“I can take us there.” Darius sighed as he looked over at me. “Well, Jaron, it seems you’ve gotten me into trouble once again.”
Mott caught up to Darius as he led the way. “Did you ever get used to that, when you two were younger?”
Darius glanced back at me. “Never.”
They laughed but I had more serious things on my mind. Thinking back to when I’d first seen Tobias outside the prison house, I asked, “Where is Fink?”
Tobias shook his head. “I don’t know. He’d been out looking for water earlier in the day and told me he’d found a place in the north where he could hide. But I don’t know if that’s true, or if he ever made it there.”
“Who’s Fink?” Darius asked.
I glanced over at him, curious to how he would respond. “A few things have changed since you left Carthya. You have another younger brother now.”
“Named Fink?” Darius chuckled. “It’s a good thing he’s adopted, or he’d be in line for the throne. Imagine the absurdity of that name, King Fink.”
I stopped in place, forcing Tobias and Imogen to stop with me. Darius looked back at me again, still smiling until I said, “Fink is my brother now. He is my brother as much as you are.”
“All right, that’s not a problem.” Darius casually shrugged that away, confirming again that he had no idea of his origins. Imogen squeezed my arm as a silent message of her understanding.
Farther along the trail, Darius asked, “Was he meant to replace me?”
“Never!” I waited for Darius to turn around but this time he didn’t, so I continued, “When I left the castle, my whole family was there. When I returned, I was alone. Fink is not your replacement, but try to understand, I needed some sense of family.”
“You think I don’t understand that? Trea is the kindest person I’ve ever known, but she’ll never be our mother. And all this time, I’ve thought of Amarinda and how it woul
d be to get back to her, but now your friend, who by the way is holding his sword upside down, has taken my place.”
Tobias reversed his grip on the sword. “I didn’t replace you either, Darius. She just had to continue on with her life.”
His tone sharpened. “I am King Darius. Jaron may have allowed you more familiarity, but he’s your friend. You and I are not friends.”
Tobias’s eyes darted. “Jaron is no longer king?”
Darius looked at me to confirm his words, but before I could answer, Mott pointed ahead. “That must be the hut. Trea should already be here. Let’s get inside — it looks like it might rain.”
Similar to the home where Darius lived, this shelter was also made of rock and mortar. It was small but seemed comfortable. I wondered who had lived here once, and why they no longer did. We crowded inside as Trea welcomed us with dried fruits and meats. “I wish I could offer something warm, or bake some bread, but I don’t dare start a fire,” she said.
The depth of my hunger was enough that I grabbed a fistful of food before I thanked her and was halfway through a second handful before I was able to slow down. With starvation no longer at the top of my thoughts, I became aware that everyone seemed to have been waiting to speak to me.
Darius began. “You are certain that Wilta is the Monarch?”
“Yes.” I wanted to tell them about the threats Wilta had made while in the cave, but I didn’t have the strength for it tonight. Maybe I would tomorrow. Maybe I never would.
Darius continued, “Did you find the third lens in the cave?”
“No. I think it is in there, though. Even if you were angry with me, how could you give them the second lens?”
Trea chuckled. “It looked real to you?”
Confused, I turned back to Darius, who said, “We gave them an imitation. It had to look believable. That’s one of the reasons I asked the captain to find you — I needed to get her out of Belland long enough that we could forge a new lens.” I squinted at him, and he added, “That was one of the reasons. Also, they really did make me wonder if you were responsible for our parents.”
“I never was.”
“I know that … now.” He sighed. “They claimed to have proof of it. I understand better now. They always wanted to bring you here. I was just their excuse.”
“I don’t know. Until we figure that out, we must focus on what we can learn from the scope.” Darius looked up at Trea, who pulled the real second lens from her pocket.