The King’s Daughter, Chapter 27

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Interrogation, Mountain Style

Ellis stepped away from Grandfather and his struggling hostage, forcing herself to think before she interfered.

The only reason Sirtris wasn’t over here strangling Grandfather…was that this wasn’t Miralys Dantreon. An imposter—an aras—and I never even suspected. Ellis took a deep breath and took one more step back, allowing Llelas to slip past her.

“Where is Miss Dantreon?” he asked.

The girl in Grandfather’s arms stilled. “Captain Sirtris! Help me!” she begged.

Ellis saw a reflection of the girl’s pain cross Sirtris’ face. He quelled it, though, and came toward them, jaw set. “Say my name,” he demanded. “Say it.”

Miralys whimpered. “It hurts. Please, stop him.”

Sirtris stopped a few feet away, closing a circle with Grandfather and his hostage flanked by Ellis and Llelas. “Say…my…name.”

Ellis had never seen Captain Sirtris angry. He didn’t yell, but she had no doubt that he was furious.

Miralys’ lips trembled. “He’s going to kill me,” she plead, eyes turning to Ellis.

“I’m not going to kill you,” Grandfather said with a snort. “I’m going to interrogate you, and then send you home to your cluster to lick your wounds.”

“Where is Miralys Dantreon?” Sirtris demanded again. “Answer, or I will kill you.”

“Don’t be melodramatic, Captain,” Grandfather said. “I have been chasing this one across two cities. I have no intention of letting you kill her until I’ve gotten what I want.”

Llelas walked to the back wall of the stable, sat down with his back against the wall, and closed his eyes.

“What is our next step?” Ellis asked.

“Finally, someone with sense.” Grandfather said.

“She’s not dead,” Llelas said from against the wall.

Sirtris strode past Grandfather to loom over Llelas, who was busy ignoring him.

“Please,” the girl said, eyes turning to Ellis again. “Please, help me.”

Ellis ignored her. Grandfather had said he wouldn’t kill the impostor, so she had to trust his word on that. “What do you want me to do?”

“Lock the stables,” Grandfather said, “and get someone to guard the doors. Then find Sidreiyan for me.”

Ellis eased out of the stall past Grandfather and his whimpering hostage, and went. She closed the stable door, but had was no way to lock it, so ran on up the path toward the main house. She turned the bend and saw Thomas headed her way. She skidded to a stop in front of him. “Can you go guard the stable doors? Not let anyone in?”

Thomas grabbed her arm with one hand and gazed at her from under a lowered brow. “Stop. Explain.”

Ellis let out a frustrated breath. If she didn’t come up with an answer, Thomas would just storm in there to find out what was going on himself. What am I allowed to tell him? “Captain Sirtris, Llelas, and one of the grooms are holding an impostor in there. They need someone to keep other people out while I go fetch Lieutenant Sidreiyan.”

Thomas let go of her arm. “What?”

“An imposter is pretending to be Miralys Dantreon, and they’re holding her there until they can question her about where the real Miralys is.”

Thomas met her gaze, lips thinned. “Fine.”

Ellis shook her head. He was going to go look, she would bet everything she owned. “I can’t stop you, but just don’t overreact. It’s not what it looks like. Have you seen the lieutenant?”

“He’s in the library,” Thomas said. “I’m going to go make sure this prisoner isn’t being mishandled.”

Ellis grabbed his sleeve. “You don’t trust Captain Sirtris?”

Thomas opened his mouth, then closed it. “Fine. I go guard the doors.”

Ellis didn’t wait for more of a promise. She ran on up to the main house, through the back doors, and along the halls to the library. She was puffing a bit when she got there, so she stood outside in the hall a second, grateful there was no one there to see her. She straightened her uniform jacket and squared her shoulders, and stepped inside the library.  Lieutenant Sidreiyan still sat where he’d been before everything had gone wrong. She headed toward him.

“Cadet Dantreon?” Captain Dantreon said from the table to the left of the door. “Can I help you?”

She stopped mid-stride. She didn’t want to lie to the captain, but she couldn’t tell him the truth, could she? Thomas was one thing; he was rational. But Captain Dantreon wouldn’t be when he saw someone who looked like his sister being held at knife’s point. And he was a seer, so he wasn’t supposed to know…

“I’m supposed to fetch Lieutenant Sidreiyan,” she managed. “To settle a…an argument. No, a discussion. Sir.”

Lieutenant Sidreiyan’s eyes lifted from his letter. “Excuse me?”

She licked her lips. “Lieutenant, Mr. Sevireiya and I—and one of the grooms, Fari…Fari…something—were having a discussion and think that you can help us figure out…the answers we need.”

The lieutenant set aside his journal and capped the ink, asking, “Is this about tomorrow’s exam?”

Does the lieutenant even know who the groom is? “Sort of,” Ellis lied. “Well, no, not truly, sir. But the groom in particular said that you would be able to help us sort this out.”

The lieutenant’s shoulders slumped, as if he’d been asked to do something dreadful. “I’ll come.”

“Should I come along?” Captain Dantreon asked, dark brows rumpled.

“Uh, no,” Ellis said quickly. “No. This is something we need the lieutenant for, sir.”

The lieutenant had risen and came to join Ellis. “I will deal with the matter, sir.”

Captain Dantreon stayed in his seat, but he didn’t look happy. Ellis followed the lieutenant from the room and pointed him in the direction of the stables.

“What does he want me to do?” the lieutenant asked, tugging at his gloves as he walked.

Ellis lengthened her stride to keep up with him. The lieutenant didn’t look happy about this at all. “I don’t know, sir. He just ordered me to come get you.”

“Sevireiya, or the groom?”

“The groom,” she said. He opened the back door and let her follow him out. “He didn’t tell me why he needed you.”

“Of course not,” the lieutenant said crossly.

Ellis glanced up and down the path toward the stables to be sure they were alone. “There’s an impostor, sir. I think maybe he thinks you can help with that.”

“An imposter?” Sidreiyan asked, walking faster.

“Yes, sir. Like…the groom.” Ellis jogged a few steps to keep up with him. On the tall side for a Menhirre, the lieutenant had long legs. “Do you…know what I mean by that?”

The lieutenant made an uncharacteristic sound of disgust. “Grandfather.”

Ellis puffed out her cheeks as they turned the bend in the path. At least I didn’t reveal any secrets.

“And I know what he wants,” the lieutenant added grimly.

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Llelas chased his thoughts of Miralys Dantreon around in his mind, asking over and over where she was. His gift had shown him face after face, trying to find the correct fit for his idea of her. The blackness in his perception persisted until he decided that it was blackness. Physical blackness.

I cannot find her because she is in blackness.

He pressed his back harder against the wall and concentrated, fixing Miss Dantreon—the older one—in his head. He saw nothing. When Mikhal Deviron had been half-conscious in the stables, Llelas had been able to see hints that told him where Deviron was. He had pulled away and saw the stables, and then the building itself.

This was different. Watchers saw things, but that was not going to help him now.

Then I will do this differently. He kept hold of that tenuous tie, but tried to listen and smell. He sniffed and caught the scent of fabric. Oats, perhaps a feed bag? He tried to use that as a stepping point, but it simply brought his spirit-self back to this stable where burlap bags were stacked neatly in the feed room. “She has a feed sack over her head,” he said to no one in particular.

Llelas heard the sound of someone crouching down near him. Warm wool and cornstarch—that was Captain Sirtris, who preferred his shirts stiffly starched.

“How do you know that?” Sirtris asked.

“Let me concentrate.” Llelas clenched his fists, forcing himself more into Miralys’ place. His head began to ache, but he refused to let go of the tie to her. He felt cold, and the hardness of tamped earth, smooth with age. And stiffness in his elbows, and…

“Cold,” he managed through clamped jaws.

“What are you doing? Stop it,” Captain Sirtris said in a fading voice.

“Too far,” Grandfather snapped from somewhere nearby and far away, only a thready whisper. “Pull him out of it.”

His body battered against the cold wall of the cellar as the cool, familiar fingers of pertret drew him down into the depths.

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Ellis reached the stable door a few steps behind Lieutenant Sidreiyan. She was relieved to find a vexed-looking Thomas standing guard. He opened the door for the lieutenant, who strode on in, but grabbed Ellis’ arm as she tried to follow. “I want an explanation,” Thomas said.

“Later,” she promised. She had no idea how much she would be able to tell him, but he would figure things out eventually himself. Thomas might not ask as many questions, but he didn’t give up when he wanted answers. “Please.”

“What are you going to do in there?” he asked.

Ellis paused. What did Grandfather expect her to do about the imposter? There wasn’t anything that Llelas, Lieutenant Sidreiyan, and Captain Sirtris couldn’t do that she could, was there?  “I don’t know,” she admitted. “But I know what’s going on in there, so I’m a better choice than you to witness it.”

Thomas didn’t argue. “I’ll keep watch on the door.”

Ellis walked into the dimmer light of the stable. Grandfather still held his hostage, one hand about her neck and the other holding the knife that pierced her side. Miralys’ face looked defiant now, the pretense of being Miralys Danteron fled. Grandfather’s gaze was on the far wall where Captain Sirtris grasped a sitting Llelas by the front of his uniform jacket and shook him. Blood ran from Llelas’ nose and, once the captain let go of him, Llelas slid down sideways against the wall, apparently unconscious. The captain felt for a pulse, then rose and glared at Grandfather. “He’s passed out. What just happened?”

“Too far,” Grandfather said. He shoved his hostage closer to where Captain Sirtris stood. “I suspect Miss Dantreon was drugged, which is not a good thing for the little boy.”

“He said her head was covered with a feed sack,” the captain said. “That it was cold. What does that mean?”

“That Miss Dantreon is still alive,” Grandfather said. “Have patience, man. We’ll find her.”

Sirtris was clearly frustrated, but didn’t argue. He glanced over and saw Lieutenant Sidreiyan approaching, with Ellis a few steps behind him. “Lieutenant. Can you help?”

The lieutenant looked…pasty, Ellis realized. He was darker skinned than Llelas, so pasty was difficult to achieve.

“I might,” the lieutenant said grimly. He looked to the groom. “What do you need me to look for, Grandfather?”

Grandfather puffed out a vexed breath. “I suppose the girl’s location takes priority…”

“It does,” Captain Sirtris said.

“So we need to know where this aras has hidden Miralys Dantreon.”

The lieutenant licked his lips and took a deep breath.  “Yes, Grandfather.”

Captain Sirtris’ pale eyes flicked back and forth between them, but he said nothing.

“And if you can do it, tell me where this one is from, what it knows.”

The lieutenant nodded slowly. He tugged the glove from his right hand and approached Grandfather’s hostage, who looked furious now.

“You can’t do this,” the fake Miralys hissed.

Grandfather tightened his grip about her throat. “Yes, I can. I want your people to understand—this is war. These are my people, the Menhirre, the Galasiene, even the Jenear, and I will be here to protect them. I will kill as many of your cluster as I need to make that clear.”

Ellis glanced at where Llelas lay, unmoving. Grandfather seemed unconcerned, so she had to believe Llelas wasn’t badly hurt. The lieutenant stepped closer, and then laid bare fingers against the imposter’s temple.

For a time, they simply stood there joined by that tenuous touch. The imposter’s mouth hung open, as if stunned.

Then the lieutenant tore himself away. His breath came harshly and he stumbled a few steps toward Ellis. His eyes were unfocused, she saw now, and he gasped out, “A farm…” before he started collapsing toward her.

Ellis jumped forward and managed to get her hands under his arms. Unable to stop his fall, she steered him to the stable’s floor as gently as she could manage. She managed to keep him from cracking his head on the floor, at least.  She crouched down next to him and reached to check the lieutenant’s pulse.

“Don’t touch his skin!” Grandfather ordered.

Ellis backpedaled, ending up on her rump on the stable floor.

And Grandfather twisted the knife in the imposter’s side, earning a shriek from her. Then he abruptly withdrew the knife and shoved her away from him.

Before the imposter could hit the floor, she disappeared.

There was silence in the stable. Spare bits of hay tumbled along the floor past Ellis, drawn by the chill wind of the impostor’s passing.

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