“What are you talking about?” Ridley asked.
“She came to me in a lysa,” I said, and skepticism flashed in his eyes. “I know how rare they are, especially coming from a Skojare. But I also know that it was real. Linnea is alive, and she told me to come find her.”
He arched his eyebrow and folded his arms across his chest. “Did she happen to tell you where she was?”
“No, not exactly,” I admitted.
“If this was a true lysa, and Linnea really wanted you to come find her, why wouldn’t she tell you exactly where she was?”
“I don’t know.” I shook my head “The Skojare don’t have a ton of psychic powers, so it most likely took all she had to get out that one quick message, like an SOS.”
Ridley narrowed his eyes slightly. “That leads to another question—why you?”
I let out a frustrated sigh. “I don’t know. When I find her, I’ll ask.”
“How do you plan to find her if you don’t know where she is?” Ridley asked, and I hurried to explain my conversation with my mom about Lake Isolera.
When I finished telling him my plan to find Linnea, reiterating why it was so important, Ridley didn’t say anything. He stared down at the floor, breathing in deeply through his nose, and then he closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead.
“How far away is it?” he asked finally.
“Based on the point on the map, I’d guess around a hundred to a hundred and fifty miles from Storvatten. So that puts us at about a day’s journey from here.”
He considered it, then nodded once. “Okay.” For a second I was so relieved that I almost hugged him, and then he added, “But I’m going with you.”
“What?” I asked, and I’m sure I sounded as shocked as I felt. “You—you … you’re running the army.”
I’d stumbled because I wanted to say, you hate me. But I couldn’t say that, so I pointed out the next logical reason why he wouldn’t be able to go.
“Tomorrow is Sunday, and that’s a light day. If we head out now, taking shifts driving, we should find the place and be back by Tuesday,” Ridley reasoned. “The scouts left this morning to search for Viktor Dålig and Konstantin Black. We’ll just be doing basic drills back here. Tilda can handle it until we get back.”
I opened my mouth, trying to think of protests, but I merely ended up gaping at him.
“You don’t need to come with,” I finally said.
“If Linnea knows anything about Viktor, I want to be there when you find her,” he said, and by the resolve in his eyes I knew he wouldn’t back down. Not that I blamed him.
I swallowed hard, as if my guilt had taken physical form as a painful lump in my throat. “Understood.”
“Go pack and get the things you need,” Ridley instructed me. “I’ll talk to Tilda and the King and get everything arranged. When I’m finished, I’ll meet you at your place, and we’ll head out.”
What had started as light snow an hour ago had switched to an icy sleet that sounded like pebbles hitting the windshield. To Ridley’s credit, he slept through it—his head lolled to one side, bouncing along with the Land Rover as it navigated the worsening terrain of the back roads.
It was over twenty hours into our journey to the mythical and possibly nonexistent Lake Isolera, which had begun with an awkward train ride during which we both struggled to fill the silence by inspecting maps of Ontario.
Before we left, I’d borrowed a Skojare book from my mom. She kept a few artifacts from her past life in Storvatten, and this was a book of fairy tales that her beloved grandmother had read to her. It had a few poems and stories that mentioned Lake Isolera, and since that was the only thing we had to go on, I took it.
On the train, Ridley had read the stories about the lake aloud. They had a tendency to switch between English and Swedish mid-sentence, and his pronunciation was much better than mine. Out of the five tribes, the Skojare were the most isolated, and therefore, most attached to the ways of the old world—including the original language of all the troll tribes.
“Through the trees and past the slinggrande flod, in the depths of snow that no human would trod,” Ridley read aloud. “There is a land of trolleri and beauty, the most wonderful place that ever you’ll see.”
I closed my eyes, listening to the comforting baritone of Ridley’s voice. When he was reading from the book, he spoke like he normally did—no hint of anger or unease. My chest ached with regret and longing. He was so close to me. Our arms brushed up against each other on the armrest. But he was still so far away.
If I looked up at him, I would see an icy wall in his mahogany eyes where once there had only been warmth.
All I wanted was to take back everything that had happened—not telling him about Viktor right away and even kissing him. I just wanted things to go back to the way they used to be between us, but I didn’t have the words to erase what had happened. So I just closed my eyes and listened to him read.
Once we’d picked up a rental car at the train station, things had actually gotten easier. We needed to take turns driving, and Ridley had offered to take the first shift. I hadn’t slept well, but at least it wasn’t tense or weird that we weren’t speaking.
I’d taken my shift a few hours back, and Ridley had been sleeping soundly the whole time. Most of the drive had been easy and relatively uneventful, but gradually the clouds had moved in, growing darker and blotting out the sun. Then the snow had begun, which wasn’t bad when compared to its icy counterpart that pounded down now.
The windshield wipers could barely keep up at this point. The SUV slid on a slick patch. I managed to catch it before we went off the road, but it jerked hard when it hit a dip on the pavement.
“What’s going on?” Ridley asked, waking up with a start.
He sat up straighter, blinking back sleep, and looking out the window at the mess the sky was pouring down on us.
“Do you want me to take over?” he asked, eyeing my hands gripped tightly on the wheel.
I shook my head. “No, I’ve got it. You just woke up.”
And at that moment, the Land Rover decided to skid again. It wasn’t bad, and I recovered easily, but it hadn’t eased Ridley’s concerns.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “Because I got plenty of sleep, and I’m feeling alert now.”