The false prince, p.12
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       The False Prince, p.12
 

         Part #1 of The Ascendance Trilogy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Page 12

 

  “Lower your voice,” Conner said. “I have no intention of ruling. Of course, at the end of two weeks, none of you will know enough about ruling to take that on alone. I will be there, to guide you as an adviser, to protect you, and to guard our secret. When you are ready to rule alone, I will serve in any capacity you choose for me. ” Conner held out a hand to me. “I’m offering to make you the sun of Carthya, brighter than the moon and stars combined. And you will take the throne, knowing that you have pulled your country back from the brink of war. How can you refuse this opportunity, Sage?”

  “Carthya’s not my country,” I said, reaching for the doors to leave. “Frankly, I hope Avenia destroys it. ”

  Mott was waiting alone on the other side of the doors. Obviously, he knew what would be discussed in there and had chased the other servants away.

  I stopped when I saw him, cringing a bit as I waited for him to clunk me over the head or commit some other act to force me back into Conner’s dining room. There was no cowardice in my nervousness. His hits came without mercy.

  But he only nodded at me. “You clean up well, for an orphan. ”

  “I had help. ”

  “Where were you going?”

  I scratched an itch on my face. “Didn’t really think that through yet. Somewhere I can be alone. ”

  Mott apparently had no inclinations to leave me alone. He put an arm on my shoulder and steered me down the hallway. “Come with me. ”

  We walked outside to a courtyard in the rear of Farthenwood lined with torches that flickered in the breeze. On one wall were several swords. Each was different. One had a longer blade, another was thinner, another was jagged on one side. The tangs varied, from swords with a simple metal grip to ones wrapped in leather or crowned in jewels. One might appeal to a lifelong warrior, another to a mercenary. I suspected that one of these was supposed to appeal to a prince.

  “Choose one,” he said.

  “How do I know the one that’s right for me?”

  “It’s the one that calls to you,” Mott said.

  I reached for one with a medium-size blade with a wide fuller grooved down the length. The hilt was wrapped in dark brown leather, and a circle of deep red rubies was set into the pommel. Almost as soon as I grabbed it, the sword fell from my grasp and landed on the ground.

  Mott darted forward and retrieved it, like I’d committed some sort of sin by dropping the sword.

  “This is obviously too heavy for you,” he said. “Choose another one. ”

  “It was heavier than it looked, but it’s fine now,” I said, lifting it with both hands. “I chose it because it called to me. ”

  “Why?”

  I smiled. “It has rubies on it. I could sell those for a lot of money. ”

  “Try it and I’ll use this same sword to run you through as punishment. Have you ever held a sword before?”

  “Sure. ” I’d once held the sword of the Archduke of Montegrist after sneaking into a room where he was staying. I’d taken it, just to admire of course, while he was asleep one night, but I hadn’t held it for long before I was caught. My punishment was thorough, but it had been worth it just for a few minutes of holding a sword as fine as his.

  “What’s your training with a sword?” Mott asked.

  “I suspect not enough to make a fair match between you and me. ”

  Mott smiled. “I heard what Conner said to you in the dining room. Despite what he describes as your limitations, you do have a chance to take the role of the prince. But you must learn and train and give yourself every advantage you can. Now raise your sword. ” He demonstrated, holding his sword upright, nearly parallel to his body, and tilted outward. “Like this. This is first position. ”

  I followed him and moved my sword as he did. “Like this?”

  “Get used to the feel of it in your hand. Swing it back and forth. Learn to control it, to balance it. ”

  I obeyed. Despite its weight, I liked the feel of the sword. I liked me with this sword in my hand. It stirred up memories of how I used to be, before the day-to-day survival that comes with living in an orphanage.

  Still in first position, Mott said, “This is where you begin any basic attack. ”

  “So I should avoid it, then,” I said.

  Mott raised an eyebrow. “Why is that?”

  “If it’s that basic, then it’s the first move everyone learns, which means everyone knows how to defend against that one. ”

  Mott shook his head. “It doesn’t work that way. Sword fighting isn’t a chess game where you make one move, then so does your opponent. ”

  I sighed. “Obviously. ”

  Mott pulled a wooden sword off the wall, comparable to mine in length. “Let’s test you, then. See how you do for a beginner. ”

  “Should I use a wooden sword too?”

  That made Mott smile. “Even with a wooden sword, I can still do more damage to you than you’ll do to me with that real one. ”

  As soon as he finished speaking, he cut a line through the air past my sword and hit my shoulder.

  “Would you at least try to stop me?” he asked.

  I made a face and thrust my sword at him, but he parried it. “Not bad,” Mott said. “But be bolder. Prince Jaron was known for that. ”

  “Sounds like he’s dead. So whatever his boldness was with a sword, it obviously didn’t save him. ”

  “Nobody could have survived so many pirates,” Mott said. “Nobody on that ship did survive. ”

  “And they probably all had swords,” I said, swiping at empty air when Mott took a step backward. “So training me with one is useless. ”

  “Relax your body,” Mott said. “You’re too tense. ”

  “Why me?” I asked, lowering my sword. “Why am I here?”

  “Why shouldn’t you be?”

  “Tobias is smarter than me, and Roden is stronger. Apparently, I have only slight resemblance to what he feels the prince would look like today. ”

  Mott lowered his sword as well. “Tobias may be more educated than you, but I have no doubt you’re cleverer. Roden is stronger, but a strong heart will always overcome a strong body. ” He smiled. “And as for the physical resemblance, it would help if you cut your hair and stood up straighter. I can’t see your face half the time you’re speaking. Now raise your sword. Your problem is that you’re trying to hit my sword. Hit me. ”

  “I’d hurt you. ”

  “This is a sword fight, Sage. That’s the idea. ”

  I raised my sword and lunged at him. He stepped toward me and slid his sword up the inside of my blade, then rotated and pushed it down. My sword fell from my hand and clattered to the ground.

  “Pick it up,” Mott said.

  After glaring at him for a moment, I picked it up, but I held it blade down, making it clear that I was finished with this lesson.

  He frowned at me. “I had you figured wrong. I thought you’d be more of a fighter. ”

  “Fighting for what? The privilege of getting myself killed one day like Eckbert’s family? Even if I did what Conner wants, I’d never feel like a prince. I’d only be playing the part, nothing more than an actor for the rest of my life. ”