Ice Kissed / Page 28

Page 28

“Since this tower isn’t used for anything else, you could have two guards up here, watching the perimeter for enemies,” Kasper said, motioning to the windows on either sides of the room. “I know the tower guards are too busy to be able to do that, but regular guards would work.”

“We could, but that seems unnecessary,” Bayle said. “The tower guards are protecting us from outsiders.”

“What about Konstantin Black?” I asked, and he stiffened.

Bayle cleared his throat. “He was an exception, and I doubt he’ll be coming back.”

“You can say that, and you may be right,” I allowed. “But do you know why he was here? How he got in? What he was hoping to achieve? Or why he warned the Queen to get out?”

“Of course not,” Bayle replied icily. “We don’t know that any better than you do.”

“Then how can you possibly know that he or someone else like him won’t strike again?” I asked.

Bayle inhaled sharply through his nose. “I suppose I don’t.” Then he lowered his dark blue eyes to gaze at me. “But from what I gather, Konstantin Black is Kanin, and he was your problem first. Whatever he was doing here, it was your people that brought him upon us, and it was you who lost him.”

“I wouldn’t have lost him if you’d been doing your job!” I snapped. “If you had even a halfway decent guard set up, he never would’ve gotten inside the palace in the first place.”

“I work with the guard that I am given!” Bayle shouted. “You think I wouldn’t want a guard as well trained and dedicated as the Högdragen? Of course I would! But that’s not what King Rune designed.”

King Rune was Mikko and Kennet’s father, who had apparently decided to tie the purse strings much tighter than they needed to be.

“King Mikko refuses to undo his father’s changes, which means we have no money, no training, nothing for any of that,” Bayle continued in frustration.

“And that’s why we’re here!” Kasper spoke loudly in order to be heard, but there was no anger in his voice. He stepped between Bayle and me, holding his hands palm out toward each of us. “We’re here to help, and to make sure that somebody like Konstantin Black can never get in here again. We’re on the same page here.”

Bayle huffed, but he seemed to relax a bit. He smoothed the satin of his uniform. He looked much more like a leader in it, and he even carried himself better. Kasper had definitely been right about the effect clothing had on the psyche.

“Kasper is right,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

Bayle nodded, and I suspected that was as close to an apology as I would get.

“It has been a great shame that the Queen went missing on my watch,” he said finally. “I’ve tried to pinpoint how exactly Konstantin got in here, but the truth is that there are too many holes in our fence for me to know for sure.”

“The Queen had begun to fear for her safety before Konstantin even arrived,” I said. “There’s a chance someone on the inside was working with him.”

Bayle lowered his eyes. “I have considered this.”

“And do you have any idea who it could have been?” Kasper pressed when Bayle didn’t go on.

“No.” He shook his head. “I simply don’t know how any of the guards could benefit from the disappearance of Queen Linnea. She’s kind and fair to everyone. The kingdom has a policy that doesn’t allow us to pay ransom, and I doubt King Mikko would go against the rules of his ancestors, so no one could profit from her kidnapping.”

“What if she had been killed?” I asked. “Would anything have changed?”

“I can’t see how,” Bayle said. “The crown follows the Biâelse bloodline. There would be no transfer of power, since Queen Linnea only has the title by marriage.”

My thoughts circled back to where they’d started—the only person who could benefit from Linnea being gone was the one who didn’t appear happy to be married to her.

“As the head guard, who are your official bosses?” I asked.

“The King has final say in all matters of the kingdom, but to a lesser extent, I am sworn to obey the entire royal family, including the Queen, the Prince, and Marksinna Lisbet as the Queen Grandmother,” Bayle answered.

“What would you do if any of them asked you to commit murder?” I asked, and both Bayle and Kasper stiffened. It was a taboo topic among guards.

“In times of war, I am to defend the kingdom and fight our enemies,” Bayle said, practically reciting the answer from a textbook. “In times of peace, I am to protect the King at all costs. It is my duty to kill if necessary, but never to murder. Taking a life must only be done in preservation of the kingdom.”

“I know what you’re supposed to do, but I’m asking you what you would personally do,” I said.

“I would follow the tenets of my position, and I would not murder anyone,” he said, but his eyes darted just slightly when he spoke.

“Would you tell the person you’d been instructed to kill?” I pressed. “Because if you turned down the King, I’m sure he could keep asking until eventually he found a guard who would do as he asked.”

“I…” Bayle stopped for a moment, thinking, and when he spoke again, his shoulders had sagged. “I would like to believe that I would do the right thing.”

Later, when we were walking down the spiral stairs to the main floor, Bayle had gotten quite the lead on Kasper and me, and he was well out of earshot. Just the same, Kasper slowed his steps and lowered his voice.

“There is no right answer to that question, you know,” Kasper said, and I looked sharply at him.

“Of course there is. Murder is always wrong.”

“When you’re a civilian, that’s true,” he conceded. “But the King has the power to declare war and name anyone a traitor, worthy of death. He decides what is and what isn’t murder. When you swear to serve him, you give up your own individuality; you forsake your own beliefs and morals in the name of the higher calling of serving the kingdom, for honor and duty.”

I shook my head. “You can serve the King without betraying your own morality. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”

“I would like to think so, and I like to live my life that way,” Kasper said. “But if the King commanded me to do something, and I denied him, he could have me locked up or banished. Even executed. So it’s not just morality that would influence my decision. It’s also self-preservation.”

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