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The Runaway King: Chapter 43

It was late evening when we rode into Drylliad. Even then, the streets seemed quieter than usual and many of the homes were dark. Perhaps the time was much later than I had thought. Still tired, I laid my head against the seat as we entered through the castle gates. Fink parted the curtained windows of the carriage and tried to talk to me, but Harlowe firmly shushed him and told him to give me some silence.

So much had changed since I had left nearly two weeks ago. Some things were for the better. Carthya was safe from Gregor and a pirate attack, both Roden and Amarinda were with me, and the threat of a steward had passed. But not everything was how I wanted it. I vaguely wondered if my father would approve of what I’d done. Probably not, but I could accept that.

“Are you ready for this?” I asked Harlowe as our carriage stopped. “With all apologies, you’ll soon see what it means to be associated with me.” Whatever the people thought of me, I hoped they’d give Harlowe the respect he deserved.

Harlowe smiled back warmly. “A better question, Your Majesty, is if you are ready.”

He stepped out first, and I realized my courtyard was much better lit than it usually was at night. Then Harlowe held out a hand for Amarinda. When she exited the carriage, I began to hear noises outside, murmurs and the shuffling of feet.

Then Harlowe leaned in. “You’ll want help out of this carriage, sire.”

Angrily, I shook my head. “How many servants have gathered for this exhibition? I’ll do it myself before I have them laugh at my helplessness.”

Harlowe held out his hand to me. “Take my arm, please. Trust me.”

So I scooted closer to the door and he widened it for me. At first all I could see was the courtyard lined with torches, so bright I had to squint against the light. Then as I took my first steps onto the ground, a cheer thundered throughout the yard.

I hesitated at first, and without Harlowe to balance me I might have fallen. Was it possible that cheer had been for me? Smiling, Harlowe said, “So this is what you warned me about? What it means to be associated with you?”

I shook my head, not understanding. Then somewhere above me, I heard Kerwyn’s voice echo, “Hail His Majesty. Jaron, the Ascendant King of Carthya.” And more cheers followed.

At my side, Amarinda said, “Jaron the Ascendant. I like that. See your people welcome you home.”

Harlowe led me forward, to where the light wasn’t so harsh and I could have a better look. As far as I could see, the courtyard was packed with people. My people. Then slowly, almost reverently, they went to their knees and all fell silent.

Together, Mott and Kerwyn walked up to me. They bowed, and Kerwyn wiped tears from his eyes as he stood again. He shook his head as he stared at me.

“I know how I look,” I said.

But he only raised a corner of his mouth and replied, “No, I don’t think you have any idea what we all see in you.”

I was still confused. “Did you order the people to come?”

“They came on their own,” Kerwyn said. “After they heard what you’ve done for them.”

“But how —” Then my eyes narrowed. “Mott?”

“I might have mentioned it to a few people.” He chuckled as he spoke, clearly pleased with himself.

I looked over the crowd again, completely overwhelmed. Conner had told me I was king only by blood, not because it was what the people wanted. But that wasn’t true anymore. Tears welled in my eyes, bringing to the surface an emotion that I had always thought would forever linger out of my reach. I was at peace. Another battle, far greater than anything I’d faced with the pirates, was over.

A smile rose from my heart and widened across my face. I raised both arms and with a new strength to my voice, said, “My people, my friends. We are Carthya!”

I stayed that way while they cheered again, then I lowered my arms and turned to Mott, exhaustion finally winning the battle. “Will you help me to my room?”

He dipped his head at me. “Yes, my king.” And more cheering followed my exit from the courtyard.

For the next two months everything was calm. When necessary, Amarinda and I appeared in public together, though because of my leg there were fewer events than usual. More often, she joined me for private dinners in the evening. Other people were sometimes included, but whatever our group, it was a good time.

After eight weeks, the physician allowed me to remove the wrap around my leg and encouraged me to begin using it as much as possible. No encouragement was necessary. It was the height of our warm season and I was desperate to be outside. I set a routine of running as long as I could each morning and evening, usually until Mott found me with the stern reminder that my leg hadn’t fully healed yet. I reminded him I’d likely always have some pain in the leg, so it was better I get used to it now.

It was on one of those evenings when I noticed Mott coming toward me on the lawn. Normally, I’d have kept running and let him do the work to get my attention. But he wasn’t alone that night. Kerwyn and Amarinda were with him, and all three had strained looks on their faces.

The groomsman attending me ran up with a towel when he saw I’d stopped. I hung it around my shoulders, then dismissed him.

“What’s happened?” My question was addressed to no one specifically.

Kerwyn answered. “It’s bad, Jaron. Last night the Avenian army crossed our borders. Libeth is destroyed.”

For a long moment, I could not breathe, could not comprehend the violence of such an act. I had known something was coming soon, but not this. Nothing like this. I faltered for words but looked at Mott for answers. He said, “Nila escaped with one of Harlowe’s servants. That’s who brought us word of the attack. Harlowe’s with them now.”


Amarinda gently shook her head. “They took her. Harlowe’s servant believes the Avenians were in Libeth for that purpose. To get at her.”

To get at me.

“We’ll find her.” Mott’s hand already gripped the handle of his sword.

“But it’s worse,” Kerwyn said. “We have also just received word that Gelyn and Mendenwal are advancing from the north and east. This was a coordinated attack and we are surrounded. Jaron, the war has begun.”


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