“No one threw a single fist. Release me, Captain.”
She stiffened her spine. “And you have stolen the Devil’s Scope.”
“We don’t need it anymore.” Mercy had taken the second lens from Strick and held it up against a thin paper with a sketch of the first lens on it. “If my drawing is corr
ect, then the third lens will be found exactly where we thought it would be. We still have time to retrieve it, if we hurry.” He eyed me. “And we no longer need Jaron.”
Tobias leaned over to Strick and said something more to her. She smiled and turned to me. “Your friend just made a suggestion that might save your life.” Her words were followed by a coldness in her expression that sent a chill through me. I knew what Tobias had offered, and I wanted none of it.
I stuck out my jaw. “I will not help you get that third lens.”
Her eyes became focused on someone behind me. “Oh yes, you will.”
I turned too late. Lump’s beefy hands wrapped around my wrists like vises.
I didn’t fight him. There would have been no point in it now. Instead, I twisted around until I locked eyes with Darius, still leaning against the tree, staring through me as if I weren’t even here. All my life, he had defended me — to our parents, to commoners, and to staff at the castle. But I’d never had to rely on him before for my very existence.
With Lump and Mercy holding each of my arms, I was half walked and half dragged to stand directly before Captain Strick, who couldn’t wipe the smug anticipation off her face.
Loud enough for the crowd to hear her, she began, “We are benevolent —”
“Benevolent conquerors,” I finished for her. “You don’t want to kill or threaten or wound or maim anyone here, but somehow it’s necessary.”
“Necessary,” she echoed, as if repeating that word somehow made it more important than my accusations. “You are a threat to our plans, to our quest. You are a disruption and a troublemaker.”
I grinned. “Please stop, Captain, you embarrass me with so many compliments.”
Her eyes became murderous. I knew that look too well. “You’ve seen the Great Cave, no doubt.”
It must have been the cave I’d climbed in to escape last night. The one pictured on the first lens.
She continued, “Since arriving on Belland, we have believed the third lens must be in there. We also believe the lens will only be found during high tide. In the past month, we have sent over a dozen people inside to test for the best way to search the cave. Not one of them has come out alive.”
I pressed my brows low. “Yesterday, you told Darius you had only two days. Is that two days to find the third lens?”
“If we read the markings on the scope correctly, then it is only two days every ten years, and only for a few precious minutes when the sun is in the proper alignment. That window opens very soon.”
She gestured for Roden to come forward. He did, though his feet moved as if made of lead. “Take Jaron to the overlook.”
Roden’s words were as strong as I’d ever heard him speak before. “This is wrong, Captain. You’ve wanted to punish Jaron all along. You were always going to find a reason to do it.”
She widened her hands. “Obviously.”
He stepped forward, preparing to draw his sword, but I gestured for him to back away. “I don’t need your rescue.” My attention shifted to Darius, who had separated himself from the crowd. “I need yours.”
“He can do nothing for you,” Captain Strick said. “Your brother knows the consequences if he breaks our agreement again. Isn’t that correct, Darius?”
He dipped his head at her, then said to me, “I know you’ve never been one for rules, but you must understand that here, they cannot be violated. Do you remember that time you fell from the parapet?”
I smiled at the memory. In an attempt to complete a race around the entire castle, I had tripped and fallen, but caught a flagpole on my way down. It took a few kicks to break the window beneath it, but I did get in. “Father yelled at me for hours.”
However, of the many lessons I’d learned that day, the consequences of violating rules was not one of them. I’d run across that same parapet only a week later. It was an odd story for Darius to mention.
Strick looked at Darius. “You will return to your home and stay there until the evening bell, understood?”
“I just gave you the second lens. I want to see what comes of it.”