Teagut soon arrived at the overlook, carrying a large bag of coins in his arms. “There’s a man on the beach who says he goes by the name of Lump now. He owes you payment for his lost wager.”
Teagut dropped the bag on the ground, but I said, “Everything you can carry in one hand is payment for the sword you lent me. Take the rest, for equal distribution among the pirates.”
“What about payment for pulling you out of that lava tube?”
“Equal shares, Teagut.”
“But I … very well.” Teagut hesitated again. “Earlier this afternoon when Roden challenged you to become pirate king, he didn’t truly win. Jaron, you are our king. When you’re ready, we’ll be waiting to carry you back home.”
After he left, I sat on the edge of the overlook, facing the sea. The ships
that I had exploded were in various stages of sinking, tilting, and falling apart. The pirates were salvaging from them as well. The Prozarians would return home with almost nothing other than the clothes on their backs, and most seemed relieved to even have that much.
I had never wanted to bring so much devastation upon them. I wished they would have listened sooner than they did.
I looked behind me and started to my feet, but Imogen was quicker to sit at my side. Her wet hair was neatly combed and rebraided, and I couldn’t imagine her any more beautiful than she was right now. I still didn’t know if I had lost her, or even if I had any chance with her.
When we had last seen each other at the hut, I knew my words had hurt her. Half my time on this cliff had been spent trying to figure out a way to repair things between us. I had come up with nothing other than to conclude that on my best day, I still did not deserve her. I worried that she had finally figured that out too, or maybe she had known it all along.
I quickly said, “It is my life, Imogen.” She turned away, but I took her hand in mine, adding, “There is a part of us that is only my life. It is full of flaws and mistakes and stupidity, nothing that would ever describe you.” She lowered her head, and I knew she was listening now. I folded my fingers between hers. “Another part of us is our life, and it is beautiful because of you. Imogen, you are my purpose, the reason I open my eyes each morning. I close my eyes each night only in hopes of dreaming of you. Every day that my heart still beats, it is because of you.” For the first time, I looked at her and saw tears rimming her eyes.
The first tear spilled onto her cheek. “You really do say the worst possible things at the worst possible times … but not always. Sometimes you know what to say to make me love you more than I did before.”
I cocked my head, an excuse to get closer to her. “Please tell me this is one of those occasions.”
She reached for me and leaned in for a kiss, one that was too quickly interrupted by Fink, who had come up behind us. “Really? You’re doing that here? The whole beach can see you.”
“Go tell them to look somewhere else,” I said.
Fink folded his arms and sat beside Imogen. “You’re only saying that to get rid of me.”
“On the contrary, I’ve never been happier to see you.” He was the one I’d worried about most since reaching Belland. “You were never meant to cause one of those explosions.”
Fink smiled proudly. “I told Imogen I could do it, and I did.”
I squeezed her hand. I may have loaded the gunpowder in the cargo hold with Fink, but while on the fishing boat, Imogen was the one who figured out how to make it work.
It began with an understanding that everyone would need a way onto the ships. That was why Tobias had gathered them in a place where they’d easily be found, and why Imogen had threatened an uprising to ensure they were separated onto the various ships. Once the ships were emptied to fight the pirates, the rest was easy. They watched for my signal, lit a fuse, and escaped the ship before the flame reached the gunpowder crate.
I glanced over at Imogen. “You really are brilliant, you know.”
She beamed back at me. “It may take a lifetime for you to fully appreciate that.”
I leaned toward her again, only to catch Mott and Trea in my side vision as they came around the bend, hand in hand.
“Will you sit with us awhile?” Imogen asked. I groaned. I wanted to kiss Imogen properly, and I was tired of interruptions.
It appeared Mott and Trea didn’t want to sit with us either, and perhaps for similar reasons. After glancing at Mott, Trea said, “That’s very kind, but it’s been so long since Mott and I were together, we’d like the time alone. Maybe for dancing.”
I preferred that they were alone too. I’d never seen Mott in love and had no interest in watching him dance. I couldn’t even comprehend what that would look like.
“I have a request,” he added. “I would like to remain here on Belland for a while. Trea wants to help these people rebuild, and I want to help her. The work will be good for me, Jaron. It’ll strengthen the old injuries, from the war.”
He continued, “Besides, I don’t need your permission. I’m simply telling you my plans.”