“You did this to us! Do you think I want to believe something so horrible about my own brother, my own flesh and blood?”
“After all our history, why would you believe her and not me?”
“Because there is evidence!” Darius brushed at his eyes with the back of his hand. “I will make you this offer tonight and only tonight. If you give me the throne, confess your crime, and agree to a permanent exile from Carthya, I will try to make them understand no trial is necessary.”
“Exile? Darius, how can you talk like this? This is not you, this is not how we ever were!”
With a cry, Trea darted into the back room. “There is trouble outside. Stay in here.”
I rushed to the door in time to see Mott run out. Whatever the trouble was, I worried about Mott attempting to manage it on his own, so I returned to where Darius had left his sword on the table and ran out the door with it.
Mott was already standing in front of the home, his sword outstretched against five Prozarians who were equally armed. Without realizing I was there, he yelled, “You will not take Jaron!”
“There he is now.” A red-haired man near the front aimed his sword at me. He was the one who had thrown Erick’s body overboard, and he clearly remembered it too, for he said, “I won’t be so kind with your remains.”
I redoubled my grip on Darius’s sword and charged directly at him. He struck with greater force than I’d expected, and I fell back a few steps. At my left, Mott began fighting two men together, but he quickly received a long cut on his forearm, and the remaining two were waiting for an opportunity to leave their mark.
I set my feet more squarely against the red-haired man ahead of me, ducking as he took a second swing, and elbowing him hard enough in the thigh to force him back. His leg folded slightly, allowing me to rotate, striking at a Prozarian raising his sword at Mott’s back. In that same rotation, I was about to strike the red-haired man, when he dropped his sword and collapsed to his knees.
I angled my weapon against his neck. “End this if you want to live.”
He immediately shouted to his companions, “Lower your weapons!” They hesitated, and with a sharper press of my blade at his side, he added, “Do it!”
Swords clattered to the ground. I told them, “Run away now, while you
The red-haired man stood again, but his smile poked at my temper. He said, “You think defeating us means anything? We were only the distraction.”
“Run,” I hissed.
After they were gone, Trea ran outside and wrapped Mott’s uninjured arm over her shoulder, propping him up to walk him back inside the house.
Except that she had to push past Darius, who was still standing in the doorway. I walked back to him and threw his sword at his feet.
“Why didn’t you help me?” I scowled. “You were here, you saw it!”
“Why did you fight?” he countered. “When the captain finds out, do you know how angry she’ll be?”
“I make people angry all the time. And if doing what’s right makes someone angry with me, then may I cause rage and fury wherever I go.”
He frowned. “Trust me, Jaron. You do.”
I waved my hand around us. “How long has Belland been your home? You owe something to these people.”
“No, Belland is my prison. They are prisoners here, just as I am. You want me to save them? Well, I have. Until I agreed to give the Prozarians the second lens, they were killing one person here after another. I saved these people, just as I will save Carthya!”
“Explain how enslaving anyone sets them free.”
“Because they get to live — isn’t that what you want? And they are not enslaved. Carthya will pay its tax to the Prozarians, and they will leave us alone.”
I gestured to where the fight had just taken place. “Is that what it looks like to be left alone?”
“All they ask is that we keep our agreements and obey their rules.”
I snorted. “That will never be me.”
“I know that.” Darius’s voice had become notably sadder. “They know it too. I’m truly sorry for what’s about to happen. I wish this wasn’t necessary.”