The false prince, p.46
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       The False Prince, p.46

         Part #1 of The Ascendance Trilogy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Page 46


  In fact, Jaron never fully understood that anyone in his family, other than his mother, truly loved him. Until it was too late and they were all dead.

  Shortly before his eleventh birthday, Jaron’s parents called him for a private council. Both Gelyn and Avenia pressed at Carthya’s borders, threatening war. The regents were in an uproar, threatening to depose Eckbert if he didn’t push their enemies back. Jaron was a distraction for the country and something had to be done. Eckbert had found a school up north in the country of Bymar for Jaron to attend. It would give him an excellent education and teach him proper decorum for a prince.

  Jaron angrily protested. He swore to his father that if he tried to send him to Bymar, he would run away and never be found again. Eckbert retaliated, telling Jaron that if he did not go, it could mean the end for Carthya. He had to prove to both his own country and to the enemies at his border that he could be decisive. He would send his own son away and end the embarrassment.

  Erin pled with Jaron to accept Eckbert’s decision. To do it for Carthya. To do it for her.

  “I will do it for you, Mother,” Jaron had said. “I’ll leave you for your own sake. But you will never see me again. ”

  He hadn’t meant those words. He was angry and felt horrible even as the threat tumbled from his mouth. But he also hurt in a way he couldn’t describe. Enemies weren’t at Carthyan borders because of him. They were there because his father had looked the other way for too long. Perhaps there were Carthyans who laughed at the prince’s latest antics, but they would stand by their king when he called them.

  Jaron left the very next day, rather quietly. There was no farewell supper, no grand entourage to accompany him to the docks at Isel. Only a few officers would journey with him to Avenia, then across the Eranbole Sea to the gates of Bymar.

  Jaron got onboard the ship and immediately complained of rolling seasickness, despite the fact that the ship had not even left the harbor. A calming medicine was offered to him, and it was recommended that Jaron go to his room belowdecks to rest.

  Jaron never took the medicine, and it was no easy matter for him to slip out the small porthole of his room. Still, he had a smaller build than most ten-year-old boys, and after he worked his shoulders free, the rest was simple. Unaware that Jaron had left, the ship set sail without him. The ship was attacked by pirates late that afternoon.

  When news of the piracy returned to Carthya, a search was made for any survivors. There were none, all of them killed in fighting the pirates or drowned at sea. Because Jaron’s body was never found, a search was made throughout Avenia and Carthya for any hope of his survival. Before long, most people believed he had joined dozens of others in the ship at the bottom of the sea.

  Safely on land, Jaron quickly found he had skills that enabled him to blend in with Avenians. He was good with accents and had studied enough of foreign cultures to move amongst them like a native. He pickpocketed for spare coins or worked odd jobs wherever he found them.

  Still, he went hungry most days and spent his nights huddled in the shadows, hoping to go unnoticed by the street thugs who patrolled the darkness.

  It was Darius who found Jaron first. Jaron had dropped a coin in an offerings dish at a church. The priest there recognized the young prince and sent word to Darius, who was known to be searching for his brother in a nearby town. To stall for time, the priest kindly told Jaron he had some extra food, and if Jaron agreed to wash the church steps, he could stay the night. Darius arrived early the next morning, alone. Over a small breakfast with Jaron, Darius described the suffering of their parents, who had tortured themselves over having lost their son.

  Jaron dissolved into tears and said he would gladly return home if his parents would allow him to come. Darius told him to stay at the church and he would ask their father what should be done.

  Darius left Jaron in his room, thanked the priest for his services but informed him that, sadly, the young boy was not the lost prince of Carthya. However, he expressed his pity for the boy and paid the priest to continue to watch over him for another week.

  One week later, Jaron would finally begin to understand his role in the future of Carthya.

  At the end of the week, a man came to meet with Jaron in the church. If anyone had asked, the priest would have said he did not know who the man was, only that he had the air of someone of great importance. But nobody asked. As far as they knew, the boy living in the church was an orphan.

  Jaron recognized his father immediately, despite his extravagant attempts at disguise. They did not embrace. It was not his father’s way. But there were tears in his father’s eyes, and for the first time, Jaron saw his father as a man, not as a king.

  They sat in the center of the pews and received little attention from the few patrons who had come that day. It was awkward at first, for although they sat close together, father and son had grown miles apart.

  “When I was your age, I wanted to be a musician,” Eckbert said. It was a poor attempt at connecting with his son, but it was all he had. “Did you know that?”

  Jaron nodded. His mother had told him that once. And when he was very young, his father would occasionally show him how to play some of his favorite instruments, although he was careful never to do so when there were servants around. His father thought it would be an embarrassment.

  Eckbert smiled at the memories of his own youth. “I enjoyed playing the fippler, and although I confess I wasn’t very good, it brought me a lot of joy. Do you remember when you were younger? I taught you a song or two, I believe. ”

  “I remember one of them,” Jaron whispered. “Mother’s favorite. ”

  Eckbert folded his arms together and leaned against the bench of the church. “My father, your grandfather, couldn’t tolerate the squeaks and pitches of my music and discouraged me from playing. He said music was a useless education for a future king, and a waste of my time. Although I didn’t understand it then, he was right. ”

  Jaron listened quietly. It was hard to picture his father as ever having been a boy, as ever having any desire unconnected with the throne.

  “You and I are not so different as you might think, Jaron. I spent much of my own childhood wishing I could have been someone other than a crown prince. ”

  “I’m not a crown prince,” Jaron reminded him. “Just a prince. Darius will take the throne. ”

  “As he should. And he’ll be a fine king one day. But what about you? What do you want for your life? Being a prince doesn’t seem to suit you. ”

  His father had intended to mean that Jaron was capable of anything, even beyond the castle walls. Jaron took it that his father felt he was unfit for his title and offered nothing more than a shrug in response.

  “How has your life as a commoner been these past weeks?” Eckbert asked.

  “I’ve managed. ”

  “I knew you would. And I know you can. ”

  Jaron glanced up at his father with questioning eyes. What did he mean by that?

  Eckbert sighed. “Still, there will be hard lessons. If you are not Jaron, then you are nobody to the world. They will not care if you go hungry, if you are cold, if you lie beaten on the streets. I’ll do the best I can for you, and beg your forgiveness that I can’t do more. ”

  “I want to come home,” Jaron said softly. It was difficult for him to admit, but whether he was good enough to be a prince or not, he couldn’t take another day on his own. His mother would want him back, probably Darius too. He wasn’t sure about his father.