Sacrifice (The Snow Queen #2)(11)

“’Twas our honor,” the man said.

Oskar tilted his head. “Were you planning to attack the mercenaries alone?”

The woman shook her head. “No. We try to catch ’em off guard and attack one at a time—either when they’re traveling or camping.”

Phile whistled. “Smart warfare. I can appreciate that.”

“We were told you would be coming, so we held back,” the man said.

General Halvor frowned. “Who told you that?”

“Sirpa. She has been in touch with an older woman in Ostfold,” the woman said.

“Grandmother Hilda’s friend,” Rakel said.

“Indeed,” Oskar said.

“Even before we had word from Sirpa, merchants have been keeping us informed,” the woman added.

“Merchants?” Rakel said, surprised.

The resistance fighters nodded.

Oskar smiled smugly. “I told you it was important to impress the Glowma merchants.”

Rakel recalled Oskar’s insistence that she befriend Pordis—the leader of the merchant guild. “I must confess, I did not entirely believe you at the time. I am glad you were right.”

“Ogle-worthy Oskar is usually right. His cunning intelligence is one of his many charms,” Phile said. She winked at Oskar, who chuckled at her frank compliment.

“Please, allow us to travel back with you to Begna,” the man said, bowing at the waist. “We will alert the villagers that it is safe to come out of hiding, and properly welcome you—Snow Queen.”

“Halvor?” Rakel asked.

“It would be good to meet with the leaders and see if we might better work together,” General Halvor said.

Rakel smiled at the resistance fighters. “Then I will gladly accept.”

Phile tossed Foedus up in the air. “We’ll have a feast tonight to celebrate! Give me two ticks to find Snorri, and we’ll go hunting and bag us some game!”

“If you would follow us, please, my Queen.” The woman resistance fighter smiled in delight.

Rakel pulled back, her shoulders stiffening. Queen? No, I must stamp this out before they feed their dreams. “I am honored by your esteem, but I am just a princess. I am not a queen over anyone.”

Oskar’s green eyes were bright and suspiciously innocent. “You’re the Queen of Snow.”

Rakel narrowed her eyes at him.

“Oh, yes!” The man nodded emphatically.

“Please, this way.” The woman squirmed through the Verglas soldiers that had begun to clump around Rakel and General Halvor.

They parted for Rakel, and she was surprised to find the resistance fighters were lined up—straining on their toes to see her. They erupted into cheers and waved and flapped their homemade blue patches with the reindeer and the snowflake in the air like they were flags.


“It’s the Snow Queen!”

“Bless you, Princess!”

Rakel shifted awkwardly, embarrassed by the show of devotion, but also deeply pleased. She kept her expression guarded until Phile elbowed her in the side. I know this is what I wanted…but I feel like a fraud. What have I done to deserve this?

“It’s okay to smile, Little Wolf.” Phile had to shout directly into her ear to be heard over the whistles and cheering.

Rakel raised her chin and stiffened her shoulders to keep herself from slouching, but she allowed her expression to soften, and a small smile—the tiniest reveal of the happiness that coursed through her like her magic—graced her lips.

The resistance fighters cheered louder, stamped their feet, and jumped in place. The man and woman who had previously spoken led the way towards the crowd. General Halvor walked behind them.

Rakel moved to follow him, but she was surprised when Oskar placed his hand on her arm. “Princess.” He pointed to their sleigh. The white and gray reindeer that had pulled them to Begna were still hooked up to it. They stamped their hooves and rolled their eyes at the cheering crowd.

Rakel let Oskar lead her away. “What is it?”

“You have been holding onto your magic this entire time, have you not?” Oskar asked.

“Yes,” Rakel admitted.

“Then it’s time you let go and accept the price of your magic.” He smoothed the furs he insisted on piling the sleigh with—even though Rakel was resistant to the cold due to her powers—and fluffed up a back cushion.

“But the resistance fighters—” Rakel started.

“Will still be here when you wake up. He’s right, Little Wolf. You better take a rest,” Phile said. She untied her horse from one of the other army sleighs and mounted up. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye out while you slumber.”

Rakel frowned. “You make it sound peaceful.”

“You look peaceful—no one would ever guess how jumpy and suspicious it makes you. Mind you, as paranoid as you are, I think it’s a wonder you sleep at all,” Phile said.

“I’m getting better.” Rakel let a bit of a pout seep into her voice as she lowered herself into the sleigh.

“You are,” Phile agreed. “But you have a ways to go.”

“I’m not so sure extra caution is a bad thing,” Oskar said as he tucked a fur around Rakel’s legs. “Caution keeps you alive.”

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