The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 42


Fink asked, “Did that lens lead them to Belland?”

“Yes.” Wilta’s eyes filled with tears. “They came as friends, asking our help to find the second lens. When we refused to help, they became our conquerors, killing our people one by one until your brother finally confessed to having the second lens. He made some agreement with them, part of which involved them bringing you to Belland as quickly as possible.”

“Why must it be so fast?”

After some thought, she said, “The Monarch is coming to Belland soon to claim the treasure. The captain believes there are only two days this year when the sun will be at the proper angle to find the third and final lens. If the Monarch comes and the captain has not found that lens, the consequences to all of Belland will be terrible.” Wilta drew in a slow breath as her eyes settled on me. “If you truly understood what you are up against, you would be just as afraid as the rest of us.”

That was the probl

em. I knew very little of what I was up against. And I was already terrified of what was yet to come.

I didn’t say much to Wilta for several minutes after her attempts to warn me away from the Prozarians. Tobias and Fink began questioning her, but I sat back in the boat and just listened.

I had long ago decided that if I understood the enemy, I had nothing to fear. So all I had to do was understand Strick, as she seemed to have an equal interest in understanding me.

And I would have to understand Wilta if I wanted to know the truth about Darius.

Everything she had told me about the scope confirmed in my mind that this person who claimed to be my brother was a fraud. My family had known nothing about any scope. Darius could not have the second lens to offer them.

Nor would my brother have negotiated for me to be brought to Belland as a prisoner, and certainly not in exchange for the surrender of that lens. He would never have put me in so much danger, nor would he sacrifice something so valuable into enemy hands.

I said, “Tell me more about the Prozarians.”

Tobias had been studying the scope and looked up. “What more do you need to know? These are dangerous people who are willing to kill. If you thought you were a target before, what will they do to you now?”

Wilta added, “They see the entire world as either those who will help them get the treasure, or those who are enemies. And they will destroy their enemies in the cruelest of ways. That’s why Roden was supposed to get you to kneel to the captain, because she knew that single action would be harder on you than any physical pain. She instructed him to whip you because she knew that would be harder on Roden than if he took the punishment himself.”

“Maybe that’s why she’s asked so many questions about you,” Tobias said. “She can’t quite figure you out, so she isn’t sure how to get ahead of you.”

“I can’t figure me out either,” I replied. “Honestly, I’ve given up trying.”

Above us, the ship came to life again as orders were shouted for all hands to begin working on repairs to the deck.

“I thought we were supposed to be watching for that lifeboat!” someone said.

“All hands to begin repairs!” Strick shouted back.

More quietly than before, Wilta added, “Against such an enemy as Captain Strick, perhaps there is no hope for us.”

“The three of us are not enough to save your people,” Tobias said. “I’m very sorry.”

They all turned to me, obviously wanting an assurance of victory, but I could not offer it. I only said, “How can I plan against an enemy I do not know?”

“I know something else about the Prozarians,” Fink said. “Shortly after they brought the crates on board, Captain Strick came down to the cargo hold to inspect them. Without knowing I was hiding nearby, she told a crewman that her husband once violated a direct order of the Monarch and was sentenced to death. Her husband had been turned in by their son — that’s how afraid he was of the Monarch.”

“Yet she continues in the Monarch’s service?” I asked.

“Either through loyalty or fear, they all serve the Monarch.” Wilta frowned. “The captain says that although the treasure is important, far more important is their hope of returning to their former power. The Prozarians will view your possession of the scope as the greatest possible insult, not only to them, but especially to the Monarch.”

Tobias leaned forward with the scope. “What will happen when the Monarch realizes this has been stolen?”

Wilta shuddered. “No one knows, but it will be awful.” Her eyes filled with tears. “Keep everything else, but that scope will bring you endless trouble.”

“I agree.” Tobias turned to me. “We have something they want, and they have Amarinda. If it’s that valuable, we can make a trade. Wilta could return to the captain and make the offer.”

“No!” Wilta drew back, nearly breathless with fear. “Tobias, I will help you in any way I can, but please don’t send me back to the captain. If I return to her now, it will mean my death. Maybe even worse than what she’ll do to Jaron.”

I hunched lower in the boat. “That will be a pleasant question to ponder as I fall asleep.” I turned to Tobias. “Wake me if anything happens.”


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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