The false prince, p.30
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       The False Prince, p.30
 

         Part #1 of The Ascendance Trilogy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Page 30

 

  Tobias released my arm, then said, “Don’t try anything with me. I’ll keep this knife ready if you do. ”

  I stumbled away from him, my head spinning. “What am I going to try in here? You know that if you’re this paranoid as king, it’ll eat you alive. ”

  “Maybe King Eckbert should’ve been more paranoid. Then he wouldn’t be dead right now. ”

  I stopped and grabbed on to the wall for support. It took every bit of my concentration not to be sick all over him.

  “You okay?” Tobias asked. Not that he cared. When I began walking again, he followed, adding, “What’s the point of wandering around here every night?”

  The sting gradually eased. It was still fierce, but the whipping had hurt worse. Maybe he hadn’t cut me as badly as I first thought.

  “Conner has you and Roden in his control,” I said. “Not me. ”

  “Not me either,” Tobias quickly said, but from the tone of his voice, it was obvious that even he didn’t believe it.

  “I’d like to go to our room now,” I said. “I’m tired and you hurt my back. ”

  “I’m not apologizing for that. I’d rather keep you weak. ”

  “What a person of honor you are. ”

  Tobias snorted. “A statement like that, coming from you?”

  That brought a faint smile to my face. “Then let’s hope Conner chooses Roden, so that Carthya has some hope of an honorable king. ”

  Tobias didn’t like that and he strutted ahead of me. “Roden would have this kingdom destroyed in a generation, with or without Conner’s lead. He has no thought that someone else hasn’t put there. I shudder to think either of you has any chance of being chosen. ”

  “If Conner’s choice was that obvious, my back wouldn’t hurt so much right now. ”

  “My warning is real,” Tobias said. “And if you try to tell anyone about this, I’ll see that Roden takes the blame. I know how to persuade Conner. ”

  “You have no control over Conner. You may wear the crown one day, but he’ll be king. ”

  “I’ll let him think he has control, then get rid of him. Where are we?”

  Despite the pain I still felt, I couldn’t help but smile wickedly. “Conner’s room is on the other side of this wall. Pray he is a deep sleeper, or else he heard every word you just said. ”

  Tobias made a sound in his throat and put his ear to the wall, to see if he could hear Conner on the other side. I used the moment to grab his arm and twist it behind his back, and then withdrew my own knife from inside my clothes.

  “Where’d that come from?”

  “You’re not the only one who stole from the kitchen. ” I withdrew his knife from his belt and whispered in his ear, “You’re in a lot of trouble, Tobias. Conner knows about the notes you made, your plans to get rid of him. You’ve already lost. In a few days, he’s going to kill you. ”

  Then I hit him over the back of the head with the butt of my knife and he fell unconscious.

  Tobias was asleep in bed when I woke up, so he must have found his way back to our room sometime in the night. The idea that I’d slept through his walking freely around the room made me uncomfortable. Usually, I was a light sleeper, and I didn’t like the idea of wondering what he might have been tempted to do to me in my sleep.

  Roden was already awake and still working on the book he’d taken off Tobias’s desk the night before. “I can figure out a lot of these words,” he said. “You should’ve paid more attention to Master Graves. I think he could’ve helped you. ”

  “I can’t pretend to be interested in someone who’s so boring,” I muttered.

  Roden rolled his eyes and went back to his book while I got out of bed and began to get dressed. It would irritate Errol, I knew, but lately that fact was more motivation than deterrent.

  “There’s blood all over your shirt!” Roden said.

  “Noticed that, did you?”

  Roden closed the book and came closer to me. “It looks like your shirt was cut too. What happened?”

  “Do I need a bandage?”

  “How should I know? Let me call Errol. ”

  I pulled off my shirt and threw it into the fireplace, which still bore a few smoldering ashes. The alcohol that Imogen had used for me was in the corner of our room. I poured just enough of it onto the shirt to stir up the fire again.

  “What did you do that for?” Roden asked.

  He made enough noise that Errol and the other two servants took it as a sign that it was time to enter from the hallway. I was never sure what time they arrived each morning, but they always came in when they heard us talking.

  “I’ll help you finish dressing, sir. ” Errol said the words as if he were tired of speaking them. He knew I didn’t want his help, and that was especially true right now.

  I turned so that my back was facing the wall. “I’ll dress myself and I’ll do it privately. ”

  Tobias opened his eyes. “Will everyone speak quieter? I have a terrible headache here!”

  “Sage’s back is bleeding again,” Roden said to Errol.

  Everyone’s eyes turned to me. Errol walked between me and the wall. A gasp escaped his lips, then he said, “This is a new wound. Where did it come from?”

  I shrugged, not yet ready with an explanation. Whatever I said, it’d have to be a lie. Although the truth would ruin Tobias’s last hope to become the prince, it did me no favors either.

  Errol gave up asking for details and said, “The cut isn’t so deep, but we have to take care of it. ”

  “Just give me a bandage and I’ll wrap it myself,” I said.

  Errol shook his head and left the room. It was a good thing the two weeks were almost ended. I doubted whether he could tolerate me for much longer.

  “I’m already dressed. ” Roden scowled at his servant, who was tugging at his shirt. “Get out!”

  “You’re dismissed too,” Tobias told his man, a new servant who avoided me as often as possible. “We need to talk in private. Shut the door behind you. ”

  Immediately after we were alone, Roden leapt across the room, grabbed Tobias by the shoulders, and shoved him hard against the wall. “You did that to him? Were you going after me next?”

  “Check me for a knife if you think I did it. ” Tobias looked sideways at me. “I don’t have anything that could make a wound like that, do I, Sage?”

  “You’re afraid of what Roden would find if he searched?” I asked.

  Tobias threw up his hands, and Roden pulled back Tobias’s blanket and checked his pillow. Then he lifted Tobias’s mattress and gasped.

  Tobias’s face paled as Roden withdrew the knife Tobias had used against me the night before. Dried blood still stained the tip of the blade. I’d made sure of that.

  “How’d that get there?” Tobias whispered. His eyes narrowed as they met mine. “Oh, of course. Well, Sage has a knife too. ”

  “Do you think so?” I said. “I’m sure the kitchen staff will find there’s only one knife missing. ” But I let Roden search my things anyway. No knife was there, and Tobias’s face paled even further.