The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 86


In turn, Imogen reached into her shoulder bag and brought out the satin bag containing the scope and the first lens, which she passed to Darius.

He withdrew the scope and showed me the markings on top. “This is the Carthyan symbol. I don’t know why it’s there and I don’t know the symbol in the center, but I do know this first symbol.” This one was a circular arrow with a clear beginning, but no end. “In ancient times, it was applied to all royals, so that if one family needed help from any other family, they could use this symbol to prove their identity. The symbol itself expressed hope that one day, we would all unite under one banner of peace.”

I leaned forward to have a better look at the symbols for myself, and when I did, my face brightened with excitement. I looked around the group and said, “I know the scope’s message!”

The group gathered even closer around me as I held the scope near candlelight to explain. “The first symbol represents unity. If it were a number —”

“One,” Imogen said.

“The second symbol is Mendenwal’s pride, claiming to be superior to all other countries.”

Tobias smiled. “Greater than all others.”

“And the last symbol is Carthyan, representing equality among the original rulers.”

“Among three rulers,” Darius said.

“One is greater than three.” I smiled. “That’s the message.”

“Yes, but what does that mean?” Mott asked.

I shrugged. “Well, I don’t know that … yet. If we had the third lens, it might make more sense.”

“At least we have two lenses, though I’ve never seen them together.” Darius slipped both lenses into place and handed me the scope. “With some luck, that will lead us to the third.” He aimed it toward the candlelight, and his shoulders fell. “That can’t be right. It’s exactly what the Prozarians thought.”

He gave me the scope, and when I did the same, I saw what he meant. Where the first lens clearly showed the cave of Belland, the second lens added the position of the sun, falling in the western sky so that its beams would aim directly into the upper opening of the cave.

I passed the scope to Tobias, who began laughing to himself as he rotated the tube until it was upside down. He continued laughing until Darius finally threatened him.

A smug grin was still on Tobias’s face when he lowered the scope. Looking around at each of us, he said, “When Jaron was in the cave earlier, I overheard Mercy speaking to one of the vigils. He claimed the markings on this scope indicated there was only a thirty-hour window in which the third lens could be found, then it would close for ten years.” Now he focused on Darius. “The lens that you gave to Captain Strick was missing something, correct? Stars.”

Something sparked in Darius’s eyes, almost a hint of respect. Then his eyes widened. “A grand moon is in the skies tonight!”

“I read a book about this last year. Once every ten years, the moon aligns differently with the stars.” Tobias smiled at Darius, and to my amazement, got a smile in return. “As it will tonight, and tomorrow night.”

Darius took the scope back, then lowered it, clearly frustrated. “The moon is too high now. We’ve missed it for tonight.”

“Then we will try again tomorrow,” I said, relieved at having some time to recover. As we’d talked, my body had begun to thaw from the cold water. I felt the aches in my leg and my foot, and every part of my body that had taken a hit, a punch, or a scrape over the past few days was complaining just as loudly.

“You don’t look well.” Trea pointed to a small cot on the other end of the room. “Rest awhile.”

Imogen helped me limp over to the cot, and I fell asleep before she finished pulling a blanket over me. I might not have even rolled over once before I awoke again. When I did, morning light was coming through the window, but she was exactly where I last remembered her. No one else appeared to be in the hut.

I sat up on one elbow, stiff and with my eyes still heavy. If I listened carefully, I could hear voices outside, though they were too low to identify who was speaking. I looked around. “Where is everyone?”

“You slept late. Darius and Trea are outside talking. Mott and Tobias went to continue searching for Fink. How do you feel?”

“Like a brick.” I forced myself to a seated position. “What did you think of Darius?”

“He seems to have a good heart, though in all other ways he’s very different from you.” I waited for more, and finally she said, “You want so much to have him back as your brother. Have you considered whether Carthya should have him as its king?”

“That’s not my decision.”

“But it must be. Today, you are Carthya’s king. Will your people do better tomorrow with Darius?” Several beats of silence passed, then she added, “Can you be sure that Darius’s throne will not soon become the Prozarian throne?”

My jaw clenched. In truth, I could not be sure of anything regarding how Darius would rule. But I was not so arrogant as to believe I was doing any better.

Imogen touched my arm, drawing my attention back to her. “I know you love Darius and that in your memories, he’s become almost perfect, but he’s not.”


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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