The false prince, p.42
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       The False Prince, p.42

         Part #1 of The Ascendance Trilogy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
 
Page 42

 

  I barely heard him and only stared at the scrubbed area on the floor. Imogen caught my eye and offered a grateful and sympathetic smile. At least she was safe.

  Conner turned to Roden. “Can you tell the lie, Roden, for the rest of your life?”

  He sat up straighter. “I can, sir. ”

  Conner motioned to Imogen. “Bring the boys a supper here in their room. Each of you get a good night’s sleep because morning will come early. Roden, you are my prince. You and I depart for Drylliad after breakfast. ”

  Once I’m named as king, I’ll ask Conner not to kill either of you,” Roden said as we lay on our beds that night. “Maybe I can get him to exile you to another country or something and make you promise not to return. ”

  “By the time you’ve had the chance to talk with him, Cregan will already have carried out his orders,” Tobias said. “He’ll be quick with me, but what about Sage?”

  He’d be anything but quick with me. Cregan had made that clear.

  I arose from my bed and pressed open the secret door. “Where are you going?” Roden asked.

  “If you’re running away, let me come,” Tobias said.

  “I’m not running away and it’s none of your business where I’m going,” I snapped. “But I won’t lie here while we all talk about our deaths. ”

  Roden was still awake when I came back sometime later. He was sitting up in bed, staring forward but seeing little. “Why didn’t you run?” he asked. His tone was flat and lifeless. “You had your chance. ”

  I pulled off my boots and sat on my bed. My fingers found a garlin in my pocket, which I ran over my knuckles. “You think Conner’s going to have Tobias and me killed in the morning?”

  Softly, Roden said, “It’s not personal, Sage, but I’ve decided not to ask him to save you two. ”

  Not a big surprise, but I still asked him why.

  Finally, he looked at me. Deep creases lined his forehead. “You know my answer. You and Tobias are threats to me now. There’s only one way to guarantee you’ll never come back to expose me. ”

  “We’re also the only protection you have from Conner. ”

  Roden finger-combed his hair off his face, then leaned against the wall. “I’ll have to deal with that eventually, but until then, I’ve got to do what’s in my own best interest, and Carthya’s best interest. I hope you two will forgive me. ”

  I flipped the garlin at him before I lay on my bed. “There’s your alm of forgiveness, Roden. Pay it to the gods or devils, or to Conner, whatever altar you bow to. But don’t ask it from me. ”

  Errol and the other two servants awoke us shortly before dawn. It was clear as we looked at one another that none of us had slept well, but the bags under Roden’s eyes were so dark I wondered if he’d slept at all.

  Particular care was taken with Roden’s bath and dressing that morning, requiring all three servants to help. Tobias and I were left mostly to ourselves, other than Errol briefly slipping away from Roden’s care to check my back.

  “In another day or two, you can remove those bandages,” he said.

  “I’ll be as healthy as any other dead man,” I said lightly.

  Errol frowned and lowered his eyes. Obviously, he didn’t think my impending death was very funny.

  Once we were ready, Errol pronounced me as similar to Prince Jaron in appearance as he’d seen the night before, but then loudly told Roden that he also had many features that reminded him of the prince.

  Looking at Roden, I hoped he planned on eating only a little. He didn’t appear to be in a state to handle a full stomach.

  Mott came to collect Roden for breakfast. “You understand that the master may wish to reserve some conversations for himself and the prince alone,” he said to Tobias and me. “Your breakfast will be served in here, and I will come for you later to say your good-byes. ”

  “We’re tired of eating in here,” I complained, but Mott only frowned at me as he led Roden out of the room.

  When the door shut, Tobias went to the window. “You can get us out of here, right? It’s time to run. ”

  “Run to where?” I asked. “Where would you go?”

  “You could take us back to Avenia. We could hide there. ”

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the garlin that I’d tossed to Roden last night. It had been left on the floor beside his bed. A day ago, he wouldn’t have been so casual about leaving behind any amount of money, but he was Conner’s prince now. Money was the least of his concerns.

  I picked up the garlin, rolled it over my knuckles, then deposited it in my pocket. Tobias had retreated to his bed, defeated. I sat beside him and said, “We’re not running away and this isn’t over yet. When I said I wouldn’t let Conner kill you, I meant it. ”

  Tobias gave a halfhearted smile. “Thanks for that, Sage, but at this point, you should start worrying about your own neck. ”

  Breakfast arrived soon after. I was as hungry as always, but Tobias barely ate a bite. Mott returned for us before I’d gotten too far into his meal.

  “What’s going to happen to Sage and me now?” Tobias asked.

  “The master has given no orders,” Mott said.

  “Maybe not to you,” I said. “Where’s Cregan?”

  Mott’s face darkened. “Why didn’t you tell Conner you’d lie for him, Sage? He stood right here and said he’d make you his prince. All you had to do was say you would lie. ”

  I set my jaw forward, but said nothing. Even if I were inclined to explain myself, which I wasn’t, I had no answer to give him.

  Finally, Mott waved us to our feet. “It’s too late to go back now anyway. Come with me and bid the prince and the master farewell. ”

  We followed him into the entrance hall. Roden looked pale and terrified. I leaned against the wall and withdrew the garlin from my pocket and began rolling it over my knuckles. It was a nervous habit, and I admit that I felt a little nervous.

  Tobias tried a different tactic. He fell on his knees before Conner, begging mercy.

  “Please don’t have us killed,” he said. “Please, sir. Give me your word that we can leave here safely. ”

  “You ask for the word of a liar?” I asked. “Would you feel any better if Conner did promise us our lives?”

  Tobias shrank even lower, but Conner stared at me, frozen. “What is that trick you’re doing?” he asked.

  The knuckle roll came so automatically to me that it barely required my attention. “Sir?”

  Conner’s hand flew to his mouth. “How can I have been so foolish? The devils must be laughing, for I nearly ruined everything!”

  Roden opened his mouth to speak, but Conner hushed him and walked over to me, never taking his eyes off the coin in my hand. “Where did you learn to do that?”

  I shrugged. “Any pickpocket can do it. ” To demonstrate, I dropped the coin in Conner’s coat pocket. With my thumb and forefinger I withdrew the coin, then rolled it over my knuckles and into my palm. “It’s a good way to steal a coin because you can sneak it away without having to make a fist. ”

  Conner turned to Roden. “Can you do it?”

  Roden shook his head. Tobias also shook his head before he could be asked.