Ellis spotted Llelas inside the library and ducked in to see what he was doing there. Normally he would have given her his look that withered grass, but today he merely appeared annoyed. He had a book in his hand and surprisingly held it out for her to see, pointing out a line on the page.
“What is that word?” he demanded.
The grass-withering look appeared. “I see the word, kitarhi. What does it mean?”
He obviously needed a dictionary, not a person. “To use the natural or man-made features of the land to conceal your men.” Obviously, that wasn’t clear enough, because it merely earned her a raised eyebrow. She tried again. “If you line up your men behind the crest of a hill, they are in defilade. A way of keeping them protected from enemy fire.” She used her hands to illustrate the idea.
He seemed to grasp the concept that time and looked at the sentence again, placing the word back into it. His scowl faded to a mere grimace. Gesturing for him to wait, Ellis retrieved a dictionary from the reference shelf. “Take this. I’ve read the whole thing, so I don’t need one.”
Llelas gave it a dubious look. “Is this to be loaned?”
“Is this a loan,” Ellis corrected. “Yes, it’s a loan.”
“I have not been given permission to teach you to fight.” He spoke that careful statement slowly. Evidently, he didn’t enjoy having his grammar corrected.
Permission? Ellis raised her eyebrows at him now, wondering what had gotten into his mind. Of course, she realized, Llelas would pass everything through the officers. He’d complicated things unnecessarily. She shrugged. “The lieutenant will eventually agree.”
“You will…bite him until he does, I think.”
Ellis barely stopped herself from laughing at that claim. She hadn’t bitten anyone, nor did she plan to bite Lieutenant Dantreon at any time. “I think you meant something other than ‘bite’. Well, I hope you did.”
He searched around in the back of his mind. “Dig?”
That wasn’t any better. She shook her head.
“Trahe,” he said finally, his tone exasperated. “I will ask Jerin,” he added, and left.
Ellis gave in and laughed, muffling the sound into one of the curtains. Llelas struck her as the sort of person who didn’t appreciate others laughing at him. She’d have to guard her tongue better if she were to keep from insulting him. Unfortunately, tact wasn’t one of her talents.
She found Jerin later that day and tried to pummel some Relance translations out of him. He flatly refused to explain two of the words that Llelas used, but the other sent him into gales of laughter.
“He called you a kitarhi?” He wiped his eyes and then started laughing again.
Ellis waited impatiently until he stopped. “And what does it mean, cousin?”
“It means he actually does have a sense of humor. I would never have guessed.” Smiling broadly, Jerin walked past her into the classroom, leaving her annoyed in the hallway.
Ellis scowled. Jerin is definitely on my black list now, cousin or not.
When Ellis entered the classroom to take her seat, she spotted Llelas talking to Jerin. Master Winhain came in just then, and the cadets moved to their seats, but Llelas passed her by on his way.
“You will badger him,” he whispered. Evidently, Jerin had given him his translation.
That, at least, made sense. Still, not quite certain how he’d gotten ‘badger’ confused with ‘bite’ or ‘dig’, she gave him a confused glance as he sat down. He ignored her.
Jerin handed her a slip of paper. She glanced down at it. A kitarhi is a rock badger.
Ellis slipped the note into her pad, annoyed because she couldn’t think of any reason why that was even remotely funny.
She did badger the lieutenant, just as Llelas had said, although Ellis chose not to think of it that way. She preferred to think that she reasoned with the lieutenant, or showed persistence. ‘Badger’ sounded bad.
The lieutenant gave her an exasperated look over the chessboard and finally gave his approval. Most evenings he still found time to play chess with her. She’d improved enough to give him a good game if not too tired, but she knew the primary reason he did it wasn’t for the game in itself. He used that time to talk with her, his way of monitoring her strength, to be certain she kept up with the others.
“Why,” he asked, “didn’t you come to me and tell me you wanted to learn to fight? I’m curious to know.”
“Llelas was a prizefighter when he lived in Perisen. He seemed like the natural choice, sir.”
“I’m not arguing that,” he said, raking a hand through his straight hair. It was getting long enough that it seemed to bother him, tangling in his earrings at times. “I’m just curious why you approached him first, before me or Lieutenant Sirtris.”
“Well, if I’d gone through you, sir, he would have felt obligated to do it. This way it’s a fair trade.”
“A trade for what?”
“I’m to help him with his Versh, sir.”
He studied the board. “I understand your point. Next time I would prefer that you go through one of the officers.”
Ellis sat back in her chair. She certainly didn’t want to agree to that sort of constraint. “I’ll try to remember that, sir,” she finally allowed.
His bland look told her that he recognized her evasion for what it was. He returned his attention to the board. “I am also curious how you came to find out that Sevireiya was a prizefighter. I’m fairly certain only Thomas knew that, and I doubt he told you.”
“The laundry, sir.”
“Laundry?” His dark eyes reflected confusion.
“Yes, sir. Well, the servants all know. Most of the cadets don’t talk to them, but I hear things. I hear everything eventually, sir.”
“How interesting,” he noted.
Carmeyon decided he was an idiot not to have realized that Ellis was still spending time with her friends among the servants–just very little and far between. In her place, he might have as well. I need to spend less time writing letters and more time keeping track of what goes on within the estate.
The next day he called Llelas in to see him after dinner and broke the news of his acquiescence to him.
“I already knew this, sir. I am to start with her after the horse session tomorrow.”
Trust Llelas Sevireiya not to maintain the polite fiction of orders coming through the chain of command. Carmeyon hoped his annoyance didn’t make it to his face. “Very well, then.”
When Ellis went to the ballroom to meet with Llelas, Thomas went with her. She wasn’t certain whose idea that was. Thomas claimed it as his own, but Ellis suspected he often served as the lieutenant’s eyes.
Llelas scowled when he spotted Thomas. “Did you come to watch me beat the little girl?”
Thomas shrugged. “I’ve seen you fight before. In Perisen,” he added when Llelas looked doubtful.
Ellis cast an annoyed glance at Thomas. Thomas had seen him when he’d been a prizefighter. She’d assumed, wrongly, that he’d seen the other cadet get in a fight at some bar in the capital. “You didn’t tell me that,” she hissed.
“You didn’t ask me that,” Thomas responded.
“You did not ask me precisely that question.”
Ellis opened her mouth and then snapped it shut. She couldn’t remember exactly how she’d phrased her question. Llelas waited impatiently, arms crossed. Ellis turned and gave her full attention to him, pointedly ignoring Thomas.
“Fight over?” Llelas asked.
She ignored the question. “I’m ready.”
At Llelas’ instruction, she took off her boots and socks, realizing belatedly that he’d already done so. When she finished, he walked around her appraisingly. She suddenly understood why he had asked her to wear one of her sleeveless shirts. He reached out and grasped her left wrist, turning it over to look at her hand and arm.
Ellis flinched, surprised when he touched her. He’d never done so before. None of them had, she decided. Even with Thomas, she recalled that she’d worn a glove while he taught her how to hold a saber.
Llelas’ scarred fingers felt hard and far stronger than she’d expected. His knuckles seeming almost leathery. He wore a sleeveless shirt and she suddenly grasped how Llelas could have beaten Anthony Ironwright. Llelas’ arms were all muscle, compact and lean. Thomas might be strong, but his arms didn’t look like that.
He spoke without looking up at her face. “You will have to become accustomed to be touched. This is permitted in such a situation. I cannot teach you else.”
“Being touched,” she corrected in a whisper. She didn’t understand who was permitting what.
He gave her a candid look. “You must know that to learn this I must hit you. You will have bruises and possible a few breaks.”
“Possibly a few broken bones?”
“No. You need to learn to speak the language better than you do.”
He ignored her statement. Ellis stood unmoving as he turned her arm this way and that. He told her to clench and unclench her fist a few times. He repeated the process with the other arm and then stepped back, his fingers rubbing his chin. “Your arms are to be stronger.”
As if Thomas hasn’t nagged me about that a hundred times already. When she asked Llelas how she might do that, he had plenty of suggestions. He assigned her exercises. If they helped, she reckoned, it would be well worth her time.
He started with showing her how to stand with her feet staggered so it would be harder to push her over. He taught her how to make a proper fist and where to hold her hands to protect her face and body. Llelas also taught her to throw a punch with her right arm, having her aim for his palms. It felt awkward to use her right, but eventually she did it to his satisfaction.
Ellis began to suspect she wouldn’t learn this in a week. Clearly, Llelas intended to teach her the excruciatingly proper way to do everything.
By the time he called a stop, Ellis worried that her hand would give out. His palms must be equally sore, but he didn’t complain. She decided she shouldn’t either. He looked over her knuckles and seemed to find them viable.
“Your hands,” he told her, “they will not be pretty like a girl’s.” His bright blue eyes flicked up to meet hers, an expression close to concern on his face.
Ellis bit her lip and nodded. Saber practice and riding had already left her palms calloused. Now they would just get worse. He requested that she come to meet him the day after next to practice again.
“When you were a fighter, how often did you practice?”
“Six days a week,” he admitted. “But that was the only thing that I had to do. Neither of us has time here.”
True enough. He dismissed her with a final order that made her cringe. He wanted her to meet him and Kellen to join their morning run. She grimaced, but nodded her agreement and then took her weary self back to her room, not even bothering to wait for Thomas.