The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 29

That bit of information might easily be worth thirty coins. I smiled at him, saying, “When I fight, I don’t generally leave any marks. You might look just the same as you do now.”

“It’s a pleasure to have been defeated by you. Come back with a few coins, and I’ll see that this deck is cleared when you return.”

I crept past him toward the open hatch and silently descended into the lowest point on the ship, the cargo hold. It was dark down there, and a favorite place on a ship for rats. I hated rats.

Packed into the bulk of this deck were the usual supplies: barrels of water, crates of grain and crackers and dried meat. But the far end of the ship contained a gunpowder magazine. This was a copper-lined area strictly forbidden to any sailors who had not been trained in the safe handling and storage of gunpowder. A single spark could sink the entire ship, and for that reason, most ships banned any use of open flames on the deck, but especially anywhere near the magazine.

However, I felt fairly comfortable in entering, mostly because after accidentally exploding plenty of things in Carthya, I’d

learned how to handle gunpowder. Once, during a regents’ meeting, I had noticed that other than Harlowe, my chief regent, the entire assembled group was seated in the corner farthest away from me.

“I have bathed,” I told them, though apparently, that wasn’t the problem.

Mistress Kitcher spoke for the rest of the group, explaining that they didn’t feel safe in the same room as me, ever since I had begun — in her own words — exploding pieces of Carthya into thin air, one statue at a time. I thought that was unfair criticism. I’d only exploded one statue, and it was entirely by accident. The other targets of my experiments may have been fountains, monuments, and the occasional empty building. But there had only been one statue.

However, I had no desire to explode anything on this ship, at least not while people I cared about were still on it. So I entered carefully to look around. On the bulkhead to my left, three shelves contained rows of sealed tubes of gunpowder. In the center of the magazine was the prize of our trade with Bymar, the five crates of weapons. Regardless of why the captain wanted me or Amarinda, her possession of these weapons was highly dangerous to Carthya, to Belland, and to any country she might target next. I could not allow her to have them.

Nor could I destroy them here without sinking this ship. But I pried the crates open one by one, staring at them until at last I figured out a way to turn the theft of these weapons to my advantage. I reached for the extra stocking that I had found yesterday in the room that Roden now occupied, removed my boots, and pulled off my own stockings with a plan in mind. But opening the fourth crate shifted my attention.

The others had been entirely full — that was the agreement with Bymar. But this crate had a small gap in one corner. I couldn’t imagine that Bymar would have cheated us, and maybe the Prozarians had removed a few weapons to test them, but there was another possibility. The gap in those weapons had just enough room to …

“Fink!” I hissed the name louder than I should have, but I already knew he was here. “Fink, show yourself now!”

A full ten seconds passed before I heard a rustling sound outside the magazine. I left the room in time to see Fink emerge from behind two barrels and a stack of extra blankets.

He looked terrified, and when I started toward him, he began backing up. “Don’t be angry. I needed a place to hide. You would have done the same thing.”

I grabbed him and held him by the shoulders. “Do you know how dangerous this room is?” Then I pulled him to me and wrapped my arms around him, digging my fingers into his back. Until now, I hadn’t realized how afraid I had been for him. “Why are you here? I’d hoped you were on the boat that Imogen escaped with —”

“What boat?”

I stood back from him. “The lifeboat that escaped the Red Serpent. There was a figure inside made to look like me.”

“I heard them talking about it. Imogen planned to release the lifeboat, then Mott was supposed to hide her within the walls, just like Amarinda.” His brows pressed together. “I know they brought Amarinda here, I’ve heard them talk about her. But where is Imogen?”

I pushed a hand through my hair. “I don’t know. Are you sure she didn’t get on that lifeboat?”

“I don’t know what happened, to either her or to Mott. I was busy looking for my own place to hide.”

“You were supposed to hide in the walls too!”

He frowned. “And if I had and they sank the ship, where would I be?”

I must have had a visible reaction to his words, because he quickly apologized, adding, “Imogen wouldn’t have stayed hidden once the ship took cannon fire. She would have escaped. Mott too.” He paused while I collected my thoughts, then added, “I chose the crates because I knew they’d bring them here. I figured at some point, you’d need my help.” He pointed to my wrist, still wrapped in the bandages. “I could have helped prevent that.”

I pulled my wrist behind me. “Do you think having you here helps me, that it helps anything? I’m having trouble keeping myself safe — how am I supposed to do that for you?”

“I’ve stayed safe this entire trip. I’ve found food on my own, or at least, I did at first. Tobias will help me now.”

I stopped to stare at him. “Tobias knows you’re here?”

“Shortly after we boarded, I snuck into the sick bay for food. He caught me there.”

“How did you get into the sick bay?”

Fink pointed out the window. “It was simple. I crawled out and grabbed a rope that was hanging low and used it to climb into the lifeboat, then pulled myself up to the nearest porthole to his room and snuck in. Like I said, simple.” He drew in a quick breath. “Tobias caught me a few minutes before he went to the deck to bring you the lodestone. I found that, by the way, down here. I just didn’t know what it was. So I suppose I helped you in that way too, huh?”

“Tobias knew you were here and failed to say anything to me?” I still couldn’t believe my own words.

Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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