The false prince, p.17
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       The False Prince, p.17

         Part #1 of The Ascendance Trilogy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
 
Page 17

 

  Mott hesitated a moment, then said, “When the servants feel one of them has been singled out or favored, they tend to get jealous. That can become dangerous. ”

  I pondered that. “So you’re saying when I look at Imogen, it makes things worse for her?”

  “It could, yes. ”

  Which left a horrible feeling inside me. I’d only looked at her to understand the cause of her fear, when in fact the cause of her fear was me looking at her.

  As we neared the stables several minutes later, Mott said, “We were in a debate over whether you really can ride. ”

  “Oh?”

  “Conner said he thought you could. He figured you had goaded Cregan into letting you have a horse so you could ride to your freedom. We weren’t sure we’d see you again after tonight. ”

  I chuckled lightly. “Yeah, that would’ve been a good plan. ”

  “So can you ride?” Mott asked. “Or are you really so stupid as to have gotten on a horse that was bucking like that?”

  My soft laughter widened, then I grabbed my chest. “It hurts to laugh. I must’ve bruised a rib. If you want me to tell you I’m that stupid, I will. The evidence is there. ”

  Mott shook his head. “You don’t have to say it, Sage. But you do have to get yourself under control. These two weeks are going to pass fast, and you’re far behind the others. ”

  The aromas of spiced meat and fresh-baked bread were inescapable as Mott and I entered Farthenwood through a back entrance. The kitchen wasn’t far away.

  “I’m getting dinner, right?” I asked.

  “Someone will bring it to your room — after your bath. ”

  “Tell me, Mott, is it true that the wealthy smell worse than the poor?”

  Mott arched an eyebrow. “Why do you say that?”

  “It seems since joining Conner’s household that I’ve needed to bathe much more often. My fleas have all but abandoned me. ”

  “Let’s hope so,” Mott said with a chuckle. Then he handed me off to Errol for another scrubbing in a bath that had been set up in a corner of our bedroom.

  My bath was so quick, Errol said he doubted I could have gotten entirely clean. I told him it was good enough considering I’d only get dirty tomorrow and not to push the matter. He didn’t.

  “Where’s my dinner?” I growled. “Conner nearly starved us today. ”

  “Someone should have it here shortly,” Errol said. “You should hurry and dress. ”

  “Then get out and wait for it. Knock when it gets here. ”

  Errol nodded and left the room while I fumbled with my nightclothes. I checked the drawer again for my old clothes, but they still weren’t there. I’d speak with Errol if they weren’t back tomorrow.

  A knock came to the door and I yelled at Errol to enter while I pulled the robe around myself.

  Someone sniffed and I turned. Imogen stood in the doorway, holding a tray of dinner. She clearly wished someone else had been ordered to bring the food. For that matter, so did I.

  “I thought you were Errol,” I said. As if that would make any difference.

  Imogen glanced at the door as if to indicate he was still in the hallway. Then she held up the tray and shrugged.

  “Oh, right. ” I pointed to a table near Tobias’s bed. He had a few papers laid out that were full of notes. He was studying material more advanced than Roden and I would ever get to before the two weeks ended.

  Imogen set the tray down and started to leave, but I said, “Wait!”

  It hadn’t really occurred to me what to say at this point, nor could she respond to anything I might come up with. Finally, I mumbled, “I’m sorry. If I caused you any trouble, then I’m sorry for that. ”

  She nodded what I hoped was an acceptance of my apology, and even offered something close to a smile.

  “I’m Sage,” I finally said. “Strange, I know, but who gets to choose their name?”

  She pointed to herself and I said, “Yes, I know. You’re Imogen. ”

  She started to leave again, but I added, “Could you help me with something? I need a thread and needle. I ripped one of my shirts out on that horse ride and I’ve got to sew it up. ”

  Imogen held out her hands, indicating she would sew it for me. But I shook my head. “I’d rather do it myself. If Conner finds out I’ve torn his new clothes, I’ll get in trouble. Can you get me the needle?”

  She nodded, and pointed at the cut on my face.

  “It’s okay. I get hurt a lot. I’m used to it. ”

  Tiny wrinkles formed between her brows. She opened her mouth as if there were something she wanted to say, then closed it and lowered her hand.

  “You are too familiar, Imogen. ” Tobias’s servant marched into the room. He picked up a book from a shelf near the door and hurled it at her, hitting her in the back. “You were supposed to give him the food, then get out!”

  In an instant, I got Imogen behind me, then pulled out a knife that had been under my pillow and held it out to the servant. “How dare you?” I yelled, so angry the words sputtered from my mouth.

  “She’s just a kitchen girl. ” The servant stiffened, alarmed by my reaction but clearly confused too.

  I swiped the knife through the air, forcing him to back up. He gave a cry for help, and looked around like he wanted to run, but I had him cornered.

  Hearing the commotion, Mott ran in. “Lower the knife, Sage. ” His eyes widened. “That’s mine!” He lifted the leg of his trousers, where the knife had been sheathed. “When did you — oh, the horse ride back. ”

  “I needed a knife to cut the meat. They didn’t give me one. ”

  Mott inched toward me and held out his hand. “Give it back, Sage. Now. ”

  I reversed the blade and gave the knife to him by the handle. “Did you see what he did to her?”

  Mott gently put a hand on Imogen’s shoulder. “You may go, girl. ”

  Imogen didn’t look at me as she left the room. And I didn’t stop glaring at Tobias’s servant.

  “He’s not welcome in this room anymore,” I said to Mott. “He shouldn’t work for Conner another minute after what I just saw. ”

  “You may go as well,” Mott told the servant, who tripped over his own feet in his hurry to leave the room. Mott stared at his knife a moment, then wiped the blade with his shirt as if I’d dirtied it. “Your mother was kitchen staff, I believe. ”

  “Barmaid. ”

  “Same thing. Obviously, you have some sympathy for Imogen. ”

  “It has nothing to do with that. She didn’t do anything wrong and he threw a book at her!”

  “And do you think you helped her just now? Do you think that made anything better for her?”

  I kicked at the floor, angry with myself, and angry with Mott too, though for no clear reason. Maybe because I hated it when he was right.

  “She’s well treated here,” Mott continued. “Tobias’s servant will be disciplined, and you should be on your knees thanking me for not reporting this to Conner. What I want to know is why you took my knife. ”

  “I told you, I can’t cut the meat without one. ”

  “Do you feel you’re in danger here?”