The time had come for them to use their strongest weapon against Darius, and it was clearly working. He immediately lowered his sword. Without his notice, Roden took it from his hands, pausing in front of me long enough to whisper, “My idea would have worked.”
“I know that,” I replied.
“Give me a reason to save her life,” Wilta said. “And it had better be good.”
Darius eyed me. “Sorry, Jaron, but I can’t put her at risk.”
I knew that too. Still, a knot formed in my gut as he reached into a pocket of his long coat and withdrew the satin bag containing the Devil’s Scope. With his gaze still locked on Amarinda, he said, “Let me speak to her.”
Wilta took the scope and pressed it against her chest. “We hoped you would say that.”
The distance between where we had fought and where Amarinda stood on the beach wasn’t far, but the walk there seemed to take hours, the gap between us remaining as wide apart as ever until suddenly it wasn’t and we stood facing one another. Captain Strick and Amarinda were on one side. I was on the other side with Darius, Roden, and Wilta.
Amarinda looked tired and worn, but she didn’t appear to be injured, and in fact, her eyes brightened considerably once she saw Darius. I couldn’t read her expression as she stared at him, though I was sure I recognized disbelief, shyness, and maybe some sadness too. I wondered if love was there as well. That was all I saw in Darius.
They stopped short of being able to touch each other, but continued to stare until Amarinda said, “I thought you were —”
“I’m not.” Darius licked his lips, clearly nervous. “I’ve thought about you every day since I left.”
She lowered her eyes. “This isn’t the time for that, Darius.”
“Perhaps not, but I wanted you to know.”
He stepped forward, but Wilta extended her sword between them, forcing Darius back. She said, “Now that we’re all together, I see that there’s a problem. Or rather, three problems. You three represent the royalty of Carthya. If the Prozarians are going to destroy Carthya — and we will destroy it now — then all of you must die.”
Darius crossed to the point of her sword. “None of that is necessary. We made agreements before —”
“And we will never do so again.” I refused to look at Darius as I spoke. “Your time is running out, Wilta. Surrender now, while you can.”
Under his breath, I heard Darius mutter my name, followed by his whispered, “Stop.”
Wilta turned her sword to me. “You will be the last to die, after watching every person you love go to their deaths, after watching your country fall in flames.”
“Ignore my brother.” Darius put himself between me and the sword. “Mine is the only death that will matter. If there must be a punishment, take me. I am Carthya’s king.”
Strick laughed, a cruel, biting laugh. She locked eyes with Darius to be sure he heard every word.
“You still think you are the king?” she sneered. “My sweet boy, you are not even a prince. You are the child of a nursemaid, son of a traitor. There is not a drop of royal blood in your veins.”
“That’s not true.” He shook his head, but tension filled his voice. “You’re only saying that because you don’t want me on the throne.”
Her smile grew cold. “On the contrary, until you chose sides with Jaron, we wanted you on the throne very much. Not because you were easy to bend, but because when the time came, we knew how we’d break you.”
Darius looked over at me, a thousand questions in his eyes. He wanted to deny everything Strick had said, but it seemed that something deep inside wouldn’t allow it. As the reality of her words set in, I could almost see his heart shredding. I could only stare back at him with a slight nod to confirm what he could not ask.
Wilta said to Roden, “Take the princess to the prison. I have further business with these two … brothers.”
“Let me stay.” Amarinda turned to Wilta. “If I must die with them, I should remain here with them.”
Though he wouldn’t look at her, Darius said, “You’ll be safer in the prison. Please go with Roden.”
Unable to meet Darius’s eyes, Amarinda looked at me, and I gestured with my head that she should leave. She nodded sadly and left, with Roden at her side.
When they had gone, Wilta’s attention shifted to Darius. “Now that we have the scope, let’s discuss the second lens.”
“I gave it to you, as we agreed,” Darius protested.
“Did you?” At a signal from Captain Strick, both Lump and Mercy came forward, with Mercy holding the second lens that Darius had given them last night. He held it up to the light. “I admit, this is a good forgery.” He snapped the lens in half, then hurled it into the sea. “So good that when we find the Bellander who made it, we’ll see that they never make glass again.”