The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 2


I glanced up as a cheer rose from the lower deck, where nearly all the pirates were at supper. That was a good thing. If they were eating, they weren’t stealing.

Over the last few days on this ship, I had often pointed out to Imogen that other than their constant attempts to steal from us, these pirates had been a pleasant crew. That was small comfort to her, but as I also had a long history of thieving, I could hardly criticize the pirates for the same behavior.

“Many of these same pirates tried to kill you once,” she observed.

To be accurate, it was more than once, though I didn’t feel the need to correct her. And to be perfectly accurate, I was one of “these same pirates” myself.

“Jaron, there’s a ship on the starboard side,” Erick called down to me. He was the pirate king, our helmsman, and a fine cook of fresh-caught fish, I’d recently discovered. But now his usually friendly voice bore a note of concern. “It’s on a course aimed directly for us.”

I replaced Conner’s book in my shoulder bag and hurried up to the quarterdeck where he was. The ship he had observed was a caravel with a total of four mainsails; two large sails above the deck rose as high as the crow’s nest, which was flanked by two smaller topsails. The crow’s nest itself was accessed by a rope ladder. Above the topsail a flag hung from a mast. It was neither Avenian nor pirate, but instead a simple green flag with white trim. I did not recognize it.

A bowsprit jutted out from the front of the ship with a raised forecastle deck that would give the ship’s crew an advantage in fighting. It was wide enough for two rooms to fit below the quarterdeck, wherein we had only one, the captain’s quarters. Erick and I had debated multiple times about whether he or I should have that room. I had won, on the condition that I let my thirteen-year-old adopted brother, Fink, bunk there too, so he would keep fewer crewmen awake with his talking each night.

The ship angled to match our exact change in course, and this time, a shiver crawled up my spine.

“What’s the firepower on our ship?” I asked Erick.

“The usual number of cannons, but they’ve shown us no aggression.”

I disagreed. “The cannons on their deck are already manned. Can we outrun them?”

Erick shook his head and turned the wheel again to steer us away. He whistled at another pirate to take the helm, leaving him with instructions that sent my heart pounding. “Take us in any direction away from that ship. Whatever else happens, don’t let it get broadside of us.”

Because if it did, its cannon fire would sink us.

Erick and I raced down the stairs, with Erick shouting orders to every pirate we passed along the way. He called back to me, “I’ll get our cannons loaded as well, but they’re a bigger ship. Unless we get a lucky hit first, if they intend to harm us, they can do it. You’d better get your people to safety.”

I nodded at him and ran into the wardroom on the main deck where Imogen, Fink, and Mott were playing cards. “There’s trouble,” I said. “We’ve got to hide as many people as we can.”

Without a word, Mott stood and went belowdecks, calling for all Carthyans on board to meet him near the bunks.

Imogen looked at Fink. “Go into the galley and get as much food together as you can carry. Then report directly to Mott.”

She followed me back onto the deck where it was evident the other ship was closing in. A captain stood at the forecastle with a sword aimed directly at us.

“Is this another pirate ship?” she asked. “Are we being raided?”

I shook my head. “Erick assured me this part of the Eranbole Sea belongs to the Avenian pirates. I don’t think this is a raid.”

“Then it’s targeting us?” Her brows pressed together. “Why?”

I gave Imogen my shoulder bag and took her by the hand belowdecks where Mott was in the middle of assigning everyone a task.

“There are a few false walls in the storage areas. Take your places and the rest of us will seal you in. Stay as long as you can stand it, or until one of us pulls you out.” He looked around the group. “Fink, Amarinda, Imogen —”

“No!” she said. “Mott, I want to help fight!”

I turned to her. “There will be no fight when they attack. We cannot match their strength. You must hide.”

“As must you,” Mott said. “Jaron, there are four spaces. The fourth is for you.”

“Absolutely not!” I said. “Where’s my sword?”

Roden, the captain of my guard, touched my arm. “You’re the king. More than anyone else, you need to hide.”

I shook my head at him, ready with a response, but there was no time for even that before someone called from up on the main deck, “Jaron, you need to see this.”

I gave Imogen’s hand a squeeze and said to Mott, “Begin hiding the others. I’ll be back. Can someone find my sword?” Then I raced up the steps back onto the main deck.


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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