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The Runaway King, Page 2

Jennifer A. Nielsen

Page 2


  “The pirates gladly accepted me, and one day I’ll command them. They killed Jaron, and when it’s time, I’ll be the one to kill you. ”

  “You mean they failed to kill me. You joined up with failures. If I escaped them four years ago, why would you think I can’t do it again?”

  Now his face hardened. “I have orders for you. And I suggest you accept them. ”

  I’d take orders from the gong scourer before I obeyed him. But I was curious. “What do you want, then?” I asked.

  “I’ll be at sea for ten days. When we dock, you’ll be in Isel to surrender to me. If you do, we’ll leave Carthya untouched. But if you refuse, we’ll destroy Carthya to get to you. ”

  On their own, the Avenian pirates were destructive, but Carthya would ultimately prevail. So if this was their threat, then they must have allies. My mind immediately went to King Vargan. Maybe he wasn’t here to test me after all. It couldn’t be a coincidence that this attack was happening so soon after Vargan had walked through my gates.

  “I prefer the third option,” I said to Roden.

  “Which is?”

  “The pirates have nine days to surrender to me. But if they do it in eight, I’ll be more merciful. ”

  He laughed, as if I’d been joking. “Costumed like a king, but you’re still the same foolish orphan. There’s one more demand. The pirates want you to release Bevin Conner. ”

  I snorted again. “So he can join them too?”

  Roden shook his head. “I only know that someone wants him dead. Surely you couldn’t object to that. ”

  Surely I could. Conner was no friend of mine. He was my family’s murderer, and the reason pirates had tried to kill me four years earlier. During my short stay at his estate, he had been brutal to me. However, I would not turn him over to Roden any more than I intended to give myself up. “Conner’s death will do nothing for the pirates,” I said. “It’s only revenge they seek, for both our lives. ”

  “So what if it is? Your life is over, Sage. Accept your fate with some dignity and save your country. Or try to fight back and see us destroy everything. We’ll burn your farms, raze your towns, and kill everyone who stands between us and you. ” He stepped closer to me. “And if you try to hide, we’ll take the people you love and punish them for your cowardice. I know exactly whose death would hurt you most. ”

  “Maybe that’s your death,” I said. “Why don’t you go ahead and punish yourself right now?”

  With that, Roden lunged forward. I tried to grab his sword, but he kept hold of it and swiped down at me. It cut across my arm, and I yelped and released him. Shouts of my vigils echoed behind us. Finally. I wondered if my cries had disturbed their naps. It was about time they realized I was in trouble.

  Somewhere near us was my knife, but Roden kept swinging, forcing me to back away from him. With my next step, I tripped and fell into the fountain. He came to the fountain’s edge with the obvious intent to strike, but now my vigils had arrived to help. Without a shred of fear on his face, he began fighting whichever man was closest. I could only sit there, stunned to see how much progress Roden had made in his skills in such a short time. He cut through them as if they were little more threat than snowflakes.

  I jumped from the fountain and dove for the sword of one of my fallen vigils. At the same time, Roden wounded another man, who fell backward and tripped over me, knocking me to the ground and landing on my legs.

  Roden kicked away the sword I’d wanted. Then, with his blade at my throat, he crouched near me and said, “The decision is yours. Ten days to surrender, or we’ll destroy Carthya. ”

  I was only midway through one of my better curses at him when he raised the sword and crashed it down on my head.

  When I came to, Roden and his accomplice had made their escape. Considering the injury to my arm and the thunderous pounding in my head, it was probably a good thing they were gone. However, Roden’s threats still lingered in the air. I was lucky he had not carried out the worst threat while I lay unconscious.

  Wet from the fountain and bleeding from my arm, I stumbled into the courtyard to see another patrol of vigils running toward me. I singled out one of them and told him to give me his cloak, which he did. They said something about my needing a physician, but instead I asked he be brought into the gardens to attend to the men there. Then I ordered the vigils to keep everything as quiet as possible, at least until the funeral ended.

  With a hand clamped over the wound on my arm, I slowly walked to the chapel, where the funeral was underway. I should’ve gone to the funeral in the first place, rather than to the gardens. The attack on me would have happened anyway, eventually, but at least I’d have paid proper respect to my family. They deserved that much from me.

  I had always missed my family while I was on my own at the orphanage, but here at the castle, their absence haunted my every step. I desperately wanted to go inside where I could properly mourn for them. But looking as I did, that was impossible. So I huddled like a spy beneath a small open window to listen, hoping that wherever my family was, they would forgive me.

  Inside I heard the voice of Joth Kerwyn, my high chamberlain. He had been my father’s adviser and my grandfather’s adviser too. Possibly even further back. It seemed to me that Kerwyn had always existed. He was speaking of my brother, Darius, now, and I barely recognized the description of him. Darius was four years older than me, and had been about my age now when I last knew him. Still, if there was any truth to Kerwyn’s words, Carthya now had the lesser of Eckbert’s sons for a king. As if I needed another reminder of that.

  Next, each of the regents was offered the opportunity to speak. Those who did gave predictably exaggerated honors to my family. A few were coarse enough to work in their politics. From Master Termouthe, who was currently the most senior of my regents: “And now we have King Jaron, who will certainly honor all his father’s cautious trade agreements. ” Or Mistress Orlaine, a friend of Santhias Veldergrath, who couldn’t contain the ridicule in her voice as she said, “Long live King Jaron. If he leads us half as well as he entertains us, then Carthya has a truly great future ahead. ”

  Even in my condition, I nearly barged into the funeral then. I had in mind a few impolite words that would’ve provided weeks of entertaining gossip for the court.


  I turned, not sure whether to be pleased or embarrassed to see Imogen walking toward me. She moved cautiously, clearly confused about why I was here and not inside.

  Imogen had been a servant at Conner’s estate of Farthenwood and had undoubtedly saved my life there. One of my first acts as king was the small repayment of making her a noble. It was interesting how little her new status had affected her. Certainly, her clothes were finer and she often wore her dark brown hair straight down her back rather than in a servant’s braid, but she still remained friendly with everyone, no matter their status.

  Her eyes scanned the dark skies. “Did it rain? Why are you all wet?”

  “A nighttime bath. ”

  “Fully dressed?”

  “I’m modest. ”

  Wrinkles formed on her forehead. “When you didn’t show up at the funeral, the princess asked me to come find you. ”