Darius clenched both fists. “Why? She is alive, she is here…. Is she still the betrothed princess?” His eyes widened in realization. “She is betrothed to the throne, not the prince.” His voice rose in pitch. “Jaron, you didn’t … you haven’t …” Angrily, he grabbed my shoulders.
Tobias pushed between us, forcing Darius back. “It’s not Jaron! Amarinda is betrothed to me now. When we get back to Carthya, she and I have plans to marry.”
Darius’s eyes turned to ice as he looked Tobias over, then with one hand, he shoved him away. “Who are you? You’re no prince. Not a drop of royal blood in you, is there?”
Tobias lowered his head. “No, I am not a prince. But I do love her.”
Darius turned and pointed to Tobias. “I lived for her! I did whatever was necessary to keep myself alive, for her! You are no one, you are nothing. How dare you suggest you could ever be my equal?”
Reflecting the tension in the air, the crowd behind us seemed to be growing more agitated, with some Prozarians already calling out for Darius to pronounce me guilty. Trea rushed forward to speak to him while Mott stood protectively near my side.
Darius ignored Trea and turned his anger toward me. “This arrogant nothing who came to defend you, is he your friend?”
“Then you have chosen him over me. You have robbed me of a throne that should have been mine, and he has robbed me of the girl I’ve expected to marry my entire life. Let the devils have him now. Let the devils have you both!”
He began to leave, but Lump crossed into his path, his message clear. From behind us, Strick said, “You had your trial, Darius. Give us what you promised.”
“Do not give them that lens!” I shouted.
Darius lowered his head, reached into the pocket of his long red coat, and withdrew a lens from a black satin bag. He offered it to Lump, who held it up to the light for a quick examination. Similar to the first disk, this lens could easily be concealed in a person’s hand, though it was thin enough that it could break if not handled carefully. Holding the lens in the palms of both hands, Lump ran it over to Captain Strick. Without a single glance back at me, Darius slinked through the crowd, then folded his arms as he leaned against a nearby tree, almost glowing with anger.
By now, the crowd was calling more openly for a decision from Darius, but he was still glaring at Tobias. To my left, Mercy had leaned back in his chair with a wide smile on his face, drawing pleasure from the discord. Ahead of me, Roden had turned his back to try to settle the growing disputes in the crowd, but no one demanded my attention more than Captain Strick. She faced me with a smug expression of total satisfaction, as though anger and a broken relationship between brothers was the perfect outcome to this trial.
I could make it worse.
I shouted, “People of Belland, we cannot allow these invaders to keep that lens. Help me, and together we will take back your homes. By tomorrow night, you will be a free people!”
A cautious cheer rose up among the Bellanders, one that grew enough that the Prozarians began to look anxious. Strick motioned to Mercy, yelling, “Stop him now!”
I had been waiting the entire trial for Mercy to have a reason to leave that chair.
The instant he moved, I yanked my left arm inward, then crouched down to retrieve the pin. The motion simultaneously pulled Mercy’s chair toward me, hard enough that it swept his feet out from beneath him. With my hands still chained, I grabbed the chair and held it legs out, as a sort of weapon.
“If anyone helps that boy, you will join in his fate!” Strick shouted to the crowd. “Everyone fall to your knees or face the wrath of the Prozarians! Go to your knees now!”
There were twice the number of Prozarians as there were Bellanders, and no pirates were here. Upon the captain’s command, all Prozarians in the audience withdrew their weapons, mostly swords and knives, though I saw a few bows as well. They were only waiting for the orders to move, to strike against the unarmed and defenseless up here.
Mott turned to me, also waiting for orders. “What do you want, Jaron?”
I looked around the area. The Bellanders didn’t have a chance if fighting began. I had friends here in the crowd, but not enough, and I was still in chains.
I answered him, “I want you to leave, Mott. The only reason Strick hasn’t had you captured yet is that I’m too much on her mind. But she will remember you.” He still hesitated, and I added, “Get out of here, protect Trea. Those are my orders.”
Mott dipped his head at me, though he glanced back several times as they left.
Tobias came forward and spoke in a low voice. “Please let me negotiate with the captain. You have no chance otherwise.”
“You’ve given up already?” I frowned at him, genuinely disappointed. “When did you stop believing in me?”
His frown became more pronounced as he replied, “I think you’re in too deep this time.”
I placed the chair on the ground and stood on it, shouting to the Bellanders, “Do as the captain says!” The area quieted and I added, “I promised you freedom tomorrow, and I will keep that promise. But today, we must cooperate.”
As ordered, the crowd fell to their knees, though their feelings of sadness, even abandonment, hung so heavy in the air that I felt the weight of them. I had promised something that I was not yet sure I could provide. If they got their freedom, it was possible I would not be there to see it.
Nearby, Tobias was in conversation with Captain Strick, who turned and motioned for me to step down from the chair, which I did. She faced the crowd and said, “Darius has failed to pass judgment on Jaron. But you just witnessed him attempting to inspire violence among your people. That is surely a crime.”