“I am!” I looked back and saw Teagut, who winked at me, as if that favor would be free.
“I am too!” another pirate echoed, and with that, the pirates began to stir, which caused some confusion for the Prozarians, who were either becoming angry or wondering if they too felt a sudden scratch in their throats.
Captain Strick’s solution was not what I had hoped for. “String him up!” she ordered Roden, pointing to me.
“Stay back, I’ll do it myself.” I reached up to the ropes above me and wound my hands through them, creating a slipknot that tightened when I pulled my hands downward.
Roden came forward with the whip in his hands and reddened eyes. “Please listen to me now. You cannot win here. Return what you’ve stolen from the captain and maybe this will go easier for you.”
That couldn’t possibly be true. With an icy glare, I said, “You are still the captain of my guard. Will you protect me now?”
He shook his head. “I tried to protect you. That’s all I’ve trie
d to do since the moment I agreed to be your captain. You don’t know how hard you’ve made things for me.”
If he had known how thin my temper was, he wouldn’t have said that. “How hard I made what?”
“Everything! I spent week after week thinking of ways to protect you from yourself, knowing it wouldn’t be long before you came to us with some harebrained idea that I’d have to somehow rescue you from.”
“I wouldn’t need a rescue now if I’d had your loyalty before.”
“This is not a test of loyalty.”
“It is, Roden, believe me. It is.”
“I have to be loyal to Carthya now, to the true king.” He glanced back at the captain. “That’s my only choice.”
I chuckled at that. “Are you serious? Endless weeks of planning and all you came up with was treason?”
“It’s not treason if you’re no longer the king!” Roden shouted. “Please, go to your knees!”
“Listen to me, Roden. Whoever is claiming to be Darius, it is not my brother.”
Roden raised the whip. “Please, return what you’ve stolen.” He stepped closer and lowered his voice. “I can still try to get you off this ship, but I can’t get Fink off too. If you don’t give her what she wants, she’ll tell me to go after him.”
I kept my eyes fixed on Roden. “Touch him and I’ll cripple this ship.”
His voice was louder this time. “Give her what she wants, Jaron.”
“Bring me the boy.” The captain’s long finger pointed at Fink, but her wicked smile was sent to me.
My words to Roden had not been a threat. They were a promise. I took a step forward, then slipped my hands free from the knot, snatched the knife from Roden’s belt, and in a backward motion, sliced through the taut rope nearest to my hand. It was attached to a pulley high overhead within easy reach of the carpenter’s tools I’d stashed in the crow’s nest the night before. Free of their rope, the tools fell to the deck, causing an adjoining rope to whisk Fink equally high into the air, his arm now suspended over his head.
Roden growled and dove forward, knocking me to the deck, flat on my back. “You think that helped him? You make everything worse. You always make everything worse!”
I kicked back, landing my knee into his chest hard enough to force him off me, then I rolled again to get on top of him, placing that same knee over his right arm. He struggled against me with his left arm, landing a few more hits on my side than I would’ve liked. But it was all worthwhile when his right wrist finally maneuvered into position so that I could pull the manacles out from beneath the capstan and snap the opened manacle into place, fastening him to the deck.
He roared with anger. But the effort to get Roden into position had also distracted me, and I would pay a price for it.
Searing pain shot from the center of my thigh in all directions. I looked down and saw he had somehow gotten hold of a knife with his left hand and plunged it into my leg. Willing myself not to pass out, I focused a glare at him. “That was a big mistake.”
“Jaron, I’m sorry. I never meant to —”
“What are you waiting for?” Strick cried. “Get him!”
Fink remained directly overhead, which was only half our escape. I grabbed a second rope fastened to a bolt on the deck, wound my hand around it, and held on tight.
But when I went for my knife, it had fallen out of my reach. Strick was already racing toward it, but Wilta darted between us, grabbed the knife, and set it in my hands.