The false prince, p.8
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       The False Prince, p.8

         Part #1 of The Ascendance Trilogy series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
 
Page 8

 

  A line of servants had assembled in front of the wagon. A few quickly took control of the horses and one helped Conner out of the wagon, bowing to him afterward as if he were a royal.

  Cregan gestured to us to leave the wagon, and when we did, Conner presented us each with a servant. “Follow your man to a warm bath and a change of clean clothes. ” He cast an eye on me. “Some of you require more scrubbing than usual, so stay in the bath as long as you must. Once you are presentable, you may join me for a hot supper that I suspect will be the finest meal any of you have ever eaten. ”

  Roden and Tobias followed their servants into the estate. I followed mine behind them as we entered Farthenwood. The entry was massive and well lit by windows and a large chandelier directly above us. The plaster walls were decorated with beautiful murals of countryside scenes. A tapestry hanging near me depicted dozens of names and faces. Probably Conner’s family tree.

  “What’s your name?” I asked the servant.

  He hesitated at first as if he wasn’t sure whether he should answer, and then said, “Errol, sir. ” Errol looked like the kind of young man who might never grow enough facial hair to actually require a shave. He had boyish features and a bit of curl in his light blond hair. I suspected that if the fables about the existence of elves were true, Errol would turn out to be one of them.

  “I’m Sage. My companions on this trip will assure you I am no ‘sir. ’ Conner seems to think he owns me too, which makes me a servant much like you. So let’s keep everything on a first-name basis. ”

  “Forgive me, but I’ve been instructed to call you ‘sir,’” Errol said. “So you should get used to hearing it. ”

  I tugged on the rag that served as my shirt. My entire fist could easily have fit through a tear in the fabric near my hip. “With me dressed this way? How can you call me that without laughing?”

  Errol glanced sideways at me and smiled crookedly. “It isn’t easy … sir. ”

  When I asked, Errol told me that the rooms off to the left were for a few of the choice servants, such as Mott and Cregan. They also housed a kitchen and other work areas. To the right were rooms for other servants, which several of them shared. I figured Errol’s was one of those rooms. A grand staircase rose up from the center of the entry. It was lined with tall beeswax candles and was carpeted in a weave so fine I bent down and ran my fingers over it.

  Ahead of me, I heard Roden’s servant tell Roden that with my dirty hands, he’d have to scrub that area of carpet now. Out of spite, I made sure I left a mark there.

  The second floor consisted of rooms on alternating sides of a long hallway.

  “I think several of my orphanages could fit in here,” Roden said.

  “Conner’s a rich man, that’s for sure,” Tobias added.

  “Why does he need so many rooms?” I asked.

  Errol smiled. “If he had fewer rooms, there wouldn’t be enough cleaning for all of us to do. ”

  I laughed loudly, which earned a glare from the other two servants. In a quieter voice, Errol continued, “Master Conner often has guests. He wishes to impress his wealth upon them, and usually does. ”

  “He said he’s a regent in the court. Has the king ever been here?”

  “The king has not, but the queen came once when traveling with her courtiers. ”

  “I’ve heard she’s not very pretty,” I said.

  Errol looked at me like I’d slapped him. “Whoever told you that was lying,” he said, as if personally offended. “Queen Erin is a strikingly beautiful woman. Master Conner himself has often commented on that. ”

  “Is Conner married?”

  “No, sir. He loved a woman once, but that didn’t work out. ”

  “Do you know why we’ve been brought here?” I asked. “Conner said he has a plan. ”

  “If I knew, it wouldn’t be my place to say it. ” Errol’s eyes darted around as he spoke.

  “You don’t have to tell me,” I said quickly. The last thing I wanted was to make Errol afraid to talk to me. “I was just curious. ”

  “All we hear as servants are rumors and bits of the whole story,” Errol said. “You couldn’t trust the little I know anyway. ”

  “No,” I agreed, then changed the subject. “How long have you served Conner?”

  “I came here when I was ten, sir, half my life ago. ”

  So he wasn’t much older than me. And yet he addressed me as sir.

  “Are you working off a debt to him?”

  “My family’s debts. Perhaps another ten years, then I’ll be free to go. ”

  “Do you like it here?”

  Errol nodded. “If you do what Conner wants, he’s a good master. ”

  “What if you don’t do what he wants?”

  “Conner sent a messenger ahead. I heard about you. ” Errol smiled and added, “I fear you may find out the answer to that question for yourself. ”

  That made me smile as well. “He won’t get any more trouble from me. It’s becoming very clear what happens to those who cross him. ”

  “Yes, sir. ” Errol stopped at a door. “You’ll share a bedroom with the other boys, but your bath will be in here. ” He opened the door to reveal a nice-size room that looked as if it had been converted for use in bathing. The decorations here were soft and feminine, but it didn’t appear to be anyone’s current living quarters, so I assumed this was a guest room. I was tempted to throw myself down on the bed near a far wall for a nap, but given how dirty I was, they’d probably have to burn the bed afterward.

  Errol tugged at my shirt to prompt me to undress for the bath, but I jumped away from him and said, “I bathe in private. ”

  Errol smiled again. “If you will pardon the observation, sir, it doesn’t appear that you bathe at all. ”

  I laughed. “Well, I won’t start by having my bath with company. ”

  “My instructions are to bring you to supper as clean as a nobleman’s son. I’ll wait outside if you wish, but when you come out, if you are not that clean, we’ll return to that bath again. I obey the master’s wishes, not yours. ” This time, Errol was not smiling as he closed the door.

  “You can relax out there,” I called to him. “I’ll be a while. ”

  I looked for a way to lock the door but found none. So I dragged a heavy chair to the door and braced it beneath the door handle.

  The room had a window balcony at the back of the house. I tiptoed out onto it and looked around. A gardener was working below me, but his head was bent down to the flowers. Probably not a great risk of him looking up. The exterior of Conner’s home was built from rock, with a thin ledge marking each floor. It was a long fall to the ground, but there were a lot of ways to make sure I didn’t fall.

  I swung my body onto the balustrade, balancing myself against the outside wall. Bracing my foot against the angled curve of a rock, I dug my fingers into the crevice of another rock and climbed.

  Errol was calling my name when I returned to the room, sweaty and tired. I hadn’t been gone long, just enough to have a look over Conner’s grounds for myself. Still, I wondered how long he’d been calling for me.