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The Runaway King: Chapter 42

Mott and Roden drove the carriage back to Farthenwood. Harlowe rode beside me and Fink sat across from him. It still hurt to sit up but not too much. My leg was propped up on the seat across from me and padded with what I guessed was possibly every spare blanket in all of Libeth. An earthquake could shake Carthya to its core but even then, it’d barely jar my leg.

For the most part we traveled in silence. I liked that about Harlowe. He made no attempts at meaningless chatter or wit and was often content just to listen and watch the world around him. In contrast, Fink appeared to be fighting the urge to speak, just to release the energy trapped inside him. But someone must have threatened him, because whenever he looked at me and opened his mouth, he closed it again and returned to looking out the window.

It was dark when we arrived at Farthenwood. Fink had slept for most of the ride and remained asleep even after the carriage stopped. The royal carriage was already there.

Tobias came out to greet us almost immediately. He drew in a sharp breath when I emerged with a battle-bruised face and my leg in a splint, but he made a valiant attempt at a convincing smile. And he eyed Roden suspiciously, but I supposed Roden would have to deal with that for a while. Besides, Tobias would get over it once everything was explained to him.

“You’re going to be a teacher after all,” I said to Tobias as we passed by. “Your first student is asleep in the carriage. I wish you the best of luck.”

Tobias furrowed his brow and glanced doubtfully at the carriage.

“If that wasn’t enough trouble, I have another request,” I said. “I still need one more regent. Please accept, Tobias.”

His eyes widened. “Are you offering that to me? Really?”

“Thank me now. Because you won’t spend much time with those fools before you’ll regret accepting.”

“Then I will thank you, Your Majesty.” Tobias kissed the king’s ring, then handed it to me and said, “I brought a change of clothes so that I can just be myself again. There’s another set for you too, though I’m not sure how you’ll fit the pants over your leg.”

“I’ll figure something out. What about the princess? Is she here?”

Tobias nodded. “She said that if you want to talk, she’ll meet wherever you ask.” I started forward and he added, “I spent a lot of time with her this week. She is sincere about caring for you.”

“If someone can find something to eat, I’m really hungry,” I said, bypassing his evaluation of her. “It’ll take a while to change clothes, but will you ask her to join me when I’m finished?”

It was nearly an hour later before I was dressed and ready for her to enter the small dining room. I wouldn’t allow Tobias to escort her in until my leg was already propped under the table. Yet she must have known about my condition because the first thing she looked at was the chair across from me. And she sat in the chair Tobias pulled out for her before I would have had time to stand and greet her properly, if I could have done that, of course.

Her clothing tonight was simple, a blue cotton bodice and blue-striped skirt over a white chemise. Her warm brown hair fell like a waterfall down her back and was tied with a white ribbon. Whatever she was to me, I couldn’t deny her beauty. She’d turn heads even wearing sackcloth.

Amarinda began the conversation. “What have you done to your hair?”

It struck me as odd that even though I was covered in cuts and bruises, not to mention an obvious injury to my leg, my hair was the one thing she chose to comment on. Then I realized that was probably her intention, to make it clear she was seeing me without calling attention to how bad I looked. So I grinned. “I wanted to give the castle hairdresser a challenge.”

“It’s thoughtful of you to always find ways to entertain your servants.”

“That’s just the kind of good person he is,” Tobias said.

Amarinda smiled at him. “You’d be proud of Tobias. He did an admirable job in your absence. On the day the regents were supposed to vote on the stewardship, he sent them a ten-page paper explaining in great detail how, with only eighteen regents, their vote had no binding authority. He was brilliant!”

“Thank you, my lady,” Tobias said.

“So the vote will be delayed?” I asked.

She shook her head. “There will be no vote. You alone are the ruler of Carthya.”

I closed my eyes as feelings of relief coursed through me. Then, glancing at Tobias, I asked, “How can I repay you?”

“Just promise never to do that to me again. No offense, Jaron, but I don’t want your life. Even locked away behind closed doors I got a taste for how awful it can be.”

“Did anyone try to kill you while I was gone?”


“Then you didn’t even get a taste. Will you leave us now?”

After Tobias bowed and left, I turned to Amarinda. “You sent Imogen to the pirates.”

A lock of the princess’s hair fell forward as she slowly nodded. “We talked for a very long time before she left the castle. I told her what you had said to me about the attack. Imogen was sure you would go to the pirates. She offered to go there too, certain that if anyone could change your mind, she could. Or if not, at least she could keep you safe.”

“You should have forbidden her from going.”

“I could also command the sun not to rise and yet it would. She would have gone anyway, Jaron.”

“And what about you? I left you in a terrible position.”

“Not really.” Her long eyelashes fluttered, then she said, “My part in this was insignificant.”

“Nothing was more significant than to have someone to carry on for Carthya. Besides that, I put you at risk. Mott has already ridden on ahead to inform Kerwyn of Gregor’s treachery.” For that part, I barely looked at her. Gregor had been her closest friend. “My biggest worry was what would happen to you if I didn’t return.”

“If there was any threat, Gregor would have protected me. Whatever his intentions with you, he’d still have made sure I was safe.” She lowered her eyes. “I think he believed that once he sat on the throne, he’d have me for a wife.”

“Was he correct?”

She frowned. “Under no circumstances would I ever have accepted him. Did you think I could spend so much time with him and not see what he was?”

“Then you knew?”

“Not exactly. But I was suspicious. After your family’s deaths, I realized there had been small hints of his disloyalty. I made the decision to form a friendship with Gregor, hoping that in a closer relationship I could find some evidence against him. The only reason I brought Conner that dinner was because Gregor had suggested it. I think that was his way of testing me against you.”

“His test nearly worked. I was ready to declare you a traitor.” The thought of how things could have turned out so much worse made me shudder. I added, “You risked so much. Why didn’t you just tell me?”

She straightened her back. “I could barely tell you the time of day without you cutting off our conversation. Besides, he was your captain. I didn’t want to come to you with accusations that I couldn’t prove. Then everything happened so fast after the assassination attempt. I tried to talk with you late that night, but the vigils at your door told me you had snuck out and nobody knew where you were. Then you were gone so quickly the next morning.”

I leaned back in my chair and chuckled at that. With a curious tilt of her head, she said, “I just confessed to keeping a secret that nearly got you killed. I thought you’d be angry, not amused.”

“I’m only angry with myself.” I sighed. “Mott was right all along. I am a fool. I knew of your friendship with Gregor. Because of that, I wouldn’t talk to you either. If I had, everything might have been so much simpler.”

“Oh.” Amarinda smiled shyly. “It’s a wonder you and I found anything at all to talk about.”

“We didn’t, not really. Imogen kept asking me to make things right with you, but I wouldn’t. Any failure between us is entirely my fault.”

Amarinda pressed her lips together, then said, “I heard that Imogen stayed behind, in Libeth.”


“Do you hate me, because I’m not her, because you’ll have to marry me one day?”

I stared at her a moment before I snorted out another impolite laugh. She flashed a glare that too quickly turned to pain. “Forgive me,” I said. “It’s just that those were nearly the words I’ve wanted to say to you all this time, and never dared.” Before she could speak, I added, “Do you hate me? Because I’m not my brother and because you’ll have to marry me one day?”

A very slow smile crossed her face and she gave an understanding nod and gestured with her hand. It brushed against mine. She started to pull it back but I took hers and held it, in a sign of our partnership, that from now on we would stand together. Her hand was closed in a fist at first, but she slowly relaxed and folded it into mine. I’d never held someone’s hand before, not like this. It was both wonderful and frightening.

“I’m letting her go,” I said. “And I’m asking you to let him go too.”

She nodded slowly. “Are we friends, Jaron?”

“We are.”

With her other hand, Amarinda brushed my forearm where the mark of the pirates was branded into my skin. The burn was still red and tender, but somehow it didn’t hurt the way she touched it.

“It might fade eventually,” I said, “but it will never go away.”

“It shouldn’t go away. It’s part of your history now. What you’ve done is a part of Carthya’s history.”

“Still, I’ll try to keep it hidden whenever possible.”

Amarinda’s grip tightened. “It’s not necessary for you to hide that. Nor to hide anything from me.”

There was silence again, but less awkward than before. Her hand felt soft and I wondered if mine was too rough to be comfortable for her. I hoped that had not become too rough for her.

Finally, I grinned and said, “I won’t eat meat if it’s been overcooked.” She glanced up at me, confused, and I added, “I thought you should know that, since we’re going to be friends now.”

Amarinda’s smile widened. “I think it’s unfair that women aren’t allowed to wear trousers. They seem far more comfortable than dresses.”

I chuckled. “They’re not. Every year I think fashion invents one more piece I have to add to my wardrobe.”

“And one more layer to my skirts.” She thought for a moment, then said, “I think it’s funny when you’re rude to the cook. I shouldn’t admit that, but his face turns all sorts of colors when you are and there’s nothing he can do about it.”

“He can overcook my meat.”

This time she laughed and even gave my hand a squeeze. We fell silent. After a while I said, “I won’t rule as my father did, and you can never expect me to be my brother. But I’ll rule the best way I can and hope it will be enough to make you a proud queen one day.”

“What about this day?” When she smiled at me, it was obvious that something had changed between us. She added, “Jaron, I’m proud of what you did for Carthya, proud that you trusted me to rule while you were gone. And I’m proud to be sitting beside you now. There are great things ahead for us.”

And for the first time since becoming king, I believed her.


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