The false prince, p.50
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       The False Prince, p.50

         Part #1 of The Ascendance Trilogy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
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Page 50

 

  Before I could answer, she disappeared through the window. By the time I climbed through and shut it tightly, she was already back in her bed. Her message was clear. I was a prince now, and she had returned to being Imogen the mute.

  Morning came early. I’d barely slept, if at all. One thought after another had tumbled through my mind faster than I could make sense of it. For most of the past four years, I had accepted the idea that I would be Sage for the rest of my life. Letting that go and allowing myself to be Jaron again was more difficult than I had anticipated.

  I was already awake when Conner tried to kick me into consciousness, so his foot hit my hands and nothing worse. Then he called for Imogen to wake up and go downstairs to order us a breakfast. Ours was to be served in our room, then she could take something to the boys in the carriage. He gave her no instructions on when she could eat.

  “We’ll stay here in the room until it’s time to leave,” Conner said. “I’ve got only hours left to prepare you for presentation. ”

  “I am prepared,” I grumbled.

  Conner smirked at me. “I would have expected more humility from you today. Our highest priority is to rehearse the order of action tonight. And don’t try to tell me you know about that. ”

  I didn’t. “Tell me, then. ”

  “Get dressed and straighten this room first, or else the maids will wonder about our arrangement last night. I have a few duties for Mott to attend to this morning that I must speak with him about. ”

  By the time I dressed and replaced the hanging sheet and my blanket on Imogen’s bed, Conner was returning with Imogen behind him. She carried a tray that she set on a table in our room. I wondered if she had risked speaking to the staff to order our breakfast, or if not, how she had communicated our order to them.

  “Maybe it was a good thing you brought her along,” Conner said. “It’s handy to have a traveling servant. ”

  “I thought that’s what Mott is for,” I said.

  “He’s more than a common servant. Surely you’ve noticed that by now. ”

  Imogen left as quickly as she could, and Conner handed me a plate filled with hot cakes, eggs, and thick slices of bacon.

  “It’s a large breakfast,” I said hungrily.

  “This is nothing compared to what lies ahead for you,” Conner said. “Once you’re the prince, you may tell your servants anything you wish to eat and they will provide it. They will feed it to you if you desire. ”

  “I don’t. There’s no need to tempt me for this position, Conner. You have me. Now tell me about court tonight. ”

  “All twenty of the king’s regents will meet in the throne room at five o’clock. Also there will be the king’s closest adviser, the high chamberlain, Lord Kerwyn. No need for you to know all of their names. Jaron likely would not have known them, so no one will expect you to. ”

  I didn’t know all of them. But there were some I expected to recognize. Kerwyn would know me best. He’d suffered through my childhood beside my family. But would he recognize me after all this time? It was doubtful. I’d changed a lot in four years.

  Conner continued, “The first act of the meeting will be to officially announce the deaths of the king, queen, and Crown Prince Darius. ”

  I winced at that. Conner didn’t notice. He never had before, either.

  “The announcement is merely a formality. Most of the regents have known this from the start. And the others will have heard enough rumors to confirm the likelihood in their minds. Then we’ll have a report from the three regents who traveled to Avenia to seek any news as to the life or death of Prince Jaron. They will report a confirmation that he’s dead. ”

  “How do you know?” I asked.

  “Because he is dead!” Conner snapped. “Who do you think hired the pirates so many years ago?”

  The news knocked the wind from my lungs. It overwhelmed any sense of pretense I’d been able to maintain thus far with him. All that kept me from attacking him was the knowledge that I still wanted him with me at the castle tonight.

  “Why?” My voice was hoarse. I didn’t trust myself to say anything more.

  “I thought it’d force us into war with Avenia. Eckbert stood by and did nothing year after year while Avenia inched its way deeper into Carthyan lands. But if Avenian pirates killed his son, he’d be forced to act. Unfortunately, despite the pirates’ assurances to me that everyone on that ship went down, Jaron’s body was never found. Eckbert was able to appease his critics by saying he wouldn’t go to war until he had Jaron’s body as evidence in the attack. However, Avenia has backed off since their suspected involvement in Jaron’s death, so in a way, my plan worked better than I could have hoped for. Our borders are safer and no war was needed. ”

  Conner paused as if he expected me to say something. What did he want? Congratulations? He seemed to sense my discomfort, then added, “I know this secret is safe with you because you can’t reveal it without betraying your own true identity. ”

  “No,” I mumbled. “I can’t betray my identity. ” Yet.

  Conner brushed his hands together as if the matter were settled. “So let’s continue. When the three regents report that Prince Jaron is dead, this will be the time when, as the high chamberlain, Lord Kerwyn will stand and declare that a new king must be chosen. However, before he stands, I will come forward and announce that the regents are wrong about Jaron’s death. That’s when I will introduce you to the court. There will be a bit of commotion initially, but Kerwyn will have you brought to him. There will be several questions, a careful examination of you. It will take some time, and no matter what they say, you must answer calmly and with confidence. You must keep your sharp tongue under control. And you must not make a single mistake. Can you do it?”

  “I can. ”

  That pleased Conner. “Good. We’ll work on your answers through much of today, make sure you know everything to say, and of course, I’ll be there to assist should you get into any trouble. ”

  I pushed my plate aside, unable to eat anything else. Conner pushed it back to me. “You must have your energy today. ”

  I shoved my chair behind me and stood. “You said you have proof I can offer them. What is it?”

  “Later,” Conner said. “You don’t get that unless I’m certain you are going to be declared prince tonight. You have only a few hours to learn everything else you must. If you’ve finished eating, are you ready to get started?”

  I closed my eyes and tried to control my breathing. My heart raced at the prospect of all that lay ahead of me that day. No matter what Conner told me or tried to teach, one thing was certain. I was not, nor would I ever be, ready. But that wasn’t what he wanted to hear. So I looked at him and said, “Okay. Let’s begin. ”

  Conner drilled me nonstop for four hours. He refused to answer any knock on the door with more than an order of “Go away,” and denied my requests for a break to step outside and clear my head. I didn’t care about most of what he told me, but I had to remember it for now, word for word, in order to repeat it back to him.

  Finally, in the late afternoon, Conner announced I was ready to go before the court. He declared himself an excellent teacher due to the fact that I had learned so much in such a short period of time. Little did he guess how much his student already knew. Yet there were a few things I did not know. Things I had been too young to understand when I left there as a child. Conner had provided me with details of Jaron’s early life with such intimacy that I had asked him how he could know so much.