The deck fell silent, with the only sound being soft waves lapping against the sides of the boat. Imogen placed her hand over my wrist. I met her eyes and saw fear in them. That tore at me, more than anything else possibly could.
“We can return to Carthya,” Imogen whispered. “Prepare to defend it from within our borders.”
I shook my head. “We must go forward, to Belland.”
“If they are lying about Darius, then this is blackmail.”
“That is why I must go, to stop it at its source, before the threat comes to us.”
“Jaron, these people don’t
want money or even the throne. They want your life! If we go, then you are walking straight into their trap … again!”
“Yes, but what if this time Strick is walking into my trap? What if I can turn everything around on her? I’ve done it before.”
“Having done something before is no guarantee of the future,” Mott said. “And have you considered what it means if Darius is alive?”
Imogen shook her head, trying to make me understand. “Strick is probably lying to you.”
She flattened her hands on the table, fighting her frustration with me. “Then why would you go there?”
“It’s the one word you said yourself: ‘probably.’ Darius is probably buried beneath the castle, this is probably a plan to pull me into danger, or to keep me away from Carthya, placing the country at risk. This is probably a terrible idea.” I lowered my voice and stared over at her. “But what if it’s not?”
“If Darius is alive, he would expect you to protect Carthya first.”
“What if he is alive? Would you have me spend the next eighty years asking myself if I could have saved him, if I should have saved him? If our positions were reversed, he would have saved me.”
Imogen blinked twice. With a saddened voice, she said, “No, Jaron, he wouldn’t save you…. He didn’t save you. Darius shared in your father’s plan to strip you of your identity, knowing you could have died at any time while left out on your own. Your positions already were reversed. Your brother chose Carthya instead of you.”
I stood, setting my jaw forward. “Then I am not my brother.”
“You are not. And I believe you are all the more noble because of those differences. But we cannot go to Belland.” Imogen stood and began to leave.
Before she did, I said, “Amarinda will be on Belland. So will Roden.”
Thus, the decision was made. Imogen closed her eyes and slowly nodded, though I did not miss the tear that rolled down her cheek.
Mott stood as well. “I’ll keep watch until one of you comes to relieve me in a few hours. Until then, Imogen, make sure he gets some sleep. No doubt, the hardest part is yet to come.”
I’d slept for some of the day, and though more sleep might come eventually, that wasn’t my plan. It was time to figure out a way to fight back.
I was surprised to see Wilta at the wheel when I returned to the deck the following morning. Fink was seated against the bow with a handful of biscuits and turned back only long enough to give a friendly wave.
Wilta smiled at me. “I was up early and Mott was still here. He looked so exhausted, I offered to take over for a while.”
“Thank you.” I walked beside her to check our position according to the compass. She was a good navigator — we were exactly where we should be.
“Mott told me you placed a lodestone by their compass. Clever.”
“That was Tobias’s cleverness, not mine.” I sighed. “Too many details are escaping me. I don’t feel particularly clever anymore.”
“Because you’re thinking like Jaron again.” I turned to see Fink staring at us. I hadn’t even realized he was listening. “I’ve seen you as him, and I’ve seen you as Sage. The Prozarians think like Sage, saying as little as possible, holding their secrets close. Keeping things unexpected.” He took another bite of his biscuit and chewed it a moment before adding, “The problem is that Sage also does the unexpected. So the best possible plan would be to think like Jaron, because nobody will expect that.”
Wilta chuckled. “Does his logic make everyone dizzy, or just me?”