The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 11


“What is the connection between Bymar and the Prozarians?” I asked.

Wilta shrugged. “None that I know of.”

Then I couldn’t think of any reason that they should have cared about Amarinda’s name, nor even have known it.

Up on the main deck, a voice that sounded like Lump’s told everyone to quiet down and prepare to listen to the captain.

“I need information,” I said. “Please help me.”

She paused and straightened up, as if gathering her courage. “The Prozarians know about the war you won six months ago, which means I know a little about it too. Promise to do everything you can to free my people, and I’ll give you all the information I can find.”

“Agreed.”

Her eyes rose to the deck. “This is the first thing I can tell you. Your friend is up there. When she discovers he is not Jaron, she will kill him.”

Wilta returned to the captain’s cabin through what must have been a secret stairway or some passage I had not yet found. But that was hardly my biggest concern.

Dressed as a Prozarian and in the low light of hanging lanterns and a few small torches, it was a simple thing to sneak onto the deck and blend in with the others. On a casual glance, they shouldn’t recognize me.

I sat in the back row of the Prozarians, which put me directly ahead of the pirates. Even dressed as I was and with my head down, when I looked back, several of the pirates gave me nods of recognition. Far to the right of the group was Tobias, who seemed to be attempting to communicate his thoughts through the intensity of his stare. I tried to return a thought as well, reminding him that he could stare at me until his eyes popped, but that still wouldn’t tell me what he was thinking.

Instead of failing at mind games, I looked around for other options. Not far from me on the deck was a stack of unused torches, ones that the captain might need later in the voyage. I, however, needed one now. Scooting closer to them, I casually slid one inside my coat.

Captain Strick stood at the edge of the forecastle deck. Roden was kneeling beside her, his hands once again bound behind his back. He was staring straight forward, trying to appear unafraid, but I knew him too well to believe his act. He was terrified.

Captain Strick raised her arms to call for quiet, which wasn’t necessary since it was already ghostly calm on deck. When she lowered them, she began, “Prozarians, congratulations on your conquest! We are another step closer to the greatest of rewards!”

The front half of the deck clapped and cheered for themselves. Nobody moved behind me.

Strick addressed them next. “To the crew of the Red Serpent, you made a valiant attempt at defending yourselves. You showed courage and strength, the same qualities we seek in our warriors. To board this ship, you already gave me your vows of loyalty, but those are only words. Now I ask for your hearts as well, that you serve me because you believe in me, and our purposes.”

She waited for more applause. None came.

I would have considered applauding, but I was busy trying to casually cut a nearby rope, one that seemed to be holding an overhead beam in place. Also, I could not applaud for any speech that sent bile into my throat.

“We serve the Monarch, so you now serve the Monarch. Our leader demands absolute obedience, but will recognize absolute loyalty.” With a sharper tone than before, Strick continued, “Disobedience will result in your punishment, or execution.” Now she turned to Roden. “Lie to me, and I’ll make you beg for execution.”

My knife snapped through the final threads of the rope, which whipped up high into the air, causing the beam directly above me to swing out wide over the sea.

Several Prozarians around me leapt to their feet, shouting orders at one another for how to retrieve the beam. But by then, I had already begun to climb the rope ladder. Others were climbing ladders too so there was nothing suspicious about what I was doing. And once I climbed high enough to be out of range of the lantern lights below, I became relatively invisible.

I hoped.

When possible, I stayed behind posts or used the crow’s nest for cover, but I knew where I was trying to go, and so I’d have to move slowly and stay low, and do everything possible to not be detected.

Once the beam was retrieved and locked down again, Strick blamed the accident on sloppy knot tying and picked up where she had left off, with Roden.

In a voice loud enough that I could hear even at my height, she said to Roden, “What is your country?”

“Carthya,” he replied in an equally loud voice.

“What is your name?”

A pause. Then, “I am one of two people on this ship who could be named Jaron.”

Beside Strick, Lump hit Roden across the back. Roden fell forward from his knees, nearly toppling down the stairs, but he straightened up again, with a more determined expression than before.

“Name?”


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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