The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 32


While we worked, Tobias said, “If I have kept secrets, it’s because there are things in this closet the captain will kill you for stealing. Nothing here matters as much as your life.” If that was his attempt at an apology, it was pathetic.

And he was wrong. “Carthya matters more than my life.”

“I know that.” Tobias put his hand on my arm. “And I think it’s possible that what you find in this closet might be a threat to Carthya.”

Still irritated, I brushed off his hand. “All the more reason to keep going.”

From above, Amarinda whispered, “I don’t know what this is.”

She passed down another, larger satin bag. Inside was a brass tube, no longer than my hand, with an eyepiece on one end and three slots through its middle. The workmanship was exceptional, and it bore strange markings around the rim.

A small metal box was in the same bag, and when I opened it, I saw a glass lens with etchings on it. I inserted it into the first slot and there saw an image of a large, rocky cave with a long cliff at one end that dropped into seawater. From the angle of the carving, water appeared to be passing through the cave.

“I wonder if this is Belland.” I tried to pass the tube to Tobias, but he pushed it away, clearly nervous.

“That cannot be a good thing to steal!” He grabbed it and tried to hand it back to Amarinda, but I pulled his arm down and took the scope.

His eyes wide with panic, Tobias said, “Put that back, please. Don’t take anything more than we must take.”

“Agreed. But we must take this.” I gave the items to Fink to put back into their bags, and while he did, I said, “After we’ve emptied that closet, Wilta knows a secret way from the captain’s office down here. You’ve got to help Amarinda find it. Then the three of you are going to bundle up this sheet and get everything off this ship. Is the lifeboat ready for them, Fink?”

He squinted. “I suppose. Aren’t you —” I glared at him and he said, “Yes, it’s ready.”

Tobias had understood what Fink did not say. “You said you would come with us.”

“I said I would come if I’d found the answers I needed. I haven’t found them. Now, when the time comes, I’ll provide the distraction you need. Just make sure nothing remains.”

Tobias raised a brow. “I know your kind of distractions.” He reached for a roll of bandages and tossed them onto the sheet. “All right, but this is all we can carry.”

“Jaron!” Amarinda whispered. “Is this yours? It looks similar, only larger.”

She passed a crown through the hatch and immediately my heart stopped. More accurately, I felt time itself stop.

I knew this crown, but why was it here?

It was gold leaf with interwoven lacing around the rim and lined with round sapphires. Its owner used to have his servants polish it after every wearing in public, and eventually it became nearly bright as a mirror. I saw myself in the gold now. It still was that bright.

I looked up at Tobias, who eyed me with an expression of dread more than surprise. I let that soak in.

Tobias should have been surprised, or curious, or shocked, or any of a dozen possible emotions that would suggest he didn’t know any better than me what was about to come through our carved hole.

But of all possibilities, it was dread. This was the secret he did not want to reveal.

“You knew about this?” I mumbled.

“From what Roden told me, I suspected there’d be something up there. I didn’t know it was this. Is it real?”

I nodded, unable to take my eyes off the object in my hands. “This was my brother’s crown … once.”

When he had intended to create a false prince, Conner had taken possession of my crown. Perhaps he had taken Darius’s crown too, around the time of his death. Along with my parents, Darius had been poisoned at a supper one night, a joint plan concocted by Conner and the former head of the castle guard. But why would Conner have taken this crown, and how could it have fallen into Captain Strick’s hands? The Prozarians could have no connection to that plot against my family; at least, not in any way I understood.

“There’s one more item,” Amarinda said. “Jaron, what does this mean?”

I positioned myself directly beneath the gap. If my brother’s crown had stopped my heart, then what she began lowering now made it pound so hard that I wondered how it didn’t beat through my chest.

“Jaron, please put everything back,” Tobias whispered.

This was a sword, one I took hold of with carefully placed fingers, noting with a quick test that it was as sharp as I remembered. “This was my brother’s too.” I glanced over at Tobias with tears in my eyes. “Why do they have these?”


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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