The other cadets returned from their homes over the next week or so, bearing tales that fascinated Ellis with their differences. She couldn’t remember celebrating the Solstice anywhere but Amiestrin.
It was interesting to hear how others celebrated the occasion. For Menhirre households, it was supposed to be a day for solemn reflection. The truly Versh households held an exchange of gifts that sounded like fun to Ellis, although she thought choosing appropriate gifts for all one’s family might be an intimidating task.
Thomas’ tale of his family’s gathering in North Mornacassan made Ellis wish wistfully she’d been born into his family rather than her own. His family was large and close-knit, which sounded foreign and appealing.
And in keeping with Versh tradition, he’d brought her a gift as well–a young gelding–one he’d actually bred himself. The horse was a red roan, easy to pick out in the stable, and Thomas had named him, quite appropriately, Five. Unfortunately, Ellis could do little more to make the horse’s acquaintance than ride him about the paddock since a heavy snowfall arrived Monday night. The first heavy snow always arrived not long after the Solstice. They would have a good many days trapped indoors for the next few months.
Marshal Dantreon didn’t make it back to Amiestrin before the cadets returned to the classroom, but Winhain did. The cavalry instructor was delighted by the snow. He intended to teach the cadets about cavalry movements in cold weather conditions. Master Overton managed to escape the winter teaching assignments, for which Ellis wasn’t particularly sorry. She’d developed a hearty dislike for the man.
In addition, they had two new instructors for the winter. Miklos Jeriya would be teaching Relance, an easier course of study for the native speakers. The tables would turn on them when they had to learn Cantros next year. And Lieutenant Kiyaden Sidreiyan arrived on loan from one of the artillery units and knew everything about anything that shot anything–not only the cannons and mortar guns the Guard currently used, but apparently every rifle and pistol and musket ever made. He quickly sought out the company of Anthony Ironwright. Eavesdropping on the two of them in the library talking guns after supper left Ellis baffled. She’d never known the world of guns was such an arcane one.
Like Llelas, Sidreiyan was clearly a native speaker of Relance, with a marked lilt in his speech. The lieutenant outweighed Llelas by a good forty pounds and stood a hand taller. He had hazel eyes and lighter hair. Even so, something about him reminded her strongly of Llelas. There must be some underlying commonality she simply hadn’t pinpointed yet.
Llelas had returned to his more usual temper. He’d received two more letters regarding his brother, and was relieved that Grandfather—in one guise or another—was staying there to watch over his injured half-brother. And that Tuesday, Ellis met with Llelas to resume fighting under Sirtris’ watchful eye. The lieutenant—no, captain—talked with Llelas first about not hitting her face anywhere in the vicinity of the cut, but she had no doubt Llelas could control himself better than that.
Once they started, Ellis didn’t do as well as she would have liked. Every time one of his fists came anywhere near her face, she flinched away, at one point overbalancing and ending up on her rump. It was pure reaction, but it shook her that she’d taken a step backward in her learning.
Llelas was merciful, and didn’t say anything about her response. He took a good look at her cheek afterwards instead, bringing a lamp closer to get a better view. “I will take this out,” he told her. “Do you have any sharp scissors?”
Ellis went to her room, located the pair she’d used to make the alterations on her uniforms, and met Llelas in the library where they would have better light. She sat in one of the wooden chairs, and he tilted her face to get the best angle on the wound. Captain Dantreon and Lieutenant Sidreiyan came over to watch. Llelas began cutting the tiny bits of thread. When he pulled the threads loose, Ellis couldn’t help flinching. She clenched her jaw. This wouldn’t mean the cut would be gone, but at least it would rid her of those disgusting blood-black knots.
Lieutenant Sidreiyan asked something in Relance.
Llelas answered very calmly in Versh, never taking his eyes from his work. “The captain speaks Relance, sir, but Miss Dantreon does not. Yes, I have done this before, sir.”
“How did you learn?” the lieutenant asked.
“When I left Sandrine,” Llelas answered, pulling out another piece of string, “I lived in the Cantreidian quarter in Perisen with Denrisa Beriata, my brother’s mother’s brother. He ran prizefighters and I learned his art, sir.”
The lieutenant raised an eyebrow. “Did your father know?”
“No, sir, he did not. I ran away.”
Ellis had a hard time keeping her mouth shut. Llelas had told this lieutenant more about himself in a few moments than she’d heard in the last six months.
“We hear bad things of the duke in the Karileys,” the lieutenant observed.
The Karileys Mountains formed the northern border of Sandrine province with Bremen, which made the new arrival one of Llelas’ people–a Sandrinian. Perhaps that was the commonality Ellis had sensed.
Llelas focused his attention on his work again. “My apologies, sir.”
He tugged out the last bit of thread. He’d done so without Ellis even noticing, so curious was she about their strange conversation. He examined her cheek carefully and then allowed Ellis to touch her fingers to it. The wretched knots were gone, but the cut still had a few scabs. Fresh blood oozed at the lower end of the cut, making it sticky.
“Perhaps you should have left those in a day or two longer, Mr. Sevireiya,” Captain Dantreon said.
“There will not be any infection now, sir, and if I left them in any longer, the…holes would be worse.” He grimaced, not expressing himself as well as he wanted. “She can now plaster it if she chooses or oil it.”
Ellis reckoned Merielle would know what to do. It bothered her that she wanted nothing more at the moment than to get a glimpse of her face in a mirror. Disturbed by her own vanity, Ellis forced herself to join the captain in a game of chess before she returned to her room for the night.
January 5, 494
It’s still about as ugly as it could be. I suppose I’ll have to wait forever for all the scabs to heal. Foolish of me to think that having the stitches removed would improve its appearance.
The new lieutenant is an interesting sort of person–very distant and odd, and a bit sarcastic. I rather like him. Very fastidious–he wears gloves all the time. I thought he intended to continue cross-examining Llelas right there in front of me and the captains. It was strange to see Llelas being that subservient to anyone.
Captain Dantreon has been very upset since he returned. I don’t quite understand what happened with his brother, but it must have been unpleasant. Then the marshal’s visit upset him, and I still think that he’s angry at Llelas. Every time he looks at me, it’s almost as if he feels bad about my face. I hope he stops worrying about it. Perhaps he thinks my father will be angry but, honestly, I don’t think he’ll care at all. After all, he’s the one who wants me to be a soldier.
And at some point, he heard about the imposter at the dance. We’ve all just told him we don’t know who it was—which is true. We don’t. But he suggested that we send for more guardsmen to keep the estate safe, but Captain Sirtris talked him out of that. A good thing, since more people here would make it easier for the imposter to get in rather than harder. But we can’t explain that to Captain Dantreon, which is idiotic.
Unfortunately, my reading about seers suggests that giving them too much information tangles them in knots. I suspect that Llelas’ grandfather falls under the category of too much.
Kellen had a letter from home today. He now has a new sister and his mother is fine.
Llelas had known from the first moment he heard the man’s name, who he was. Lieutenant Sidreiyan’s face bore the stamp of the mountain people, the wide brow and hazel eyes, reminding Llelas of his own mother. Sidreiyan’s gloved hands and distant demeanor told of someone who could not touch people, who would avoid people because he bore a talent stronger than his own self-control.
Llelas knew his bloodlines. His mother had made certain of that. Sidreiyan was the grandson of the Old Man. He was a cousin on both sides and, if Llelas counted his cousins correctly, his own direct heir. He had no power yet to ask the Council to accept Sovre or Siva as his heir, so this man would likely become the heir to the seat of Sandrine Province should anything happen to him.
For all that, Llelas did not believe the man wanted him dead. To inherit the dukedom would mean falling under pressure from the Separatists. Llelas suspected the lieutenant would never seek that out. Llelas did not particularly enjoy it himself. And Sidreiyan truly did not know where Llelas had been in his missing years. Few did. That would have driven the Grandfather to distraction. Despite being the ultimate source of Llelas’ Gift, Grandfather could not find others, an ironic turn. Sovre, if asked, would never have revealed where his absent brother had gone.
Llelas figured he did owe them an explanation why the Sandrine heir, missing for five years, suddenly should appear in Jenesetta and buy into the Guard. He would explain if the lieutenant asked. Sidreiyan had dismissed him, Llelas decided, as being not much better than his father. The lieutenant would already have heard how Ellis’ injury came about. He seemed a rigid and unforgiving man.
On the other hand, it would be a great opportunity if he could win the lieutenant over to their plans, and gain some foothold among the mountain people. The sub-marshal had told him to make allies, and Llelas needed this unknown cousin to be one of them. He would have to do his best to win him over.
The artillery course became one of Ellis’ favorites. Lieutenant Sidreiyan was amazingly knowledgeable, and she enjoyed talking to him. He sometimes came and watched her chess matches with Captain Dantreon. When the captain asked if he wished to play, the lieutenant claimed he preferred to watch.
He struck Ellis as old-fashioned, although he never seemed upset by her unusual place among the cadets. It was, instead, his detached demeanor. He always kept back from others. He wore gloves all the time, as if too fastidious to get his hands dirty. Even so, she liked him. He answered almost all her questions, only occasionally giving her a sardonic look if she asked something too personal.
In the classroom, they spent hours formulating new tactics that would allow them to exploit the advances of newer weapons. It gave them a chance to use their imaginations. Thomas, in particular, could quickly see through a proposed problem and determine which ideas were and were not practicable. East did well.
South, of course, had Anthony Ironwright among them, and he knew more about guns than just their manufacture. Llelas and Anthony worked together to come up with some truly innovative ideas, even if not all of them were practical.
Sub-marshal Winhain took advantage of the snow blanketing the countryside to teach the cadets about bivouacking in winter. Since this process meant going out into the snow, often for several days at a time, it frequently interrupted the normal pattern of their classes.
Ellis found the experience intriguing. Not only did she learn the difficulties of having troops out in the field in snow, but she also discovered how fragile tempers became in the constant cold. The cadets turned to bickering among themselves and sniping at the sub-marshal.
The most trying thing for her was the almost complete lack of privacy. Mikhal, Yefin, and Jerin went out of their way to try to make those excursions easier for her, as if she were some gently-raised lady who’d never soiled the hem of her gown. Thomas, on the other hand, didn’t bother. She needed to stand on her own, he claimed.
Jeriya had them speaking Relance almost from the first day, believing that the best way for them to learn the language was to force them to use it. Ellis was profoundly grateful for Jerin’s earlier tutoring. After she discovered the basic way that the words were made, she could often reason out a translation.
Ostensibly because he thought it would help her learn Relance, Llelas started making her speak to him in that tongue. She suspected he enjoyed turning the tables on her, constantly correcting her grammar. It wouldn’t have been so bad if she hadn’t had to learn all new words for boxing. By the beginning of spring, Ellis felt comfortable with her basic grasp of the language, but the subtleties of Relance idiom were still beyond her. She began to appreciate Llelas’ difficulties in learning Versh.
Her cheek healed rapidly, scabs giving way to new white skin. The scars were plainly visible on her face, reminding her every time she spotted herself in a mirror–she was marked to be something other than a lady.
At Merielle’s suggestion, she rubbed lavender oil into it every night before she went to sleep. That kept it from puckering and twisting the way she’d seen some scars do. After a month or so, she got tired of looking at it and started to ignore her reflection in the mirror.
“What is it that no one is telling me?” Carmeyon finally asked one evening as he moved a knight across the chessboard.
He wasn’t above pressing Ellis for information. He’d gotten nowhere with Sirtris, a man who would likely carry the secret to his grave. Carmeyon didn’t even know Sirtris’ given name, not after years of friendship. Sevireiya and Deviron hadn’t been any more willing to talk to him about the incident with the imposter. The people in the village he’d talked with either laughed off the appearance of an imposter as a harmless prank or larded their version of the story with wild superstitious details, surely added later. It was rather as if no one worried about the danger to Ellis.
Her jaw clenched as she moved her own piece. “What are you asking, specifically, sir?”
“About the imposter at the dance.”
Her eyes lifted briefly, and he saw something there. Regret? Ruefulness? “Whatever it is, you can tell me.”
She shook her head. “It’s…complicated, sir.”
Carmeyon didn’t look up. “It would help if I understood what actually happened. Apparently, the man even had a dress uniform. We need to know how he got his hands on one.”
“That’s not important, sir. Any seamstress could make something that looked close enough to fool others.”
She was right about that, but at least she was talking to him. “What do you think he was after?”
Ellis’ head tilted to one side and she gazed off toward the fire. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what you think?”
“I think that I don’t know what he was after,” she clarified, looking at him now. “He hit Mikhal, but other than that, what harm did he do?”
There had been hints that the man had darkened Ellis’ reputation, implying that she had promised Mikhal Deviron…something. The villagers didn’t know Ellis well enough to know it wasn’t true, and it was a change for them to tie her to Deviron rather than Sevireiya, in whose company they often saw her. “So you think the incident won’t be repeated?”
Her grey eyes flicked up and then back to the chessboard. “One never knows what will happen.”
Carmeyon sat back, wondering at that strange turn of phrase. Although his gift was very limited, he was a seer, and she knew that. In theory, he would know if something like that threatened her again. Should he have known about the imposter who came to the village while he was absent? And since he hadn’t, did that mean he wouldn’t be warned should the man appear again?
He didn’t have much more luck knowing what Sevireiya would do, only a vague feeling that he didn’t like the man. Antipathy, his father had called it. Perhaps he should simply drop the whole thing until his father returned, giving him someone more objective with whom to discuss it.
“I don’t like the feeling that people are hiding the truth from me,” he told Ellis.
Her mouth twisted to one side sardonically, but whatever ran through her mind, she didn’t say it aloud.
Carmeyon gazed at her bowed head, her eyes carefully turned away from him. She’d been angry when she’d discovered the existence of her two half-brothers. No one had told her about her father’s infidelity to the queen and thus she’d learned the truth abruptly and publicly. He still blamed Sevireiya for that, but he could have talked to her himself. They’d wanted to protect her instead of telling her the truth.
He had the oddest feeling that this was the same thing. She’d been reading books about seers over the winter break—Sirtris had warned him about that. So perhaps whatever he was missing as something that could hurt him if he knew.
She was protecting him. It would be a comforting thought if only he wouldn’t rather know the truth.