The false prince, p.32
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       The False Prince, p.32

         Part #1 of The Ascendance Trilogy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Page 32


  We were to remain in our room in private study because of Princess Amarinda being in the house, but after lunch was brought to us, Tobias gave me all of his lunch and Roden shared half.

  “You owe me nothing,” I said to Roden.

  “Not now, but if Conner does choose you, then I hope you’ll make the same promise to me that you did with Tobias, to save my life. ”

  “And will you make that promise to me as well?” I asked him.

  Roden shrugged. “I can’t make Conner do what I want. Not even if I were king. ”

  I clapped Roden on the shoulder. “Then, for the sake of my life, I’ll have to continue hoping to be named the prince. ”

  Near us, Tobias’s feet dropped to the floor and he banged on the door for his servant. When he arrived, Tobias said he had to use the toilet, the only reason we could be allowed out of the room. Even our lessons would be held in this room for the day.

  “Do you think Tobias is so angry that he’ll try to kill you again?” Roden asked after Tobias had gone.

  “He wasn’t trying to kill me last night. He just wanted me to think he could. ”

  “Same thing, as far as I’m concerned. Though I guess in the end, it worked out better for you. Oh. ” Roden’s eyes widened. “Did you plan for that to happen?”

  “Tobias was getting desperate. Once he took the knife when we were in the kitchen, I knew something was bound to happen soon. ”

  “Why didn’t you just report that he had a knife?”

  “There’s forgiveness for that. But Conner wouldn’t forgive what he did last night, and Tobias knows it, so he had to agree to my terms. ”

  Roden slowly shook his head. “You let him cut you. ”

  A smile spread across my mouth. “Well, I let him make the first cut. I thought that’d scare him into stopping. I wish it had, because it really did hurt. ”

  Roden laughed and shook his head incredulously. “You’re the craziest person I’ve ever met. Tobias may be more educated than you, but he’s not the smartest of us. ” I chuckled, but Roden turned serious and added, “It really is down to you and me, Sage. I’ve still got to try to win, you know that. ”

  “It’s cruel, this game of ours,” I said. “Between us, you’re Conner’s favorite now. ”

  Roden nodded. “You can bait me all you want. I won’t try to kill you. ”

  “You could, though,” I said. “I’ve seen you out practicing swords with Cregan. ”

  “Cregan hopes Conner chooses me, and he wants me to be ready for when he does. ” Roden’s voice raised in pitch. “What’s wrong with that?”

  “Nothing. I’m just glad to hear you’re practicing for Conner’s benefit and not mine. I’m running out of places to get hurt. ”

  “I don’t see why that’s funny. I think you must like the pain, because you’re constantly pushing people until they hurt you. ”

  “I definitely don’t like the pain,” I said firmly. “So if you do decide to kill me, make it quick. ”

  Roden’s laugh came without humor and we finished lunch with little more conversation. When Tobias returned a few minutes later, Master Graves had already arrived and begun a particularly dreary lesson on the great books and fine art of Carthya. Tobias lay on his bed for the entire lesson, causing Master Graves to remark that he never thought he’d see a lazier student than me. I felt a little sorry for Tobias, watching him pretend to be less than he was. But unfortunately, that was his situation now.

  Errol and the other two servants came in mid-afternoon to get us ready for the charade of being servants to Princess Amarinda that evening.

  “Why so early?” Roden asked.

  “You may have been clean orphans this week,” his servant told him, “but you’re still orphans. It’ll take a bit more cleaning up to make you worthy of the betrothed princess. ”

  “Have you seen her?” I asked.

  If he had, the servant wouldn’t acknowledge it. But while he gathered my clothes, Errol whispered to me, “I’ve seen her. She looks as beautiful as any princess could. You should feel lucky to be able to serve her tonight. ”

  I was too tired to feel lucky, or to care what the princess looked like. I told Errol he could take my place tonight, which he said was fine if I’d do the laundry in his place. That was the end of our bargaining.

  Making us worthy servants included trimming the uneven ends of our hair so that it would tie back neatly, filing our nails, and lecturing us on the importance of always standing up straight around anyone we served.

  Unfortunately for Errol’s best efforts on my behalf, the shorter side of my hair refused to stay out of my face. Finally, he gave up and told me to keep it pushed back whenever I was around the princess. We both knew I probably wouldn’t.

  When we were finished, they placed us in front of mirrors. Our white undershirts were cut closer to the arms, to avoid the sleeves touching any of the food as it was served. The vests we wore over them were simple, earth-colored, and laced up the front, and the boots were low and secondhand.

  I snorted a laugh. “Everything here is about costumes. We don’t know the first thing about being servants, but they’ve certainly dressed us for the part. ”

  “This is my part,” Tobias mumbled beside me. “Now. ”

  “I like them. ” Roden twisted in an attempt to see how he looked from the back. “It’s easier to move in these than the clothes Conner has had us in all week. ”

  Mott entered the room and surveyed each of us. I wondered if he’d polished his bald head. It looked shinier than usual, and he wore clothes nearly as fancy as Conner’s. He was to be distinguished tonight as something more than a servant, though still not worthy to sit at the table. With a very stern voice, he said, “As long as none of you does anything stupid, I believe tonight will be successful. Here are some things each of you must remember. Never address a master first and never look them in the eye unless they are speaking specifically to you. You follow my directions and never take any initiative with the princess unless I order it. ” Looking straight at me, Mott added, “You three must remember that you are in disguise. The worst thing that could happen would be for the princess to remember meeting you here tonight after you are presented at court. That cut is still evident on your face, Sage. ”

  “It’ll be healed by the time I’m presented at court,” I said. “Besides, Imogen once served us with a bruise on her cheek, so this should only help me fit in better with the other servants. ”

  Mott didn’t rise to my remark. “And how are the wounds on your back, specifically the one caused by the … window?”

  “If I’d had more to eat today, they’d probably be healing faster. ”

  Mott smirked and glanced at Errol for an answer. “No signs of infection, sir,” Errol reported.

  “That’s good,” Mott said. “Because I’d expect a dirty window to have caused infection. I did hear that a knife was missing from the kitchen last night, one of the chef’s sharpest blades. Those are kept very clean. ”

  “Only one knife was missing?” Tobias glanced at me and then quickly looked away when I tilted my head in response to his silent question. He whispered something under his breath, I’m sure some sort of curse aimed at me. That wasn’t a problem. The devils were used to receiving curses with my name on them.