The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 14

I reached the center post of the ship, with Prozarians on one side of me and pirates on the other. This was a relatively minor punishment for what had been a show of major dis-respect to the captain, and I knew I should have felt lucky that it was no worse.

Yet I did not. The behavior of the Prozarians felt personal. Even now as they glared at me, I felt their hatred like fire on my flesh, and I could not understand that. There was nothing I’d done to them, nothing I could have done.

I looked the other way, to the pirates, and saw in them disappointment, or defeat, as if they had expected something better to come from my speech. As if they were thinking I had won a major war six months ago, so why couldn’t I have found a way to free them now?

I grabbed the first rung of the ladder, then stopped and turned back to the captain. “Have I wronged you in some way?”

She frowned at me. “If you have, confess now and things may go better for you on this journey.”

Tempting as her offer was, I replied, “You misunderstood me, Captain. I meant that if I have not wronged you yet, then I still have time to do it.”

She pursed her lips and began to say something, but I

was already climbing, with Roden directly behind me.

I rolled into the crow’s nest, then held out my hands for Roden. He fastened the first chain around my wrists and in a low voice said, “I know how you will fight this. I can help you.”

“She will suspect your loyalties —”

“She won’t know.”

“You can’t take that chance. Whatever she orders, follow it the best that you can.”

“And what if she orders me to come against you as hard as I can?”

I sighed. “I’ll have to come back at you … as hard as I can.” The next words were difficult to say. “If you remain on her side, in the end, you will have to lose. There is no other way.”

“I know.” When I held out my other hand for him to bind into the manacles, he said, “It begins here, Jaron. She may send someone to check on you, so I’ve got to do this right.” He took the second link of chains and fastened it to the rail of the crow’s nest itself, preventing me from climbing down later tonight.

I glanced at Roden, who shrugged and mouthed an apology again. I mouthed something back at him too, though it was hardly an apology.

He said, “Stay alive up here. It will be a rough night.” He started down once more, then paused for the last time to say, “You are my king, Jaron. You are always my king.”

The rough night ahead didn’t worry me. It was the rough few days ahead that were making my stomach churn.

“You are always my friend,” I echoed, though he was no longer around to hear me.

No one was around. I was completely on my own now.

It was time to get to work.

It only took the first three minutes after Roden had left to free myself of the manacles. The most challenging part had been to slide a thin metal pin from my belt into my fingers without dropping it through the gaps in the wood. I had been placed in manacles a few times before and had determined never to be controlled by them again, so Mott had designed this pin, to be hidden within the liner of my belt. No one but he and I knew it existed, and that was how I intended for it to remain. I stuck the pin into the lock of the manacles and wiggled it until I felt something turn. Within seconds I was free.

Below, the captain had begun shouting orders, assigning one Prozarian to every pirate, with the understanding that one partner would pay for any violation committed by the other. Most were assigned to go belowdecks, where new bunks were supposed to be placed, but Roden was the exception. He would return to the officer’s quarters where we had been locked earlier. I assumed he would be locked in at least for the rest of the night.

Very quickly, the deck was cleared, except for two vigils who would take the remaining shift of the night watch. Before long, I was thoroughly irritated with them.

They stayed exactly opposite each other as they rotated in a slow circle, keeping their eyes sharp and focused on their responsibilities. I cursed under my breath. My life was already complicated enough without them doing their jobs properly.

That didn’t mean I was helpless, however. There were a great number of ropes and pulleys, and sails, each with a specific function. I’d spent much of my time on the Red Serpent learning each of their purposes and how the draw on one rope affected another. Some were vital to keeping the ship on course and in line with the winds. Some were vital to me.

If I moved slowly enough, the dark night allowed me to pull in some of those ropes without being noticed. While I redid the knots, I listened to the men conversing below, and hoped to hear something useful. Most of it was the inane chatter of half-brained slugs, saying whatever filtered into their mouths to keep themselves awake. I cared for none of it, not the shifting direction of the wind, nor the fishing boat spotted in the distance, nor their assessment of the beautiful, scarlet-haired girl just revealed to be on board.

When they finally moved to a topic that might have caught my attention — the specific mission of the Shadow Tide — it turned out to be equally useless. Not even the Prozarians knew why the captain had brought them all this way, other than that I had always been the target. They didn’t even mention Amarinda.

In fact, there was only one thing they both agreed on: that I had little chance of making it to our destination alive. They were surprised I’d even lasted the first night on this ship.

So was I.

Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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