The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 83

Finally, Roden reached over and took Wilta by the hand, then pulled her into his arms and dragged her out of the river.

I released the rope and might have fallen over myself except Darius said to someone I couldn’t see, “Help him.”

Mott reached into the river and pulled me out. “We need to leave while we still can,” he said.

“He’ll help us.” Tobias pointed to Mercy, who was crawling out of our side of the river, coughing on water. Tobias walked to stand directly over him and said, “You lost the wager. Where can we find the princess?”

I staggered to my feet, casting a glance at Strick and Wilta. With Wilta’s bright scarlet hair wet and pulled away from her face, the resemblance was more obvious than before. I wondered if Roden saw it.

He stood beside Wilta, offering support, but he didn’t need to. Her anger easily warmed her. We locked eyes, each of us now understanding something dangerous about the other. I could identify her. She could destroy me.

Strick pointed to me, shouting at her people. “Consider that boy our enemy. I will reward anyone who brings him to me. Until he kneels to us, let all of Belland feel our revenge!”

Every Prozarian near her began looking for a way to cross the river — even Roden began looking — but until the flow settled, they wouldn’t get far. Rather than care anything for their threats, with Mott’s help, I stumbled toward Mercy.

Tobias’s hands were in fists and he was speaking through clenched teeth. “Where is she?”

I pulled Tobias back, but i

n a firm voice, said, “Honor your wager.”

Mercy arched his neck. “What you gave us was only a rock. I will not honor that.”

“I wagered that you would not know for certain whether I had retrieved the lens. You only know what I gave you, not what I kept for myself.”

“Very well.” Mercy’s eye twitched. “Amarinda is on our flagship. Give me one of your people tonight. I will bring them with me to take her off the ship.”

“I’ll go,” Tobias instantly offered.

I shook my head. “Then they’d have two captives.”

“I’m willing to take the risk.”

I looked over at Tobias. “I’m not.”

Mercy’s frown at me was intended for Tobias to see, and he did. “If you refuse my offer, Jaron, I cannot guarantee what will happen to your princess next.”

Tobias turned to me in a silent plea to change my mind. But I wouldn’t, and he knew it. Finally, he grunted and stomped away.

Mercy waited until he’d left, then his face cracked into a smile. “I did try to fulfil the terms of the wager. What a pity you don’t trust me with your friend’s safety.”

I began to retort, but Mott handed me my jerkin, dripping with water. “Let’s go, Jaron.”

He gestured across the river. Several of the Prozarians were now halfway across, their weapons out.

I turned to leave with Mott, though I didn’t realize how weak and cold I’d become until we were hurrying away. Every step took enormous effort, and at my best, I was still lagging behind with only Mott at my side, urging me to keep going. Once we made it safely into the hills and rounded the first bend, all of that was forgotten when Imogen darted toward me from behind some trees, where she’d been hiding. She mumbled my name and immediately wrapped her cloak around my shoulders before pulling me into a warm embrace.

“I can’t believe you’re alive.”

I shrugged and glanced back. “Me neither.” My gaze fell next on Tobias. “I couldn’t allow you to get on that ship.”

“If it were Imogen held captive, would you have gone?” He huffed and continued walking.

Imogen kept her arm around me as we fell in beside him. She said, “I was there in the crowd, you know, but I was so far back, I only heard the people talking. Did you really push Wilta into the cave opening?”

“She’s the Monarch, Imogen. She’s behind everything that is happening here.”

“Wilta? Are you sure?”

Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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