“Keep it—slip it in your mittens,” Stil said, tossing Gemma the mittens Lady Linnea had given her.

Gemma untangled the threaded charm from her neck and slipped it in her mitten—along with the thimble she had yet to use. She finished fastening her cloak, picked up her silk bag, and met Stil by the door.

She took one last glance of the sorrowful tower, taking in the impressive spindle of gold thread.

“Ready?” Stil asked. In his hand, he held some sort of glowing prism.

“Yes,” Gemma said. She was sorry she couldn’t send word to Lady Linnea and Grandmother Guri, but they would understand.

“Here we go,” Stil said, flipping his shabby hood up.

Gemma didn’t see what Stil did to open the door—he blocked her view with his body—but the door clanked, and the wind sucked it open, nearly tearing it off its hinges.

The snow had stopped playing around and was pelting the ground, covering it in a layer of white as tall as the length of Gemma’s hand.

“So you really love this beautiful country, huh?” Stil shouted over the howling gusts. He struggled against the wind to close the door when Gemma followed him out.

“You’ll see in the morning,” Gemma shouted, snowflakes stinging her cheeks. She had to pull her cape against her to keep it from streaming straight behind her.

The wind howled like a ravenous wolf as Stil led Gemma east—away from Lake Sno and behind the royal palace. They moved at a staggering walk, which was an uncomfortably slow pace for a person fleeing for her life. Gemma tried to walk quickly, but the wind pulled on her clothes and tossed her like she was a corn husk.

“At least we need not worry about our tracks,” Stil said, turning to look behind them. By the light of the prism, Gemma could see that any footprints they made were almost instantly erased by the whirling wind and snow.

Gemma squinted up at Stil and didn’t reply, fighting to keep her balance.

“It will get better when we leave Ostfold behind,” Stil said, gesturing to the sleeping city. “The woods are more sheltered.”

They passed the palace and walked south, through empty farm fields, moving parallel to the capital.

It wasn’t until they staggered through the farmland surrounding Ostfold that they were able to slip into a dark forest.

Stil was right: the wind was partially blocked by the great trees, but the same trees cast sinister shadows and groaned ominously as Stil and Gemma walked past—moving briskly.

“Did you hear that?” Gemma asked, looking behind. Her heart beat faster ever since they left the tower, but at the sound of a howl, it stopped all together.

“It’s the trees. No one at the palace has discovered your disappearance. They won’t be up for a few hours. Come on,” Stil said, tugging Gemma forward by the hand and holding his prism light out.

They walked through the dark forest and the occasional blustery meadow for what felt like hours.

Gemma’s face was numb, and her feet were blocks of ice—in spite of the heat charm—when they stumbled out of the dark forest and into a field.

The sun was up. Dawn hadn’t reached them in the forest, but in the field, the pink horizon made the snow smoothed across the ground glow and sparkle like fine fabric.

The howling wind was gone, replaced by a playful breeze that kicked up bits of snow and made the flakes glitter. Fir trees, pines, and bare oaks shielded the meadow, bringing in spots of green and brown. Birds sang and perched on a sorry-looking tent and a sleepy donkey.

“This is it,” Stil said. “My camp.”

“I see,” Gemma said, her voice monotone.

The tent—which was tattered and looked like it was on the verge of collapsing—was tucked behind a bare campfire that had no wood to stock it.

Gemma hoped the tent was, as Stil had promised, like her silk bag and had hidden depths, or she would march off alone—danger or not.

The donkey was picketed to the ground. His fuzzy coat was puffed, making him resemble a yak more than an equine. He was big for a donkey—the size of a small horse—and when he caught sight of Gemma and Stil, he brayed and stamped his hooves.

“That’s Pricker Patch,” Stil said. “Be careful with him. He nearly bit my arm off once when I told him he looked ridiculous.”

Gemma tilted her head to study the donkey as they drew closer. “He looks sensible.”

Stil snorted, sweeping snow away from the tent with his cloak. “Sensibly ferocious. I keep him to guard the camp and carry things, not for company. This way. Let’s get out of the cold,” Stil said, lifting the tent flap. The inside was the same as the outside—ratty and worn. Stil frowned and let the tent flap fall back into place.

“Is the inside of the tent magically heated?” Gemma asked as Stil opened the tent again—revealing the same thread-bare innards.