FIRST READ: 'The False Prince' by Jennifer Nielsen
Mrs. Turbeldy’s Orphanage for Disadvantaged Boys was the only place for orphaned boys in the northern end of Carthya. Nineteen of us lived there, ranging in age from three to fifteen. I was almost fifteen, and any day now, Mrs. Turbeldy would send me away. But I didn’t want to leave yet, and certainly not as this stranger’s servant boy.
Mrs. Turbeldy was waiting in her office when I walked in, with the man close behind me. She was too fat to credibly claim she starved along with the rest of us, but strong enough to beat anyone who complained about that fact. In recent months, she and I had settled into a routine of barely tolerating each other. Mrs. Turbeldy must have seen what happened outside, because she shook her head and said, “A roast? What were you thinking?”
“That we had a lot of hungry boys,” I said. “You can’t feed us bean bread every day and not have a revolt.”
“You’ll give me that roast, then,” she said, holding out her plump hands.
Business first. I clutched the roast more tightly to myself and nodded at the man. “Who’s he?”
The man stepped forward. “My name is Bevin Conner. Tell me yours.”
I stared at him without answering, which earned me a whack on the back of the head from Mrs. Turbeldy’s broom. “His name is Sage,” she told Conner. “And as I told you before, you’d be bet- ter off with a rabid badger than this one.”
Conner raised an eyebrow and stared at me as if that amused him, which was annoying because I had no interest in provid- ing him with any entertainment. So I tossed my hair out of my eyes and said, “She’s right. So can I go now?”
Conner frowned and shook his head. The moment of amusement had passed. “What can you do, boy?”
“If you bothered to ask my name, you might use it.”
He continued as if he hadn’t heard me. Also annoying. “What’s your training?”
“He don’t have any,” Mrs. Turbeldy said. “None a gentle- man like yourself would need, anyhow.”
“What did your father do?” Conner asked me.
“He was best as a musician, but still a terrible one,” I said. “If he made a single coin from playing, my family never saw it.”
“He was probably a drunk.” Mrs. Turbeldy rapped my ear with her knuckles. “So this one’s made his way through theft and lies.”
“What sort of lies?
I wasn’t sure if the question was directed to me or Mrs. Turbeldy. But he was looking at Mrs. Turbeldy, so I let her speak.
She took Conner by the arm and pulled him into a corner, which was an entirely useless gesture because not only was I standing right there and perfectly able to hear every word, but the story was also about me, so it was hardly a secret. Conner obliged her, though I noticed he faced himself toward me as she spoke.