The false prince, p.13
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       The False Prince, p.13

         Part #1 of The Ascendance Trilogy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
 
Page 13

 

  “And what are you now?” Mott lowered his own sword. “You put on a façade of toughness, but I’ve seen you look frightened. You pretend to care for nobody, but I didn’t miss your reaction when Latamer fell. And you pretend that you could run from your family in Avenia without looking back, but I hear the tone of your voice when you speak of them. I don’t think you hate everyone half so much as you claim to. You’re an actor now, Sage. All Conner wants is for you to act on behalf of Carthya, rather than for yourself. ”

  Mott had hit closer to the truth than he realized. I didn’t want to think about my fears, or about Latamer, or especially about my family. I handed him the sword and said, “Thanks for the lesson, but I’ll never be a prince. ”

  “Interesting that you chose this sword, then,” Mott said. “It’s a replica of the one Prince Jaron once owned. If Conner can look at you and see a prince, then it’s about time you did the same. ”

  Mott escorted me back inside Farthenwood. It was clear that his orders were to see I was never left alone. He described to me in detail how the copy of Jaron’s sword had been forged only off a drawing Conner’s father once made from memory, since Jaron’s sword had been lost when his ship was attacked. I cared nothing about the story and didn’t even pretend to listen.

  “I should probably go back to the dining room,” I mumbled.

  “You’re sweaty now. A gentleman would never enter a dining room smelling as you and I do. ”

  “Then where?”

  “Back to your room. Roden and Tobias will join you before too long. ”

  “There’s nothing to do in my room. ”

  “Get some sleep. Tomorrow begins your training for Conner’s plan, and I assure you it will be exhausting. ”

  “Are you going to chain yourself to me again?”

  He smiled. “Of course not. But your room will be guarded. If you try to escape, the vigil will catch you and then notify me. Please believe me when I say you don’t want to disturb my sleep for a second night in a row. ”

  “Are you one of Conner’s servants too?” I asked Mott. “Does he own you?”

  “I serve him, but he doesn’t own me. My father worked for his father, so it was natural I should work for the son. I believe in him, Sage. I hope in time you’ll believe in him too. ”

  “He killed Latamer. After telling him he was free to go, he killed him. ”

  “To be technical, Cregan killed Latamer, although it was on Conner’s orders. ” Mott was silent for a moment, then said, “Master Conner is not aspiring to be a priest and asks for no hero worship. But he is a patriot, Sage, doing what he believes is best for Carthya. Latamer never should’ve been chosen to come with us. It was better that he die than fail in the challenges over these next two weeks. ”

  “I think Conner wanted us to see him kill Latamer. Then we’d know how serious he is about this plan. ”

  “Perhaps,” Mott said. “And if that was his idea, then it certainly worked. ”

  I stopped walking for a moment, forcing Mott to stop and look at me. In a soft voice, I said, “The two boys who don’t get chosen for his plan — is he going to kill them too?”

  Mott put his hand on my shoulder and pressed me forward again. “He has to protect the secrecy of his plan. See that you get chosen, Sage. ”

  Errol was waiting on a bench near my room when we arrived. Mott asked him to take me into my room and assist me with dressing for bed.

  “I don’t need help dressing,” I said to them both. “I solved the mystery of how to button a shirt long ago. ”

  “Help him,” Mott repeated.

  Errol looked at me, silently pleading with me to accept the order so he wouldn’t have to face Mott. I sighed loudly enough for Mott to take notice of my annoyance, and then nodded my head at Errol. “Fine. Let’s get this over with. ”

  Mott waited outside. Errol shut the door and began rummaging through the drawers of my wardrobe while I explored the room. Mrs. Turbeldy could have crammed every boy at the orphanage into a room of this size, and it seemed like a waste of space to have only three beds in here. In sharp contrast to anything I ever experienced at the orphanage, the mattresses on these beds were deep and the blankets thick. Each bed had a small wardrobe beside it, and a desk was near the center of the room, facing a fireplace. The thought that I might never again have to live like I had at the orphanage filled my mind. If only that new life wouldn’t come at such a high price.

  “Which is my bed?” I asked.

  Errol pointed to one at the far end of the room. “That one. ”

  “I want this one, near the window. ”

  “That was meant for Master Roden. ”

  “Master Roden?”

  Errol missed the sarcasm. “Yes, sir. ”

  “Well, Master Roden can have my bed. I’m taking this one next to the window. ”

  “Master Roden has already been informed that this is his bed. ”

  I pulled the covers apart and then spit on the pillow. “Tell him what I’ve done. If he still wants it, he’ll be sleeping with my spit. ”

  Errol smiled. “Yes, sir. Are you ready to dress?”

  I held out my arms and let Errol do the work. He worked quickly and quietly, which only made me feel more ridiculous.

  “Errol, while we ate, there was a server girl. About my age, dark hair, dark eyes. ”

  “Her name is Imogen, sir. She came to us a year ago. ”

  “How?”

  “Conner raised the rent on her family’s home. They fell further and further into debt. Conner made an offer for Imogen to come work the debt off, though with the high rates on her family’s home, she never will. ”

  “Why her?”

  “Most of us think it’s revenge. Imogen’s mother is widowed. Conner proposed marriage to her years ago, but she refused. Some believe he wanted Imogen here so he could marry her instead when she became of age, but he quickly lost interest and assigned her to the kitchen. ”

  “Why?”

  “She’s a mute, sir. Not particularly bright, either. She performs her duties but will never be anything more than a kitchen servant. There, you’re dressed. ”

  I laughed as I looked down at my nightclothes. Maybe I was too accustomed to sleeping in my clothes, but I felt overdressed.

  “What’s this?” I asked, tugging at the outer garment.

  “A robe. You’ll remove this before actually getting into the bed. ”

  “But I’m right here. I’m three steps from my bed. ”

  Errol smiled again. Something about me frequently amused him. “Would you like me to remove the robe for you?”

  “No. I’ll do it myself. ”

  “Can I do anything else for you tonight?”

  “Where are my clothes I came here with?”

  “I saved them for you, sir. They’re being washed. ”

  “They didn’t need to be washed. ”

  Errol coughed. “I assure you they did, but I’ll keep them just as they were otherwise. ” He busied himself with folding my clothes from the afternoon. “When they’re returned to your drawer, will I have anything in return?”

 
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