Ellis woke feeling oddly certain that Lieutenant Dantreon would come back today, two days early. She jumped up and dressed. The swelling of her cheek was almost gone. The reddish tinge had faded. The ugliest thing about the cut now was the stitches. She would have to ask Llelas or Merielle how soon those could come out, as she only had a horse’s stitches for reference.
Feeling better than she had in days, she went to the kitchen to steal some breakfast and then to the library to see whether not the post had arrived from the village. Although Lieutenant Dantreon went through it every morning when he was present, Lieutenant Sirtris didn’t seem inclined to do so, leaving it waiting on the table.
A newspaper had come from the capital, as well as a letter for Sirtris. Beneath that lay a letter addressed to Llelas. Grabbing it up, Ellis ran out to the stables, certain she’d find him there. He was putting oats out for the horses when she located him. “Letter,” she said, handing it over to him.
Without a glance for her, he broke the seal and began to read. She could tell when he got to good news. He leaned back against one of the stalls to get his breath. “Meritte, Donai,” he said finally, casting a look upward.
Ellis recognized the word for father, but knew better than to think Llelas was crediting his human father with anything. “He’s going to be all right, then?”
“Yes, this is from his wife, Liana, who writes better than the innkeeper Siva made to write for her. He is doing well, and Grandfather is with him. The doctor in Stone Point wants Sovre to stay there for two weeks. That will make him crazed.” He glanced at the letter again, and put it in a trouser pocket. “Thank you for bringing it.”
“Your Grandfather is there?” she asked. “That grandfather?”
Llelas glanced surreptitiously about the stable before answering. “Yes, that one. We are not to talk of him.”
Lieutenant Sirtris had sworn him, her, and a very confused Mikhal to secrecy about the imposter, although Ellis was certain town gossip would get back to the ears of the other cadets quickly. She didn’t see the point. “How much longer do you have to work in the stables?” she asked instead.
“Until the end of January,” he said, clearly unconcerned by the time. “Since I cannot run, the work is good for me.”
“You should eat sometime today.”
“And you should mind your own doings. I will eat when I am ready, kitarhi. I must get back to work,” he said, picking up the oat bucket to fill the next manger.
Ellis headed back to the house, pleased that he’d gotten good news. She finally went back to her room to work on lengthening the sleeves of herr remaining jacket. Merielle had taken the first jacket yesterday. It came back pressed, making Ellis wonder where Merielle found the time. She was grateful, though. At least she could present a decent facade when the other cadets returned.
Carmeyon arrived shortly before noon, riding in from his family’s house in the capital. He felt relieved, allowing his father to deal with things at home. At Amiestrin, at least, he could do something.
He stabled his horse and made his way back up to the manor, electing to carry his bags back to the Reserve House after lunch. He dumped them by the back door and searched until he found Sirtris in the library, reading the papers. Sirtris would read them from cover to cover every day if time permitted. It kept him abreast of all the news, but Carmeyon had never shared that drive.
He tapped the back of the page and was rewarded by Sirtris’ surprised look. “Did you not get my letter?” Carmeyon asked.
Sirtris shook his head and asked about the black band on Carmeyon’s blue sleeve.
Carmeyon sat down, wondering where to begin. It had been a hellish week. “Andrian’s wife went into labor early and died, and the baby with her. A boy.”
“I’m very sorry. How is Andrian taking it?”
Carmeyon rubbed a hand across his brow. “Not well. He’s barely spoken since. He refused to attend the funeral service. Then he stormed out and told Father that it was his fault.”
“Why would it be your father’s fault?”
“I don’t know. Either because Father arranged their marriage in the first place, maybe, or that he’d felt obligated to travel all the way from Jestriyan to be with us at Christmas. He’s…irrational.”
“Andrian has never been particularly stable,” Sirtris said in a mild voice. He stroked a finger down his narrow nose and shook his head.
“Well, the worst of it,” Carmeyon continued, “is that he headed back to Jestriyan the next morning, and left his daughter behind. Idiris was in hysterics.”
Sirtris sighed. “She’s about seven, isn’t she?”
“Not a good age to lose one’s mother, particularly if they were close.”
“My sister has taken Idiris under her wing, but she’s no substitute for the girl’s mother. Miralys has never had any patience with hysterics, I’m afraid. Sivian’s back off to University already, and Verin had to return to the Engineers. Now Father and Miralys have to see to the girl, God only knows for how long. So Father’s stuck there and Miralys can’t return to school.”
“Why not simply move the child in here and send your sister back to her school?” Sirtris’ voice held an oddly hopeful note.
Carmeyon shrugged. “We discussed it but that wouldn’t be appropriate. Moving a family in here would look as if we thought we owned the place.”
“I hate to ask, but did none of you know this was going to happen?”
Carmeyon ran a hand through his hair. “Not a one of us. Andrian certainly didn’t know. We talked afterward, and none of us had the slightest hint about her death or boy’s. Not Andrian’s sudden departure either. Father even talked to Sirien Revasien. Nothing.”
“A rather large hole in your family’s foreknowledge.”
“It happens sometimes. Things are hidden from us for some reason. Perhaps so they can’t be changed. This was something that had to happen. I just don’t know why.”
Sirtris peered at him through narrowed eyes for a moment, as if weighing some decision. “Give it time and perhaps it will make sense.”
“I don’t think I can make sense out of Andrian’s wife and son dying,” Carmeyon answered angrily.
Sirtris simply gazed at him, eternally calm.
Carmeyon sighed. There was no point in picking a fight with Sirtris.
“I’m very sorry for Andrian,” Sirtris said.
“I feel odd about it, since I hardly knew his wife. How did you go on here, then?” Carmeyon asked after a moment.
“Hmmm. Don’t you know?”
Carmeyon started, surprised Sirtris would suggest that. “I’ve hardly given this place a thought, save to wish I were here rather than there.”
Sirtris folded his paper and set it aside. “Well, all went fairly smoothly until the festival. There was some confusion at the dance, and then the next day the children got into a fight. Relations have not yet normalized. I admit I was relieved when Jerin Marisi came back early.”
“Mikhal and Llelas, I presume?”
“No, Llelas and Ellis. Although the argument that started it did, I think, have something to do with Mikhal.”
Carmeyon sat back in his chair. He’d missed something. “And why would they be fighting over Mikhal?”
“I didn’t ask, although I am aware there has never been a particular fondness between the two men.”
Sometimes he wanted to shake Sirtris for his hands-off approach to leadership. But it helped Sirtris keep perspective on the cadets and their relationships, something Carmeyon knew he lacked. “So, what happened?”
“Ellis struck him, he hit back. It would have ended there, I think, but she stumbled in the snow and went face-first into the chimney.”
Carmeyon nearly jumped out of his chair. “Chimney?”
“They were on the roof of the Reserve House.”
“What on earth were they doing there?”
“Ellis told me that she and Mikhal had gone there to find Llelas. He does sit up there from time to time. At least, I have observed him there before.”
He hadn’t had any idea. He’d always thought that Sevireiya stayed in his room much of the time. “I suppose I’ve missed it.”
Sirtris waved vaguely. “You’ve had other things to concern you.”
Carmeyon felt guilty. He’d been so concerned with getting the school onto its feet that he’d had little time to worry over the cadets. In fact, he’d not truly bothered himself about any of them but Thomas and Ellis. He had no doubt Sirtris knew the cadets far better than he did. “Is she all right, then?”
“The first day or so was difficult, but I think the stitches can come out in…”
The word ‘stitches’ resounded in his ear. A blind surge of rage ran through him. “I’m going to kill him,” Carmeyon said. If Llelas had hurt her badly he was going to rip out the man’s throat. He headed for the door, desperate to see her for himself.
“You will do nothing of the sort,” Sirtris said. “Sit down, Carmeyon.”
Sirtris’ quiet voice got through to him. Carmeyon turned back at the door.
“I have already dealt with the situation,” Sirtris said.
Despite his cool tone, Carmeyon could tell he was annoyed. “What did you do?”
Sirtris briefly outlined his discussions with the two. Carmeyon listened, recognizing the reasons for Sirtris’ decisions. That didn’t make him feel any less like taking his anger out on Llelas Sevireiya. “I still want to have a talk with him. He needs to learn…”
“Carmeyon, I have already dealt with this. I took what action I deemed necessary. I will not appreciate your going around me to level a second punishment, verbal or otherwise.”
That stopped him in his tracks. To take his ire out on Llelas, Carmeyon realized, would be undermining Sirtris’ authority. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”
“Ellis certainly doesn’t blame him for what happened,” Sirtris offered, “and I don’t think there’s any way you can punish him more harshly than he’s punishing himself.”
Carmeyon sat back down. Sirtris was right, he knew. If Ellis didn’t blame Llelas then he had no business doing so either.
As it was, he didn’t set eyes on Ellis until lunchtime. She’d been working on something in her room for the better part of the morning. Now, he spotted her sitting at table with Jerin and Mikhal, seemingly content in their company. A black line of stitches ran across her cheekbone, closing an uneven cut about three inches long. Carmeyon barely kept a curse off his lips.
The cadets rose as soon as they spotted the officers coming in, Ellis smiling when she saw him. Her smile faded, though, when she noticed the black armband, which led to another explanation of his family’s dilemma.
In turn, she offered an explanation of the incident, as she called it. Heard from Ellis’ perspective, it seemed the incident had been entirely her fault. He would have liked to talk to her more about it, but Sirtris was correct. He needed to leave it alone. So he finished his lunch and left, taking his bag back to the Reserve House to unpack. Carmeyon unpacked the bag in silence. After that he lay down, staring up at the ceiling and simply enjoying the uncharacteristic quiet of the mostly-empty house.
A tapping at his door reminded him he’d left it standing open. When he looked up, he saw Llelas Sevireiya standing in the doorway. “May I come in, sir?”
Carmeyon gestured for him to do so. Llelas stood until invited to sit in the chair at the desk. Carmeyon sat on the edge of his bed, knowing he’d lost any chance to catch a nap now.
“I thought I should talk to you, sir,” Llelas began. “To tell you what happened on Monday, so you would know.”
Carmeyon held up his hand. “Lieutenant Sirtris has already dealt with the incident. You don’t need to discuss it with me.”
“I do, sir.” Llelas paused and looked down at his hands. It wasn’t uncertainty. Carmeyon doubted the young man had experienced a twinge of uncertainty in his entire life. “I know you consider I am a bad influence here. I have deserved that. I am sorry I caused this to happen.”
“What exactly did you do? I have no idea how this fight got started. I am curious.”
“I was angry, sir. I said things that angered her, and she slapped me.”
Carmeyon hadn’t seen Ellis angry yet, not in all of the first half year. “What did you say to her, Mr. Sevireiya?”
“It was first something I said to Mikhal. Then I said it was unfair that you were never called a damned half-breed. That is why she hit me, sir.”
Somehow, Carmeyon recognized that as the truth. Llelas had nerves of steel, admitting to an officer he’d said such a thing about him. Carmeyon took a good look at him.
Llelas’ face was pale, difficult with his olive skin. He had the look of someone who had indeed suffered for the last few days, though. Sirtris was right, Carmeyon decided. Llelas was being hard on himself.
And I am not going to undermine Sirtris’ authority. Carmeyon let a vexed sigh escape him. “I am called a damned half-breed with amazing regularity, Mr. Sevireiya. I’m not about to deny the accusation.”
Llelas flushed. “Yes, sir. My apologies, sir.”
“For what, Mr. Sevireiya? For calling me that? Or for suggesting that I’m not called that often enough?”
“And what did you say to Mr. Deviron?”
Llelas clenched his jaw. “I will not say, sir.”
Interesting. Llelas was willing to repeat a personal insult to his face, but not what he’d said about one of the other cadets. It must have been spectacularly bad, then, whatever that insult was. “You are fortunate Lieutenant Sirtris was here rather than me. I would have been less fair-minded than him. Keep that in mind for the future.”
“Lieutenant Sirtris was too easy, sir.”
“No, Mr. Sevireiya. He was precisely fair.”
“I should have been dismissed, sir. I know that. That is what I came to tell you. If you wish, I will leave.”
Llelas Sevireiya was offering to leave Amiestrin of his own volition. It was incredibly tempting to be rid of him. Carmeyon sat for a bit, considering the offer. “Mr. Sevireiya, I will admit you weren’t one of my choices to be here. In fact, I argued you shouldn’t be. I have concerns about your influence, just as you said. Sub-marshal Revasien and I discussed it over the break and he insisted that you remain here. Do you know why?”
Llelas seemed surprised. “No, sir.”
“He said you were to be her guardian angel–hers and the prince’s.”
The younger man’s dark brows drew together. “I am a bad choice to be that, sir.”
“I agree. You are staying, first because I trust the Sub-marshal, and second because I have no business punishing you further. It’s over and done with. No more apologies.” Carmeyon tried to make his voice reflect the words, more difficult than he’d have thought. He knew better than to think Llelas Sevireiya didn’t hear his reluctance.
Llelas stood, paused as if he had more to say, and excused himself with the barest nod.
Carmeyon stared at the door long after he left, wondering at the feelings of anger and distrust the young nobleman always inspired in him. It was almost as if he foreknew something about Llelas, but couldn’t quite place it.
He had, he realized, developed quite a headache in the last few minutes.
Carmeyon didn’t see Ellis again until that evening in the library. She played chess with him, losing by a narrow margin. They didn’t discuss the incident at all, talking instead about the festival and Christmas dinner. Something about the dance had not gone as planned, but she clearly wanted to keep it to herself. In a day full of self-restraint, Carmeyon managed not to pry about that, either. When they finished the game, Ellis declined another, claiming tiredness.
She sat for a time and gazed at the flames in the hearth instead. “So, what will happen tomorrow, sir?” she asked finally. When he gazed at her with raised brows, she added, “You have a headache, sir.”
Carmeyon laughed, surprised that she’d noticed. “I can’t merely have a headache? A nice, normal headache?”
Her head tilted as she gazed at him. “Have you ever had one of those, sir?”
“You are impertinent, Ellis.”
“I realize that, sir, but I’m curious,” she admitted.
“Lieutenant Sirtris and I are to have a visitor–Marshal Severin again.”
“May I ask why he’s coming to visit, sir?”
“Several reasons, I’m afraid. We’ll be busy with him much of the day. I’m certain you and the others can find a way to occupy yourselves.”
Ellis cocked her head at him. “Jerin has tuned the old pianoforte, sir. Perhaps he can teach me to dance, if nothing else. I’ve already finished altering my uniforms.”
Altering? Carmeyon took a good look at her, her legs stretched out toward the flames in unconscious mimicry of him. She’d gotten taller, and he hadn’t noticed. She’d definitely put on muscle in the past several months. He tried to recall when Miralys had stopped growing, but couldn’t. His sister had been at school for so much of the last few years that he’d missed her growing up. Ellis seemed behind his sister in her development, or perhaps she would simply have a more boyish figure. She also lacked the feminine polish that made Miralys appear so mature, but then, Miralys would be eighteen soon.
Ellis wasn’t meant for the same sort of life as Miralys. Foolish to compare the two.
Friday morning brought another light snow. Marshal Severin would be disappointed, Carmeyon thought, not to find his father in residence when he arrived. They’d intended to discuss strategies for presenting the school to the Council. Marshal Severin, however, didn’t seem to mind dealing with Carmeyon and Sirtris alone. He shook hands with both of them and settled heavily onto one of the chairs in front of the library windows. He tossed his hat onto one of the tables and ran a hand through his thick grey hair.
“I am most sorry about your brother’s loss,” the marshal told Carmeyon. “Your father wrote to me to explain that he wouldn’t be here yet.”
“Andrian is devastated,” Carmeyon repeated, having said that too many times in the last week. “My father will return here as soon as we’ve made provisions for his daughter.”
The marshal chuckled. “Do you mean Andrian’s daughter, or that little imp out of hell your father raised?”
“Her reputation precedes her,” Carmeyon sighed. The marshal meant his sister, Miralys, of course, who’d been a terror as a girl. Sirtris, he noted, kept his mouth closed. Miralys had tormented Sirtris whenever she found a chance.
“Your father adores her, I can tell,” the marshal laughed.
“Yes, sir,” Carmeyon said weakly. “Even so, he can’t just drag her here.”
“We’ll work something out, son,” Marshal Severin said. “So, your questions…”
They handled some preliminary business first, problems Carmeyon had forwarded to the marshals in writing. They’d clearly taken his questions seriously and conferred on them before Marshal Severin relayed their answers.
The first answer annoyed him. Unlike all the other cadets, Ellis couldn’t draw pay. Since the minimum age of entry into the Guard had been set at seventeen, she couldn’t officially be considered a guardsman. Likewise, she couldn’t hold any rank until that time. The marshals feared setting a precedent by allowing an underage cadet to be acknowledged. Carmeyon suspected Ellis would take that with equanimity since it made sense. Ellis liked things that made sense.
The marshals were willing to absorb some of her expenses though. Ellis had no income of her own and without a salary, she would be unable to pay for further uniforms. Of course, Carmeyon could continue to send the bills to the king for payment, but he suspected she would prefer to pay her own way.
The newspapers had clearly noticed that the king’s daughter was being trained with the other cadets. So far, none of them had the nerve to publish anything about it, fearing reprisals from the king, but they had approached the Guard for information. The marshals were debating how to respond.
All of this Carmeyon more or less expected. What came next took him by surprise. “I must bring up the fact that, with twenty guardsmen here, this establishment qualifies as a garrison. All garrison level commands must be held by an officer of captain’s rank or higher.”
Carmeyon had known someone would eventually realize that. “Are we to be superseded then?”
Severin shook his head. “Not at all. Both of you have exhibited admirable administrative skills under what can only be considered difficult circumstances. Therefore, we’ve chosen to give both of you your captaincies.”
Carmeyon swallowed, too surprised to respond immediately. Andrian will be terribly annoyed. Andrian always says things come too easily to me.
Sirtris opened his mouth to protest but evidently thought better of it. Carmeyon voiced his unspoken thought anyway. “I’ve only been a lieutenant for five years, sir. I’m a year short.”
Marshal Severin shrugged that regulation to one side. “Time-in-rank regulations can be waived. You don’t really want to know how old Sub-marshal Revasien is.”
When the marshal left, Carmeyon and Sirtris sat for a time in the library. “Do you remember, on the first day we came here,” Carmeyon asked finally, “you said we were going to hang?”
Sirtris nodded. “I’ll hang as a captain, for what it’s worth. I’m certain my father will be impressed.” He fingered the new bars to be sewn onto his jacket. “I hope you realize we may have been chosen for our expendability rather than your indispensability.”
“Oh, I am more than aware of that,” Carmeyon laughed softly. “But I don’t think the marshals would sacrifice my father’s son like that–even one of his half-Cantreidian sons.”
“I’m glad you have such faith in your marshals, Captain Dantreon,” Sirtris said.
It sounded strange to hear his new rank, as if Sirtris were speaking to Andrian rather than himself. The thought sent a chill down Carmeyon’s spine.
“I just thought of it myself, Captain Dantreon,” Sirtris admitted. “Have I told you how much I hate that?”
December 25, 493
I’ve decided to resume these entries, even if they may be seen by someone I prefer not to have seeing them. I cannot stop a Watcher form seeing them, or anything else, so I refuse to worry over it.
Jerin tuned the pianoforte. It took a long time, and I have no idea how he did that. He could actually tell by listening to the notes. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Since the first time we attended services in the village, I’ve known he has a wonderful singing voice. As it turns out, Jerin plays very well. Mikhal agreed with me on that. I have never heard that pianoforte played before. I’ve underestimated Jerin again.
Llelas showed up at supper. I was getting worried about him. I’ll have to ask him later how he knew about Mikhal, but I’ll wait until a day when he’s in a good mood. Of course, that doesn’t happen very often.
Mikhal told Jerin and me everything this afternoon. Now I know why he seems so sad most of the time. He’s so very proper that it must have almost killed him to find out that the duke isn’t really his father. I can’t help but feel sorry for him. He says he only found out about a year ago, which would have made it even harder for him. Poor Mikhal. He says the duke has always treated him just like another of his sons, even though the duke knew all along, but he feels like an impostor of some sort.
Captain Dantreon. Will I ever become accustomed to that? When they told us at dinner, my first thought was of Kerris and his silly, cryptic letter. Perhaps the message was meant for him after all. Both the captains were very preoccupied tonight and I couldn’t pin down exactly what’s bothering them. Llelas says they’re both young for that rank, so perhaps that’s part of it. Sirtris is a little older than Captain Dantreon, but I’ve never asked his age. Now I hesitate to do so because I’ll be accused of badgering them. I should just ask anyway.
Worst of all, I won’t receive any pay until I’m seventeen. When the others leave here in just over a year, they’ll have the rank of lieutenant. I can’t even have that. I wish I were seventeen now.
Without even waiting for the ink to dry this time, Ellis dropped the sheet into the fire. It would never do for her to give away Mikhal’s secrets as well as her own.
Go on to Chapter 21 (not available yet)