Then, with the snap of twigs beneath someone’s foot behind me, I understood what Darius meant. The red-haired man had said they were only distractions. The five Prozarians had not come to take me; they had come to lure me out of the house. And Darius must have known it.
I turned in time to see Wilta step from behind the trees. Her eyes were wet with tears and the sleeve of her dress was ripped. “I swear I didn’t tell them anything.”
I nodded back at her, even as Captain Strick emerged from behind the trees with the same crewmen who had been with her on the ship, and Roden behind them all, holding a torch.
The captain said, “I let you go earlier tonight only because I knew where I’d find you again.”
I looked at Wilta. “You must have told her. Nobody else knew I’d be here tonight.”
“It wasn’t her.” The captain smiled up at Darius. “You promised to give me answers by morning, and you kept your promise. How did you know that your brother would come here?”
Darius glanced over at me. “I know him.”
“Apparently better than I know you.” My gut twisted in anticipation of whatever the captain might do to me next, but that was nothing compared to the wounds Darius had just inflicted. I continued to stare at him, hurt, angry, disappointed. I was flooded with so many emotions, I wished it were possible to feel nothing at all.
“This is your last chance,” Darius said. “Give me the throne.”
“As you are now, I will never allow you a minute upon the Carthyan throne.”
“Then I already know you are guilty. You killed to take the throne, and you must die to surrender it.”
Strick nodded at her soldiers. “Take him.”
Roden stepped forward with the others, and our eyes locked in a steady glare as they searched me for weapons and bound my hands. Finally, I asked him, “Was that a trap, to lure me onto the ship?”
He only frowned and said, “I warned you that I would interfere with your plans. And I have.”
At first, the imprisonment hadn’t been so bad. The single cell was at the far end of a larger underground room, which kept it at a manageable temperature, and a quick inspection showed no sign of rats. The worst news was that in addition to my lost sword, the few weapons I’d had before were also gone, again, and there was nothing I could do about any of it. Exhausted as I was, I had lain on the wood bunk in the corner of the cell and immediately fallen asleep.
It was light outside when I awoke, and I sat up, expecting to be greeted by someone ready to threaten me, or curse me, or with some luck, feed me. But nothing happened, no one entered, and after a while, I began to wonder if I’d been forgotten entirely.
Which meant that hours later, I was already at the edge of my temper when two men entered the cell room and walked down the carved rock steps to where I was being held. The first man who entered was tall and narrow, and I stood to prepare for whatever trouble he might bring, but was surprised to recognize the second, wider man to come through the door. “Lump! I hoped to see you again.”
His forehead wrinkled, suspicious. “Why?”
“Isn’t it obvious? You never told me your real name.”
“We’re not here for that.” His thick hands curled into fists.
“Ah. The last time I saw you, the captain wouldn’t let you harm me.” I clicked my tongue. “May I assume those orders have changed?”
He grinned. “That is correct.”
Although we were still separated by bars, I backed up. “I’m changing those orders again. You will not touch me, and you will tell me where Amarinda is being held. As a reward for your help, I’ll leave you alive when I conquer Belland.”
“Do you think I’m stupid?”
“I considered the possibility. Prove me wrong and help me. Please, Lump.”
“Why would I help you?” His voice grew colder. “I’ve been waiting for this since the moment you escaped the Shadow Tide.”
“Stand back farther from the door,” the narrow man ordered.
I remained exactly where I was. I’d been through this often enough to know that things never ended well for me, whether I cooperated or not.
The narrow man unlocked my cell door, but Lump was the first to push through it. He grabbed me and speared a fist into my gut.
I remained crumpled over until I found my breath again, then straightened up, only to be on the receiving end of another swipe to my jaw that did send me to the ground, where I stayed. Lump didn’t seem like the kicking type, so it seemed safer down here.