The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 75

Darius turned my way as well. “If Conner had committed the murders, surely you would have followed the law and had him executed. Did you?”

I stared back at him. “I did not.”

“I’m also told that he was allowed to escape. How did that happen?”

It was irrelevant how it happened. The greater problem was how the question must have sounded to the audience, as if his escape was my plan all along.

Darius continued, “And later, Conner sacrificed his life to save yours. That doesn’t sound like he was ever anyone’s enemy.”

“He came to my side. As you were once on my side.” I tried a different approach. “Do you remember when I was ten and I challenged the Duke of Mendenwal to a duel? It was in defense of our mother’s name.”

Darius smiled, despite himself. “Of course. You lost the duel.”

“And you later told me that you regretted letting me fight that alone. Fight for me now. You know that I had nothing to do with our parents’ deaths.” He flinched, and I added, “Be my brother again; stand at my side the way I always tried to stand at yours. Darius, I need my brother back in my life, as before.”

Captain Strick stood, holding a paper in her hands. “We have evidence — a letter from Conner himself, detailing Jaron’s involvement in the crimes.”

Tobias immediately darted forward, now with Conner’s journal in his hands. He could only have gotten that from Imogen, so I knew she must be hiding somewhere in the crowd. “This book was written by Conner’s own hand. Compare it with the note.”

Darius walked over to Strick, who rolled her eyes before giving him the paper. He laid it out flat on one half of the journal in Tobias’s hands and studied one page and then the other.

“The handwriting is different,” Darius mumbled. His expression seemed to soften.

“Then someone else wrote that letter for Conner,” Strick said. “A trusted servant perhaps.”

“I was his trusted servant, and I never wrote that letter.”

My head flipped to the side to see Mott emerge from the crowd. Captain Strick shouted, “This man was involved in an attack on Prozarian officers last night! He must be arrested.”

She may have believed her words would turn the crowd against Mott, but most of the Bellanders I saw began nodding at him with respect, and none of the Prozarians seemed to want to take him on unless they were specifically ordered to.

Mott stepped past her and addressed Darius directly. “Before Jaron took the throne, I served Conner every day of my life. I was there when he planned the murders, yours included, or so I thought.” Now he spoke louder. “Listen carefully, all of you. Jaron knew nothing of the murders, and once he did know, his every thought was given to unmasking the conspiracy behind who had done it. Jaron is innocent.”

Darius shrugged, unmoved. “From what I’m told, you are with Jaron every time he goes into battle. Obviously you will want to protect him now.”

“As I have always tried to protect you,” Trea said as she joined Mott and took his hand again. “Darius, I know why you agreed to have Jaron brought here, and I know you believe you have to decide against him, but you don’t. There is a plan that can save these people, but you must find Jaron innocent.”

Darius glanced over at Strick before looking back at me. “And then what? If we go home together, will the people welcome me as their king, or shout me down because they prefer you?”

I locked eyes with him, as if no one else existed but him and me. “Come home, Darius. But come home without a Prozarian weight on your back. I’ll help you.”

He hesitated. “What about Amarinda? Can you save her as well?”

That was a far more complicated question, and he took note of it. “We will find her,” I said.

“Amarinda is waiting for you,” Captain Strick said. “After you find Jaron guilty.”

“What?” If Tobias had been sitting, he would have fallen off his chair. Even on his feet, I worried at his look of alarm. I shook my head at him, warning him to stay quiet.

“I agreed to conduct the trial,” Darius said. “I never agreed to the outcome.”

From his seat, Mercy pulled out a book and widened it to a handwritten page, where even from here I saw Darius’s signature. Mercy said, “You agreed to give us the second lens if we brought Jaron here for trial. If Jaron was found guilty, you agreed to give the Prozarians legal right to carry out his punishment. In exchange for that right, we would deliver Amarinda here to you.”

With greater urgency, I turned back to Darius. “Whatever you decide, they will not send Amarinda to you. They will set new terms, new demands, and force you to give in once again.”

His tone sharpened. “Amarinda is here, somewhere, and then we’ll be married, as was planned from the beginning. I can’t risk her life, and you can’t promise it.”

I drew in a breath. “We should discuss Amarinda in private.”

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