Tobias offered me his hat, saying, “For Amarinda.”
I smiled as I pulled it on my head. “This hat would look terrible on Amarinda. I thought you knew her better, Tobias.”
He barely returned the smile. “Back before dawn, you promise me?”
“I’ll do everything I can to get back as soon as possible.”
“Strick is keeping you alive for a purpose, Jaron. She doesn’t need me alive, remember that.”
His words went far deeper than simply remembering. Three of my friends were missing. The other three were in serious jeopardy. I could scarcely think of anything else. I waited until Tobias was nearly halfway up the ladder, then crept toward Strick’s office. One way or another, I had to get in there, and fast.
Beside her office was her wardroom. Six empty bottles were stacked in a bin in the corner. If they mysteriously got loose, they’d roll around on the deck until the captain finally became so exasperated that she’d be forced to come out and retrieve them all. Then she’d
go searching for the vigils who should have been on duty, likely call everyone to attention for their punishment, and by the time she returned to her quarters, I’d be back in the crow’s nest with my answers.
I reached for the bottles, then crouched lower when I heard Roden return to the main deck in quiet conversation with Wilta.
“What could the captain possibly want with me?” he asked, his tone unmistakably nervous.
“I’m sure she only wants to speak to you. The captain is always reasonable — to those who cooperate.”
Roden paused on the deck to look up toward the crow’s nest and hissed my name. I didn’t answer, nor did Tobias.
Getting no response, he let out a heavy breath and walked to the captain’s door. Wilta knocked and said, “I’ve brought him, Captain, as you asked.”
A minute passed, then the door was opened again. “What took so long?”
“Forgive me, Captain,” Roden said. “It’s crowded belowdecks.”
Strick was still fully dressed despite the late hour, and she gazed up at the crow’s nest, as Roden had done only seconds earlier.
After a minute of silence, she said, “Do you consider yourself a friend to Prince Jaron?”
Roden hesitated nearly as long. Then he said, “Captain, my oath is to you now.”
“That wasn’t my question. Are you and the prince friends?”
“What are your duties to him?”
“I am … I was … the captain of his guard.”
“Ah, military. You are a warrior!” She looked at him carefully. “What do you mean, you were the captain of his guard?”
Roden sighed. “Shortly before we boarded the ship to Bymar, I was angry with Jaron. I resigned, only he wouldn’t accept it.”
“Why were you angry?”
This time, Roden’s sigh was louder. “Jaron has a difficult time with trust.” He was silent for several seconds, and then the words spilled out of him. “He makes plans without informing anyone, reveals only the few details to others that he must, even if those secrets threaten our safety, or his. He doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks about him, which means there is almost nothing any of us can do or say to make him listen to our needs or complaints. And I’m sure it’s difficult for him to bear the weight of an entire kingdom on his shoulders, but if he would only trust us enough to let us help him, he wouldn’t have to bear the whole weight.” Roden drew in a deep breath. “So I was angry.”
“You had a right to be angry, Roden. You wish to prove yourself and have not been given the chance.”
“I want to give you that chance, but proving yourself will be difficult. Obey me on the small things, and I’ll test you with something even greater. Perhaps one day you will obtain the status you desire. You may even become a king yourself.”
His brow furrowed. “I have no royal blood.”