She lifted her chin. “If you defy me, I won’t send Jaron into that cave. Perhaps I should send a princess?”
Darius lowered his eyes, instantly defeated. “No, I’ll leave. I’m sorry for this, Jaron.” He frowned at me, then without another word, he retreated down the hill.
“Bring Jaron to the overlook,” Strick told Roden. “And if you question my orders again, you will go into the cave with him.”
Roden hesitated, but I said cheerfully, “It’s perfectly fine. No visit to Belland would be complete without a visit to the overlook.”
Strick arched a brow. “You’re an arrogant fool of a prince.”
“King,” I muttered.
Then she called to those who were still part of the crowd, “The Prozarians are one step closer to the end of our quest. Follow me!”
Roden led me along with them until we caught up to Tobias, who said, “I told her you can climb that cave. She would have killed you otherwise.”
“Her plans haven’t changed — you just gave her the way to do it.” Roden looked around us and lowered his voice. “Let’s run, all three of us.”
I furrowed my brows. “I can’t.”
“Running isn’t part of my plan.”
“You have no plan!”
“You don’t know that.”
Roden let out a heavy sigh. “All right. What’s your plan?”
“I don’t have one. But sometimes, not having a plan is the best possible plan.”
Since this was going nowhere, Tobias tried his alternative approach of logic. “Give them the scope, and maybe they’ll send someone else into the cave.”
“This has nothing to do with the scope. How will it look to Darius when he comes to rescue me and I’m not even there?”
Roden’s mouth practically fell open. “That’s what this is about? Jaron, he won’t come back, even if he wanted to. If he defies them, he puts Amarinda at risk, or Trea, or anyone else around here.” He lowered his voice. “Wilta told me that in the first week of their occupation, Darius kept trying to organize revolts. Every time he did, three or four Bellanders would disappear … into that same cave where they’re sending you!”
Tobias stepped closer. “If we go now, you have a chance to find Fink and, hopefully, Amarinda too. That is more important than fixing your relationship with your brother.”
“No, it all fits together, can’t you see that? Yes, we need to find Fink, and Amarinda … but neither of those matters if I don’t also make things right with Darius.”
Tobias said, “Darius can’t be trusted. He gave up the second lens for Amarinda, he gave you up for her. He is only thinking about Amarinda!”
My glare sharpened. “Are you any different?” When he didn’t answer, my expression tightened. “For the last time, I’m going to the overlook.”
Roden pushed his hand through his hair, thoroughly frustrated. “Very well. Thanks to you, the devils will have us all in the end.” He frowned and they escorted me up the hillside, past the waterfall with the rock wall and pool, past the place where I’d lain in the grasses and opened a tin box that had torn at my heart. And all the way to the opening of the cave where I had climbed to my freedom only last night. I would soon descend there in captivity.
The tall wooden arch I’d seen last night was still there. But now a pulley was suspended from its center with two ropes slung over it, one dyed red, the other blue. One end of each rope was knotted to the arch itself.
Why were there two ropes?
“Please don’t send me down there!” Wilta screamed.
I turned to see two Prozarians dragging Wilta toward the arch. Her scarlet hair was tangled, her face was dirty, and the hem of her dress was torn worse than before.
Forgetting me, Roden ran forward to Captain Strick, who was speaking to Mercy and Lump near the arch.
“Why is she here?” he shouted. “She is innocent!”