“Nor am I!” I didn’t want this to turn into a fight, but Darius was my brother, and I would defend him. “When he’s king, I’ll do everything I can to stop him from making any other agreements with the Prozarians, but he will be king.”
“When will you convince him to change? Before or after the Prozarians execute you? Because that is still their plan!”
“I’ve come this close to death before, and I’ve found a way out of it.”
“That’s because you fought it before. Why aren’t you fighting now?”
“You think I’m not?” My muscles began to tighten. “How many more bruises are necessary before you’ll accept that I am fighting?”
“There are other fights, Jaron, those that come from a strong heart and a will that cannot be broken. I know it’s in you because I’ve seen it over and over again. Why aren’t you fighting for the throne?”
“What more would you have me do? My mind is full; my heart is broken. But no matter what I do, this story ends the very same way — Darius has claim to the throne! Would you have me keep it by destroying my brother? Or should I be the reason for civil war in Carthya?”
For the first time, Imogen raised her voice. “I would have you live, Jaron. I would have you fight for your title, for your life, not hand it over to your brother and his controllers!”
“But it is my life, Imogen! My life, my decisions! No one else’s.”
Her expression stiffened. “I thought it was our lives now.” Her voice was nearly a whisper, which hit me hardest of all.
I looked away. My mind was racing for what I could say to fix this. I’d immediately regretted my words, but it was too late — they still hung heavy in the air, and I could not pull them back.
Imogen stood and brushed her hands against her skirts. “Do what you will, Jaron, as you always do. Maybe I cannot stop you, but I do not have to be here to watch it. I urge you to consider this one last thought: If your brother requires your life so that he can take the throne, is he really your brother? Or is he simply another name on your list of enemies?”
Before I could answer, she walked out of the room.
And just like that, the inevitable happened. Imogen had finally given up on me.
As sore as I was, and with a swollen foot, it took me twice as long as it should have to follow Imogen out of the hut. By the time I did, she was nowhere to be seen. I called her name, but received no answer.
“She said not to follow her.” Darius pointed to a basket of dried biscuits. “Hungry?”
I ignored the food. “She shouldn’t be out there on her own.”
; “She’s not alone. Trea is with her. They’ll be safe.”
I stared off in the direction in which Imogen had gone, or in which I thought she had gone, then finally limped over to a rock to rest.
Darius was staring at me from behind; I felt the weight of his eyes, the intensity of his gaze. Finally, he said, “Is there any place on your body that hasn’t been injured since coming here?”
“I’ve had worse.”
“Once I’m king, you won’t have to fight these battles anymore. We won’t have to fight them at all.”
I turned to him, curious. And worried. Imogen’s warnings still rang in my ears.
Darius crossed so that he stood in front of me. “Every instinct you have is to fight. That’s the trait of a great warrior, and you shall be great, as captain of my guard. But the mark of a great leader is refusing to fight. During all of Father’s reign, he never had to fight a single war. Better than any of the kings before him, Father knew how to keep the peace.”
I disagreed. “During Father’s reign, Carthya was being sectioned away like slices of a pie. Father ruled in a permanent state of surrender.”
“He was a great king, Jaron!”
“He was a great man, in many ways. I loved him too. But he was not a great king.”
Darius drew back, folding his arms. “And you think you were?”
“I’ve never claimed to be anything great.” I stood again to look for Imogen. I wasn’t even sure that I was a particularly good person. If I were, I’d never have said the things to her that I did.