The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 80

Roden had been allowed to stand beside Wilta. He held her hands and seemed to be giving her every assurance that I would keep her safe. I wished he wouldn’t have done so.

Captain Strick took another step toward me. “You thought you had the advantage by keeping the scope, but you were wrong. Thanks to Mercy’s drawing, you see now that we will always succeed.”

I glared back at her. “If your definition of success is complete and utter humiliation when I defeat you, then yes, you will succeed.”

Her lip curled. “Since the moment of your capture, I’ve sought to understand you. And I believe I have you figured out at last.”


She smiled. “It’s simple. Above all else, you wish to be the hero, the rescuer. And its opposite is your fear, that someone else will charge in at the final moment before certain death, taking the glory and winning the girl.”

I stifled a yawn that had been nagging at me since she began her speech. “No, not really. And I should be clear, this is not the girl I would ever hope to win.”

“Jaron!” Wilta cried. “How can you say that?”

“No offense, my lady. You are obviously beautiful and intelligent, and you are not without charm. However, there is also a depth of evil within you that should frighten even the devils.”

Roden ran closer. “What is the matter with you? She needs your help or she will die in there!”

Confused, Strick stepped back, and Mercy took over once again. He began by giving me a bag to hold the lens and a small carving knife.

“The third lens is likely embedded in the rock but disguised to look like the rock itself. You may need the knife to extract that lens, but do not break it.”

“I won’t,” I said, then quickly added, “I won’t break it, because I will not extract it. Instead, I might use this knife to make my escape easier after I cut Wilta’s rope.”

“Jaron, no!” Wilta’s eyes were wide with horror.

“I might.” I winked at her. “But you’ll be fine.”

“Please don’t let me fall!” When Wilta’s shaking failed to earn my sympathy, she shouted to the crowd, “If he can be so cold, he must be guilty.”

“I am guilty of many things, my lady. Of being a fool and a thief, and of a recklessness unfit for a king. But you are guilty too.” I turned around and shouted to the crowd, “Bellander women, will you show me the needles in your skirts?”

A confused murmur spread through the audience as women looked around at one another. But no one stepped forward.

That was all I needed to know.

I shouted, “Bellanders, Prozarians …” I eyed Mercy. “Snakes. The Monarch stands before you: Wilta, the fraud, the pretender. If you wish to bow, do it quickly.”

Before Wilta could respond, I flashed her a grin, and jumped.

My weight and my control of Wilta’s rope sent her careening over the edge with me. We both dropped more than halfway into the cave, but Wilta was below me, her feet nearly in the water. I had wound her rope around my arm, so although it pulled hard on my shoulder when we finished dropping, both of us were safe.

For now.

“Why did you say that about me?” Wilta cried. “I was forced down here, same as you!”

“No, I don’t think so. Someone had to watch me, to be sure that I did find the third lens. The captain wouldn’t trust anyone with that task … except her own queen.”

“Whoever you think I am, you must find the lens, or we’ll both drown in here.”

“Why are you the Monarch and your mother is not? Did you flip a coin for the title? Or does inheritance skip a generation?”

“Listen to me, Jaron, I’ve done everything I can to help you.”

“And you have,” I replied. “You revealed more secrets about your people than I believe you had intended. So many that I wish our false friendship didn’t have to end now.”

“The Bellanders have no secrets.”

Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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