The Way Things Stand
A month before, Ellis would never have thought, Llelas got me through the day.
Thomas perhaps, or one of the others of East. Or Lieutenant Dantreon. She wouldn’t have expected it would be Llelas Sevireiya. But every time she felt ready to wilt under the stares of the other cadets, Llelas would catch her eye and motion for her to put her nose in the air again. And she did it. She went through every class with her jaw clenched and her head high. Her note-taking suffered, but none of the others would know that, and she could get notes from Thomas later.
Apparently, Llelas knew how to deal with gossip.
Thomas would have told her the same thing, she suspected, but for different reasons. Thomas wouldn’t care what the others said about him. He always seemed above that sort of pettiness. And he would certainly never flee to his room and sulk. Llelas saw it, instead, in the terms of power and influence, something she would have to learn to exercise. She was a girl, and if she didn’t control the way others saw her, they would treat her as an interloper, like she didn’t belong. And surreptitiously watching the others throughout the day, she could see that Llelas was right. Once they saw she didn’t intend to crumple in distress, they went back to treating her just as they had before.
When she reported that evening to the ballroom for saber practice with Thomas, she wasn’t entirely surprised to find Llelas there as well, arguing with Thomas. They weren’t speaking either Versh or Relance, but a third language that she quickly decided was Cantros. Thomas glanced around guiltily when she entered. He ran a hand through his hair, clearly angered, so Ellis decided Llelas had been winning the argument.
Llelas gestured for her to sit on the floor before the dais, where he’d laid out a map of Jenear borrowed from the library. He sat down next to it. “Why are you being trained?” Llelas asked.
He usually resorted to questions when he wanted to get her thinking about something.
“My father thinks it necessary.”
They could go around in circles on this topic all evening. “He knows things. He has the Gift.”
Thomas interrupted. “What reason could there be for the king’s daughter to be in the Guard?”
She’d asked herself that question enough. “Probably because he needs the Guard to support him and he thinks that putting me here will give him that support.”
Llelas pressed further. “Why will he need the Guard?”
“War or unrest of some sort.”
“War with who?” Llelas asked.
“Whom,” she corrected without thinking. “With Bremen or Cantreides, I assume.”
Thomas spoke up. “There is a very real possibility of civil war, Ellis. The Separatists have been talking about it. If they find the prince not to their liking, they might actually do it.”
She’d thought that a silly rumor. “What does this have to do with Kerris?”
“He’s Versh,” Thomas said, “being raised in Verina by the Versh royal family. There’s even talk that their king wants to make Jenear a vassal state.”
“Is that true?” She didn’t see any legal way the Versh king could do that.
“I doubt it,” he admitted. “It’s propaganda, but the Separatists use claims like that to inflame feelings around the country, whether it’s true or not.”
Ellis chewed her lower lip. “I don’t understand exactly who the Separatists are.”
Thomas shared a glance with Llelas. “Sandrine, the Mornacassans, Perisen, Serione, Arnacassan, Fareina, and Jestriyan.” He listed off the eastern provinces and those that bordered Bremen and Cantreides. “All these provinces—the ones with a majority Menhirre population. They’re strong there.”
Thomas gazed at her to gauge her understanding, she thought. “The king leans increasingly toward the Versh throne in his politics,” he continued, “and further from Menhirre interests. At one time, Relance was the primary language spoken in this country. Now it’s fading in popularity. For people of Menhirre descent, that must be something of an affront, don’t you think? After all, they were here first. Jenear was their country, before the Versh or the Cantreidians came here.”
“Technically, the Galasiene were here long before anyone else,” she reminded him, “and the Bremagni.”
“In the highlands. They never controlled the country while the Menhirre did. Do you think these people want a Versh king?” he asked.
Trying to think like someone else would was difficult. “Do they see Kerris as Versh?”
“He’s never even stepped foot on Jenear soil, Ellis. Do you realize that?”
Ellis stared at the map.
“If Kerris was to die,” Llelas asked, “who would be king?”
She’d read about the succession but never paid it much heed, being outside of it herself. “The Duke of Perisen.”
“Perisen,” Llelas corrected her pronunciation, changing the p sound to something closer to an f. “He is Anton Marisi, Jerin’s eldest brother.”
“I hadn’t thought about that.”
“He thinks about it every day. I am certain of that,” Llelas said.
“I have heard he’s a Separatist,” Ellis admitted.
“He is. And his brother Hessien, and their mother. And my father, and Mikhal’s father. And Kellen.”
On those last words, Thomas shot a surprised glance at Llelas. Had he known, Ellis wondered, Kellen felt that way? Did Llelas just hand Thomas that information intentionally? “They all want the duke as king rather than Kerris?”
“It is not so simple,” Llelas allowed. “Some want only a few small changes in law. Others have favorites other than the Marisi. Some favor….” he paused, with the look that meant he didn’t know the Versh word for what he wanted, “moving away. They are not together.”
“Secession,” Thomas clarified. “It’s not a united group, Ellis. Each batch has their own little complaint. That’s what keeps them from being a serious threat to the king or the prince at this time. But if there were a clear cause for them to join against, it’d be much easier for someone like the Duke of Perisen to use that in his own favor. If he can get the Separatists to unite, then the prince would be facing a very serious threat.”
Always about power, isn’t it? Ellis thought, Power Kerris will have to wield one day, if he survives that long.
“What would be the impediment if Perisen were to claim the throne?” Thomas asked.
“I’m not certain what you mean.”
“If something were to happen to your brother, and Perisen tried to claimed the throne, what would happen?”
They remained silent while she struggled with that question. “The Marisi hold their place in the succession due to royal writ. They’re actually in the maternal line, I think. So…Anton Marisi’s claim could be contested.”
“By whom?” Thomas asked.
Who came after the Marisi? Of course, how obvious.
Although more distantly related, Marshal Dantreon’s family was clearly of the paternal line. “The Dantreons, right? They don’t support the Separatists, do they?”
Llelas shook his head. “They are Jenear, like you. You must think of how you stand in this. You are important in this—even if you do not know.”
Llelas looked up from the map, startling her when he met her eyes. He had surprisingly blue eyes. “I know you are not stupid but you are a child. You do not sometimes understand with what you deal.”
That sinking feeling returned to Ellis stomach. Last night’s meeting with the strange groom and today’s letter both brought down to her that she had no idea of what was happening in the greater world around her.
Thomas tapped her arm. “Ellis, you need to pay attention to the Separatists. They could be a big factor in your future.”
With that recommendation, he rose and offered to take the map back to the library, gesturing for Ellis to come with him. Ellis followed him to the library and then, when he had gone through the library doors, turned back around and returned to the ballroom. Just as she’d expected, Llelas waited there.
“So what is it that Thomas didn’t want you to say?”
“I knew that soon you would ask the question. He wants you to think of it on your own, but I do not agree. You should hear it before you worry about it, kitarhi.”
“Tell me.” She might as well hear it all. That way she could get all the bad news over with at once.
He gazed up at her for a moment. “If the Separatists want to take the throne from the prince, the best way to have…good status…in the eyes of the people would be for their choice as king to…?”
Ellis stood there, trying to work out exactly what he hinted at. It must be fairly obvious, or he would have told her, not made her guess. “Trahe,” she said finally.
He grinned up at her. “The lieutenant will accuse me of teaching you swear words, kitarhi.”
“You did,” she reminded him. She’d half crossed the room when he called her back.
“Your brothers are nice boys.”
She turned slowly. “You know them?”
“Yes. They live with Sub-marshal Revasien at the palace garrison. They are his sister’s sons.” Llelas had been assigned at the palace garrison, she knew now, for the six months prior to Amiestrin.
She went back, offering to help him up. He looked at her hand a moment and then rose unassisted. His easy grace made her a little envious.
“It is not permitted,” he told her-—another Menhirre custom she didn’t understand.
“What are they like?” she asked, curious now.
He cocked his head, considering as he walked with her toward the door. “Jesse has seven years, perhaps. He likes to talk. Michael is younger, but quiet. They are respectful, good boys. They look some like you, I think.”
When she asked, Llelas confirmed that they knew who their father was. They must know they had a sister and brother they’d never met. Her family suddenly seemed even stranger than before.
Llelas touched her sleeve and stopped her just before she stepped out into the hallway. “Make your brothers your friends,” he advised her. “My brother is the greatest blessing in my life. He is the best of my family.”
“I didn’t think you had any brothers or sisters.” Wasn’t that what Jerin had told her—that Llelas was an only son?
“Sovre is my father’s son but not my mother’s. His mother was a servant in the manor, a young Cantreidian girl. He has always watched over me, though. I have a sister also, called Siva. Her, I have never met.” He paused and shook her sleeve to make certain he had her attention. “Your brothers are not responsible for their birth. Do not blame them for it. They are not a shame to you.”
“I don’t blame them, I think,” she told him.
He put a hand on her shoulder and met her eyes. “I value my brother. You should value yours. All of yours.”
She sighed. “I’m naïve, Llelas. Do you know that word?”
“Yes,” he said, surprising her. “You are, kitarhi. And you should not be.” He walked with her back toward her rooms, his face pensive.
She sat at the desk a long time that night before finding any words to write. She had let the dogs in from the courtyard, and One sat with his gray muzzle mournfully perched on her leg. She gazed into his large brown eyes and wondered if dogs ever faced the same sort of trials she did.
November 26, 493
I received a letter from my brother today, or I should rather say, one of my brothers. Thomas and Llelas have given me the evening off to think about it. I wonder if Kerris knew everything it would bring down around my ears when he sent it? It is one of those gray areas for those with the Gift, I have read. They often can foresee certain consequences of their actions, but never all of them.
1) I found out that my father had a mistress, and for all I know, still may. I always thought Father must have been hurt when the queen left him to return to her home, but I now realize that was just childish. If Jesse (would his name be Dantreon or Revasien?) is seven, then father evidently didn’t wait long after the queen’s departure before finding another woman for himself. After all, Kerris is only eight. I think I’ve never understood my father less than now.
2) The Separatists are more of a threat than I realized. Evidently, only disorganization keeps them from being a serious problem.
3) I’m important to the Separatists. Not that I have any personal importance to any of them, only my blood. Should the opportunity arise, one of the Separatists might try to secure the throne in the worst possible way—by marrying me. That was what Llelas wanted to warn me about. Thomas didn’t want to say it. Thomas tries to protect me, I know, but sometimes he shouldn’t. At least I’m forewarned. Since being a soldier would make me a terrible wife, the Guard might actually by my best escape from that.
4) Kellen is a Separatist. I don’t think Jerin and Mikhal are, but I’ve been warned about their families. I guess Merielle was right. It sounds as if many of the old Menhirre nobility favor the movement. I need to find out exactly who is who.
5) Kerris obviously has the Gift. I wonder what he meant by all those cryptic statements.
6) Everyone trusts Thomas.
7) Jerin is in line for the throne—which I’d not reckoned before. If I figure it correctly, he would be fifth. Kerris, Anton Marisi, then Hessien, the brother whose name I can’t remember, and then Jerin. Fifth. Marshal Dantreon would be sixth. Then Captain Dantreon, then Lieutenant Dantreon, and then all his other brothers, of which I frankly don’t remember if he said there are three or two. Who’s after that, I’m not certain.
8) I’m sick of being called a child. I’m fifteen now. Thomas has turned nineteen, which makes him four years older than me, but Mikhal is only seventeen, which is a bare two years older. Thomas should know by now that I can handle hearing things he thinks I am too young to hear. At least Llelas is sensible about it, and he’s older than all of them. Well, not the lieutenant or Sirtris. I’m beginning to be very much afraid that if I don’t know things, I’m going to get hurt. Would they tell me things if I were a boy?
Ellis reviewed her points. Her words sounded like complaints. One of the dogs whined to go outside, so she went to the courtyard door to let them all out. Then she went back to the desk, picked up the sheet and, after crumpling it up, threw it disgustedly into the fire.
It had begun to snow.
Llelas sat atop the roof of the Reserve House, letting the light snow brush his cheeks. He had made himself unpopular today with the officers, even while they knew he was right. If they wanted the girl to be a soldier, they should stop treating her like a princess. Information was power, and cutting her off from information put her at risk.
That was the reason he’d agreed to Grandfather’s request as well, no matter how ill it sat with him.
And fortunately for him, the ill-timed letter had distracted Ellis completely from the ten-thousand questions she must have for him. Unfortunately—or fortunately—Grandfather had already fled this morning, his personal items missing from the stables. As tempting as it would be for him to send Ellis to badger Grandfather rather than him, he preferred that she have as little contact with Grandfather as possible.
It was interesting that Lieutenant Sirtris was gone as well. They had no class with him today, so the others had not noticed perhaps, but Llelas had been looking for the man, wondering when the officer would take him aside and question him further. He had no feel for the lieutenant, though, so he could not follow the man in his mind.
He closed his eyes and thought of the young prince. What do I know of him?
He was young, and likely favored Ellis in his looks—dark hair and slight. He was a seer, and thus accustomed to knowing things beyond what was. That made for a more accepting mind. He was willing to like his brothers and his sister. He was kind, impulsive, and not too organized, judging by that letter. Llelas had held that letter is his hands, the same paper that the prince had touched. He tried to use that tenuous tie to see far away.
His spirit-self was trapped in darkness as it sought the prince, struggling to find its way.
And then he stood in a small room, candles lit giving it a cheery look. A fire burned in a fine stone hearth. A young boy with dark-curling hair and meticulously maintained garb sprawled on a sofa, reading a book. A burly man who looked to be a bodyguard sat in a nearby chair, reading also. He had dark hair also, but fairer skin, making him not Menhirre. Versh, most likely, as the Galasiene tended to be smaller.
Llelas forced his spirit-self to turn to survey the remainder of the room. The walls were finely plastered, with gold light fixtures and heavily-draped windows. When he turned more, he spotted a woman of stunning beauty in a fine red gown sitting at a table and reading a newspaper. He recognized her, but only from sketches seen years ago. She was a distant cousin of his—Queen Elspeth. Her dark hair was pulled back tightly, her pale skin had the perfection of a rose petal, and her spine was so straight that Llelas suspected she never relaxed. Dressed more sedately in gray, an elderly woman shared the table with her, needlework in her hands and a cat in her lap. It was a domestic scene, of an evening of harmony.
He heard the whisper of fabric moving, and turned back to find the boy standing before him.
The boy reached out to take his hand, and that motion tore Llelas away, back into his own body. He opened his eyes to the snow falling over the gardens below, suddenly chilled as if he had been warmed by the fire in that room.
The boy had seen him.
Grandfather could see him, as well as other Watchers, but this boy was as seer. He should not be aware of Watchers. Then again, had he not said something in his letter about seeing someone whom he should not. Llelas cast his memory back, and recalled that the boy claimed he could see the young lieutenant, even though he should not.
Llelas licked his lips, wondering which lieutenant that might be. And why was he referred to as young?
He recalled his own mother, holding him closed in the rundown manor where he was raised, telling him stories of the Brown Brigade and their fight to keep the mountains safe for the Menhirre over a century now past. And in those stories, the brigade had answered to a man known only as the young lieutenant.
Yet another of Grandfather’s identities.