The false prince, p.19
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       The False Prince, p.19

         Part #1 of The Ascendance Trilogy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Page 19


  Tobias rolled his eyes. “So far, you’ve taught us neither horses nor swords. Our lesson time is passing fast, sir. ”

  “The devils are punishing me for everything I’ve ever done wrong in my life,” he said, marching to the stables to get the horses. “They’ve sent me you three. ”

  In the end, we all had easy horses, and our ride on Conner’s grounds was so boring I thought I’d go insane. I wasn’t the only one.

  “You have to teach us more than riding like schoolgirls on a Sabbath afternoon,” Tobias said. “The prince will be expected to show off masterful riding skills. ”

  “Thank Sage for this lesson,” Cregan said. “I can’t risk any of you getting hurt like yesterday. ”

  On either side of me, Roden and Tobias shot out glares again. “I think you planned this,” Roden said to me. “I think you deliberately spoiled it for all of us so that now Tobias and I won’t have the chance to get any better. ”

  I chuckled softly. That idea had never occurred to me, although if it were true, it would’ve been clever.

  After a wasted hour on horseback, Mott collected us for a sword-fighting lesson. “Because Sage went missing yesterday, we’ll have to make up that lesson now,” he said, leading us toward the small courtyard where he and I had practiced two nights earlier. He gestured to the wall where the various swords were hung. “By the end of these two weeks, we’ll have you dueling with these swords, but for now you get wooden ones. ”

  I folded my arms. “Where’s the prince’s sword?”

  Mott turned to look. Sure enough, Jaron’s sword was missing.

  “The prince’s sword was here?” Tobias asked.

  “Just a copy of it,” I said. Mott glared at me as if personally insulted by my words, but he shouldn’t have. I had been perfectly accurate.

  “How did you know about the sword?” Roden asked me.

  “Mott and I practiced here the other night. ”

  Roden and Tobias reacted with open mouths and narrowed eyes, exactly as I knew they would. But they didn’t have much time to protest.

  “Conner will want to know of this,” Mott said, ignoring their whines. “Follow me. ”

  We found Conner in his office, poring over a thick and dusty book. Mott spoke to him privately for a moment, then had us all come into the room and stand in front of Conner’s desk.

  Conner’s office was lined with shelves full of books and the occasional bust or trinket. Near the back of the room, he had a massive desk that faced the door and two comfortable chairs that faced the desk. It made me wonder if he had a business through which he earned his own money, or whether his was the kind of wealth passed from father to son through the generations. I suspected the latter was true.

  Conner sat with his hands folded together. “This was no ordinary sword, boys. It was nearly an exact replica of Prince Jaron’s sword before he was lost. It was last seen around his waist at supper the night before he boarded the ship that ultimately carried him to his doom. Now, you may think by stealing it you have given yourself an advantage. Perhaps you believe you can use the sword to shore up your claims of being the prince when you are presented at court. But that is futile because, as I said, it’s not an exact replica. Anyone with a practiced eye will easily know it’s a copy. Perhaps you have stolen it to give yourself an advantage in sword-fighting. Again, this is futile. Any of you may practice with Mott as often as you’d like to become as skilled as you’d like. And if you stole it so that the other two boys couldn’t practice with it, then remember that there are several other swords still available for practice. Now I want a confession. Who took it?”

  All three of us remained silent. Conner couldn’t possibly believe that the thief would confess. None of us was that stupid.

  “Sage must have taken it, sir,” Tobias said.

  “Why is that?” Conner asked.

  “He’s the only one who’s already handled the sword. ”

  “Which is evidence of nothing,” Conner said.

  “It was there while the boys were in horseback lessons yesterday,” Mott said. “We know where Sage was at that time, and all of the boys have been supervised since then. ”

  “Where were you and Roden during that time?” Conner asked Tobias.

  Tobias hesitated. “After Sage ran off on Windstorm, Cregan was going to follow him. He told us to go to the sword arena and wait for Mott. But after a few minutes, a servant came and told us that Mott had gone to look for Sage too, so we left. ”

  “We left together,” Roden said quickly. “If either of us had taken it, the other one would know. ”

  “And what did you do after returning to the house?” Conner asked.

  Tobias’s eyes fluttered. “I was in the library. ”

  Roden frowned. “I went back to our room. ”

  “And can either of you provide proof that you were there?”

  After a very long, very uncomfortable silence, I rocked on my heels and smiled. “For the first time, I think I’m glad that horse ran off with me. ”

  After being dismissed from Conner’s office, Mott walked us back to the courtyard to continue with swordsmanship lessons. Tense feelings of vengeance and silent accusation hung in the air between Roden, Tobias, and me. Mott rotated a pair of us for dueling practice while he worked on skills with the third. The wooden swords Mott gave us were severely tested for durability as they clacked against each other, or, in a lucky moment, hit against an opponent’s arm, back, or leg.

  Roden was merciless against me and brutal with Tobias. I did very well against Tobias, but Mott said he was disappointed in my performance against Roden.

  “This is more than just learning swordplay,” Mott said. “You must learn it as Prince Jaron knew it. He challenged a king to a duel at the age of ten. What does that tell you about his attitude in battle?”

  “That he was stupid,” I said flatly. “If the story’s true, he lost that duel. ”

  “It shows his bravery,” Roden said, ever eager to please. “And his training. He must have expected to win. ”

  I barked out a laugh. “If he did, add arrogance to his list of worthless traits. It’s too bad the prince we’re trying to become isn’t the older brother, Damon —”

  “Darius,” Tobias corrected.

  “Whatever. It sounds like he had a character worth imitating. Not Jaron. ”

  Mott stepped closer to me. “I find it interesting that you’d say that, Sage, considering you naturally have several character traits in common with Jaron. ”

  I was silent for a moment as emotions I didn’t understand filled me. What was it? Shame to acknowledge that Mott was correct? Was I as foolhardy as Jaron seemed to have been? Or was something telling me not to try for the crown? Perhaps in having fewer of Jaron’s character flaws, Roden or Tobias would make a better king.

  Mott seemed to be waiting for me to say something, so without knowing whether I was correct or not, I shrugged and said, “Jaron was a child when he challenged that king to a duel. Perhaps he learned his lesson and would make wiser choices today. ”

  Mott frowned. “I never thought Jaron’s challenge was a sign of weakness. I’m sorry that you do. Now let’s continue. ”