The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 109

I was wrong.

That evening, a large fire was built on the beach. The platform that Wilta had used for her own glory had been expanded and raised high enough for all those who had assembled to see their new king. Imogen and I were given a place in the front of rows of hundreds of people, who all arrived while singing what appeared to be an anthem for Belland.

Imogen slipped her hand into mine. “How do you feel about this?”

“Darius will be a great king here,” I replied. “But I will miss him.”

“He’s alive, Jaron.” Imogen kissed my cheek. “And somehow, so are you.”

With the setting of the sun, another moon would rise. It would be smaller than last night’s moon, at a degree’s difference in angle, and it would no longer be a reason to hold any people in captivity. Tonight, it would simply be something beautiful.

As soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, Trea stepped onto the platform. In words that sounded well practiced, she said, “Darius Hadranius Eckbert has lived among you for almost two years. He has worked at your side, fought at your side, and most recently, triumphed at your side. Welcome him now.”

Enthusiastic applause thundered around us as Darius climbed the steps to the platform. A long purple robe hung from his shoulders, trailing behind him as he entered the platform stage. He smiled and waved at the people, earning himself even more applause.

His sword was at his waist, and Trea said, “By authority given to me —”

“Stop!” With a kind smile, Darius leaned forward and whispered something in her ear. She immediately set down the crown and pillow, then exited down the back of the stage.

“What’s wrong?” Imogen asked.

I didn’t know. He didn’t look upset or uncertain, but he clearly was waiting for something.

A moment later, Trea touched my shoulder. “He wants it to be you.”

I stared at her, sure I could not have heard her correctly. “Me?”

I looked up at Darius, who had his eye on me. He smiled and motioned with his head that I should join him on the platform.

“Hurry, everyone’s waiting!” Imogen pushed me along with Trea, who walked me around the rear of the platform.

“It should be you.” Trea spoke as proudly as any mother would in such a moment. “Go and make your brother a king.”

I walked up the platform, unsure of how to greet a people who were not my own. I didn’t know if they’d respect anything I said up here, or if they’d even listen. It seemed more fitting to have another Bellander do this.

I stood beside Darius and the crowd went silent. I looked first to Imogen, silently vowing yet again to one day fully deserve her. From here, I scanned the crowd, seeing rows of faces that had been through far too much over the past month, faces that had lost hope once and then had it returned to them again. Faces that had a future now, and Darius to lead them.

“People of the great country of Belland,” I said, hoping my voice would carry to the farthest rows, “this is a glorious day for us all! Today you celebrate your freedom, and a new beginning. For these new ambitions, you have a king who will serve you, and make possible what you had only dreamed of in the past.”

I glanced at Darius. “But this new king is also my older brother. He was always the one to pick me up when I fell, to warn me of dangers I had not yet discovered, to teach me the wisdom I had yet to learn for myself. All my life, I thought if I could only be more like him, then I would somehow find the best in myself. All my life I have fallen short of that goal, and yet he believed in me anyway, and gave me hope of being a better person tomorrow. He will do the same for you. Tomorrow will come, and when it does, Belland will always have a friend in Carthya across the sea.”

I paused to look at my brother. “Kneel, Darius.”

He did and lowered his head. Using his sword, I tapped him on the right shoulder, then the left. “Darius Hadranius Eckbert, you were born to be a prince, but you will live forevermore as a king.” I held his sword flat on my hands to return it to him, and once he took it, I picked up the crown from its pillow and placed it on Darius’s bowed head, then announced, “Rise, Darius, king of Belland.”

Darius stood to even more enthusiastic applause than before. He smiled and waved to his people as they fell to their knees. Then he lifted his arms, inviting them to stand again and to be silent.

I stepped back. These would be his first words to Belland as their king, and I had no interest in being in his way. So I lowered my head, as he had done before, and stepped to the far corner of the platform as he spoke.

“We have just come through a difficult time,” he said. “And perhaps other hard times will come, but we will greet them with new eyes. For we have learned so much …” His voice seemed to choke. “… I have learned so much in these past few days. If we have any hope for a future, if there is a tomorrow and we greet it as a free people, then it is only for one reason. My people, I am your king, but today, I ask you to kneel to my brother, my hero, and to my king. Hail Jaron Artolius Eckbert, the Ascendant King of Carthya. Hail his new title in our lands, Giver of Freedom.”

Darius turned back to me with his hand outstretched, inviting me forward. I shook my head at him, but he gestured again for me to join him at the front of the platform.

As I did, he went to one knee, something I barely could comprehend. One by one, each row of onlookers followed his lead. Their heads were not bowed, as they had been for Darius. Instead, they looked up at me with smiling faces, hopeful faces. From somewhere in the crowd, someone began to sing. Soon, every person as far as I could see was singing.

Darius stood again and slung an arm over my shoulder. “You know this song.”

I did. Carthya’s anthem had not been sung since our parents were alive. In their absence, I had never wanted to hear it. But I did now. I’d forgotten how beautiful the song was.

Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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