The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 13

I forced a smile to my face. “Absolutely. And since you have so kindly invited me and my friends to join this crew, I will do you a favor as well.” To the rest of those on deck, I said, “I am the Carthyan king, and with Erick’s death, the title of pirate king also returns to me. You will heed my orders now. If any of you were planning a mutiny, out of fears of this being a cursed ship, you will stop with your plans at once.”

Wrinkles formed between the captain’s brows. “There is no curse.”

“I agree. It was foolish of them to think so.” I turned back to the rows of assembled pirates. “Hear me now. You’ve given your loyalty oaths to Captain Strick, and now we all must trust her with our lives … or deaths, I suppose, in Erick’s case. This is especially important if you are one of the many pirates here who believe this is a cursed ship.” I gave just quick applause to the captain, the applause she had waited for earlier and not received. Unfortunately, she still didn’t receive it, and I felt foolish for applauding alone, so I stopped.

“Did you say this is a cursed ship?” one man near the back called.

Avoiding Strick’s glare, I replied, “No, I said that many of you believe it is a cursed ship, and although I’m sure you have good reasons for this belief, it can’t possibly be true. There simply is no evidence of it. Now, imagine that there was a scarlet-haired girl on this ship — that would be a sure sign of trouble, but none of us have seen anyone like that, which means there is nothing to fear.” I looked over at Strick, whose face was rapidly twisting into knots. “There, I have reassured them and I will come down.”

I continued along the beam toward the nearest ladder, but one of the pirates stood and said, “There is a scarlet-haired girl on this ship! I saw her when we boarded.”

“There is no curse on this ship!” Roden climbed onto one of the crates stored on the deck. “Do your oaths mean nothing to you? Sit down and maintain order!”

Strick smiled down at him, even as she glared up at me, which couldn’t have been easy to do. I had started down the ladder myself, but before I got far, Lump grabbed me by one leg and yanked me down to the deck, quickly stepping on the torch to extinguish it. When I stood, he raised a fist, growling, “We never made any agreement about your safety!”

“Stop!” Strick said. “We won’t deliver him covered in bruises.”

“He’s no threat,” I said, eyeing Lump. “With a name like his, he probably can’t hit hard enough to leave any marks. What is your real name anyway? Pudding? Kitten?”

Strick grabbed Lump’s fist as he raised it again. “I said no.”

“You’ll let him get away with what he said up there, what he tried to do?”

“No, he must be punished.” She frowned at me. “Get down on your knees.”

I snorted. “Absolutely not.”

This time, she eyed Lump, who clubbed me in the back, forcing the air from my lungs. I hunched over, trying to draw a breath in again, then stood up straight. “I will not kneel, Captain. That is not in me, no matter your threats.”

“Why not? What terrible thing would happen if you simply bent the knee to me?” She stepped closer. “What are you afraid of, Jaron?”

“Spice cake. Once I had this nightmare that one was chasing me —”

She raised a hand against me, but from behind us, Roden said, “He’s afraid of heights.”

Strick pointed to the beam where I had just stood. “He got up there.”

“Up there is nothing.” Roden pointed higher, to the crow’s nest. “It’s great heights that he fears. It’s a cloudy night and will probably be a cold one. If you want to punish him, put him up there.”

Strick turned to me. “I don’t think heights bother you a bit. But the cold will. Remove those Prozarian clothes. What you wore when we captured you should be enough.”

“I’m relieved to be out of these,” I said, pulling off the coat first. “The stink was rubbing off on me.”

With a tighter grimace, she turned to the crew. “Who will volunteer to take this prince up to the crow’s nest?”

“King,” I muttered. I looked around, but apparently no one was eager to climb a rope ladder high above the ship and force me into a large bucket for the night.

“Cowards, you disappoint me,” Strick said.

“Agreed.” I clicked my tongue. “The last people who wanted my life showed far more courage.” Now I glanced over at her. “I defeated them too.”

“I can do it.” Roden avoided my eyes as he spoke, which was no accident. “Let me prove my oath.”

She considered his offer, then slowly smiled. “Very well. In that trunk behind you is a set of manacles. Take him up there and make sure he’s chained in. I want to be sure he feels his punishment for the entire night.”

I pushed a hand through my hair. “Why go to so much trouble? After ten minutes of talking with you, believe me, I’ve been punished.”

Roden returned with a set of manacles and directed the way he wanted me to walk. Prozarian crewmen stood and backed away to make room for me, though many of them spat on my boots as I walked.

Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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