The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 5


“We traced him to Bymar a week ago. The port master we spoke to informed us this was the ship Prince Jaron is supposed to be on.”

“I know that port master. He’s older than these waters. I wouldn’t trust his word.”

“I trust every word given on one’s deathbed.”

A shudder ran through me. The port master was in good health when we left Bymar. If he was on his deathbed, it was because Captain Strick put him there.

She returned my sword to the filthy Prozarian, along with instructions to take it to her office. Then she pressed her lips together and stared at me. “You will produce Jaron on this deck in the next five seconds, or this ship will be boarded, searched, and then sunk.”

I let out a slow breath and closed my eyes, trying to prepare myself for whatever might happen next. She had killed Erick without flinching, so I had no doubt she would carry out these new threats. I stood and squared myself to her. “I’m Jaron. Take me.”

“No, I’m Jaron.” Roden raced up the stairs, sword in hand. “Take me.”

“No, I’m Jaron.” Tobias followed him exactly, except his sword was held upside down. “Take me.”

Strick lifted her hand, curling the fingers toward her. And one by one, Prozarians began crossing onto our ship.

A century ago, no army in the known world was more feared than the Prozarians. Their interest wasn’t occupation of any territory they conquered, but rather, they bled the land of its resources and wealth before abandoning it like ashes from a spent fire. Eventually, countries began to unite for their own defense, laying aside old grudges to target a common enemy. Over time, the Prozarians themselves became the spent fire, the topic of history books and stories shared by aging soldiers in dark taverns. By the time I was a child, nobody spoke of the Prozarians anymore.

I suspected that was about to change.

These next Prozarians to board our ship were heavily armed, and each carried a length of rope. I bolted for the quarterdeck but ran straight into a fist that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. Behind me, Roden was keeping up a fair fight until we heard a cry from Tobias and saw a knife raised against him. For his sake, we had no choice but to give in.

Little mercy was shown in the way we were thrown against the side railing and searched for weapons. Our arms were yanked behind our backs as each of our hands were tied. The man behind me must’ve thought he was clever for double knotting my binds. I even told him so, though my compliment also came with commentary on his rancid breath that earned me a third hit. His work wasn’t so clever after all. He wasn’t halfway back to the captain before I was through the first knot.

“Search below,” the captain shouted, and my heart slammed into my throat.

“Where are the others?” I whispered.

“Creating a distraction,” Roden said.

“No, those were not my orders.”

“Imogen says since she’s marrying you, she is not subject to any of your orders.”

She wanted to make that an issue now? Imogen had a general resentment of the term “orders.”

“What is the distraction?” I asked.

Tobias carefully looked around us before whispering, “She opened a porthole and discovered she could reach the lifeboat. She planned to release it.”

“With who on it?”

Roden shrugged. “You.”

A few of the Prozarians who had been belowdecks now pounded back up the steps, shouting, “Captain, the prince is escaping!”

From my position, I wasn’t able to see, but Imogen must have done a decent job creating some humanlike figure in the lifeboat, for I heard a string of curses, then the captain ordering those crewmen back onto the Shadow Tide to prepare for pursuit.

Yet no sooner had they crossed back over the gangplank than an explosion came from the direction Captain Strick had just been looking. Not an explosion, really. It was more like a pop or a thump, unimpressive enough that the entire ship of Prozarians burst into laughter.

I angled onto one knee to see what had caused the laughter and it was well deserved. The figure that should have been me was blown onto its side, revealing it to be nothing but a bucket with an oar for a back, and clothes stuffed around it.

The captain turned to look at us, still seated on the deck. I only shrugged. “Jaron loved to experiment with explosives. So much so that everyone believed one day he’d blow himself up.”

“That wasn’t enough to frighten a fly,” the captain said. “If that’s the best they can do, we have nothing to fear.” Gesturing to us, she directed her crewmen, “Take these three onto the Shadow Tide and find a room that locks. Despite that little game, one of them is obviously the prince. The rest of you will continue to search this ship. Find something to persuade the real Jaron to confess.”

I stood, having undone my ropes. “Captain, I am Jaron.”


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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