Seeing my concern for Imogen, Darius’s tone softened. “You were never trained to become a king, not like I was. So it is understandable that you are feeling your way blindly through the many responsibilities you have. But they are my responsibilities now.”
I finally took a biscuit, though I had little appetite for it. “If you become king, I cannot be your captain of the guard.”
“Why not? You’re the most logical choice.”
“Only in theory. In life, we are too different. Even if we both wanted the same thing, I would make choices as your captain that you would disagree with. I fear you would never trust me to —” I stopped, choking on my own words. Suddenly, everything that Roden had been trying to tell me for the past few days, even for the past several weeks, made perfect sense. “You would never trust me to do the job the way I would want to do it. And without that trust, I am nothing but your puppet.”
Darius nodded, though I doubted he understood the full meaning of my words. But I understood now. I owed Roden better than he had received from me thus far.
Something must have caught Darius’s eye because he walked to a different overlook. Though we were quite far away, the spot offered a good view of the village below and a corner of the beach. Rows of Bellanders, pirates, and Prozarians were working together to carry heavy crates off the Shadow Tide and toward the five other Prozarian ships in the harbor.
“What are they doing?” he asked.
I followed him over and drew in a deep sigh. This was hardly the first time I’d had to offer a difficult, and usually humiliating, explanation to my brother. However, this sank to an entirely new level.
I scratched my head with one hand and gestured with the other. “Well, you see, those weapons were intended for Carthya. It appears they are currently being transferred to the Prozarians.”
Darius turned to me, dumbfounded. “Our weapons are in the hands of the enemy? Those five crates probably represent the bulk of —”
“Of the weapons supplies we desperately need, yes. I agree, this looks bad.”
“It is bad, Jaron! You accuse me of weakness, of giving in to Prozarian demands, and then you let this happen! No wonder you cannot claim to have been a good king — this is beyond your usual level of foolishness.”
“We didn’t give them the weapons. They were taken when our ship was captured.”
“How did you guard and protect these weapons at sea?”
“There was no guard. We were on an Avenian pirate ship.”
“Which made it easy to attack you!” He threw out his hands. “Since when does the king of Carthya travel in the company of pirates?”
I sighed. “Since he became a pirate.” I pulled up my right sleeve, revealing the branding they’d given me months ago. “Roden is too. He’s been my captain.”
“Roden, who is now in service to our enemy?”
“No more than you’ve been in their service.”
Darius’s face continued to redden. “The two of you, the two most powerful people in the kingdom, belong to the pirates, also our enemies. This is treason, Jaron.”
“Things have changed since you were home. The pirates are only our enemies sometimes.”
Darius pushed his hand through his hair, all the while shaking his head in disbelief. “This is why Father sent you away so many years ago. You act without thinking, and the way you think makes no sense. This was bad enough when you were a prince, but you are not fit to be a king.”
“I know I’ve made mistakes, but —”
“These are not mistakes, these are disasters! Nothing has changed since the day Father sent you away, and it’s all too clear why he did. You are an embarrassment to the throne!”
A horrible silence followed, one in which I could not speak. His words hit me harder than the worst of any punishment I’d ever taken, and I felt it nearly the same, as if the words stripped me of my last breath.
I looked down and bit my lip, and after a moment, more gently, Darius said, “I’m sorry, Jaron. I didn’t mean that.”
I nodded, but said nothing. I knew that Darius hadn’t intended to be unkind, but he had opened a wound that still ached inside, confirming every doubt about myself that I’d ever had.
“You know that I never wanted you to leave the castle. And after the pirate attack, once you were found, I begged Father to let you come home again.”
“Did you ever see me?” I asked. “When you and our parents would ride through the streets, did you ever see me standing there?”
A horrible pause followed before he answered, “Every time.” A corner of his mouth turned up. “It was impossible not to see you — everyone else bowed.” Then he became somber again. “Father’s instructions were clear, that if we saw you, we should distract Mother. She never knew you were still alive, though I almost told her several times.”