King Torgen abruptly stopped laughing and grabbed Gemma by the throat of her cape, yanking her—and the soldiers—forward. “I will never set you free.”
“And I will never spin for you again,” Gemma said, the strength of her heart helping her to meet King Torgen’s feverish eyes with all the ice she could muster in her own gaze. “You may clutch my broken body for all eternity, but I will never give you even a glimmer of gold.”
King Torgen released one bark of laughter. “We shall see, Gemma Kielland. I have ways of making people obey my orders,” he snarled. “Toril!”
The prince, who was standing in the doorway, hesitantly joined King Torgen. “Yes, Father?”
“Take Gemma—your soon to be step-mother—to her new chambers. See to it that she has everything she needs to present herself as a bride. Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Gemma said, choking on disbelief.
“Yes. Tomorrow, Verglas will have a new queen,” King Torgen smirked.
“Yes, Farther,” Prince Toril said, his voice a whisper. He motioned to the soldiers holding Gemma to follow him before he turned and walked back to the refuge of the palace.
Toril and the soldiers were silent as they marched through the palace, moving up hallways and crossing corridors.
Toril glanced over his shoulder, his eyes lingering on Gemma’s hurt hand. “You were injured?” he asked.
Gemma shrugged. “I was hurt before I was found.”
“I see,” Toril said before addressing the soldiers. “Take her to the queen’s chambers. I will have a squadron of palace guards replace you.”
“My Lord?” one of the soldiers said as the prince abruptly turned and walked in the opposite direction.
“I have other things to attend to,” Toril called over his shoulder.
The soldiers walked on, escorting Gemma to a beautiful, luxurious room.
The bedroom was bathed in soft shades of cream and yellow. The ceiling was vaulted, painted with a mural of blue skies and snowflakes. The furniture was simple but elegant in taste, painted white and smooth to the touch.
It wasn’t like a typical Verglas luxurious bedroom. It was brighter, happier, and perfectly preserved.
“These are the queen’s rooms?” Gemma said, confused.
“King Torgen had the room decorated for the previous queen,” a soldier said.
Gemma looked around the room as the soldiers unlatched her shackles. “Did he love her?” she asked. She could barely remember the queen. She died in childbirth, the unborn baby dying with her, when Gemma was still a toddler.
The soldier removing her shackles briefly stilled. “Yah,” he said. “She tamed him.” The silence stretched on as the second soldier checked that the two windows were locked and secured.
The soldiers bowed to Gemma and moved to leave the room. The soldier who answered Gemma’s question lingered in the doorway. “Whatever our queen saw in him that she loved is gone now,” he said before closing the door.
Gemma heard the familiar clank as the door was locked from the outside. She was left alone in the room that seemed to whisper with ghosts of the past. She sat down on a stool and leaned against the wall, shutting her eyes.
Gemma had no memories of King Torgen and his queen together, but the care and love that went into the decorating of the room was unmistakable. However, Gemma knew the soldier was right. Whatever part of King Torgen that cared about this room was gone, killed off long ago by the onslaught of bitterness and unquenchable hatred.
When the door clanked and was thrown open an hour later, Gemma tumbled off her stool in surprise.
“Gemma—you look terrible! But that is to be expected, I suppose. I am a healer, I am here to heal. That’s what healers do. Hah-hah.”
Gemma’s jaw dropped as she looked up at the cloaked figure. Even though she was veiled, Gemma would recognize the owner of that voice anywhere.
“You strapping guards should leave the healing to those who know what how to heal: healers. When I’m ready to come out, I will knock,” the cloaked figure said, patting the basket that swung from her arm.
“Yes, ma’am,” a guard at the door said—Gemma recognized it was Foss. The guard winked at her before shutting the door.
“That is an excessively bad disguise, My Lady,” Gemma said.
Lady Linnea waddled forward, wearing robes that drowned her body and a mismatched veil that covered her face. “I know, but how else was I supposed to get in here? Besides, the guards aren’t going to tell anyone,” Lady Linnea. “I hope you know what to do with this stuff,” she added, setting a heavy basket on the floor. “I’ve got bandages, but I don’t know what any of these balms are. By the Snow Queen, do they ever reek.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m visiting you, of course. Hello, Gemma. I missed you—though I am sorry you didn’t successfully escape,” Lady Linnea said, wrapping her arms around Gemma in a warm hug.
“Thank you,” Gemma said, her voice strong but lined with relief. “What am I to do, My Lady? I don’t think I will be able to escape him a second time.”