The false prince, p.35
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       The False Prince, p.35

         Part #1 of The Ascendance Trilogy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Page 35


  “How will it look if that servant’s bandages bleed through and he drips blood on Conner’s dining table?”

  “Come on,” Mott said with a sigh. “I’ll walk you to your room. ”

  “You don’t have to. I know the way. ”

  “Saving you from getting lost is not the reason I’m here. Tell me, what did you think of the betrothed princess?”

  “I think she loves Darius. ”

  “There’s plenty of time for her to learn to love Jaron. Besides, this is the way of life for royals. They do their duty to their country, and if they are very lucky, it will sometimes bring them happiness. ”

  “I don’t want anyone to do their duty for me,” I grumbled. “A charade like that is not for her. ”

  “Conner is preparing you to wear a mask for the rest of your life,” Mott said. “It’s better that your queen pretends to love you, because if she truly did, she would only love a lie. ”

  That hardly made me feel better.

  Errol was sitting on the bench just outside my bedroom door. He stood as he saw us coming. “Are you ill?” he asked me.

  “Get me some dinner,” I growled, pushing past him to enter my room. “And no, I don’t need help dressing. ”

  Ironically, I did need help. My shoulders and back had stiffened over the past few hours of standing, and with every movement, I felt like my wounds might tear open again. When Errol returned with a tray of food several minutes later, he found me sitting on the floor with an unbuttoned shirt and vest.

  Errol set the tray on Tobias’s desk, and then silently went to the wardrobe to gather my nightclothes. He was able to pull off my shirt without causing me too much pain and, without asking, checked my bandages. “Imogen is occupied at the dinner downstairs,” he said. “You must let me clean those wounds. They look hot. ”

  I leaned forward, which took less work than arguing. He soaked a towel in the alcohol and pressed it to my back. I arched it with the inevitable sting, then relaxed as it slowly passed.

  “Every servant at Farthenwood knows Tobias cut you,” Errol murmured. “I’d be surprised if the master doesn’t hear of it soon. ”

  “The servants are mistaken. I was trying to climb out a window. ”

  “We hear things, Sage. More than anyone knows. ”

  “Then you obviously know why Roden and Tobias and I are here. Are Conner’s servants loyal to him, to this plan?”

  “Shortly after you came, Conner impressed upon us the sacred nature of what he’s doing, how important it is to Carthya. To be sure, he threatened us dearly if word of his plan leaks outside Farthenwood. But he shouldn’t worry, nor should you. This is a secret we will all carry to our graves. If you are chosen as prince, I will treat you just as I would a true royal. ”

  With that, he finished bandaging me up. He pulled my nightclothes on and even fastened them in front, which I was more than capable of doing.

  When he stood to leave, I said, “Thanks for helping tonight, Errol. Thanks for helping every night. I know I’m difficult. ”

  “I’ll take that as an apology, sir. Your dinner is on the desk there. Good night. ”

  I was in bed when Roden and Tobias came into the room. Tobias entered more quietly than usual and lay down on his bed indifferently. Roden crossed over to me and said, “Conner was furious that you didn’t return to the dining room tonight. I heard him ask Mott to come get you right now. ”

  I groaned. “How can he expect us to see ourselves as royalty when he treats us as slaves?”

  Errol entered the room and began rummaging through my drawers. “I’m sorry, Sage, but it’s true. Conner has asked to see you. Mott is waiting outside to take you to see him. ”

  I winced as I rolled out of bed. Errol held up clothes for me, but I shook my head. “If he asks for me at night, he’ll find me in nightclothes. ”

  “It’s inappropriate,” Errol said.

  “And it’s indecent of him to summon me when he knows I’m asleep!”

  I opened the door to leave, but Mott blocked the doorway and shook his head at me. “I won’t bring you to the master like that. Allow Errol to dress you, or I’ll do it. ”

  I shut the door in his face and held out my arms to Errol, who hurried forward, clothes in hand. Minutes later, Mott was walking me, fully dressed, down to Conner’s office.

  “Am I in trouble?” I asked.

  “That depends on your answers to his questions. ”

  Conner was in the middle of writing something when we entered his office. Mott directed me to stand in front of his desk, but I sat. A minute or two passed before Conner even acknowledged I was there. Finally, he set the quill down and looked up at me.

  “What did you think of her?”

  “The princess?” I shrugged. “She’s beautiful. I’d heard the betrothed princess was more horse than woman. ”

  “Bite your words,” Conner hissed. “You’re speaking of the future queen of Carthya. That is, if the prince is found. And yes, she has most unexpectedly become a beautiful young woman. Why did she choose you to escort her out?”

  “Because I told her about the spot of dirt on her face before. I think she appreciated the honesty. ”

  “You’re lucky she did. She might as easily have had you whipped for being disrespectful. ”

  “I’ve already been whipped. ”

  “And stabbed, I hear. ”

  “Mott has my story on that incident, sir. ”

  “A story which is probably a lie. ”

  “At Farthenwood, lies and truth blur together. ”

  “Only lies in pursuit of the truth, Sage. ”

  My body ached with tiredness. All I wanted was to finish this pointless conversation and go back to sleep. But there was one question I needed answered. “Why did you allow me to go with her? When you bring me to court, she’ll recognize me. ”

  “If I bring you to court. Don’t mistake my tolerance for you as any sort of favoritism. Quite the contrary. ”

  “My question stands, sir. Why did you allow me to go with her?”

  “The possibility of her recognizing you did concern me for a moment. Then I decided you can easily explain that I kept you in hiding here until you could be presented at court. The fact that you two already met could be seen as an advantage. Now I have some questions for you. ”

  “I have a few more questions first. ”

  Conner arched an eyebrow. “Oh?”

  “What if Prince Jaron is alive? Then he returns to the castle to find me sitting on his throne? I don’t think he’ll appreciate that. ”

  “Jaron is dead. I told you once before that I have proof of it. Besides, the pirates off the coast of Avenia are ruthless. The reason no body was ever found is because they likely destroyed everything identifiable about him. Whatever trouble he may have caused his family, the king and queen loved Jaron. The queen in particular never gave up searching for any trace of him in the years that followed. It was all in vain. I doubt he was even alive by the time his ship sunk. ”

  “What’s your proof?”

  “I present that to the boy I choose as prince and to nobody else. ”

  “If you can prove Jaron’s dead, then can you also prove to the regents that Jaron survived?”