Darius considered his answer for a few seconds, then countered with a question of his own. “Do you have any reason to believe Jaron is here?”
A beat passed, then Roden said, “Jaron escaped the captain’s ship yesterday. I can’t understand how he could have made it here.” Roden paused, frowning. “But you’ve known him longer than I have. So you must know that Jaron is capable of nearly anything.”
Darius stared at him a moment. “That’s what I’m afraid of. Good night.”
Roden waited until Darius was inside his home, then turned to walk back to the beach, only to find me standing in the middle of the path.
Startled, he froze, but he didn’t look surprised to see me. Instead, his eyes drifted to my leg, still bandaged. “How bad is it?”
“It’s the same leg that you broke last year. Do you have a specific grudge against this leg?”
“I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was angry.”
“I completely understand. Once when I was angry, I raised my voice.” My glare hardened. “And that’s nearly the same thing.”
He widened his arms so that I could see him better. “I took your punishment for escaping the ship. Isn’t that enough of an apology?”
“What did she do to you?”
“It might’ve been worse, but Amarinda begged for my life. And I’m the reason she is still being held on the ship. If I do anything that makes the captain question my loyalty, Amarinda will pay the price for it.”
“Is she still being held in the captain’s quarters?”
“You’re not listening, Jaron.” He looked around. “If I do anything disloyal, Amarinda pays.” Satisfied that we were alone, he lowered his voice to nearly a whisper. “From this point forward, I won’t be able to help you. So I’m begging you to get back on whatever boat brought you here, while you can.”
“I have a few unfinished tasks first. People to save, invaders to conquer, maybe enjoy a nice meal while I’m here.”
“Leave this place, or you will regret it.”
My tone sharpened. “You know what I have to do here. If you won’t help me, then stay out of my way.”
He licked his lips, kicking at the ground as he considered an answer, finally mumbling, “I can’t do that.” Now he looked up. “But you’d be out of my way if you were on the Shadow Tide tonight. You’d be out of everyone’s way since the captain gave permission for the pirates to go ashore and rest for the night. Starting tomorrow, they have to rebuild the ship you destroyed. The ship will be much busier then.”
Now I smiled. “Is there anything else I need to know?”
He was farther down the trail before he turned back. “Don’t stand directly beneath the door frame of the captain’s office. She hid a key there. I’d hate for it to fall and hit you.”
I arched a brow. “Perhaps you’ve heard that Carthya needs a new captain of the guard. When you’re finished here, maybe you would consider that position.”
He stopped walking, and the light dimmed in his eyes. “I cannot be the captain of your guard anymore. When this is over, Darius will be my king.”
Coming from Roden, these words left a sting in my chest that I had not expected. I would no longer be king. Instead, I’d return to the person I always was before: Jaron, the troublemaker, the embarrassment, the fool.
With heavy thoughts, I began walking down a different path. Roden called after me, “Everything you plan to do here, I have to be there to push against it.”
I only glanced back at him long enough to say, “And I will push back. Nothing has changed from our conversation on the ship. If you serve the captain, you must be defeated alongside the captain.”
He spoke so quietly after that, he may not have thought I heard his final words as I walked away. “I’ve got to defeat you, Jaron.”
While Roden might have been correct about the Shadow Tide being empty, the area around it was better guarded than I had anticipated. Vigils stood watch on posts in all directions, and for added security, others stood in a line that extended across the entire length of all the ships, six warships in total now. Most of the vigils on the beach appeared to be Bellanders who had been forced into service, but they were doing their job with strict observance. I wondered if those who were forced into service eventually became those who were rewarded for service, and if they then became willing servants.
Maybe Roden would eventually turn against me
. He felt he’d had no other choice but to enter Strick’s service, and maybe that was true. But at what point would he choose service to her? At what point would his loyalties to me feel foreign?
I also wanted to know if Darius considered himself a servant to her. He had been quick to go to his knees at the captain’s arrival and even quicker to beg for her mercy when she threatened him. Darius wasn’t a fighter, but he had never been one to cower before an enemy either. Or maybe he was. He and I had never faced any real threats when we were younger.
I made my way through the bushes beyond the beach, keeping myself hidden and eyeing the vigils near me for any signs of weakness. If I was spotted, would I be reported? I had to assume it was possible. The Bellanders surely knew the consequences of disobedience better than I.