“We’ll leave Belland,” Wilta agreed. “Stop destroying our ships!”
“You will never step foot in Carthya, nor in any of the countries with whom we have treaties.”
“How will we know which countries are forbidden to us?”
“Should we repeat the lesson on countries that sound like your name? Stay inside your own borders. To replace the pirate’s ship you sank, the Shadow Tide is mine now, which leaves you only one ship. Give me your answer, or you will swim away from here.”
Wilta’s shoulders slumped as she turned to her mother. “Call our people back to the ship. We surrender.”
Captain Strick glared at me unflinchingly, even as she sent Lump to the beach with orders for an immediate departure. I hardly cared. I was good at glaring too.
“There’s one more thing,” I said.
Strick sighed. “What?”
“I want every Prozarian weapon. In exchange for the weapons you stole from me.”
“No, Wilta,” her mother warned.
“What other choice do we have?” Wilta snapped. She walked to the edge of the overlook, held out her arms for the attention of everyone on the beach, and shouted down, “My people, surrender your weapons!”
She bent to her knees, then released her sword and a long knife that had been at her waist, letting them clang to the ground far below. Her mother followed her example, then the two of them left the overlook, arm in arm. Wilta’s head was bowed in defeat. Her mother’s head was not.
The Prozarians on the beach must have followed their example, because that was when, for the first time, I heard the voices I had been almost desperate for. From the beach, Roden’s voice rose up first. “Pirates, collect those weapons. They will serve as payment for our time here.”
I cocked my head. We could negotiate that later, along with who would keep the title of pirate king.
“Mott, have you seen Darius?” That was Trea’s voice, arriving on the beach.
“Where is Jaron?” I grinned, relieved to hear Imogen’s voice. Equally relieved that she was asking about me.
I started toward the overlook, only to hear Mercy cry, “Curse you for this, Jaron!”
I turned and saw him racing toward me, a knife in his hands. I raised my sword but wasn’t fast enough to lift it to the proper angle. Before he reached me, Darius attacked him from behind. Mercy attempted to twist around and stab Darius instead, but when he rolled away, his legs fell into the river. Mercy continued squirming, throwing his weight away from Darius. He wormed free, only realizing too late that the current was carrying him toward the cave opening. He clutched at some grasses on the shore, but his grip was slipping.
“You are the son of a traitor!” Mercy growled. “How dare you challenge us?”
“I am a king.” Darius held out his hand to drag Mercy out of the water. “Swear to never harm my brother again.”
Mercy only spat at the proffered hand, and in the same moment, the clump of grass broke off in his fist. Seconds later, we heard his body splash into the water far below.
Darius crouched low, resting his arms on his legs, head bowed until Amarinda touched his shoulder. He smiled up at her, but immediately turned back to me, meeting my eyes with an expression of relief.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
He nodded back. “You already saved me. I owed you this.”
Unaware of what had just happened, Fink called up, “Jaron, are you up there? You need to see this!”
I took a slow breath, then Amarinda joined me on one side and Darius on the other, and together we walked to the edge of the overlook, where Wilta and her mother had just knelt in defeat. There, I caught my breath in my throat. The Prozarians on the beach were on their knees in surrender. Pirates stood among them with the collected swords and knives in their arms.
From below, the Bellanders must have joined the pirates in the fight, and they were the first to see me. Someone pointed up and shouted, “Hail to the Giver of Freedom, and brother of our king.”
“Brother to a king,” I murmured. I smiled over at Darius and genuinely meant it. I had my brother back. That would always be enough.
I was alone on the cave overlook for some time, warmed by the rising sun. I remained there long after the Prozarians had begun their evacuation, after the pirates had loaded the Shadow Tide with the weapons Roden had allotted to them, and long after the Bellanders had returned to their homes in peace.
I stood at the edge of the opening into the cave, staring down at the rising tide, waves crashing against the walls before flowing back out to sea. The Prozarians were leaving, but with icy hearts and bitter threats about when they would see me again. I was not foolish enough to doubt them. The consequences for what had happened here would be severe. To me. To Darius. To all of Carthya, and perhaps even beyond our borders. I would have to be ready.