Ice Kissed / Page 35

Page 35


“My child, you know you are the world to me, but things are very bad indeed when the only positive thing you can say is that you’re simply alive,” Lisbet said. “You’re a vibrant, healthy, young Queen. You are supposed to be alive!”

“Kasper and Bryn are here,” Linnea tried, gesturing toward where we stood at attention near the door. “They’ll help us sort out this mess.”

The Marksinna looked toward us, an unsettling weariness and fear in her eyes, and she nodded once. “You are here, and I am very grateful for it, because without you I have no idea what would have become of my grandson-in-law. But what do we do about all this?” Her gaze fell heavily on Kasper and me. “Who is behind these attempts on my family’s lives? And how do we stop them?”

“Bayle Lundeen has launched a full-scale investigation—” Kasper began, but Lisbet immediately held up her hand to stop him.

“I don’t trust that man.” Lisbet grimaced. “I haven’t trusted him for so long, but Mikko refused to hear anything about it. Lundeen was his father’s lackey, which really tells you something about him. Rune Biâelse was an awful, cold tyrant, and anybody he trusted can’t be good news.”

“Nana!” Linnea exclaimed.

“I’m just stating a fact, my dear,” Lisbet said, brushing her off. “And worse still, Rune left his son too terrified to act even long after his death.”

“I don’t trust Bayle Lundeen either,” Kasper agreed. “But now I’m a part of the investigation, and I’m hoping to steer it in the right direction.”

“A noble intention, but I’m not certain it will bear any fruit,” Lisbet said. “That is why I called you both here. You have no connection to this guard, and you’ve already proven yourselves to be far more intelligent and capable than anyone we have here. I want you to look into it, separate from whatever farce it is that Bayle Lundeen is spearheading.”

I exchanged a look with Kasper, who nodded his encouragement.

“That was already our intention, Marksinna,” I said. “We did not trust the guard when we arrived, but after the incident with Cyrano, we trust them even less. Now we must determine how widespread the betrayal is, and who is behind it.”

“Excellent.” Lisbet smiled at us. “What have you uncovered so far?”

“Cyrano was supposed to be guarding Queen Linnea over the lunch hour, but he informed her that he had a meeting with Bayle he needed to attend,” Kasper began.

“I already know that,” Linnea said. “I’m the one who told you that.”

“Right.” Kasper gave her a look but kept his voice even. “We have confirmed that the meeting did exist and that Bayle was there with ten other guards who all vouch for him, along with the kitchen staff and footmen. Cyrano wasn’t supposed to attend because he wasn’t allowed to leave the Queen unguarded, which he did.”

“He told me I would be fine because I would be with Bryn,” Linnea said. “And as it turns out, I was much safer with Bryn than I would have been with him.”

“So Cyrano lied to get a moment alone with the King so he could kill him?” Lisbet shrugged. “That doesn’t tell us why he wanted to.”

“No, but it does suggest that Bayle wasn’t directly involved,” Kasper said.

“It’s also worth mentioning that Cyrano had a wife and a young child,” I said, and by the surprised looks Lisbet and Linnea gave each other, I guessed this was news to them. “His daughter has a rare disease that requires costly treatment, which makes money an excellent motivator. Both the wife and the child appear to have left in a hurry.”

“Clothes were scattered over the beds, but there were no signs of a struggle,” Kasper said. “They seem to have left very suddenly but of their own accord.”

“That’s not that surprising if they heard Cyrano was a traitor who’d been killed,” I continued, not letting the darkness of his death cloud my words. “We would expect them to run away lest they be punished for his crimes.”

“If they are innocent, they have nothing to fear,” Linnea piped up, and that was her naiveté showing.

Another time, I would have to explain to her how Viktor Dålig’s young children had been punished for his transgressions. The world was not a fair place, and a Queen needed to know that if she wanted to help rule a kingdom.

“We did find something odd, however,” Kasper went on. “Under the stove were two sapphires, a little smaller than a marble. We suspect that in the commotion of leaving, they fell out and rolled under the stove, and Cyrano’s wife either didn’t notice or was in too much of a hurry to be bothered with them.”

“Sapphires nearly as large as a marble?” Lisbet shook her head. “Are you certain they were real?”

Kasper nodded. “Based on the color and size, Bayle estimated they were worth at least twenty thousand dollars apiece.”

Linnea gasped. “How could a guard have sapphires worth that much? And how could his family be so careless as to leave them behind?”

“That is an excellent question,” I said. It was one that Kasper and I had been quick to answer last night. “The only way Cyrano’s wife wouldn’t have noticed or wouldn’t have cared about leaving behind nearly fifty thousand dollars was if she had a lot more.”

Queen Linnea shook her head with her forehead scrunched up, clearly still baffled by what I was saying. “We pay them a decent wage, but it’s nowhere near enough to have that kind of money. Was Cyrano stealing them?”

“That is one consideration,” Kasper allowed. “The other is that Cyrano was paid off.”

Lisbet rested her chin on her hand, staring off at nothing, but her eyes darted back and forth as she thought. The Marksinna had most likely come to that conclusion long before her granddaughter had and was trying to make sense of it.

“With his daughter’s illness and the rising cost of medical bills, Cyrano was very vulnerable to bribery,” I said. “He probably believed that it was worth risking his life to take care of his family.”

That would explain the intent mania I saw in Cyrano’s eyes. He’d had no reason not to drop his sword yesterday, but after talking with Kasper, we’d both begun to suspect that Cyrano planned on going after me until I killed him. In fact, the payment to his family might have been contingent on his death. It would be the only way that whoever had paid him off could be certain that Cyrano would never talk.

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