When Ellis rolled out of bed in the morning, she dressed slowly. Her jaw did ache. The bruising was less defined than she expected. Somehow she’d thought there would be a perfect imprint of Llelas’ fist there. Instead there was a puffy area of green and yellow that wasn’t in the least attractive.
And it hurt when she ran. She’d met Llelas and Kellan for their morning run into town, and had to endure Kellan’s teasing about the bruise. His presence was irritating for more than that reason, though.
She’d come up with a long list of questions for which she wanted answers—mostly about the young groom Llelas had called his great-grandmother. And because Lieutenant Sirtris had ordered her not to tell anyone, she couldn’t ask in front of Kellan.
After their run, the dogs trotted back to wait for her at the courtyard gate. She and Llelas and Kellan stopped to drink at the pump, and when Kellan finally left them, she grabbed Llelas’ arm. “The groom, is he what he says he is?”
Llelas pulled his arm away. “Yes.”
“He’s not human?”
Llelas’ jaw clenched. “No.”
Ellis peered at him through narrowed eyes. “So…you’re not purely human.”
Llelas leaned closer. “Neither are you. No one who owns Menhirre blood is pure human.”
“Purely,” she corrected.
He drew back. grimacing. “There is no pure…purely human.”
Llelas hated to have his grammar corrected. But not as much as he hates talking about this. Ellis could tell that from the way he stood, his hands half-clenched. “Can you do what he does? Look like someone else?”
“No.” He strode away from her then, evidently past the limit of her questions.
Ellis sighed. She headed back to the courtyard, let the dogs in, and then went into her room to clean up before classes. She would have to meet with Lieutenant Sirtris afterward. Unfortunately, that meeting ended up being cancelled.
Carmeyon always sorted the mail himself. He knew by now which cadets received letters, which didn’t, and how each reacted. Some of the cadets greeted letters with smiles, some with frowns of concern. He’d even been treated to the sight of Llelas casually flicking his father’s—or rather his father’s lawyers’—letters into the fire, unopened.
The envelope that caught his attention was simply addressed to the commander at Amiestrin, like many others he’d received from newspapers. When he lifted if off the tray, he immediately dropped it. He carefully picked it up again.
It felt odd to his senses, as if they had become confused for a moment, an odd sense of duality. It wasn’t an unpleasant sensation, just surprising. Then it faded away and he stared at a letter like so many others.
He broke the seal, discovering a second sealed letter inside. He glanced at the outer note again, addressed to the commander at Amiestrin. For lack of any more definite structure, that would be him.
I am assured, it said, this letter will arrive safely, but I must plan in the eventuality that my student might be wrong. Please forward this letter to the lady in question. It is from her brother, whose name I will not use.
The signature, Helton, told him nothing.
Carmeyon picked up the still-sealed second missive. Ellis’ name straggled across it in a childish script. It was the first piece of mail she’d received since he arrived. After careful consideration, he went down to the Reserve House to get her out of his father’s classroom. Ellis looked confused at the interruption but came out into the hallway with him.
Now that he saw it himself, the bruise on her jaw wasn’t terrible. Sirtris had prepared him for that, at least. And while he could tell that Sirtris was troubled about something, Carmeyon agreed with Sirtris’ insistence that he was a better choice to watch the two sparring in the future. That would fulfill the requirement for having an officer witness the sparring, and would keep Carmeyon from strangling Sevireiya.
“I have something to show you,” he told her.
She rubbed a weary hand across her forehead, but didn’t argue. Carmeyon found a table in the adjoining classroom. She sat down and he handed her the two letters, one opened and one still sealed. After a puzzled glance, she read the first and then turned back to him. “Is…is this from my brother?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. The changeable feel of the letter warned him of its causality. “We can’t be absolutely certain—but I think it may be.”
She opened the letter and read it, and then handed it back to him, her dark brows drawn together. “I don’t understand, sir.”
The prince would be about eight, Carmeyon figured, and the handwriting looked appropriate to that age.
Dear Sister, (it began)
Grandfather does not want me to write to you, so that is why I wrote this from my tutor. He’s allowed to send letters, sort of.
I know everything is going well at the school. When I come to visit, I would like to see it. I spend a lot of my time reading in the schoolroom, and grandfather always checks on me there. I think he wants me to stay here in Allasev, but I already told him I would be going back there. He hasn’t decided whether to believe me yet. Sometimes he doesn’t.
I live in a house near the palace grounds. I don’t have a dog, but Aunt Abigail has three cats. They don’t like me, but I haven’t done anything mean to them for a long time.
Helton is my tutor but he’s in charge of my guards. He’s not my grandfather’s, he’s mine. Mother’s cousin Aunt Abigail lives here too, but she always agrees with whatever mother says. She is old and lectures me.
The ending of the letter was odd, though, and had surely provoked her quizzical reaction.
I can’t write very much, or Grandfather will think I wasn’t paying attention to my lessons. I’m supposed to be learning Galasiene, and I need to learn that.
I’m not supposed to see the young lieutenant, but I do. Sometimes. Like a shadow, but I know he’s there.
Remember to be kind to your brothers. Tell Captain Dantreon he should name his first son Andrian. Tell Thomas the horse will be ready on time and tell Kellen his mother will be fine. Take care, K.
P.S. Tell Sandrine to look at the boots and the watch.
Carmeyon’s skin crawled. If it was a fake, then someone knew more of what happened in Amiestrin than was healthy. “May I show this to my father?” he asked after reading it through again.
She nodded. Since the normal class time had almost ended, they waited for the other cadets to emerge. Most seemed curious about the unprecedented interruption but moved away politely after he yanked out a few and herded them into the other room. His father followed. He shut the door behind them before Carmeyon handed the letter over. Thomas Farrier took the imposition easily, unconcerned, but Sevireiya wore a distrustful scowl. Carmeyon glanced over to Kellen, who appeared nervous at being included in this group.
“Mr. Kemiranya, I realize this is an odd question, but is your mother in good health?” Carmeyon asked.
Kellen opened and shut his mouth, then looked at Llelas for guidance. Llelas shrugged eloquently as if to say Kellen should make the decision alone.
“Fair health, sir,” Kellen answered, “but she is with child. At her age, the midwife is very concerned.”
Ellis stared. When the marshal handed the letter back to her, she glanced at the last paragraph again and then back at Kellen.
“Mr. Farrier, is there a horse you’re concerned about?” Carmeyon asked then.
Thomas didn’t repeat Kellen’s surprised performance. “Yes, sir, and no, I’ve not told anyone about it except, of course, my father, who’s breaking him for me.”
“Mr. Sevireiya, does the phrase ‘the boots and the watch’ have any meaning for you?”
Sevireiya returned a blank look. Kellen translated the sentence for him, but Sevireiya shook his head, saying he understood the first time. “It means nothing to me, sir.”
Ellis handed him the letter, pointing out the ending notation. He scanned it, looking as if he’d eaten something sour, then read it again. “Perhaps it is for my father,” Sevireiya suggested half-heartedly. “He is called Sandrine, sir.”
He would become the Duke of Sandrine when his father died. “When would she see your father to tell him?” Carmeyon asked. “It must be meant for you.”
“I will remember, sir,” Sevireiya said, but shrugged. He handed the letter back to Carmeyon.
“This doesn’t make sense, though,” Ellis interjected. “He calls you Captain Dantreon, sir.”
That reference he understood, at least. “My elder brother Andrian is a captain, which I believe I’ve mentioned before. His wife is expecting another child at the solstice. This is meant for him.”
Then she recalled the part he dreaded. “What does he mean ‘be kind to my brothers’?” Ellis asked. “I only have one.”
Carmeyon closed his eyes for a second. She has such difficulty with her father already. He heard his father clear his throat.
“Just tell the truth to her,” Sevireiya said. “She will hear it sooner or later.” When no one spoke, he turned back to Ellis. “Your father has two sons by a woman not your mother. They are your brothers, he means.”
Ellis’ face went pale and she turned a baleful glare on Sevireiya, perhaps considering punching him. Carmeyon was considering it himself. Then she stood and walked out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind her.
Sevireiya got up and gathered his things to leave.
“You could have found a kinder way to tell her that,” Thomas observed.
“Would pretty words make it a better thing to hear? I think not. She should have been told before today. You saw it there in the letter. You knew she would find out.” He walked out in her wake without waiting to be dismissed.
Carmeyon gestured to dismiss Thomas and Kellen and when they’d gone, turned back to his father. “He’s right. I should have told her before now.”
His father set a hand on his shoulder. “It isn’t your responsibility to make certain she knows things like that.” He picked up the letter and gazed at it again. “I didn’t even read that line. I saw the reference to your brother and looked right past it. I wonder why he would mention something as obvious as Andrian naming his child.”
“Perhaps for verification purposes,” Carmeyon suggested. “You think it’s authentic, then?”
“I have no doubt. I feel it. Our young prince may be undisciplined in what he lets out, but I’ve no doubt he put every word in there with intent.”
His father was a stronger seer than he was, although neither of them had a profound Gift. “He refers to the others by name. Why refer to Sevireiya by title? And why say something that meant nothing to him?”
“I have no idea,” his father admitted. “Which one of you is the young lieutenant he mentions? You or Sirtris?”
“Why would he not see either of us?” Carmeyon asked. “Do you suppose he could mean Jerin Marisi?” There were people whom seers had trouble seeing in their perception of the future. Usually that meant the person involved had an unknown event in their future. The seers never saw the event itself, only the ripples that spun out from that action. The profound seers his father knew believed that Jerin Marisi was such a person, someone who would greatly affect the future by a single action. Only they had no idea what that was.
“I don’t think so,” his father said softly. His mouth pursed as he thought. “Let me ask a few questions of some friends in the capital.”
Ellis walked through the garden and back to the manor, rubbing her arms against the chill in the air. She’d left her coat behind in the classroom. The lieutenant would bring it back to her later, she knew, but the cold stung her nostrils and made her fingers ache.
She felt stupid for being the last one to know.
Thomas knew. The lieutenant and the marshal knew. Even Llelas knew.
She felt betrayed. What did she really know about her father? She had seen him once in the last ten years. He never wrote to her. The one time he’d given her a gift, she hadn’t used it the way he wished and everyone on the estate had paid for her mistake. He was indifferent to her at best and cruel at times. So why do I feel betrayed by this?
When she got to her room, she closed the door behind her, sank down on the bench and dropped her head down into her hands. She felt sick.
A light tapping sounded at her door and Merielle’s face appeared around the edge.
“Are you well?” Merielle asked. “I saw you come in, and you looked ill.”
Ellis shook her head wearily.
The older girl slipped inside, sat down next to her and put an arm around her shoulders. “What happened?” Merielle asked.
She told her. Merielle listened until she’d reached the end. Ellis was gratified to learn that at least Merielle hadn’t known about her father’s other children.
“How does your brother know?” Merielle asked.
“He has the Gift, I suppose, like Father,” she explained. “Sometimes because they know what will happen, they know what has happened. Does that make sense?”
A loud knock came at the door.
“It is lunch. You will come and eat now.” Llelas didn’t sound in the mood for argument.
“I don’t feel like eating,” Ellis yelled back through the closed door. “Go away.”
He shoved open the door, almost clipping her with its edge. Spotting her, he gestured for her to come, ignoring Merielle. “You will come and eat now. Do not try to hide. Do not act like a child.”
For a moment, she truly hated Llelas. She stood up, setting herself between him and Merielle. “Leave me alone, Llelas. I’ve had enough of you for one day.”
He grabbed her sleeve and jerked her out into the hallway. “Listen to me,” he hissed at her. “You do not know what you deal with. You cannot lose face before these men. If they know your weakness, they will hurt you with it. Kellen is vicious, do you understand?”
“You don’t trust Kellen?” she asked, shocked. Kellen followed him everywhere, like a shadow.
“I keep him where I can see him. I have told him not to talk—but if he sees a…” he paused, not certain of the word, “if he knows it hurts you, he might use it. You must not lose face in front of these men. You do not know which ones you can trust.”
Ellis listened to him, her stomach doing flips. “Whom can I trust, then?”
He released her sleeve and stared at her for a moment. “Trust Farrier,” he said.
Ellis stood there in the hallway, perplexed. “I shouldn’t trust you?”
“I am one of the last people you should trust, kitarhi. You do not understand, do you?”
“No, Llelas, I don’t understand.” She experienced the desire to hit him again. “I don’t know why you think I should, but I don’t. No one tells me anything.” She realized how childish that sounded, but couldn’t take it back.
He glared at her. “You were told much yesterday. And more today. If this is the way you act tomorrow, we should tell you no more.”
She knew better than to think she could stare him down. She squared her shoulders and clenched her jaw. Llelas gestured for her to precede him down the hallway, and she went.
“Advantage,” she told him as they turned the corner. “If he sees an advantage…”
“Do not correct me,” he snapped.
“Your grammar is terrible.”
“Your boxing is worse.”
Ellis laughed shortly. He was right about that.