The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 66

Darius didn’t bother asking how I knew him, which was good considering that I could fill an entire book with that explanation. Instead, he added, “All I know is that we ended up here.”

“Do the people here know who you are?”

“Yes. Although I have no authority here, I was given this home, rather than one of the thin wooden huts where most of the people live. Bellanders are good and kind, preferring the simple, isolated life. We’ve been happy here, though every day for almost two years, I’ve waited for news from home, permission to return. Eventually, I thought something horrible must have happened, and that it might never be safe to return.”

My eyes moistened. “Something horrible did happen, Darius. Our parents —”

He cut me off with a sharper tone than before. “When I last saw Mother and Father, they were both alive and well. How were they when you last saw them?”

I hesitated, anticipating where this conversation was going. “They were already gone when I returned to the palace. In fact, I only returned because they were gone. I thought you were too.”

“When the Prozarians arrived on our shores last month, they claimed to have come as friends. I welcomed them as such, and at supper one evening, I was foolish enough to ask if they had any news of Carthya. Oh, they did. Your name was well known to them.”

“In what way?”

“You’d recently won a war, I understand, one that nobody had thought possible to win.”

“Carthya is at peace now with the countries that surround us. And we hope to remain at peace.”

“Thanks to you, that peace is now threatened. Earlier tonight, Captain Strick forced me into an agreement that I did not want to make.”

My eyes narrowed. “What is the agreement?”

“Before she left to find you, we had negotiated a simple agreement: They promised to help me return to Carthya, and to regain the throne that should be mine.”

“In exchange for what?”

“The second lens for something they call the Devil’s Scope.”

I threw out a hand. “Why would you agree to that? If you wanted to return to Carthya, just get on a boat and come home!”

“Don’t you think I’ve wanted to do that? Conner’s instructions were to wait here where it was safe, and to protect the second lens. But he’s dead now, thanks to you. My negotiated agreement with the captain is broken, also thanks to you. Now I am taking control again. I will give the captain the second lens, then claim my throne, and try my best to rule under these new agreements, despite everything you’ve done.”

“What are the terms of the new agreement?”

He sighed. “Carthya now must also pay the Prozarians a tribute each year, a tax. But we retain our freedom, our right to rule ourselves as we please.”

“Absolutely not. I will not allow it.”

Darius’s eyes flashed with anger. “That’s not your decision anymore. I am the rightful king of Carthya. You need to step down.”

“There are still so many questions —”

He raised his voice. “I am the older son. You do not get to choose whether to step down; you will do it because you are not the true king. The throne is mine, and has always been mine. I was only offering you the opportunity to walk away with some dignity.”

“When have I ever cared about dignity? I have questions.”

“Answer my question first. Were you involved in any way with the deaths of our parents?”

My heart crashed against my chest. “What?” Even the mention of such a crime ripped through me. “You know I never could … never would …”

“I know you were angry when Father asked you to remain in Avenia, posing as an orphan boy.”

“Angry? No, Darius, it hurt me, to see that he had chosen you….” I stopped there, choking on my own words, recalling my thoughts that had led me here. My father had chosen me, keeping Darius at the castle where the risk was higher.

In my silence, Darius leaned forward. “Until the Prozarians came, I didn’t know our parents had died. I thought I was in hiding, just as you were in hiding, with Conner as my protector. Then I heard you’d become king, and why.” His tone sharpened. “Captain Strick made me an offer in exchange for the second lens. She would bring you here to answer for any crimes against our parents. Then I would return to Carthya and use the results of your trial to get the people on my side.”

I began pacing, trying to work out the storm of emotions inside me. “Darius, this is a trick, an attempt to get control of Carthya, to create a wedge between us!”

Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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