The false prince, p.15
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       The False Prince, p.15

         Part #1 of The Ascendance Trilogy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Page 15


  I folded my arms resolutely. “I’m not sitting in a chair meant for a five-year-old. Get me a real chair. ”

  Master Graves arched his head so that he could better look down on me. “You are Sage, obviously. I was warned about you. Young man, do not mistake me for one of Conner’s servants. I am a gentleman and a scholar, and I will have your respect. You will sit in the chair I have available. ”

  Since he was clearly still around to keep me from running away, I called for Mott to come in. When he ducked his head in the room, I said, “Master Graves thinks he’s not one of Conner’s servants. But you are. I need a chair. ”

  “You have one,” he said, nodding to the one beside Roden.

  “It’s too small. I can’t learn that way. ”

  “Too bad. Sit down. ”

  “Okay, but when Roden and I don’t learn our letters, you can explain to Conner why. ”

  Mott sighed and left the room. He returned several minutes later with a larger chair in each hand. Master Graves was incensed and said, as punishment for my disruption, I would have to write my letters an extra ten times that day.

  “Ten times the better I’ll know them, then,” I said. “How strange that you should punish me by ensuring I come out more educated than Roden, who has tried to obey you. ”

  Graves’s knuckles were nearly as white as the chalk when he began instructing us on the sounds of the letters. Roden actually seemed interested and tried hard to keep up with Graves. I fell asleep around the letter M.

  Graves was gone when Mott shook me awake some time later. “He called you incorrigible,” Mott said. “Honestly, Sage, are you trying to fail?”

  “I already told you I could read a little. This morning was a waste of my time. ”

  “I thought it was great. ” Roden sounded happier than I’d ever heard him. “I never expected to be able to read, and Master Graves said he’ll have me in a children’s reader by tomorrow. ”

  “Great. Let me know what the children’s reader has to say about impersonating a prince. ”

  Earlier that morning, servants had brought us a small breakfast of hard-boiled eggs and milk to eat while we studied. With such a paltry beginning, it was no surprise that both Roden and I were already hungry again.

  “You’ll eat after your next lessons,” Mott said.

  “What lessons?” I asked.

  “History of Carthya. Then a lunch. Then you’ll do sword fighting, horseback riding, dinner and etiquette with the master, and tonight you will study in preparation for your lessons tomorrow. ”

  Roden slapped me on the shoulder. “He’ll make gentlemen of us yet!”

  I nodded but stayed silent. The thought of what Conner was making us into deserved no celebration.

  All three of us shared the afternoon history lessons, which was a waste of Tobias’s time because he already knew the answer to every question. He spoke so quickly, there was no point in Roden and I even attempting to speak, even if we had known the answers.

  Our history tutor was Mistress Havala, who Tobias said had taught him other lessons earlier that day. She was past the age of marriage, which was curious because she seemed like a pleasant enough person. She had a round face with curly black hair that bounced a lot, and made a great effort to avoid any discussion of the real reasons why Conner had brought us here, even though it was clear she knew. There was a nervousness about her, yet her easy smile and gentle nature were a welcome respite from the serious demeanor everyone else on this estate seemed to have. I wondered what would happen to her at the end of these two weeks.

  When she stepped out to ask for a drink of water, I told Tobias and Roden of my concerns. Tobias shrugged it off. “She’ll be fine. She told me that Conner asked her never to talk about teaching us. ”

  “Threatened her, more likely,” I muttered.

  Defensively, Tobias arched his head. “If she doesn’t talk, then it won’t matter what Conner did. ”

  “It always matters. ” I looked to Roden to agree with me, but his head was buried in the book in front of him as he tried to figure out the word at his fingertip.

  We all fell into silence as Mistress Havala returned. Tobias lapsed into a sort of daydream until Roden and I failed to answer her next question, which he then answered without hesitation.

  Mistress Havala was an excellent tutor, and by the end of the class session, we could all name the major Carthyan cities and describe their contributions to the country. Fortunately for us, few cities in Carthya can be considered major, so it was easy to learn them. Unfortunately for Carthya, their contributions to the country are equally unimpressive. The new prince would need to work hard to build up production of our natural resources. Predictably, Tobias announced he was up to the challenge. Mistress Havala raised an eyebrow at his words but said nothing.

  There was a knock at the door, and two servants entered, carrying what I guessed was our lunch. I didn’t know the first girl who entered, but the second servant was Imogen. She looked at me, gave her usual frown, then lowered her eyes. They set the trays down and left.

  Mistress Havala placed the book she’d been teaching us from on her desk, then handed us each a meat pie wrapped in a thick pastry. I ate mine in four bites and turned to Tobias, who was only halfway through his. “Can I have the rest of yours?”

  Tobias laughed, but I hadn’t been joking. He finished the rest of his pie without answering me while Mistress Havala continued on.

  After our history lessons, Mott returned and escorted us to Conner’s stables. Cregan was waiting for us there. His arms were folded so tightly as we approached, I briefly wondered if they were knotted. “That’s right,” he said grumpily. “I’ll be teaching you to ride. ” After Mott was gone, he pointed to a saddle balanced on the top of a fence. “Let’s start here. This is what you sit on to ride a horse. ”

  “You can’t be serious,” I said. “Are you really going to treat us like it’s the first time we’ve seen a horse? We can all ride. ”

  “I don’t know what your skills are —” Cregan said.

  “My skills are better than yours,” I said. “I can outride you with my eyes closed. Probably so can Tobias and Roden. ”

  Cregan’s eyes narrowed. “Better than my skills? I’m not just a rider. I’m a trainer. I break wild horses and I can break you. ”

  I ignored that last part and said, “I can ride anything you can ride. ”

  Cregan smiled. “You won’t bait me so easily, boy. ”

  “Why not?” Tobias said. “If he says he can ride, why not test his skills?”

  Cregan stared at Tobias, then me, then said, “All right. Wait here. ” And walked back into the stalls.

  “Thanks,” I said to Tobias.

  Tobias glanced sideways at me. “I’m not on your side, Sage. Hopefully, this will teach you a lesson. ”

  Our attention was diverted by a crashing sound in the stables. Slowly, I shook my head and mumbled to Tobias, “You don’t think he has an untrained horse in there, do you?”

  “Sounds like it,” Tobias said.

  “Can you ride?” Roden asked me.

  “I’ve ridden before. Is that the same thing?”