Wilta turned to Darius. “Give me the real lens.”
“I don’t have it.” He spoke convincingly, but I knew him well enough to know when he was lying. Darius had brought the scope with him, so I knew he had the lens here with him too.
Wilta absolutely could not get the second lens. No matter the cost to … My gut twisted as I made my decision. No matter the cost to me, I knew what I had to do.
With my heart pounding, I said, “I have the lens. But it’s hidden.”
“Where?” Mercy asked.
I rolled my eyes. “If I told you that, what would have been the purpose in hiding it? Honestly, you’re supposed to be smart and that’s your question?”
He and Lump advanced on me and I turned to run, hoping to draw them away from Darius and give him time t
o escape. But after my fight with Roden, I was slower than usual, and Lump easily reached me, kicking me from behind and forcing me to my knees.
The captain caught up to us and loomed over me. “You’ve wondered what I want from you, Jaron? Well, this is it. You on your knees before me.”
My hands balled into fists, which I pressed into the sand to force myself back to my feet. “That is not what you ever wanted from me, nor is this about the lens, or the trial. I am here for one reason only: revenge for what happened to Edgar.”
Strick drew in a sharp breath. “How do you know that name?”
“Edgar was in the orphanage with me, the only Prozarian boy I ever knew. Was he your son?”
“Do not say his name! You know nothing about him!”
“I was drawn to him because he looked so much like Darius. There were differences, of course, but nothing that Conner couldn’t remedy with some hair dyes, the right clothing. The effects of death would take care of any other details. He disappeared from the orphanage a couple of weeks before Conner came to take me as well.” I drew in a deep breath, aware of how devastating my words might be. “I think he must have been the boy who was chosen to take Darius’s place in death, so that Darius could be sent here.”
Strick’s eyes moistened. “We followed Edgar’s trail as far as the orphanage. The keeper there, Mrs. Turbeldy, told me that Conner took him.”
“Why was Edgar so far from home?”
In contrast to her mother’s obvious sadness, Wilta’s voice lacked any hint of emotion. “Once we had the first lens, my father and Edgar immediately began a search for the second lens. Father found it in Avenia, but he had become corrupted by greed and envy. One night he told Edgar that they only had to wait until the plague took Mother and me, and then they could return and claim the scope and first lens for themselves, along with all of my power. Edgar immediately sent me a letter, detailing the betrayal. He hoped I’d offer forgiveness, but he’d given me no choice. I ended my traitorous father’s life.”
Strick picked up the story. “Edgar still had the second lens and was afraid Wilta would do the same to him, so he entered the orphanage to hide.” She sniffed and looked away briefly. For the first time since we’d met, I didn’t see a ship’s captain, or a warrior. I simply saw a mother mourning her child.
Gently, I said, “When Conner took Edgar, he probably never expected to find that lens. Edgar must have told him about the first lens too, and about Belland, which is why Conner sent Darius here.” I let that sink in, then added, “He never deserved such a fate.”
Strick straightened her spine. “No, he did not. But someone must pay the price. After some effort, we were able to trace the second lens here. Darius was our first target, but as we talked, we realized you must have worked with Conner to obtain the throne, so you also became the focus of my revenge.”
“Edgar was my friend, Captain.”
“And he was my son! Who unwillingly gave his life for Carthya; therefore, Carthya must sacrifice itself for him.”
Wilta stepped forward. “Once we have all three lenses, the scope will lead us to the greatest of all treasures, and once again, the Prozarians will become a nation of unlimited power. We will crush Carthya beneath our boots.”
“Those boots?” I angled my head. “Your boots do not worry us.”
“They should.” And by the tone of her voice, I knew her threat was real. The corner of her lip twitched before she added, “Where is that second lens?”
Darius had been standing nearby, watching us. He said, “Let’s give it to them, Jaron. They’ll get it anyway.”
My eyes misted as my pulse began to race. I wasn’t hiding my fears nearly as well as I wanted. But I managed to whisper, “Never.”
At a glance from Wilta, Mercy picked up the same branch I had used earlier to fight Roden. He made a slow circle around me, stopping behind me to swat the branch against my legs. I gasped with the sudden sting and fell to all fours.
Strick leaned over me. “Where is the second lens? Maybe your brother will tell us.”
I gritted my teeth and stood. “Ask me instead.”