The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 16


Then I waited as a figure stepped onto the deck, silhouetted in the starlight. In one hand he held a knife at the ready. I already had Teagut’s knife, but I wouldn’t mind a second one. Specifically, that one.

My life might depend on getting it.

His life might depend on how easily he gave it up.

The figure walked toward the forecastle, eyes trained upward at the crow’s nest where I was supposed to be. I followed, careful to move only when he did so that I wouldn’t create any additional sounds on the wood planking. But I made sure to take longer strides, so that with each step, I was closer to him than before.

He stopped at the base of the forecastle, redoubled his grip, then suddenly swung around at me.

I was ready for him and ducked, grabbing his arm and pulling him down to the deck where I knelt with one knee on his chest.

“Tobias?”

He grunted. “I sensed someone following me. I didn’t know it was you.”

“You sensed me following you?” That was disappointing. If I had done it correctly, he shouldn’t have suspected anyone nearby. “What gave me away?”

“What gave me away?” Tobias asked. “How did you know I was planning to attack?”

“You checked the hold on your knife. Also, you turn slower than an old woman, so I had plenty of warning.” I helped him to his feet, then asked, “What are you doing up here so late?”

“I saw the vigils come down the steps, and wanted to check on you. I also figured you might have a use for this. I found it on a lower deck.”

He set a gray rock into my hands, then beamed as if he’d just handed me a bar of gold. I looked up at him, unimpressed. “A rock? Is this a symbolic offering?”

“This is a lodestone.” When I still gave no reaction, he said, “Set in a cup of water, it will orient itself to the north.”

Now I grinned, understanding its importance. “But if it gets too close to another magnet, for example, the one beside the helmsman’s wheel …”

“It would pull the compass off course.”

I almost laughed out loud, and withdrew my knife on the way to the forecastle deck. The compass was set into a waist-high binnacle, which would allow the helmsman to constantly track the ship’s direction. I used the knife to pry out the compass, but I’d need to carve out extra space beneath it for the lodestone.

“Keep watch for anyone coming on deck,” I said, crouching low to begin working.

“Who am I watching for?”

“Everyone who doesn’t look like Amarinda.”

“What if it’s Roden?”

I paused to look up at him. “We may eventually have a problem there. Roden’s only choice right now is to do everything in his power to persuade the captain to keep him alive.”

“It’s no different for me,” Tobias said. “She told me the only reason I’m still alive is their ship’s physician died of illness a week ago. This day just gets better and better.”

“He probably wasn’t as strong as you.”

Tobias’s face fell. “I’m not strong, Jaron, not the way I wish I was. But I am clever, so I have a plan.”

I looked over at him again. “Oh?”

“I put together a formula that will make a person appear very ill, yet it will feel to them like only a light flu.”

“Excellent. How will that help us though?”

“I’m working on that part.” Tobias gasped. “Hurry faster! The captain’s light just came on in her quarters.”

“Duck down.”


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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