On the first decently warm day of spring, Llelas was surprised when he came into the stables to saddle his horse only to find Grandfather grooming the beast. Llelas stepped into the stall with him. “When did you return?”
“Last night. Turns out there’s always a shortage of grooms in this village, so I have my job back.”
“Where have you been? I have not seen you since that party.”
Grandfather turned a sardonic expression on him. “I have been busy, boy. I had to take care of Sovre, as you know. And then I had to return to Perisen on the sub-marshal’s orders.”
Llelas held in his vexation. “I only meant that I have worried. The imposter has not returned, but I cannot be certain. I cannot be everywhere.”
“Kiya is here to help,” Grandfather said, working the brush down the gelding’s side.
“He barely speaks with me,” Llelas told him. “He does not like me.”
Grandfather leaned against the horse’s side. The beast never would have tolerated that from Llelas. “He’s reserved, boy. He’s not like you. Now, did you touch the king while he was here?”
Llelas glanced around the stable to see if any of the others were close enough to overhear. “What?”
“Karsyas was here, was he not? Did you manage to get a feel for him?”
Llelas let out a sigh. “I had no idea I was supposed to do so. You should have told me. But I could not, not in any case. He did not come near me.”
It was Grandfather’s turn to give a gusty sigh. “Well, did he see the girl?”
“Yes,” Llelas said. “I was not close, so I do not know what he said to her.”
“She hasn’t told you? Hmmm.”
“And he looked at Jerin oddly, enough that Jerin is worried.”
“Seers are strange,” Grandfather said, apparently unaware of the irony.
“Are you here now, for a time?”
Grandfather nodded. “Until Viridias thinks I need to return.”
How much does he work for Viridias, and Viridias for him? A horrible thought occurred to him. “Are you and Sub-marshal Viridias the same person?”
With that, Grandfather just laughed and wandered away, leaving Llelas more mystified than ever.
Spring brought with it a distraction Carmeyon hadn’t foreseen. His father returned to the village of Kensit…with his sister and niece in tow.
Carmeyon questioned the wisdom of bringing Miralys to a country village. She’d spent the last six years at various schools in the capital. He’d expected she would find country life incredibly dull. Surprising him, though, she’d adapted well to her new role as surrogate mother and teacher for her niece, Idiris, and even seemed to enjoy living in the country again.
Unfortunately, Miralys was beautiful. She had grown up to look just like their mother, a dark Cantreidian flower in this staid part of Jenear. Eighteen now, she had a regal bearing totally unlike the exuberance of her youth. She had become the sort of sister about whom he would have to do a lot of worrying.
After services on Sunday his father took Idiris back to their rented house, leaving Carmeyon to deal with Miralys. Politeness forced him to introduce her to the cadets there. He would never have done so if he hadn’t felt obligated. He almost didn’t. In the end, good manners won out and he introduced them one by one.
A few merely seemed pleased to meet her. Yefin, who’d become engaged over the winter break, appeared unaffected by her beauty. Jerin and Thomas were the same, but Llelas Sevireiya kissed Miralys’ gloved hand in the Menhirre style, an action repeated by Mikhal and Heall. Carmeyon suddenly decided he didn’t care for that particular custom.
Miralys smiled up at them all, wearing her most innocent guise. If nothing else, her time at a finishing school had taught her how to deal with men. Not a good thing.
Ellis had been speaking with Sirtris inside the church and came out into the sunlight just then. Hoping they might be friends, Carmeyon called her over. “I’d like to introduce my sister, Miralys.”
Shorter despite being a few years older Miralys smiled up at Ellis. Carmeyon watched as Ellis swallowed nervously, a false smile sliding over her face.
“I think that sometime, if you would permit it, I would like to go out shooting with you,” Miralys said as if that were the most common of sitting room discussions. It was a speech designed to find common ground, Carmeyon knew. “I hear you are a dead shot and I could certainly use some practice.”
“I will…uh, have to consider it,” Ellis answered in a shaky voice. “A pleasure to meet you. I think I should return home. I have work to do, sir.”
Carmeyon realized that she’d angled her face so that Miralys wouldn’t get a good look at the scar. Catching Sirtris’ eye, Carmeyon gestured him over as Ellis untied her roan. Sirtris wasn’t happy, he could tell, but agreed to escort Miralys back to the house his father had rented. Sirtris left the churchyard a moment later with Miralys on his arm.
Carmeyon caught up with Ellis a short distance outside the village. She didn’t even glance in his direction as he rode up next to her. He had the uncomfortable feeling she’d been crying. “When I was twenty,” he said after a moment, “Sirtris and I were both stationed at the City Garrison in Jenear. That was before Father retired, so he lived in the capital as well. Miralys was an absolute terror, constantly in trouble. She was fourteen then, so she didn’t always think very far ahead, and she loved playing practical jokes.”
Ellis half-turned his way, curious now.
“She was kicked out of the school she’d been attending for putting…I believe it was crickets…in the headmistress’ bed. Could have been lizards. Mice? Anyway, she ended up spending the entire summer at my father’s house while he tried to find another school that would take her. Sirtris and I ended up minding her. By the end of the summer, I thought Sirtris was ready to tie her up and leave her in the coal chute. You should have seen his face when I asked him to walk her back to the house in the village. She’ll probably manage to tip him into a puddle or dump a kettle of tea on him before the afternoon is out.”
“It’s difficult to believe she’d do that sort of thing,” Ellis claimed. “She seems very refined.”
Carmeyon shook his head. “Ah. She came back from this last school looking like that. Personally, I don’t believe it’s anything more than a thin veneer. Scratch the surface and you’ll still find my bratty little sister.”
Ellis laughed and wiped at her cheeks. “I won’t repeat what you just said to her.”
“She’d claw my eyes out. I noticed she’s managed to stop chewing her nails.”
Ellis glanced down at her gloved hands. “You said once, sir, that your father would never have trained her as a soldier. They do seem to have made her into a lady.”
“The strange thing is, I think she might have made a very good soldier. She’s not as strong as you are, but she is clever. Actually,” he amended, “she’d make a better spy.”
“Your father wouldn’t like that.”
“No, he wouldn’t. He would never put her in harm’s way. She looks too much like Mother.”
“I would think it natural for him to protect her,” she said in a tired voice. Her father didn’t have such inclinations, he knew, so the comparison must sting. “Your mother must have been very beautiful, sir,” she said wistfully.
“Yes, Miralys looks just like her.”
“I think you must also. I mean you must get your looks from your mother rather than your father.” She flushed, embarrassed to have said such a thing.
Carmeyon spent a minute puzzling that out. Ellis wasn’t prone to noticing appearances, so it was unusual for her to comment like that. “I do look like my father, only my coloring is so different that no one notices the resemblance. Most people think Jerin looks more like him than I do.”
She pulled up her mount and stared at his face. “I think you’re right,” she announced. “I didn’t realize you had such dark skin. I just thought you were tan.”
Thomas had said almost the same thing to him once. Most people…it was the first thing they noticed. It was the first thing he noticed about himself when he looked in a mirror. A Menhirre might turn as dark in the summer, but in the dead of winter, the brown didn’t fade from his skin. He supposed Ellis had just never taken a good look at him before.
She opened her mouth to say something and then chose not to. Then she changed her mind. “I meant, sir, that you get your beauty from your mother. But, no, you are not at all colored like your father.”
She started her horse moving again. His father was very fair-skinned, with light blue eyes. Now peppered with gray, his hair had been dark brown when he was a boy. Only Andrian looked like him. His four other children were all dark like their mother, with straight black hair and brown eyes. Miralys and Verin were fair-skinned enough to pass for Menhirre, but he and Sivian weren’t.
Realizing she’d gotten away from him, he spurred his horse to catch up. “I thought you might enjoy meeting another of your cousins, but I got the impression she made you nervous.” It wasn’t precisely a question.
“I’m just…” she tried. “I don’t know what…”
He waited. She probably didn’t know why she’d reacted so badly either. They rode on in silence as she thought.
“I remember what ladies are like,” she said quietly.
She’d barely been five when she’d been taken to Amiestrin. Most likely, what she remembered of ladies reflected her memories of the queen. “Not all women are like your mother.”
“I know the women in the village aren’t, and Melia and Mrs. Verus and Merielle aren’t, but even they talk about me. I mean, not Merielle. But the maids talk about me as if I were some sort of freak.”
Carmeyon was stunned. He always worried about what the cadets thought, what the Council thought, what her father thought. He never realized she’d be self-conscious about what women thought of her. He cursed himself silently for his stupidity.
“I’m sorry, Captain,” she said, breaking into his train of thought. “I’m just having a sour day.”
She turned her horse off the road and called back that she was going to ride home through the estate. Carmeyon sat unmoving, watching her until she disappeared into the trees. She knew the estate far better than he did. She wouldn’t get lost.
He stayed there until he saw Llelas, Anthony and Jerin riding quickly up the road toward him. He moved to one side to let them pass, following at a pace more suited to thinking.
She didn’t return in time for lunch. By mid-afternoon, he began to worry. She wasn’t lost, nor did he have any reason to fear animals, but the grounds of Amiestrin had never been fully secure. There was always the possibility that some human agent could harm her.
When he privately sought out Geris Seran, the guardsman suggested they take out the dogs. As evening approached, it sounded like a better and better idea. Carmeyon talked to Thomas to see if he knew where she might be hiding, but Thomas had no answer.
It was Llelas Sevireiya, irritatingly enough, who knew where to find her. Carmeyon found Llelas saddling his horse in the stables. He’d swallowed his pride coming out to ask whether the younger man had any idea where Ellis might have gone.
“I know where she is, sir,” was his only answer.
Carmeyon watched him go, no little bit annoyed that Llelas Sevireiya knew where to look.
It wasn’t properly a lake, more like a large pond. When the stream ran high in early spring, the overhang filled with water. As the water receded, grass grew in to fill the gap, leaving a cool, shadowy spot under the overhang. Branches of rhododendron bushes hung over it, providing an excellent curtain during the summer.
She saw him before he could spot her and thought if she remained still he would pass her by, but it seemed as if he knew exactly where she sat. A moment later, he pulled aside the brittle branches of the overhanging bush. Ellis tried to ignore him.
“You have been sitting here so long you have grass stains on your ass.”
How like Llelas. “It’s Sunday. I can do as I please,” she said crossly.
He grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet. “I am hungry and I want to eat dinner. Walk.”
Arguing with Llelas wouldn’t get her anywhere, so she made her way to where she’d tethered her horse in the trees. “How did you know where I was?” she asked.
“I found you. That is what is important.” He watched her mount, his attitude leaving Ellis with little doubt that he would tie her up and drag her back if she tried to force the issue. “You have caused worry today with this childishness. Do not worsen the situation.”
She wheeled her horse around and looked down at him for a moment, surprised by his anger. She really hadn’t done anything to him this time. He started back in the direction of the manor.
The sun was still up, but falling quickly, throwing long shadows before her as she rode. Five was eager to return to the warm stables and his oats and didn’t like it when she abruptly pulled him to a halt.
Llelas evaded my question. Now if Jerin had done that, it wouldn’t have been worth notice. Thomas might have done so. Llelas never did that–never.
She dismounted, knowing he would be along sooner or later. There was only one path back to the estate, and Llelas didn’t know his way back well enough to go any other way. Presently she spotted him walking his horse up the path toward the house. She wasn’t surprised to see him walk when he could have ridden. He didn’t even look in her direction as he neared her on the path.
“How did you know exactly where I was?” she asked.
“You have already asked this question.”
“And you didn’t answer it.”
He gave her a completely blank expression, as if there were nothing inside his braincase at all. The wind kicked up as Ellis waited.
“You don’t intend to answer that question, do you?” she finally asked.
“Clearly not.” He walked on, passing her on the path.
“You know I’ll find out.” She called after him.
“I know, kitarhi,” he yelled back without stopping.
She yanked on Five’s reigns and hauled him along the path, crowding Llelas’ mount. “Why don’t you just tell me now and save yourself the annoyance.”
“It is my concern,” he snapped. “It is not yours.”
She understood his anger then. She’d forced him to reveal…something. “Dear God, Llelas, you and your secrets.”
He stopped. “Do not,” he said in a tight voice, “take the Lord’s name in vain.”
“You have a filthy mouth, Llelas. I don’t think you’re in a position to lecture me about that.”
“At the least I do not dirty the Lord’s name with it,” he snapped back.
A Menhirre peculiarity, Ellis knew now. One could permissibly curse all the day long so long as that one rule wasn’t broken. Truthfully, she couldn’t remember ever having heard him do so.
She wouldn’t be able to keep him arguing on this track for long. “Is this the same way you knew about Mikhal?” she pressed, changing tacks on him.
“Rumor. I was not certain it was true.”
“Yes, you were. You wanted to hurt him.”
Now she’d gotten him good and furious. His knuckles had gone white on the reins. She’d all but called him a liar.
He stepped closer, his face not a foot away from hers. “Do you think,” he hissed in Relance, “I am so cruel as to throw such a secret into his face? I did not know it was true until he ran. I know when to keep others’ secrets.”
Ellis fought the urge to step back. She would only back into her mount anyway.
“I have not told others about your maid,” he continued. “Do not think I do not know from where she came? I have not told that my cousin follows her everywhere. I have not told about your writing down at night all that you think then burning it in the fire. I do not tell those things you write. I know when not to talk.”
A chill traveled down her spine. She’d gotten what she’d wanted but he’d said rather more than she’d anticipated. “Why do you speak Relance when you become angry?”
Llelas took an abrupt step away from her, his jaw clenched. “Is there something wrong with wanting to speak my own tongue? I do not know why you damned Jenear think you have the right to force us to speak your language.”
Ellis grasped the saddle horn and swung up into the saddle. She looked down at him. “I never said you had to, just that you should be able to. Relance suits you better, Llelas.”
His anger passed. She could tell he was thinking now. She set her heels to Five’s sides and pushed him to a gallop, wanting some distance between herself and Llelas before he decided that she’d manipulated him. Fortunately, with Llelas, his anger usually passed quickly.
Ellis made it back to the stables long before he did. She still didn’t feel well so she retreated to her room. She thought she could get away with claiming a headache this once. As long as she didn’t do it more than any of the other cadets, it shouldn’t attract notice.
She lay on her bed, considering Llelas’ words. He was very good at keeping secrets to himself. She’d always believed she was good at keeping her own, but he knew about Merielle, and he knew about her journal.
Merielle, she could understand. He talked to the people in the village, and one of them would surely remember when they’d brought Merielle back from Comhi, thin and looking half-frightened out of her wits. It wouldn’t surprise her if someone had figured it out even if no one from the estate ever talked about it. Her father had sent them to Comhi to buy a horse and she came back with a Galasiene girl instead. One could reason it out.
Llelas might have been able to figure out the journal. Still, how did he know she burned the pages? She wasn’t even certain Merielle knew that.
There was one explanation that made sense. Llelas is a Watcher.
She’d read a great deal about Watchers, and they could see others from a distance. That was how he’d known where she was. That was how he knew about the journal and Merielle and…everything. That was why Grandfather thought he could tell when the imposter imitated others. That took a bit more logic, but Llelas’ gift must be able to separate the real person from someone else who looked exactly like them. Would that work with twins?
And that meant that he could have read everything she’d ever written in her journals.
Why didn’t I put this together before?
She went to her desk, and wrote one sentence in her journal. She would have to see what Llelas had to say about it tomorrow.
“So, did Miralys spill anything on you?” Carmeyon asked when he saw Sirtris’ long-suffering expression. “Ruin your coat? Drop a book on your head?”
Sirtris had arrived back at the estate late, evidently trapped out at the house in the village for the entire afternoon. He rolled his eyes. “I believe she mistook me for a hired hand. Did you, by any chance, mention my name to her?”
One of those puzzles that always kept Sirtris’ friends wondering–he wouldn’t tell anyone his given name. So far as Carmeyon knew, he never had. “I don’t even know it.”
“Hmmm. She does.”
“Really?” Carmeyon stared. How had Miralys done it? He’d given up a long time ago.
“She waited until I was on my horse to come back here,” Sirtris said in a rueful voice, “then she thanked me for staying and called me by name. She’s always been one for drama, hasn’t she? I’m curious to know how she found out if not from you.”
“I have no idea, I promise.”
“Now she’s going to hold it over my head, I expect.” Sirtris shook his head, a rueful smile crossing his face. “I should never have told her she couldn’t find it out. I think she took that as a challenge.”
Sirtris admitted that Miralys had inveigled him into doing every last chore she didn’t want to do herself. She’d claimed Father hadn’t had time to hang this, or move that. Miralys enjoyed getting her way, and Sirtris had always been one of her favorite victims. His serious demeanor and propriety made him a prime target.
“I’ll see she doesn’t tell anyone,” Carmeyon offered.
“Even you?” Sirtris asked. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not that frightened of her.”
Carmeyon couldn’t help but shake his head. Anyone with any sense is scared of Miralys.