The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 94


Admittedly, that wasn’t my finest moment. But it gave me a second’s advantage.

I rolled back to my feet and continued running, only to be tackled by Roden, who punched my side. I grimaced and went still for a few seconds, until he whispered, “Is it your leg? Are you hurt?”

“Hardly.” I threw Roden’s weight off me, and in the same moment, one of the pirates surrounding us tossed his sword at my feet.

I looked over and saw Teagut motioning for me to pick it up, calling out, “You can pay for it later!” I nodded and grabbed the sword, swinging it in a wide circle, forcing Roden back.

When Roden fought strangers, he was always difficult to beat, for he was as fierce and talented an opponent as nearly anyone a warrior might encounter.

But it was different when he fought someone who knew him. Because Roden always followed the same pattern of attack, like a dance he’d learned once and rehearsed with every new battle.

Roden was fighting me precisely according to that dance.

Which meant I knew where he’d be next, and how he’d get there. I waited for him with every new step, every turn and strike and rotation. And when I could move fast enough, I worked in a swipe ahead of his movements. Nothing that would leave any glaring scars, but enough that I knew I could win.

But I would not.

The pirates had gathered in a circle around us, many of them shouting my name. But there were shouts for Roden as well, and those were the calls that echoed loudest in my ears.

He needed me to lose.

I clashed with Roden’s sword again. “How far into the grave will I have to trust you?”

“Further than this.” With a frown, he blocked my sword with his, then twisted around, aiming for my leg.

“Again?” I shouted.

He moved to kick the wound, but before he did, I stepped back and dropped my sword, then raised my hands.

“Do you surrender?” Roden asked, keeping his sword raised.

I sharpened my glare at him, forcing words from my mouth that went against every instinct within me. “I suppose I have … lost.”

“Will you go to your knees?”

“No.”

“Fair enough.” Roden turned to the pirates. “I am your king now, and we will honor our oaths to the Monarch. If you cannot do that, then until I am able to deal with you, you are banished to the north side of Belland.”

Someone from the back called out, “The uninhabited region? Nothing is there but rocks and water.”

Teagut stepped directly in front of Roden. “I’d rather be there for a lifetime than serve a Prozarian for an hour. Or you.” Teagut frowned at me next, clearly disappointed that I had lost the duel. He retrieved his sword and followed the rest of the pirates down the beach, the lot of them grumbling and cursing the entire way.

When the last of them had gone, Wilta smiled admiringly at Roden. “That was impressive.”

I rolled my eyes. That had not been at all impressive.

“I know that —” Roden stopped midsentence. I turned to see him standing taller, his eyes widened. “Darius, don’t do this.”

“Step away from my brother.” Darius entered the beach from behind a clump of trees where he must have been hidden. His sword was against Roden’s back and his tone was as commanding as I’d ever heard it. In a louder voice, he said to Wilta, “I have a proposal for you.”

My shoulders slumped. Darius meant well, but whatever Roden’s plan had been, Darius had just ruined it. And now he was ruining this as well. I gritted my teeth at him. “We are not bargaining with them.”

“Yes, we are.” Darius turned his attention to Wilta. “Jaron made you an offer earlier, and I suggest you accept it. Surrender now and you may leave in peace. Any delay will cost you dearly.”

Wilta didn’t even blink. “Have you considered what you could lose right now?”

I followed her gaze toward the harbor, where Captain Strick was standing beside Amarinda on the beach. Amarinda’s hands were bound and her hair hung loose around her shoulders, and even from here I could see that she was shaking with fear.


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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