The dogs woke her in the morning, Four nuzzling Ellis’ hand when he wished to go outside. Ellis struggled awake. There was some reason she was supposed to be awake early. She groaned when she remembered.
She let the dogs out into the courtyard and went into her dressing room to find her oldest trousers and boots. Not wanting to keep the others waiting, she dressed quickly and then led the dogs out through the courtyard gate. Llelas and Kellen sat on the manor’s steps in the pre-dawn grayness. When Ellis introduced the dogs, Llelas wisely didn’t take exception to their names. Kellen rolled his eyes.
She hadn’t taken the dogs for a run across the estate in a long time–not since the cadets arrived. Even then, she’d never run the full distance to the village. But if Llelas Sevireiya does it, then it’s possible.
They started out at an easy pace. The dogs bounded past, out on both sides of the road, doubled back, and ran ahead again. Ellis felt her side begin to ache before they reached the bridge that served as a halfway mark to Kensit. Occasionally Llelas would turn around and run backwards, presumably to make certain she hadn’t fallen too far behind.
This is easy for them. It wasn’t going to be easy for her.
“Give up?” he yelled at her at one point. That only succeeded in making her run harder.
They finally reached the edge of the estate and came out onto the village main street. Ellis felt convinced her lungs would fail her. She was breathing like a bellows as the three of them dropped to a walk. How humiliating.
Kellen disappeared into the side door of the inn.
“Do not stop moving,” Llelas warned when he saw her glance at the bench next to the inn’s water pump. “You will regret it. And do not drink much water. You will become sick.”
Heeding his word, Ellis drank only a couple of handfuls and then paced back and forth. Her breathing had slowed to a manageable level. when Kellen reappeared bearing three hard rolls from the kitchen. He tossed one to her, and Ellis watched to see what they would do.
They started back to the manor at a walk, chewing the rolls as they went. All appetite gone, Ellis took a few bites and followed. When she’d eaten enough to settle her stomach, she split the remainder between the four dogs, drawing a disgusted glance from Kellen. He said something derisive to Llelas in Relance.
Ellis felt her brows draw together. “What did you say?”
Kellen turned away, but Llelas offered for him. “He says that you ruin the dogs.”
Ellis shrugged; Kellen could think what he pleased. “How do you say dogs,” she asked Llelas instead.
Ellis said that to herself a few times. “So what is seithais?”
Llelas paused, looking at her from under lowered eyebrows.
“You called your horse that last week when he threw you and almost stepped on you,” she reminded him. Llelas hadn’t been pleased. For a moment, she’d wondered if he meant to punch the horse.
Kellen laughed. Llelas shot him a chagrinned glance and then scowled at her. “It means dog, but as a bad-bred dog.”
“In my tongue, it is a bad insult. One does not call another man that.”
How interesting. She’d heard Versh cuss-words before—after all, she’d grown up with four soldiers living in her household—but she’d never had them explained. Since Llelas was being forthcoming, she asked him about a couple of the other words she’d heard him or Kellen use.
Kellen groaned, but Llelas translated as succinctly as his broken Versh would allow. Ellis had to force herself not to react. She could never have said those things without turning red. She was quite impressed that Llelas could.
They began to run again after a while. She’d gotten a second wind. She managed to run almost all the way back but, with only a bit to go, she had to give up and walk. Kellen ran on, but Llelas saw she’d stopped and came back for her, walking the last of the distance to the manor in silence. At least he didn’t gloat.
Ellis finally found enough breath to thank him. “Jerin wouldn’t tell me what those words mean.”
By that time they’d reached the manor’s gates. The dogs Kellen had disappeared, but Llelas stayed close, likely to make certain she didn’t collapse on the lawn. “It is not proper,” Llelas replied, “so Jerin would not. But if I said the words before you I should be willing to tell what I said.”
She gazed at his hard face, noting the slight line of worry between his brows. He was embarrassed after all. Not by making the explanations, but instead for saying improper words in the first place. “I appreciate that, Llelas.”
He grasped her sleeve and shook it. “No,” he said. “Llelas.” She must have given him a blank look, because he tried again. “You say it wrong,” he said then. “Listen–Llelas.”
She tried it again and still got it wrong.
His jaw firmed. “No, You say it the Versh way. I am not Versh. It is Llelas.”
There was an ‘h’ running around somewhere that didn’t appear in the written version of his name. Ellis could hear that now that she was listening. He tried a few other names–Kellen, Heall, Everres. She abruptly understood and repeated, putting the rule together with the words–Lhelas, Kelhen, Healh, Everhes. She’d been hearing them say each other’s names all along, and hadn’t noticed the difference. She would have to listen more carefully.
Satisfied, he walked around the side of the manor, saying he was going to go put his head in the pump. She hoped he meant to put it under the pump.
Breakfast service in the kitchen must be nearly finished, and they wouldn’t want her coming through those doors. Ellis went to her courtyard instead. The dogs were already there, lying on their sides and panting. She found her own door still unlocked and let herself in. She settled on the bench next to the door, not wanting to sit on anything upholstered. In an hour, she would have to go to horsemanship. After that she would smell like sweat and horse.
Her feet hurt, it was getting increasingly difficult to stay clean, and her uniform trousers already needed to have their hems let down. It was going to be a very long day.
October 17, 493
I learned today that my name should be said ‘Elhis’, which is what they’ve been calling me all along, I just never noticed the difference. Even Jerin says it that way. Strangely enough, I can hear the difference clearly now that I know what to listen for. It makes me feel like they’re talking to someone else.
Lieutenant Dantreon told me we’re scheduled to study Menhirre custom and Relance in the spring. The Cantreidians in the summer. I hope Jerin will teach me some Relance before then. I can’t ask Llelas because we already have an agreement, but I think Jerin would do it for nothing.
I’m growing resigned to being filthy all the time.
Late in the evening, Llelas Sevireiya frowned down at the dictionary in front of him. He would look up one word only to have to look up four others to ferret out the definition. Even so, it had helped immeasurably with his written work.
It embarrassed him to explain himself to the girl, but he had used such words in her presence. He would have to learn to watch what came out of his mouth in the future or else endure another session of interrogation in front of a toadeater like Kellen.
The girl did not react to anything badly, though, which relieved him. She would think and think before she decided how she felt about something. She might be angry later, but he doubted it. She did her best to remain even-tempered, never letting anyone know what went on inside her head.
She was far more intimidated than she acted, he reckoned, and too naïve to be dragged into the games that the nobility played. She had made a friend of his cousin Jerin and the Deviron boy, not even realizing how outsiders might interpret that as affinity for the Separatists. Now, it seemed the girl wanted to call him a friend as well, never even questioning where he stood on the issue.
It worried him. If he were a better friend, he might take it into his head to warn her off. Then again, she also had Farrier dogging her every step. Perhaps the lieutenant’s watchdog would talk to the girl.
Llelas sighed and put the dictionary down, unable to concentrate on the work. He had touched her skin and so had the feel of her now. He closed his eyes.
The girl sat at a small desk in a bedroom lit by a single candle, an odd thing for a princess, he thought. Even so, he better than anyone else understood that a title did not mean wealth or fine things. She wore an old nightdress fit for a child, one foot tucked up under her on the seat. She chewed at the nib of her pen, writing in a small book, a journal, he thought. He watched her, wondering what she wrote. He could change his focus and see the words, but he chose not to, not wishing to invade her privacy. She sat back, put the cap back on the ink, and blew on the page. She watched it for a moment, and then ripped out the pages and tossed them into the fire.
Llelas opened his eyes, chiding himself for wasting time spying on a girl. Grandfather wanted him to keep an eye on her, but he felt guilty for doing so. She was young, and frighteningly unaware of the ways in which her trust could be abused.
And Grandfather—Aelis in this guise, he reminded himself—had been absent for days, with neither explanation nor farewell. That concerned him a great deal. Not for Grandfather’s safety, but because if he was worried about the girl and let something drag him away, that something must have been far more alarming.