The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 58

Strick pushed him forward, and he stumbled with his first steps onto the sand. “Escort Darius to his home. Watch for Jaron along the way.”

“Yes, Captain.” He walked up to Darius. “You will come with me, please.”

Trea touched Darius’s arm, prompting him to move. “You go. I’ll stay here until all the people are safely back in their homes.”

“Thank you, Trea,” he mumbled.

Roden gestured for Darius to begin walking, then trailed behind him along a dirt path headed toward the hills. As soon as they were out of hearing range, Strick turned to her Prozarians. “I want a full search of Belland, every home, beneath every rock, in every tree. Especially check the coves. If Jaron is here, he must have a boat docked somewhere. Find him!”

A chorus of “Yes, Captain” followed her orders as the Prozarians began spreading out toward the hills.

“I’ve got to follow Darius,” I said.

Imogen gave my hand a quick squeeze. “I’ll go back and warn Tobias.”

Behind us, Mott began to stand. “I need to speak to Trea.”

I grabbed his arm. “Right here? Out in the open?”

“Nobody here should recognize me. I’ll blend in.”

Mott was bigger than three Bellanders put together; he would hardly blend in. But because of his size, I also knew there was nothing I could do to stop him. Even if I had ordered him to stay, his gaze was so fixed on Trea, I knew he wouldn’t hear me.

He stood and left without another word. I gave Imogen a quick kiss. “Be safe.”

“No one here is after me,” she said. “And I’ll give you the advice that Mott would have given, if he was in his right mind. Please don’t be foolish … or, any more foolish than usual.”

I wished I could make Mott, or even Imogen, understand that foolishness wasn’t a choice I made. It was simply part of me. With that thought, my shoulders fell. Foolishness wasn’t a quality I claimed with pride.

Strick dismissed the rest of the Bellanders, who eagerly crowded the paths back to their homes. I swiped a fresh tunic from the front of one home and a coat from the clothesline of another and joined in with the group, listening to their quiet conversations as we walked.

“Darius saved Lavita’s life,” one woman said to another.

“Three villagers disappeared earlier this week,” came the reply. “What did he do for them?”

“What more can he do? If the stories are true, it’s his brother we need to worry about.”

That gave me pause. What stories?

The women went one direction, toward simple homes of stacked logs and dried mud. I followed the bulk of the group toward homes a little higher on the hillside. My only giveaway was the slight limp of my injured leg. Darius wouldn’t find that significant, but Roden would see through this disguise immediately.

I wondered if he would report me. Clearly he was being mistreated by Strick, but would that inspire his loyalty to her, or would he look toward the chance for escape? I needed to find out.

Gradually the crowd around me thinned as people returned to their homes. My path continued uphill, which made it more difficult to follow without being detected.

Once we reached the lower hills, Darius pointed to a home significantly nicer than the rest, one made of rock and mortar rather than the wood of the huts everyone else seemed to have. I recognized Wilta’s description of it as Darius’s home.

He said to Roden, “There’s no need to come any farther. You’ve fulfilled the captain’s orders.”

“I’m glad she sent me here because I wanted to speak to you alone.” Roden shifted his weight, looking slightly uncomfortable. “Are you really Jaron’s brother?”

Darius stiffened. “Is there any reason to doubt that?”

“If you become king of Carthya, then I will serve you. But I must know if I am serving a true king.”

Rather than answer, Darius asked, “Do you know where Jaron is now?”

“No. Could he have made it to Belland?”

Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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