The false prince, p.6
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       The False Prince, p.6

         Part #1 of The Ascendance Trilogy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Page 6


  “Remember when I said I never won rounds against that old soldier?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer, Roden added, “It’s because I knew he’d stop if I won. I’m good with a sword. ”

  “Maybe you can use some of those skills to get us out of here,” I mumbled.

  “You saw what he did to Latamer. ” Roden was silent for several minutes, then whispered, “They just killed him. Told him he was safe to go, then they killed him. What is Conner planning that would make him willing to kill?”

  “He’s planning a revolution,” I whispered back. “Conner is going to use one of us to overthrow the kingdom. ”

  Sometime during the night, I tried to roll over in my blanket. A tug on my ankle awoke me and I sat up to find myself chained to Mott, who was sleeping beside me. I grabbed a pebble and flung it at Mott’s face. His eyes flew open and he sat up, glaring at me.

  “What?” he snarled.

  “You chained me up?” I said. “Not the others, only me?”

  “The others won’t run. You might. ” Mott lay back down. “Go to sleep, or I’ll knock you out cold. ”

  “I’ve got to go. ”

  “Go where?”

  “To go. I’d have just taken care of it myself, but it looks like you want to come along. ”

  Mott cursed. “Wait for morning. ”

  “Wish I could. I’ve been cursed with my mother’s pea-size bladder. ”

  Mott sat up again, fumbled on the ground for the keys to the chain, then unlocked himself. He grabbed his sword and directed me to stand, then escorted me over the cold ground to some bushes a little ways from camp.

  “Go here. ”

  I did my business, then we walked back to camp. Mott grabbed the collar of my shirt and shoved me back onto my blanket. “You ever wake me in the night again and I’ll hurt you. ”

  “As long as you have me chained, prepare for waking up a lot in the night,” I said. “I’m not a quiet sleeper. ”

  He replaced the chain, tightening it, I noticed, from what it had been before. I stretched and yawned and rolled over, pulling my chained leg as far forward as I could. Mott yanked it back. Even though I knew I’d pay for it the next day, I couldn’t help but grin as I pulled my leg forward again.

  Surprisingly, that morning Mott made no mention of the previous night. I got a kick awake, but so did Roden. Tobias was up walking around, so he must have been awake already, and smirked a little to see Roden and me groan in our blankets.

  Roden seemed to have recovered from the shock of Latamer’s murder last night, or at least, he was back to his old self, assuring Tobias and me as we cleaned up that he intended to be the boy Conner chose. Tobias and I glanced at each other. Tobias’s expression was clear — he intended to win too, only he clearly planned on pursuing that goal more quietly than Roden.

  “I have bread for breakfast,” Conner announced. “A mouthful for any boy who correctly answers my questions. ” He broke off a piece of bread and asked, “Who are the current king and queen of Carthya?”

  “Eckbert and Corinne,” I said quickly.

  Tobias laughed. “King Eckbert is correct, but the queen is Erin. ”

  Conner tossed the bread to Tobias, which I thought was unfair. I’d already given him half the answer, yet he got the entire bite. Conner broke off another piece, then asked, “How many regents sit in King Eckbert’s court?”

  Tobias guessed ten, but Conner said that was incorrect. Neither Roden nor I answered.

  “The correct answer is twenty,” Conner said. “No matter how many nobles of wealth or stature exist in the land, there are always twenty regents given a seat in the court. They advise the king, although Eckbert too often ignores his regents. ” He popped the bread in his mouth, then took another piece while he chewed. After swallowing, he asked, “How many sons does King Eckbert have?”

  “Two,” I answered.

  “Wrong again,” Tobias said. “There is one, the crown prince Darius. There were two until four years ago, when the younger son, Prince Jaron, was lost during a sea voyage. ”

  Conner tossed the bread to Tobias, and then said to me, “Your accent is Avenian, so you’re not originally from Carthya. What brought you from Avenia to Carthya?”

  “That orphanage was the farthest away I could get from my family,” I said.

  “Are your parents still alive?” he asked.

  “I have not sought out any information on them for some time,” I said. “As far as I know, I’m completely alone in this world. ”

  “Avenia is a violent country,” Conner said. “If disease doesn’t strike, bandits will. Few live to old age in Avenia. ”

  “Consider me an orphan,” I said. “An orphan of family and of country. Is loyalty to Carthya a requirement for you?”

  Conner nodded. “It’s a must. It will take you more effort to learn facts about this country, which Roden and Tobias have grown up knowing. Are you up to learning?”

  I shrugged. “Tell me about the regents. ”

  Conner rewarded my question with a chunk of bread, and then said, “I am one of the twenty regents, albeit a minor one. My father was a man of great influence in the court, so upon his recent death, I inherited my position in the court. Thirteen of the regents inherited their positions, the other seven earned them through great acts of service to the king. Three of the regents are women; two are old men whose sons can’t wait for them to die to take their places. For every regent in the court, there are five nobles in Carthya who would love to see them fall from grace so that another Carthyan can be brought into council with the king. All of the regents claim loyalty to the king, but few actually practice it. The secret none of them keep very well is that they wish to have the throne for themselves. ”

  “Does that include you?” Roden’s question was not rewarded with bread.

  Conner pressed his lips together, and then said, “As I told you, my status in the court is minor. It’s useless for me to aspire to the throne. It would be taken over a hundred times before I attained enough power to acquire it. ”

  “He didn’t ask whether you’d get the throne,” I said. “He asked whether you wanted it. ”

  Conner smiled. “Is there anyone who bows to the throne and does not wish that he was the one who sat on it? Tell me, Sage, have you ever lain on the hard floor of the orphanage, staring at the stars through cracks in the ceiling, and wondered what it would be like to be king?”

  I couldn’t deny that. Beside me, Roden and Tobias were nodding their heads. In the few moments at night before sleep came upon us, when all orphans do their best dreaming, we’d all thought about it.

  Conner continued his lesson. “Second in power to the king is the high chamberlain, Lord Kerwyn. But Kerwyn is a servant to the king and could not become king himself. The most powerful of the regents is the prime regent, a man named Santhias Veldergrath. He’s ruthless in his ambitions. He’s climbed the ladder of power by destroying those with influence greater than his. I suspect there are more than a dozen nobles either dead or in the king’s prison because of Veldergrath. He wants the crown and works the king’s armies to his favor. If anything were ever to happen to the royal family, Veldergrath would be first to reach for the throne. The other regents would either bow to his will or send Carthya into civil war in pursuit of their own ambitions. ”