“With an army of six? No, Tobias, a sneeze would last longer against the Prozarians than we would.”
“Then you’ll try diplomacy? Or will we hide first? Or —”
“We aren’t doing anything. You kept Fink a secret from me on the last ship, so he is your responsibility now.”
Fink immediately stopped laughing. “I don’t need a nanny.”
“No, you need a dozen vigils who can keep an eye on you … just as I need you to keep watch over the items I took from the Shadow Tide.”
“I won’t play vigil, or nursemaid,” Tobias said. “Amarinda will be here too, and I want to help find her.”
I clamped a hand on his shoulder. “You are helping, Tobias. Please, do as I ask.”
After a curt nod, he turned toward the rail, his hands clenched into fists.
“I’m going with you,” Imogen said. Before I could respond, she added, “Don’t you dare suggest that I should stay behind too, because I won’t.”
I smiled at her. “I wouldn’t say that, because I know you wouldn’t listen.”
She smiled back. “You’re finally beginning to understand me.”
Mott added, “I am coming too.”
“How’s your shoulder?” I asked. The recent war had left its mark on him. Until those final battles, I’d never known Mott as anything but strong and willing to stay by my side no matter what trouble I might be in. Now, though he had worked as hard as anyone possibly could to recover from his injuries, he moved slower than before. That half-second delay in raising his sword was enough time for an enemy to gain the advantage over him, and I worried about bringing him to shore with me.
Mott sheathed his sword, making his intentions clear. “I am coming, Jaron.” When I nodded, he leaned against the rail and folded his arms. “I know that before we left the castle, Roden was angry with you. I heard what he said. Some of it was true; it is a hard thing to serve you.”
I took a couple of breaths. “I know that, better than anyone believes.”
“So make it simpler for us. We are here to help you, so tell us what you know.”
Even Tobias turned around for this. Wilta and Fink sat up taller, and Mott and Imogen leaned in, all of them with expectations I could not meet. I looked from one person to another. “Do you know why Captain Strick killed Erick?”
They exchanged glances, then returned their attention to me, each of them shaking their heads.
“Because we were friends. He didn’t have to protect me, I never asked him to, but he did. That very fact — our friendship — is the reason he’s dead.”
Imogen placed her hand over mine. “We know the risks of being close to you. We’ve always known them. We are prepared to fight for you, so why not trust us with the truth?”
“He doesn’t trust us, that’s the problem,” Tobias said.
I shook my head, trying to make them understand. “You’re wrong, Tobias. I do trust you. I trust every single one of you with my life, except for Westler, of course, who might not even still be alive.”
His head shot up out of sleep. “Prozarian scum!”
After he fell asleep again, I sighed. “I trust all of you, but I do not trust myself, and nor should you. We all know I’ll do something foolish sooner or later. I am willing to pay for the consequences of my actions, but when I let someone get too close to me, the consequences may come to them instead. I cannot allow that.”
My eyes rested on Imogen as I finished. She was closer to my heart than anyone, a fact that kept me awake at night far more often than anyone realized. If I knew how to explain that, I would have, but as it was, she turned away, mumbling to herself, “Cannot allow me in too close.”
Mott said, “What can you tell us? Before we reach that shoreline, is there anything in your head that you can share with us now?”
I stared back at him. My reasons for withholding secrets went far deeper than trust. Certainly he and Imogen knew some of my secrets and plans, and Tobias knew others, but no one knew everything, and that was how it had to be. If any of them were captured by the Prozarians, they needed to be able to say, with absolute sincerity, that they had no information to offer. Even what they already knew was probably too much.
But Mott was still waiting for an answer. So with absolute sincerity of my own, I said to him, “No, Mott, there is nothing that I can share with you now.”
“You mean that you won’t share it. You ask for help, then prevent us from giving it.”
I stared back at him, and finally he sighed, then said, “We’ll be at the shore of Belland by dusk. I’ll prepare us some food before we arrive.”