Ellis woke early and dressed for a funeral. She’d been unsure what to wear but had finally decided that her dress uniform would work. The dress uniform jacket was a darker blue with bright silver buttons and braid, but it lacked the blouse that went under her everyday jacket. With only a shirt under it, the fit was closer to the body and showed off her increasing lack of slimness. The buttons strained across her belly, although the pale blue sash helped disguise that a bit. It would do, though, for today.
Almost every moment that she’d spent with her brothers, she’d been in uniform. She didn’t believe young Michael had ever seen her out of it. He would understand.
For a second, hot tears stung her eyes again, but she forced that reaction down with a stern gaze into the mirror. If nothing else, it would make her scars redden and freshly healed chin and nose whiten. She rubbed her hands together, then passed one thumb over the back of the other hand, where new skin had replaced the scabbing from the coal mine. Faint blue spots speckled them, coal dust ground into her skin staining it. She hoped that would go away in time.
Her wild hair looked neat at least, clipped back at the nape of her neck. That was about as good as she could manage.
Once she emerged into the sitting area, she found Carel waiting for her next to the table. The older woman’s lips pulled to one side as she observed the tight buttons, but then her eyes flicked to Ellis’ face. “I’m going to put powder on your nose,” Carel warned. “And that chin.”
Ellis kept herself from flinching, although just barely. “Why?”
“Because you will be out in public today,” Carel said, touching a red lacquered box on the table. “Was this Miss Eladine’s? It was in my bedroom.”
Not only did the box not look like something Merielle would have owned, the contents displayed when Carel opened it—an assortment of small pots and containers—didn’t either. Merielle had simply been too beautiful to ever think of painting her face. “Certainly not.”
“Another mysterious surprise from your brother? Or perhaps his ever-so-helpful tutor?” Carel let out an aggrieved sigh. “Well, sit down, and I’ll see if I can hide the raw spots.”
Given Carel’s outburst the previous afternoon, Ellis decided to comply with as much grace as she could. In the past, Miralys had done this before they attended balls together, but those days seemed so long ago. Ellis perched on the edge of her chair while Carel daubed paint from a pot on her healing scrapes, dusted her face—and scars—with tinted powder, and stained her lips. “Do I look presentable?”
Carel’s lips twisted again. “I’m unsure whether we should be hiding your scars… or accentuating them.”
“Accentuating?” Ellis blurted, more loudly than she’d planned. “I’m sorry. Why?”
“To show that you are military,” Carel said, peering narrowly at Ellis’ straight brows. “Beyond the three earrings, that is. They’re small enough not to be noticeable at a distance, not you’re your hair. Perhaps I’ll have some guidance from above on that, too, but for today, since your husband is coming, let’s stick with this.”
Ellis had long since come to terms with her scars—the ragged y-shaped one across her cheekbone and the smaller one cutting into her lower lip. Most days, she did her best to ignore them. She’d never thought of them as tools. She should ask Carmeyon what he thought, since he understood public opinion better than she did.
After the funeral, though. He had sent word the previous evening that, barring any incident at the war college, he should be there in time to escort her. Even though it would be a small and private funeral, she wanted his company for the ordeal.
Carel closed all the small jars and set the unexpected lacquered box over on the pianoforte, out of the way. “I’ll contact your seamstress today. You need to make time to see her, Ellis.”
“I will. Thank you,” Ellis managed.
“I’ll move some buttons on that jacket later today,” Carel said with a casual gesture at Ellis’ uniform. “That should get you through Captain Dantreon’s memorial service, at least.”
Carel had said nothing so far about a service for Mikael, and Ellis had lost that thread in the chaos of the last couple of days. “Have you spoken to the chaplain here about a service for Mikael?”
Carel’s eyes didn’t meet hers.
“Do you want me to talk to him?” Ellis asked.
Carel’s chin lifted. “If you think you should.”
Ellis had no idea what Carel wanted now. “I’ll do that, then. Mikael had a lot of friends at the war college, and they will want to meet you.”
Carel sighed. “Fine.”
Ellis could not have been more relieved when a knock on the sitting room door ended the awkward conversation. She went to open it herself and had to choke back a sob when she saw Carmeyon there, dressed in his dark dress uniform.
Her husband stepped over the threshold and wrapped his arms around her. “I am so sorry,” he whispered against her hair. “I wish I could have been here.”
After a moment, she made herself pull away. Carmeyon’s dark hair was neatly brushed, his uniform nearly uncreased, so he must have stopped at his father’s house in town to change clothing before coming to her.
“It’s the way this is always going to be,” she said softly. Recalling abruptly that Carel was there, watching them, Ellis stepped back and made a belated introduction. Carel studied Carmeyon with a cool gaze, as if he was a problem to be solved. Ellis wondered if no one had told her Carmeyon was half Cantreidian. Another thing I don’t often think about.
Carmeyon responded smoothly to whatever she’d said to him. “Thank you, and I am so sorry for your loss as well, Mrs. Deviron. Mikhal was well-liked at the war college. I suspect his memorial will be well attended, even though he didn’t live here.”
Ellis’ lips pressed into a hard line.
“His parents should be the ones having the memorial,” Carel said quickly. “Not me. I… I had only known him a short time.”
Carmeyon let out a soft sigh. “His friends will want to meet you, Mrs. Deviron. They will want to assure you that your pain is worthy, too. They want to offer you comfort, and you would be giving them that gift.”
Carel’s lip trembled, but she merely nodded, then made a shooing gesture. “You should go now, or you’ll both be late.”
Ellis grabbed Carmeyon’s hand and drew him to the door, suspecting that Carel wanted to vent her emotions on her own.
After breakfast, Miralys took a moment to talk to Idiris, stopping the girl before she escaped into more self-imposed chores. “Dear, I wanted to talk to you about this weekend. Will you stay a moment?”
Idiris’ dark brows drew together, but she remained in her chair as Damon and his parents left the dingy dog-smelling breakfast room to get on with their own business for the day. This morning, the girl wore a dark blue overdress over a gray underdress, and her thick hair was braided back, making her look as serious as an old matron.
Miralys worried that Idiris had too little spontaneity in her life, too little fun. She certainly never courted trouble as Miralys had at her age. “My father said the memorial service for your father will be held on Saturday morning. We’ll need to take the train on Friday…”
“No,” Idiris said, jaw squaring off pugnaciously. Her arms closed over her chest. “I’m not going.”
Miralys nearly fell out of her chair. She knew that Idiris was still angry with her father for abandoning her, but the flat refusal shocked her. “But… he’s your father, Idiris. You should…”
“No!” She pushed her chair back and jumped to her feet. “You can’t make me go. I’m not going.”
Miralys chased her niece out of the breakfast room and down the hallway—at a ladylike pace, of course. “Idiris, don’t make me run up those stairs.”
Idiris stopped at the base of the stairwell, her slim back rigid. When she turned around, her mouth was clamped down in a tight frown. “I don’t care about him. He’s not my father anymore.”
Miralys’ eyes stung. She reached out and gathered Idiris into her arms. “Oh, sweetheart, I know. We’re your mother and father now. But this isn’t about him.”
Idiris sniffled, blue eyes glistening. “I don’t care that he’s dead.”
Miralys turned her loose and sat down on the steps. “Here, sit with me. Please, Idiris.”
Idiris hesitated, but then settled next to her.
Miralys had never been fond of her eldest brother, Andrian. He’d gone into the Guard when she was a child, but before that, he’d never approved of his father’s brown children, as he called them. She’d always suspected that epithet was more a form of anger with their father rather than actual prejudice against his four half-siblings. All the same, it had given her little reason to care for Andrian, especially when she was a child. When he’d abandoned Idiris when the girl was only eight, though, that had set Miralys’ mind firmly against him. “Dear, your father and I never knew each other well,” she said. “He was too much older than me. It’s hard for me to miss him now that he’s gone.”
Idiris’ frown didn’t abate.
“Despite that, I’m still going to his memorial in Jenesetta,” Miralys told her. “Whatever else happened, my father—your grandpapa—lost his oldest son. I’m going there for my father, not yours. And I would like you to come with me because Father says he would love to see his grandchildren, you and Siron both. You don’t have to go to the actual service if you don’t want, I promise, but I would like you to come visit with your grandpapa, at the least.”
Idiris sniffed in a breath, then said, “I’ll go, but only for Grandpapa.”
“Thank you,” Miralys said gravely.
Then Idiris sighed. “Do I have to go see my aunts?”
Since Idiris had only one aunt on her father’s side—Ellis Dantreon—Miralys suspected she meant her mother’s family, the Seredians, comprised of two sisters who were possibly the fussiest women Miralys had ever met. Idiris wrote to them monthly but didn’t enjoy visiting them in person. “Perhaps one short visit. Since you’ll be busy consoling your grandpapa, I mean.”
Idiris nodded her agreement. Miralys snaked an arm around her shoulders and squeezed her close. “Thank you. And now I think we should get up before the dog-pee smell transfers to our clothes.”
Idiris pointed to the newel post at the end of the stairwell, a spot which surely must have been a canine favorite. “I think it’s coming from there.”
Miralys heaved herself up to her feet, then hauled her niece up as well. “So glamorous, like living in a palace.”
Idiris just snorted and headed upstairs.
The funeral for Michael Revasien was held in the smaller chapel in the garrison, but every pew was crammed with officers and their wives, all of whom were there for Sirien Revasien’s sake. Ellis didn’t recall much when she thought about it later, the chaplain’s words floating over and past her mind. She just felt numb.
Three deaths, all close to home for her. They were at war now, and gatherings like this would be all the more common in the future. The first in a long line of memorials.
Carmeyon sat or stood by her side throughout, answering others’ questions for her when he could see her civility had worn out. As the crowd in the chapel thinned down to only close friends and family, he grasped her hand and led her to the side of the chapel. “Are you ready to go?”
They should take their leave of the sub-marshal. “I’m not good at this sort of thing,” she whispered. “Knowing what to say.”
“No one is,” he returned.
A young aide with very Menhirre looks stopped in front of them. “Captain Dantreon, Lieutenant Dantreon, Marshal Severin needs you in his conference room.”
Ellis felt a flush go through her. “Is this about my hearing?”
The young man—probably five or six years older than she was, Ellis guessed—regarded her with brows drawn together. “I did not ask, Lieutenant.”
Carmeyon’s hand squeezed hers, and he told the aide they would go. “A simple exit that requires no more socializing. I would think you would like that.”
She walked along the aisle with him, noting as she did so that the aide had moved on to talk to Sub-marshal Korileys, head of the King’s Bodyguard. Ellis glanced up at Carmeyon’s face. “Did you arrange that?”
For a second, he seemed startled. “Uh, no. Mr. Fareinacassan is one of Severin’s aides, so it’s a legitimate request.”
They exited the chapel and made their way along the hallways of the garrison, not missing the somber mood throughout the halls. Revasien was well-liked, and the unusual quiet was evidence of that.
They took the stairs up to the conference room, wondering who else might have been called. When the entered the room, Marshal Severin sat at one end of the long conference table, Harisen standing next to him along with several other officers from the bodyguard in that corner of the room. A cough behind her warned her that Sub-marshal Korileys had made good time getting up the stairs, so she and Carmeyon moved farther into the room and took a pair of seats on one side when Harisen motioned for them to. Ellis was surprised to see Mr. Felidias enter the room—her father’s secretary—which meant surely this wasn’t about her hearing. Then Carmeyon’s father entered, his pale face grim. He sat on Ellis’ other side as the various officers and one secretary took seats about the table. He gestured for Ellis to wait as Marshal Severin gathered a sheaf of papers into a folder on the desk in front of him.
“First,” Severin began, “this information must not leave this room. Is that clear?”
Everyone around the table began to nod, so Ellis did the same.
“Lieutenant Dantreon,” Severin asked, “why did your Mrs. Deviron request information about the regency proposal from Mr. Felidias yesterday?”
Had Carel already done so? Very efficient. “Um, to be honest, sir, a letter was left for her in my rooms that said she needed to understand the proposal, so I suggested she ask Mr. Felidias. I knew he would have that information.” When Severin gave her a strange look, she added, “It was a letter from my brother, Prince Kerris. I don’t know how it got into my rooms, but it’s not the first one that’s shown up there.”
Severin’s square jaw clenched. “That explains that. Unfortunately, the prince must have a stronger Gift than we were aware.”
Ellis had known that, but she didn’t think Kerry had made a show of it to anyone else. Not much, at least. Carmeyon and his father knew, and a few others. “Is that what this is about, sir?”
“I’m afraid that Karsyas has had a stroke,” Severin said, his pale eyes on Ellis’. “He’s been unable to speak or even to rise from his bed.”
A hot wave of nausea surged through Ellis’ gut. “When did that happen?” She swallowed hard as Carmeyon clenched her hand in this. “My apologies. When did that happen, sir?”
“Yesterday, when he was informed of Michael Revasien’s passing, Lieutenant. He said there was nothing left and slumped onto his chaise in his library. The bodyguard thought at first that he’d merely lain down, but Harisen recognized quickly that something was wrong and sent for Queron.” Severin gestured toward the garrison’s surgeon.
Queron drew in a careful breath. “He’s not responding to stimuli at all, Lieutenant. As strokes go, this was a bad one.”
Triggered by learning of Michael’s death. She licked her lips. “What did he say again?”
Captain Harisen leaned forward. “He said, There is nothing more.”
Ellis closed her eyes, recognizing the quote from an old myth about a wise Seer who recognized death when his visions ran dry. “Is he dying?”
“Not immediately so, Lieutenant,” Queron answered. “He could recover enough to walk and talk in time, given some effort.”
“However, I have been conferring with a Seer in the city,” Severin added softly, as if he feared startling her. “He does not see your father attending the Council again. Not ever.”
Ellis pinched the bridge of her nose, fighting back irrational tears. She felt Marshal Dantreon’s hand cup her elbow, supporting her, and Carmeyon’s grasp on her hand.
They want to enact the Regency.
Go on to Chapter 9