in, kissing me softly and sweetly on the mouth. We’d kissed more deeply before, more passionately, but this was a much different kind of kiss. This was relief and sadness and simply because we needed to. Because we were still alive, and we needed to remind ourselves that there was still so much left to live for.

“I need to go,” he said softly. “I need to go tell King Mikko that the Queen is dead, so we can stop the fighting. With her and Viktor out of the way, there’s no reason a truce can’t be reached.”

“Go,” I told him as I stepped back from him. “Go and stop this before more people get hurt.”

He nodded. “I’ll be back for you.”

I smiled weakly at him. “I know.”

Ridley hurried out of the room, to put a stop to all the death and carnage. I picked up Vita before she hopped into any blood, and I carried her over to the window. I pushed back the sheer curtains to see what had become of my town, while absently petting the soft white fur of the rabbit.

So much of the snow had gone red with blood. Broken bodies littered the ground. Homes and buildings were smashed up in places, some destroyed entirely. Doldastam was in shambles, exactly as Mina had wanted.

But I couldn’t let her win. The Kanin people wouldn’t. They were stronger than this. I’d learned to be a fighter growing up here, watching people rise above their places in this world, and together, somehow, we would find the strength to put this back together.

We could not let anyone destroy us.



June 7, 2014

In the days that followed, the ice began to thaw. The snow that had covered the town melted away, and while it wasn’t exactly a heat wave, green began sprouting up in the patches of lawn between the cottages. In a few places, pink and purple wildflowers were beginning to blossom.

The sun shone brightly above, warming the chill in the air, as everyone gathered at the town square. Many of the surrounding businesses were still in various states of repair. The sign for the bakery where Juni Sköld worked still hung at a haphazard angle, but the broken panes of glass in the front window had been replaced.

The cleanup was still under way, as it would be for some time, but we were making progress. The people of Doldastam always managed to pull together when they needed to.

After Ridley had told King Mikko that Mina was dead, the King had attempted to end things immediately. The fighting still went on for longer than it needed to, but eventually Mikko was able to talk to the head of the Högdragen, and a ceasefire was declared.

The next few days were spent hammering out a proper truce, but once a new King was decided for the Kanin, everything went smoother. The Omte still seemed reluctant to put aside their resentments, but Queen Bodil called them back to Fulaträsk, so they had no choice.

While Linus Berling had been officially crowned three days ago in a private ceremony in the palace, today was meant to be his public coronation and an official celebration for the end of the war.

Since it was a celebration, the town square had been decorated accordingly. Ribbons of silver and white streamed from one building to the next, helping to disguise the damage, and large bouquets of fragrant white flowers were placed everywhere imaginable.

Folding chairs covered in white satin and accented with ribbons filled the square. Just beneath the clock tower, a large stage had been erected. Linus wanted to distance himself from Mina, who lorded over the town from the balcony, so he wanted to speak at our level.

From where I sat in the back row, I could see everyone, and the entire town had turned out. Juni Sköld sat a few rows in front of me, holding the hand of her new boyfriend, and looking as radiant as ever. Bekk Vallin had decided not to return to Fulaträsk, even after the Omte agreed to the truce, and she sat a few seats down from me, her arms folded over her chest.

Nearer to the front, Delilah Nylen sat with her parents, crying softly. We’d hardly spoken since Ember had died, but whenever I saw her, she looked so lost. I hoped that soon she could find the peace and strength to carry on.

King Mikko and Queen Linnea Biâelse sat in the front row, along with King Loki and Queen Wendy Staad of the Trylle and Queen Sara Elsing of the Vittra, all of them honored guests of the Kanin because of their help in the war. Queen Bodil Elak of the Omte had been invited, as a gesture of peace, but she had declined, saying that it was still too soon.

With the fighting over, Tilda had returned a few days ago, and she seemed to be doing better. Knowing that Kasper had been properly avenged seemed to ease some of her anxiety, but none of this could be easy for her. She sat beside her parents, and her mother kept gently rubbing her back.