The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 90

I left the home first, informing Roden, “We will follow you at a distance. There is no need to escort us down.”

“We need to talk.”

“No,” Darius said, following me. “We have been invited to speak to the Monarch. You will not bring us there like prisoners.”

Roden’s eyes locked with mine and when I wouldn’t give in to his request, he finally said, “Very well. But if you fail to appear, the Monarch wanted me to remind you of your conversation while in the cave.”

“What conversation?” Darius asked.

Before I could answer, Roden added, “We’ll go on ahead.”

Once we had started on the trail, far enough from Roden and the two vigils that they were no longer in sight, Darius grabbed my arm, forcing me to stop walking. “What conversation?”

My eyes darted as my heart began to race. It wasn’t only what Wilta had said, it was the controlled rage in her eyes as the threats had poured from her mouth. I opened my mouth to explain, but the words wouldn’t come, and not because I thought he couldn’t hear them. I just couldn’t speak them. So I began walking again, answering, “There’s a plan. If we follow it, everything should be all right.”

“What if the plan fails?”

“What if it does? Failure isn’t the end of a plan. Just keep pushing back until all that’s left is to win.”

For some reason, that made him chuckle. “I’ve always envied you.”

“Me?” Certain I had heard wrong, I turned to look at him. “I’m the embarrassment, remember?”

“That’s because you try. You stand at the base of a mountain that cannot be climbed, or should not be, and you start to climb anyway. No, it doesn’t work every time, that’s why it can be seen as an embarrassment. But when it works, it’s a victory.” He lowered his eyes, as if in shame. “I don’t even try the climb, because I know that I might fall. That is a far greater embarrassment.”

“Well, your embarrassment comes with fewer bruises.”

“I see the Prozarians better now, for who they are, for what they would do if I allowed them into Carthya. I’m determined to be bolder. I promise that when I am king, I will do better than I have done here. I will do better for you, Jaron.” He threw an arm over my shoulder as we walked. “I am the elder son, but I need you by my side. Will you trust me with the throne?”

I considered my answer carefully. “Carthyans must see a peaceful transfer of power from me to you. It shouldn’t be done here in Belland.”

Darius bit his lip. “Do you think there’s any chance Amarinda might … still consider herself betrothed to me?”

“I don’t know. She loves Tobias now.”

“But she did love me. She’ll have a choice to make, now that she knows I’m alive. Me or him.”

I didn’t know who she would choose, but if Tobias’s intense behavior over the past few days was any indication, I did know he wouldn’t give up easily on her.

Darius added, “You should know that Tobias will have no place in the castle when I’m king. Nor Roden.”

I turned to him. “Do you know what Roden is risking to help us?”

“He’s not doing anything for us. He clearly likes Wilta — their monarch! He is in her service now.”

“He won’t betray me,” I insisted. “He’s loyal to the throne.”

“I am the throne now,” Darius reminded me. “It will take time for us both to get used to that, but from now on, I make these decisions, and trusting Roden is not one of them.”

My jaw clenched, and I turned my attention back to our path ahead. Just as Roden had promised, smoke was beginning to rise from the areas where the people lived. With a growing urgency in my mind, I asked, “What is your plan once we get down to the beach?”

“We can’t attack. I’ve seen you fight, Jaron, and you’re good, frighteningly good actually, but you’re also limping on one leg and you have no sword. I’m out of practice, and even at my best, the two of us could not take on all the Prozarians.”

“Now you know one of the reasons why I grabbed that medical bag.”

We were still high on the trail, still well hidden by thick brush alongside our path, when Darius casually asked, “One of the reasons? What’s the other?”

“This.” I grabbed Darius’s arm with one hand, and as he turned, I pulled his sword from its sheath.

Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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