“You’re welcome. The captain said I was to tell you that tonight the King will have you spin again,” B?rres said, apologetically bobbing like a duck on rough water.

Gemma nodded, expecting as much. “Thank you for the warning.”

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“Of course, miss. Enjoy your lunch,” B?rres said, slipping out of the dungeon.

Gemma sighed and felt for the braid of black and silver thread she had tied around her neck, cradling Stil’s heat charm and magic thimble.

It had been several nights, and he hadn’t yet returned. Should she call him?

“It seems my timing is perfect, then.”

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Gemma looked up to find Stil relaxing next to the ceiling grate, looking as if he had been there for the past few minutes.

“Sir Mage, how was your journey?” Gemma asked.

“It didn’t go quite as I planned,” he said, adjusting his hood so it fell lower, although he gave Gemma a lopsided smile. “But I am alive and in once piece, and I returned at the perfect hour.”

“So it would seem.”

“Unfortunately I must go. I came only to tell you that I am back,” the mage said.

“Thank you. Oh—here,” Gemma said, trying to untangle the ruby heat charm.

“Keep it for now. You can give it to me when I see you tonight,” Stil said. “And you might want to ask the guards for some shutters if the King is going to keep you cooped up here,” he added before slipping from the ledge, disappearing from sight.

With the mage gone, Gemma turned her attention to the black wool cape folded and stowed in the corner. “I wonder if I have enough time to finish it before tonight…”

Chapter 11

Gemma carried the nearly finished wool cape—she had a little embroidery left on one shoulder—as well as her own cloak, the last of the silver thread she would need, her needles, and the mittens and various weaponry Lady Linnea had smuggled in.

A guard—Foss—had warned her before they left the cell that she would want her cloak.

Gemma had wondered why, but now—as the guards escorted her through the chilly wind and a few snowflakes fell—she understood.

The guards led her outside the castle, to a tall, crumbling tower that was separated from the palace and pushed into the forest border. The men wrestled the door open and nudged Gemma inside.

The interior of the tower was just as shabby as the exterior. The floor was smooth stone—worn from age and use, not from excellent craftsmanship—and the tower stretched so high the ceiling disappeared into darkness. Torches were posted on the walls, casting a cheerful glow that the tower couldn’t absorb. There were windows—barred of course. A few retained the original glass panes, but most had been broken over the ages and were badly boarded up so the whistling wind still managed to pry in through cracks and holes.

The tower felt similar to the palace dungeons in that it oozed with dark feelings. However, while the dungeons felt oppressive, the tower was soaked with desperation and sadness.

Part of that might have been its contents.

Piled everywhere, in stacks taller than Gemma, were bundles of flax fibers.

A crew of spinners wouldn’t be able to spin the immense amount of flax King Torgen had stock-piled. It was possible that Stil wouldn’t be able to save Gemma this time.

Standing in front of the sea of flax were King Torgen and Prince Toril.

“Gemma Kielland,” King Torgen said, the sags under his eyes and the too-sharp plains of his face were dark, giving him a fiendish look.

Gemma clutched the wool cape closer and bobbed a curtsey.

“Tonight, you will spin all this flax into gold,” King Torgen said, gesturing to the piles and piles of flax. “And if you don’t, I will have you beheaded. If you do succeed, you will marry me and become Queen of Verglas.”

Gemma paused. “I beg your pardon, My Lord?”

“If you manage to finish all the spinning, you will be my queen,” King Torgen said. His sick smile said he knew Gemma would not enjoy this.

“What if I do not wish to, My Lord?” Gemma asked.

The guards tensed, worried the king would retaliate, but he only laughed. “Tonight’s outcome has very little to do with what you wish, Gemma Kielland. If you can spin flax into gold I will see you chained to me, even if it means I must put the shackles on you myself. You could marry Toril, the coward, if you wished.”

Gemma took a step back, repulsed. To marry the mad king—a man who would plot to have her killed? Or to marry his son and become the daughter-in-law to such a twisted creature? Who knew what atrocities he would carry out? He left Toril alone, but Gemma doubted King Torgen would leave her be, no matter whom she married.

King Torgen laughed at Gemma’s look of revulsion.

“Choose wisely, Gemma Kielland, lest you regret it,” King Torgen said, strolling to the door. His path took him close to Gemma. He leaned into her, his breath reeking of decay. “Guards will be posted outside. They will bring you to me tomorrow, as my bride, or one on death-row.”

“No,” Gemma said, her voice strong.

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