The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 91


“What are you doing?”

“Protecting the king.”

He glanced down, unimpressed. “This is absurd. You won’t kill me.”

“No, but I have a lot of bandages if I cut you.” I pulled out those same bandages. “Put your hands behind you.” He hesitated, and I added, “Do it, Darius, I’m serious.”

He obeyed, but said, “By definition, this is an act of treason.”

“You’re not king yet. Thus far, this is only the act of a terrible brother.” I bound the knot on his hands, then said, “This is a five-minute knot. It shouldn’t take you any longer to undo it. If it does, that’s really more your fault for not being better with knots.”

“Don’t do this, Jaron.”

“It’s done.” I replaced his sword, then hurried along down the trail. He wouldn’t call after me; he’d hardly want to draw attention to either of us if he did that, but I felt the heat of his glare on my back, one powerful enough that it continued to burn long after I’d rounded the next corner.

It had to be this way. For all his good intentions, Darius would have been defeated on that beach within the same minute of entering it.

My leg was protesting the entire time I hurried down to the beach. I darted off the trail when I was getting close enough to be within earshot of the activities there.

And in doing so, I ran straight into Roden, who had clearly been waiting for me, though without the two Prozarians who had been with him earlier. He was leaning against a tree, using his sword to draw lines in the sand. I couldn’t tell by his expression whether he was disappointed to see me, or proud of himself for having figured me out.

“You knew I’d leave the trail?” I asked.

He nodded, but added, “You should have known this was where I’d be.”

“Maybe I did.”

He cocked his head, confused, then said, “No matter what I do or don’t do, you will never —”

I stared at him, being sure to look him directly in the eye. “I trust you, Roden.”

His face brightened a moment before it fell again. “Thank you, but I still have to take you to Wilta.”

“I know.”

Without protest, I followed him up the beach, passing the trail leading to a cluster of homes, several of which were already burning. Prozarian vigils stood doing nothing while families rushed to put out the fires.

“You’re letting that happen?” I asked Roden.

He lowered his head. “All I can do is help you, with hopes that you can stop all of this.” Now he stopped walking and turned to me. “Can you?”

“I don’t know.” Words that haunted me even as they fell from my lips.

We continued forward toward a shelter that had been hastily built of logs and brush, nothing fancy, but enough to provide shade for a handful of people. Wilta sat on a platform in a padded and finely gilded chair that could only have come off one of the boats.

She was dressed the part of a queen now, in a long green satin gown with white trim, her hair piled high on her head, far grander than any other woman here. She carried herself with a confidence I had not once seen before, though for the first time, I knew I was seeing the true Wilta. The Monarch. The actress.

She was in a conversation with a few of her vigils, the same people who had treated her as a prisoner only a day ago and now knelt at her f

eet. When she saw us coming, she called for them to grab me, but Roden said, “That isn’t necessary. He’ll cooperate.”

I glared over at him, making sure he understood. I had said I trusted him. I never said I would cooperate.

When we were closer, Wilta said, “Bow to me.”

Roden did, as he’d have to do. I only straightened up taller. She clearly noticed but moved on, addressing me. “I will not thank you for saving my life yesterday. Roden saved me. My mother saved me. You nearly got me killed.”

“And who are you again?” I tilted my head and suddenly smiled. “Now I know! Were you not in the theater recently? In that performance about the girl who pretended to be something other than what she truly was?” Now my smile fell. “I think you lack talent.”


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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