It was bad enough when Conner had wanted me to become a false prince. Trea was now making the same request, for my mother’s sake. I would no longer be king, for reasons based on lies.
But how could I refuse the sincerest wishes of my mother?
Finally, I nodded. “I will keep your secrets, Trea, to my grave.”
A creak on the staircase behind us made me turn, and there was Darius, tying a robe around his nightclothes but staring at me with a deep frown. “I thought I heard voices. We should talk.”
It was a pitiful beginning for my own brother, someone I had loved and respected and admire
d my entire life. He had meant everything to me, and I had just greeted him with nothing warmer than I would offer a passerby on the street.
Making it worse, Darius answered with the same empty “Hello,” and there we stood, facing each other like strangers.
“Did we wake you?” Trea asked.
“Jaron did, when he mentioned his grave.” He turned to me. “That’s not the kind of thing anyone should say around here these days.”
“That’s all you heard?” Trea asked.
“Where can we talk?” I asked.
“There’s a sitting room in the back of the house.” Darius walked down the stairs with his eyes fixed on me as if he didn’t know me. No, it was worse than that. He was watching me like I was the invader here.
I followed him into a room that was simply decorated but that still gave a feeling of authority. Much like Darius himself. He sat in one chair and gestured for me to sit in another chair across from him. Uncertain of what to expect from this conversation, I remained on my feet.
He took notice of my refusal to sit but said nothing. Instead, he leaned back and studied me. “You look exhausted.”
Exhausted barely described the way I felt. Since the night our ship was attacked and destroyed, I’d barely slept two hours together. I wanted to sleep, yet every time I’d attempted it, something inside me had warned that if I gave in, I would miss some piece of information that I vitally needed.
There was the irony. I finally had that information and it was tearing me apart. Rather than returning to the ship to steal that tin box, I should have found a comfortable bed to lose myself in. Truly, I wished I had gone anywhere else. Roden’s words echoed in my mind, that I should leave before I discovered things I did not wish to know.
“You found my sword?” Darius asked.
I withdrew it from the sheath and passed it over to him. “I have your crown as well, though it’s hidden.”
My eyes darted. “It’s hidden, Darius.”
Any warmth that might have been in his expression cooled. “You’re the same Jaron as always. Sneaking around, making plans that you share with no one, plans that no one ever fully understands anyway. Keeping secrets.”
Only one secret mattered at the moment. Trea said that Darius had never seen the contents of that box. But it didn’t mean he was ignorant of the truth about himself. I was desperate to ask, but to ask would be to reveal it.
So instead, I said, “You’re not the same Darius as always.”
“I’m the person I’ve had to become out here. You wouldn’t understand what it does to a person to be on their own.”
I tilted my head, unsure of what to say to him. Had he forgotten my years as Sage?
Rather than draw the conversation in that direction, I asked, “How did you come to be here?”
He shrugged. “Honestly, I’m not sure. I had supper one evening with Father and Mother, then felt sleepy so I went to my room to lie on the bed. That’s the last I remember until I awoke on a ship. Trea was there and told me I had been sent away for my own protection. I asked what exactly she was protecting me from, but she only said that the regent, Bevin Conner, had ordered her to watch over me until it was safe to return home. How well did you know Bevin Conner?”
I snorted, loud enough to communicate my feelings there. “Better than I wish I did.”