“The pirate we killed called you Sage.”
Roden and Tobias stood simultaneously, each of them still bound but claiming, “I am Jaron.”
“Take them all,” she said. “I’ll sort th
One by one, we were walked over the gangplank but were made to stand on the main deck of the Shadow Tide while a place was prepared for us.
I looked back on our ship, watching Prozarians carry up our bags, our weapons and food, Tobias’s medicines, and anything else they could take. So far, I’d seen none of our people. Were they all in hiding, or had something happened to them belowdecks? I was almost ill with worry.
While quietly undoing their binds, I hissed to Roden and Tobias, “Let me identify myself as I am, or it will be worse when you’re found out.”
“What happens to you when it’s found out?” Tobias asked. “We’re borrowing time until the three of us can figure out a plan.”
Still on the Red Serpent, Captain Strick called out, “We intend to sink this ship. You may join my crew and serve me with loyalty, or you may go down with your ship. There are no other options.”
After a pause, the pirates gradually began emerging from belowdecks. Most of them looked my way as they lined up to cross the gangplank. Some seemed apologetic, but others glared at me as if this was somehow my fault. Maybe it was, I still didn’t know.
“Where’s Erick?” one of them shouted, but no one answered, and by the expressions on their faces, they were already figuring out the answer for themselves. Pirates were not easily deflated, and seeing it deepened the ache in my chest.
They passed by Strick as they crossed over, muttering their required pledges of loyalty, and then seated themselves on the deck of the Shadow Tide, waiting for their next orders. I didn’t blame any of them. Not when their only alternative was death.
“We found this one hiding behind a false wall,” a Prozarian called from below. Beside me, Tobias nearly fell to his knees when Amarinda was pushed up the steps, and my heart stood still. With eyes widened by fear, she briefly glanced over at us, then gave her attention to Captain Strick, who crossed directly in front of her.
“How many of you were in hiding down there?” she asked.
Amarinda’s brow creased. “I … I don’t know. I think I was the only one.”
“If anyone else is hiding, they will regret it. You, my dear, are lucky you were found.” She personally escorted Amarinda across the gangplank, then shoved her into the arms of the man I had nicknamed Lump. “Take her to my office and tell Wilta to guard her. She’ll be safest there.”
“Amarinda!” Tobias darted forward when she pushed away from Lump, but a man swatted him from behind, sending him to all fours. Tobias’s face twisted with what must have been a mighty sting across his lower back.
Captain Strick flashed a sudden smile. “Is that her name? Amarinda? That’s a fine bit of luck.”
“Let her go!” Tobias’s voice was almost a growl.
“Prince Jaron is betrothed to a girl named Imogen. So you are not Jaron.” Her stare lifted to Roden and me. “That means he is one of you two.” She pointed to Tobias and ordered whoever happened to be around her, “Kill the third.”
“Captain, wait!” I said. “His name is Tobias, and he’s a physician, or something close to it.”
“You’ll need his help on a ship of this size,” Roden added.
She looked him over. “He’s young.”
“He’s just completed the exams to begin formal training.” I knew that because at supper a day ago, Tobias had prattled on about the exams for what felt like hours.
She frowned at Tobias. “Will you pledge sole loyalty to me?”
He straightened up. “I am loyal to Jaron, king of Carthya.”
“No, he is loyal to you,” I said, turning to Tobias with a stern glare. “You are choosing loyalty to her.”
“That is an order,” Roden finished, keeping up his imitation of me.
Tobias nodded and stepped back, though he kept his eyes on me, almost as if he wanted to be ready when I found some miraculous escape. But there would be no escape. Not yet.
Tobias was told to remain on the deck with the others while Roden and I were escorted to what appeared to be an officer’s quarters belowdecks. The room was cramped with a half-width bed against the far wall, and when the door locked behind us, we were completely sealed in.