It seemed incomprehensible to Arkady that her father was still alive. Even more incomprehensible that Stellan had known about it all this time; that he’d lied to her so blatantly and so shamelessly.
She didn’t believe it at first. It took hours after they threw her into the freezing cell in the tower of Lebec Prison before she would approach the bars dividing her cell from her father’s in order to confirm the impossible truth. And when she was finally able to bring herself to confront him, she discovered she wasn’t happy or relieved to see her father. She was angry. Blindingly, unreasonably angry.
How dare her father do this to her? How dare he let her believe all this time that he was dead? Arkady had grieved for her father. She had shed a river of tears for his loss. And all this time he was here, right under her nose, sitting in Lebec Prison. Kept here, not because of his crimes, but his misguided sense of nobility.
All he’d had to do was say nothing. His pardon was signed, sealed and only needed to be delivered. All Bary Morel had to do to save his own life was stand back and let his daughter marry a man who promised to give her wealth, a title and everything she could ever ask for. That her husband’s fall from grace had brought her to this pass wasn’t the point. That Stellan’s troubles with the new king had taken her down with him, was unimportant. What gnawed at Arkady’s gut was the stupidity of it. Her father’s noble, and utterly futile, sacrifice. And her husband’s mercilessness and willing complicity in the deception.
And then there was Declan Hawkes. Had he known of this and lied to her, too? Could the Duke of Lebec keep a prisoner confined for more than seven years without due process and the King’s Spymaster know nothing about it?
Arkady couldn’t believe Declan was a willing party to this. But then, she’d never have thought Stellan so ruthless, either. Or her father so stubborn.
“Are you planning to stay mad at me forever?”
Arkady glanced up from her bunk, shivering against the cold, her knees drawn up under her chin. “Yes.”
“You must understand, Arkady…”
“Understand what?” she said. “That you’d rather have me think you dead? That your noble refusal to accept the opportunity to be free and well cared for, in perpetuity, not to mention a ducal pardon for your crimes, was for my own good?”
Her father was standing at the bars, holding them as if touching them somehow brought them closer together. He looked old now, in a way he’d never appeared in the past. His stubbled head was grey, his skin pallid and wrinkled.
“It was for your own good, my darling. Can’t you see that? I would not have my own daughter sell herself to save me…” His voice faltered uncertainly.
“Again?” she finished for him. “Is that what you were going to say?”
He sighed. Arkady knew now that her father had learned about her deal with Fillion Rybank not long after his arrest. And he’d never said anything to her about it. Not a word; not in all the times she’d visited him in gaol. Not a single “are you all right?” Not a word about her courage, however misguided. Not even a thank-you for trying to save him.
Nobody else had been prepared to help him. Not his friends, not his colleagues, not the hundreds of people who owed him their lives, not even the Crasii slaves he’d been trying to help—the very reason for his arrest. Despite her anger, Arkady didn’t really blame the Crasii. They had their own problems. The magically blended, half-animal, half-human creatures created by the Tide Lords didn’t have time to be concerned by human troubles. The Tide was on the rise and they had no thought but pleasing their immortal masters, whom they were magically compelled to obey.
Her efforts to save her father from incarceration for six years by sleeping with the only man who could bear witness to his crimes was his failure as a parent. It had nothing, apparently, to do with Arkady.
Tides, but men are selfish creatures.
“Arkady, what that man did to you—”
“Turned out to be a complete waste of time,” she said, refusing to look at him. “Did that ever occur to you, Papa dear, while you were sitting here in your lonely cell, rotting with quiet pride at the nobility of your sacrifice? Did you not, even for a moment, wonder that I might think I’d thrown my childhood away for no good reason, because in the end, nothing I’d done could save you?”
He shook his head, as if he was denying her right to feel that way. “I was the parent, Arkady. Your father. It was my job to save you. And I failed.”
“So you decided a little penance was in order?”
His eyes misted with unshed tears. “I am sick with what you endured to protect me. Surely you can understand that when I heard of the deal you’d brokered with Desean, I couldn’t stand by and let you make the same mistake all over again?”
She spared him an irritated glance. “You could have accepted Stellan’s pardon and informed me of your disapproval in person, you know. Did that ever occur to you?”
Her father was silent for a time. Finally he said, “It sounds silly now, but to be honest, Arkady, I never thought he’d carry out the threat. Not really. I mean, even when they moved me to the cells on the lower levels, I thought the duke was just trying to frighten me into compliance. I couldn’t believe it when you stopped coming to visit me. Or when I heard of the wedding. The Stellan Desean I remembered as a boy didn’t seem the type to champion injustice to further his own interests.”
“You met him a handful of times, Papa. How could you possibly think you knew Stellan well enough to call his bluff?”
“You thought you knew him well enough to accept his proposal.”
She turned her gaze from him, wishing she could explain her reasons but knowing she was too angry to try. “Stellan gave me exactly what he promised, Papa. It was you who refused his offer.”
“It’s thanks to that man we’re both here,” he pointed out, angered by her intransigence. “How can you defend him?”
Arkady couldn’t answer that question, because her father was right. Stellan’s part in this miserable affair had been just as unconscionable as her father’s. But somehow she found it easier to forgive her husband than her father. She understood what it felt like to do whatever you must to survive, and really, that’s all Stellan had done. There would have been no other path left to him when he delivered his ultimatum to her father. By the time her father refused his pardon, Stellan had already been to the king and argued forcefully for permission to wed the common-born woman with whom he was supposedly in love. There was no backing down without causing a scandal of monumental proportions.
Stellan probably hadn’t wanted to confine her father, Arkady thought, knowing him as she did. It was just that by the time Bary Morel took it into his head to defend his daughter’s honour by refusing to stay silent, they were long past the point of no return. Stellan had his flaws, but indecisiveness wasn’t one of them.
“I’m sorry, Arkady,” her father said, pushing off the bars. “I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought you were in love with the Hawkes boy and that’s who you wanted to marry.”
Arkady smiled sourly. “You used to tell me Declan was a troublemaker who would come to no good. I distinctly remember you telling me I should stay away from him.”
“He made something of himself in the end,” her father conceded. “He had a responsible job. Did very well for himself in the king’s service, I hear.”
Ah, Papa, if only you knew what Declan has become.
“So you’re telling me you would rather I married a penniless troublemaker than a wealthy duke?”
“If you were in love with the penniless troublemaker, then yes.”
“Well, haven’t you mellowed with old age?” She didn’t mean to sound so bitter, but it was hard not to.
“About Declan. I grieved for the lad when I heard he died in that fire in Herino a few months back.”
Arkady turned her head to look at her father, as it dawned on her how little he knew of what she’d been doing this past year. How little he knew about her at all, really. When she thought about it, her father hadn’t known what she was up to since she was fourteen. He had some idealised notion of her in his head. In his world, he worried Declan might lead her astray; that she was simply a victim of a series of men wanting to take advantage of her. He had no idea how strong she was, how every hard-fought battle had toughened her spirit until little could faze her. He knew nothing of the immortals. His problems seemed so immense to him, his perspective narrowed by the confines of his cell.
Who cared about whether or not she married well when the world might be coming to an end?
Arkady pushed off the pallet and climbed to her feet. It was time to start filling her father in on the state of the world.
“Declan’s not dead, Papa,” she said, approaching the bars.
He smiled at her sadly. “I know you’d like to believe that, darling, but—”
“But, nothing,” she cut in. “I know he’s not dead because I’ve seen him. Tides, Papa, I’ve slept with him. When I was in Senestra. Right after I got through being a concubine slave for a very nice young physician who turned out to be a callous murderer.”
“You think while you sat in here, nursing your wounded pride, feeling guilty about what was done to me, that life came to a grinding halt? There’s a whole world out there you know nothing about, Papa. The Tide is on the rise; the immortals are trying to take over the world. A couple of them are trying to take the Glaeban throne. There’s a few more lining up to take over Caelum. Torlenia will be in the hands of a Tide Lord before the year is out. One of them wants to kill himself and doesn’t care who he takes with him in the process. Oh, and it turns out Declan is one of them too.”
She could see her father drawing back at her harsh tone, but she didn’t care. She was done with his self-pitying depression. “So, who would you rather I married, in hindsight? The duke who made me rich and comfortable for a while, but whose downfall saw me sold into slavery as a whore? Or the troublemaker who, last I heard, was headed to Jelidia to meet up with the rest of his immortal brethren—where they’ve just released a madman from confinement so they can find a way to kill the Immortal Prince. All of which doesn’t augur well for the rest of us, because I suspect nothing short of breaking the world in half is going to put an end to him.”
Bary Morel stared at her in shock. “You’re not making any sense, Arkady.”
“Unfortunately, I’m making a lot more sense than I’d like,” she replied. “And if you want to do something useful, instead of sitting there begging me to forgive you for being such a terrible father, why don’t you help me figure out a way out of here?”
Bary shook his head. “There is no way out of here, Arkady.”
“Not if you think like that, there isn’t,” she agreed.
“They will leave us here to rot,” he said. “I know that for certain.”
Arkady had learned the hard way that nothing was certain. “I don’t think so, Papa. They’ll come for us, sooner or later.”
“Perhaps I should have said he’ll come for us, sooner or later. That’s why you’re here, you see. He’s planning to use you to get at me.”
Her father shook his head in confusion. “Who are you talking about?”
“The new Duke of Lebec, Papa,” Arkady said, glancing toward the entrance to the chilly tower cells, as if by naming him, she might be calling him here. Thankfully, the door remained closed, as it did every day unless it was time for their meals to be delivered. “Stellan’s former lover and the man responsible for the death of the King of Glaeba. The immortal Tide Lord, Jaxyn Aranville.”
Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Fallon