ly couldn’t remember. He’d been dressed in ceremonial clothing that came past his wrists, so I easily could have missed that. And if I was honest with myself, the captain’s claims weren’t impossible. Once I came to the castle, enough time had passed since the deaths of my family that their bodies were nearly unrecognizable.
“There is only one way to find out the truth,” Strick said. “Cooperate with me, and we’ll keep you alive until we reach Belland.”
My eyes narrowed. “That’s another lie, Captain. You have no interest in keeping me alive, not anymore.”
Her lips tightened with equal anger. “If that plan has changed, it’s only because you have forced it to change.”
I looked at Roden, who had remained silent in a corner of the wardroom for several minutes. “Did you know all of this?”
His shoulders fell. “No, not all.”
But he had known some of it and failed to say anything to me. I wondered what else he was still holding back.
Then he added, “But if you give her that sword and agree to cooperate, she may allow you to —”
I shook my head, and addressed the captain directly. “No, this is my offer. Give me control of the ship and I’ll agree to meet this person who claims to be my brother.”
“Where is the advantage for us?” Strick asked.
I smiled. “A great advantage. In exchange for your cooperation, I will agree not to cripple the Prozarian army.”
Strick smiled. “That’s a kind proposal, but you should have listened to Roden.”
“Roden is in your service now. He can offer nothing that I want.”
Her smile became crisp and cold. “Then I will.”
“Jaron, I’m sorry!”
I didn’t need to turn around to know that was Fink speaking to me. My heart sank, then filled with dread. Behind me, another voice said, “We have a stowaway, Captain. What should we do with him?”
“Well, I don’t know.” Strick’s eyes were on me. “What do you think, Jaron? Will you consider returning that sword now?”
I briefly closed my eyes, then placed the sword on the table and pushed it over to her.
Captain Strick turned to Roden next. “Do you remember what I said would get me to trust you? That time has come.”
I locked eyes with Roden, casting a glare that I fully intended him to feel.
He squirmed beneath it, then said, “What will you say to the crew?”
She stood. “I will tell them that this boy must be punished for disobedience.” Her eyes shifted to me. “How many rules have you broken on this ship?”
“Possibly all of them,” I replied.
“If you cannot do this, Roden, if your loyalties somehow are still attached to Jaron, then tell me now so that I can make an example of you first. Take him out to the deck and get him on his knees, either willingly or by force. Then assemble the crew for his punishment.”
Now her attention returned to me. “If you resist in any way, your little stowaway friend will take the punishment for you.”
I felt Roden staring at me again, but this time, I would not look back. Instead, I felt his hand wrap around my arm, and he whispered, “Tell me what to do.”
Strick passed the sword over to Wilta. “Return this to its original place. Make sure that everything else is still there.”
She followed Roden and me out, but when she turned away, I whispered to him, “You protect Fink, at all costs.”
“I warned you to go back to the sick bay,” he replied. “You should have done what I asked. I had this under control.”
I stopped walking long enough to look at him. “There’s a difference between us, Roden. I never fool myself into believing I have anything under control.”