The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 3


The invaders had raised a new flag, one with painted black letters that had begun to drip with the spray of water, leaving long streaks beneath the writing itself. It read one word only: jaron.

My heart was nearly beating out of my chest as I called down to Mott. “No one comes onto this main deck until this is resolved. Those are my orders.”

“Why?” Imogen replied. “What is happening up there?”

“Get everyone into hiding! Every one of you.”

“What about you?” Amarinda cried. “Jaron, come down here with us!”

“Mott?” I called. “Do you have my orders?”

A long silence followed before he answered, “The king has spoken. You all know what to do.”

Erick pounded up the stairs, giving me a quick glare. “I’ll go anywhere I want on my ship, and I will give the order of when to fire and when to attack.” Then his eye turned to the sail with my name written on it. “Oh.”

“We’re not going to fire on them,” I said. “We’ve got to defeat them.”

“How?”

I walked to the side of the ship as it turned broadside of us, revealing the ship’s name: Shadow Tide. On a single whistle I heard from where I stood, its gun ports opened to reveal a dozen cannons all aimed our way.

I looked over at Erick and sighed. “Well, that’s the part I haven’t figured out. But it seems defeating them is the only choice we have left.”

Now that we were closer, I got my first real look at the captain, a tall woman of strong stature, with a square face and eyes that seemed to penetrate the distance between our ships. Her short-cropped hair was black and mostly pulled to one side, enough that I wondered if her head naturally tilted sideways to rest. She wore a long, black leather coat with a green blouse barely visible beneath it, trousers, and tall boots.

The captain called out, “In the name of our monarch, I call on you to surrender, or you will all die.”

I shouted back, “All three of us? It hardly seems worth the trouble of you arming all those cannons.”

“You are not a crew of three.”

I looked around to be sure. “Three is all I count. In fact, if you have any spare crewmen, we could use a few extra. Unless you still intend to fire on us, in which case you’d only be drowning your own crew.”

The captain had moved from the forecastle of her deck to the side of her ship directly across from me, allowing me to have a better look at her. She’d given no orders to have her crewmen fire on us yet, so I assumed she wanted to figure me out as much as I needed to understand her.

She called out again, this time adding a new threat. “Surrender your ship, or we’ll sink it!”

&nbs

p; I called back, “Go ahead and sink it. We’re all very capable swimmers here.”

There was a short pause as the captain looked at her other crewmen on deck. Then she shouted, “I meant that if we attack, you all will die.”

“No, I don’t think we will,” I replied. “But if you’re so concerned, you could lower your cannons and we can talk. What is it you want?”

“We want Jaron.”

Her tone was icy enough to send a chill through me. I glanced over at Erick, who was staring at the Shadow Tide with brows furrowed tight together. One hand was on his knife, but it was still sheathed. I said to him, “How difficult would it be for them to board this ship?”

Almost as if in answer, arrows were fired from their deck to ours, each one with hooks attached. Erick yelled for his crew to come up on deck as he and I raced to detach the hooks. They were embedded deeply into the wood, so prying them out was no small matter, and before I got one out, three more had attached. Groups of eight to ten men were at the other end of the ropes now attached to us and were pulling our ship closer to theirs.

The next set of arrows to be launched were fire tipped and these flew high, cutting through the sails and igniting them as they passed through.

“Lower the sails!” Erick cried. “Preserve what you can!”

Finally, our ships were so close that I could see the captain’s piercing eyes, and she was certainly focusing on me.

“My name is Captain Jane Strick, in service of our monarch.”


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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