The Dantreon Ladies
After the services, Llelas watched Miralys Dantreon as she made her way over to him. She stood out in this village of somberly-dressed people, a bright flower among them in her peach-colored dress that was too fashionable for Kensit. There was no question she was beautiful, and the brief narrowing of her eyes warned him that she was shrewd as well. She was planning something—something that apparently involved him.
She laid one hand on his arm and gazed up at him from under a lowered brow. “I think, Mr. Sevireiya, that you must be a clever man.”
“Miss Dantreon,” he said, gazing down at her face, “I am clever enough to know without looking that your brother is headed this way now to pull you away from me.”
Her eyes lifted to meet his. “Are you such a terrible person?”
“For polite young women,” he said, “yes.”
“And yet they allow you to train the princess,” she said, the corner of her mouth lifting.
Breathtaking. She was truly lovely, with large brown eyes and glossy black hair. Her skin was clear and smooth, the sort that made others want to touch it to see if it was real. For a moment, he was tempted. “They do.”
She pointed toward the inn. “Will you walk with me? Just a short way…to the inn and back.”
Llelas saw no real harm in it, so he let her cling to his arm as he walked down the road toward the center of the village, in full sight of enough people that no poor behavior could be pinned on him. The captain already disliked him, so what harm could this do?
“I understand you speak Cantros,” she said. “I would love to have someone to practice with. It was my mother’s language, and since she passed, no one in my family ever speaks it.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“My brothers never spoke it as often as I did,” she said, “and Father doesn’t because it grieved him so when mother died.”
Yes, he could imagine Marshal Dantreon being sentimental about his lost love. “Fine,” he told the girl, “but I want to be clear. I will not go anywhere with you that is not public, or in the company of others.”
She gave him a bright smile. “Agreed.”
“It would not suit your purposes anyway,” he added, “not to be seen.”
“I heard you were clever,” she said in a sly tone.
“And I wish a favor,” he said.
Yes, she had no intention of giving him anything, which was wise of her. “Miss Dantreon—your cousin—is much intimidated by you. I think that ladies were unkind at court with her, so you frighten her.”
The young woman seemed struck by that thought. “Ah, I see. That…makes sense.”
Of Ellis’ reaction to her, no doubt. “If you would be kind to her, that is all I ask.”
“I will do that, Mr. Sevireiya. I promise.” She walked in silence for a moment. “So what do we talk about?”
She had switched to Cantros, but put her preposition in the wrong place in the sentence. Llelas resisted the urge to correct her grammar. Ellis would have. “Tell me how your father and mother met.”
Miss Dantreon embarked on the tale of how the Marshal—then only a sub-marshal—had looked for someone in Perisen to teach his soldiers to speak enough Cantros that they could work effectively in the Cantreidian Quarter of the city. Her mother had taught school children, and agreed to work with the garrison. Surprised, Llelas managed to untangle the girl’s story enough to learn that her mother had been disowned by her family because she had refused the marriage her parents arranged. “Ah, I did not think a girl would work with Jenear soldiers if she had prospects of marriage,” he said.
They had walked all the way to the inn by then, so he gestured for her to turn back toward the church. “She was twenty-eight,” Miss Dantreon said, “so she was old, too.”
He laughed. “That is not as old as it sounds to you.”
Miss Dantreon flushed prettily. “I respect my mother.”
“One must respect one’s parents,” he told her, a Cantreidian saying that never had applied to him. Or he never felt it had, given his father’s behavior. He prompted her to continue with the story of the whirlwind courtship, and by the time she reached the end, they were back where they began—a short walk, as she promised.
Llelas stopped near the churchyard’s fence, easily in sight of Captain Dantreon, in case the man was fretting. He switched back to Versh, to be certain she understood him. “Be cautious here, Miss Dantreon. Not everyone is as they seem. Do not go off alone with any your man—or woman for that matter—not even to spite your brother.”
“I am not doing this to spite Carmeyon,” she said, her eyes flicking past him in her brother’s direction as she spoke. “I have other plans.”
A hand touched his shoulder, as if to warn of the man walking up behind him. Llelas was surprised to discover that it was Captain Sirtris instead of Dantreon.
“Miss Dantreon,” Sirtris said, “your brother would like a word with you.”
She heaved a dramatic sigh and cast a regretful glance in Llelas’ direction. “I will see you sometime later, then, Mr. Sevireiya. I enjoyed our discussion.”
Then she was gone, beseeching Captain Sirtris to intervene for her with her brother.
Llelas leaned back against the churchyard fence and watched them go, resisting the urge to laugh as somehow Miss Dantreon’s full skirts managed to tangle about Captain Sirtris’ leg, nearly causing the man to trip.
Anthony came up behind the fence, with Arhen and Sean behind him. “She picked out which of us is the future duke very quickly.”
Llelas shrugged. “When she learns I am poor, she will reconsider. Perhaps then she will turn to you, Anthony.”
“If I brought a brown-skinned girl like her home, my mother would shoot me,” Anthony said.
There was a clear sound of someone kicking someone else’s shin. Hard.
“My own sister and brother and brown-skinned like so,” Llelas said, glancing Anthony’s way.
Anthony actually flushed. He would not have done so when they first met. “I don’t have a problem with the color of her skin,” he said quickly. “My mother would. That’s what I meant. Miss Dantreon is gorgeous, but my mother has plans for me.”
“And we are not here to meet with the local girls, are we?” Llelas watched as Captain Sirtris handed Miss Dantreon off to her bother and then walked away. “No, the point of that was to bend her brother’s nose.”
“Bend his nose?” Anthony asked.
Llelas would have thought the meaning of the idiom obvious. “Ah…to make her brother uneasy.”
Anthony laughed then. “I see. Want to ride back?”
Llelas had been working on the cohesiveness of their quarter, trying to make the four of them into a team, so he went with the others, and spent much of the afternoon studying with them in the Reserve House library.
Ellis led her horse to the paddock after putting away the tack and currying him. Geris’ old gelding strolled over to have his nose stroked, so she climbed up on the fence to reassure him that she hadn’t forgotten him. “Missed me?” she asked.
The horse whickered at her, then turned his eyes past her and walked away.
Ellis looked over her shoulder. The groom had returned, and was heading toward her with a curry comb in one hand and a saddle blanket in the other.
“Did you ride back here alone?” he asked her.
“Just from the village. The others wanted to stay and eat at the inn.” She hadn’t complained. Sometimes they must be tired of being saddled with her…especially when there were other girls about, like the captain’s sister.
“Hmmm. Don’t do so again,” the groom said.
“Can you give me orders?” she asked. “Do you even have a name? Calling you Grandfather is…bizarre.”
“I have worked for the Guard in this capacity for decades, girl. That gives me a right to order you around if I like. I’m using the name Farinen. I’m a servant so you don’t need to know more.”
She peered at him narrowly. “You just made that up, didn’t you?”
“Do you think people come out of the womb with a name written on their forehead, girl? All names are made up.”
Ellis pressed her lips together. “Fine.”
He came closer, almost within touching distance.
Ellis sniffed, trying to catch his scent, but the smell of sweaty horse blanket overrode everything. An excellent disguise. “Stay back.”
He inclined his head. “Smart girl. I don’t know that our imposter is here,” he said, “but he’s not where he was before. Extra caution is needed.”
She’d hoped they were done with this. “Fine.”
His dark brows rose. “But?”
Ellis just shook her head. “I can’t be on guard against everyone all the time.”
“All you need is to be on guard against the right person at the right time.” He hefted the saddle blanket over his shoulder and strolled off, leaving Ellis feeling like someone had let all the sunshine out of the day.
Carmeyon had tried talking to Miralys, but she had no intention to take his concerns seriously.
“If your Father doesn’t object to him, we certainly have no business doing so,” Sirtris pointed out later as they sat together in the library before dinner.
“I realize that,” Carmeyon admitted. “The entire reason she was sent to that finishing school was to make her presentable enough to marry her off. I’ll admit that with the twigs and leaves combed out of her hair, she can pass for a lady. I suppose it wouldn’t be all that bad if she were to marry the heir to a dukedom.”
Sirtris chuckled. “Your father sent her to that school to get her out of his house. He did not send her there to find her a husband.”
“Well, she’s too young to marry anyway,” Carmeyon added.
Sirtris looked unfazed by the change of tactics. “She’s eighteen Carmeyon. Out in the country, girls get married at fourteen or fifteen.”
Carmeyon groaned. The thought of any girl marrying so young seemed worrisome, but in the case of his sister, it horrified him.
Sirtris shook his head. “For what it’s worth, I don’t think she’s interested in Llelas Sevireiya at all. Nor is he in her.”
“Think of this as her first move. He’s probably more along the lines of a subterfuge. You’ve played chess with her before–if you consider how she plays, it’s more or less a metaphor for her life.”
Sirtirs liked to analyze everything, Carmeyon knew. He liked to think, then think more, and then reconsider.
“He’s like her in that,” Sirtris added, “he’s clever. I think she recognized him as someone who would play along without getting his feelings involved.”
“What’s in it for him, then, if he’s just playing along?”
“He gets to irritate you.”
“He does that all the time anyway.”
“With Miralys involved, it’s personal,” Sirtris said, and then returned to writing in his journal.
Carmeyon listened to the scratching of Sirtris’ pen. Sirtris had always been good at figuring out Miralys’ schemes. “What do you think she’s up to?”
“She’s goading you, Carmeyon,” Sirtris said calmly. “That’s all.”
“Do you know what she’s up to, then?”
“Unfortunately, I believe I do. I also think she’s still as good as she ever was at getting what she wants.”
Carmeyon waited but Sirtris began writing again. No more information seemed to be forthcoming. “Are you going to tell me?” Carmeyon finally snapped, exasperated.
“No, but she told me she knows why you don’t like Mr. Sevireiya.”
For a moment, Carmeyon considered knocking Sirtris out of his chair. “Well, what exactly does Her Highness claim to know?”
“She wouldn’t tell me.”
“I could ride back out to the village and strangle it out of her.”
“I believe,” Sirtris commented dryly, “that the most accomplished Bremagni torturer couldn’t get anything out of that girl she doesn’t want to share.”
Ellis was surprised two Sundays later when her beautiful cousin came over to greet her. Usually surrounded by young men eager for her attention, Miralys rarely had the chance to do more than wave. Of course, Ellis noted, she stood near Llelas. Her cousin would have had to walk through Ellis to get to him, so she reckoned she shouldn’t be surprised after all.
Miralys’ little niece hung onto her arm like a lifeline. They wore dresses that matched, a purplish-blue that looked good on both of them, surprising with their disparate coloring. Idiris Dantreon looked very little like her poised and beautiful aunt, a delicate child with large blue eyes and porcelain-like skin.
“Miss Dantreon,” Miralys began, “I don’t know whether you’ve had a chance to meet our other Miss Dantreon. Idiris, this is your cousin Ellis.”
Feeling sorry for the timid girl, Ellis knelt to talk to her. “Do you like dogs?”
Idiris seemed awed by Ellis’ dress uniform and only nodded her head, blue eyes wide.
“I have four dogs, and there’s only one girl at the estate to play with them. Maybe some time you can come out to the estate and meet them.”
Idiris nodded her head. She gingerly touched one of the silver buttons on Ellis’ jacket. “Why are you dressed like that?”
For an instant, Ellis didn’t know how to respond. “I’m a soldier,” she said finally.
“Like my father?”
Ah, the absent Andrian. “Yes, like your father. And your grandfather, and uncles, too.”
“You’re not as big as my father,” Idiris observed.
Never having met that particular Captain Dantreon, Ellis could only speculate. “No, I’m not,” she said anyway.
Idiris tugged on her aunt’s gloved hand. “Why aren’t you a soldier?”
Miralys Dantreon looked down at her niece with a brilliant smile. “I would make a terrible soldier, dear,” she said without pause. “I leave that to those in the family who are good at it.” She caught Ellis’ eye and, to Ellis’ amazement, winked at her in a conspiratorial fashion. “I would make a much better spy.”
Ellis rose, brushing at her trousers to smooth the wrinkles. The captain had once said almost the same thing about his sister.
Idiris seemed taken with the idea, and gazed up at her aunt with new interest. Using that break in the conversation, Miralys bade both Ellis and Llelas farewell and led her little niece from the churchyard after getting a promise that they could come visit later in the week.
“She didn’t even talk to you,” Ellis noted to Llelas.
“No, the only reason she talks to me is to practice her Cantros.”
Ellis didn’t know how to respond to that claim. “I didn’t know she spoke it, but…that makes sense, I suppose. I thought…I thought you were courting her.”
Llelas didn’t look offended by her delving into his personal affairs, thankfully. “No. Not someone like that. Far too dangerous for me.”
“Dangerous?” Ellis glanced after her cousin, who was halfway across the churchyard by then.
Llelas laughed. “She is a woman who gets exactly what she wants. Those are always the most dangerous.”
July 21, 494
I haven’t had the nerve to do this for some time, but I’ve decided that I really don’t need to worry about Llelas finding out what I write. I’ll just have to trust him. I know he doesn’t have any desire to hurt me, or he could have done so many times before.
I’ve figured out why my cousin Miralys unnerves me. She is so very polished and perfect. I think I feel guilty that I’m not. I can remember Mrs. Verus despairing of me because I wasn’t being trained to be a lady. It was always the missing part of my education. Miralys Dantreon received the education that I didn’t get–and from what her brother told me, I don’t even think she wanted it.
I know now what I’m supposed to be. I’m a soldier. Just like all the other Dantreons. I turned sixteen today. A year–a whole year–until I am paid.