Llelas woke with an ache in his head and an altogether-too-familiar bleary feeling. He had not missed this, the aftereffect of pertret.
I am in my room.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed and found Anthony watching him closely. His head spun with the motion, but he had ample experience with covering that reaction. He squared his shoulders and clenched his jaw. That gifted him with a bit of clarity.
“You all right?” Anthony asked.
Llelas sniffed, catching the smell of the blood crusted under his nose. Anthony might be a friend now, but he was not the sort to clean another’s injuries. Not the nurturing sort. “I believe so.”
Miralys Dantreon had been drugged with pertret. The imposter must have used it on her, both to incapacitate her and as a test. Pertret disproportionately affected those with aras blood…and aras themselves. Miralys had likely only been unconscious for a short time. Someone with aras blood—like himself—could be knocked out for hours. He sighed and rolled his head on his neck.
“Did he?” Anthony repeated, thick brows drawn together. His arms were folded over his chest, his chin thrust forward.
Llelas had missed the question, whatever it was. “Ask again, please.”
“Did Farrier hit you?”
Llelas blinked slowly, wishing his mind would wake up. Payan was the drug for that. A careful cycle of cataia, payan, and pertret had, at one time, gotten him through each day, each fight, each night. The payan brought a surge of alertness, the cataia covered pain from the fights and dulled his gift, and the pertret let him sleep. There were whole days he failed to recall, a source of constant worry for him now. He was never going back there again. He had made an oath.
He finally tapped his nose. “No, this was of my own doing.”
“Farrier’s the one who brought you back here. He found the injured man, too.”
Llelas lifted his head to gaze at Anthony. The younger man sat, legs crossed up on the bed, a surprising pose for a man of his bulk. Even though Anthony was not as clever as many of the others, Llelas had begun to grasp that Anthony had hidden depths. “What injured man?”
“In the garden,” Anthony said. “No one recognizes him, although he looks Menhirre. Mid-twenties. Lean, dark hair.”
The aras? Llelas sighed. If Grandfather was here, he would likely be hovering about like a dragonfly, waiting to be sure he woke. He must be elsewhere, so that meant he need to check. “Show me where he is now.”
Anthony grabbed Llelas’ arm and hoisted him to his feet. Llelas managed to keep upright, even though the room swam for a second. Just a taste of payan would clear this fog.
Llelas sternly drove that thought away. He followed Anthony down the steps to the first-floor. “Is Captain Sirtris here?”
“No,” Anthony said, opening the door to the room that sometimes served as a makeshift infirmary for the cadets. “He and the princess and Farrier grabbed their horses and rode off toward the village. Been gone ever since.”
Anthony’s voice bore only a faint touch of derision when he said the princess. “You know she hates being called that.”
“Now I know you’re feeling better,” Anthony said. “She’s not here to be offended, so stop griping.”
Llelas was too tired to argue with him. That they rode off together meant they must be searching for Miralys Dantreon. He hoped his information had been enough to help, although he recalled no more than a sense of coolness and the smell of a feed sack.
The aras who attacked her put the bag over her head knowing that if she could not see anything, then a Watcher would not either. That left open the question of whether the aras knew the Watcher in question was Llelas Sevireiya. And how profound a Watcher I am.
He had picked up the taint of pertret via Miss Dantreon’s mind. Had the imposter intended that? Or was it merely the drug the aras had to hand? And had the aras known that he could pick up more than vision? It was rare for a Watcher to do more than see.
Inside the infirmary lay a young Menhirre man with dark hair. Blood stained his shirt and spotted his trousers. He lay still, his chest barely moving at all.
It was Grandfather, although not in a guise worn here at the college. This was his native form, as he called it—the form he took when deeply injured. His body fought to live, and no longer tried to maintain a specific appearance.
Llelas half listened as Anthony explained how they found him lying on a pathway in the garden, that despite the blood and a cut in the side of the shirt, they found no wound, no sign of head injury, nothing to explain his stupor. The cadets brought him here because they had no idea what else to do with him.
Grandfather had to be badly injured for this to be his reaction.
“I know him,” Llelas told Anthony.
“You know who this is?” Captain Dantreon snapped from the doorway behind him.
Llelas spewed out the first lie that came to his mind. “Arras, a cousin who was to come visit me this week to have a paper signed, sir.”
“Arras what?” the captain asked.
Why is he angry with me? “Uh…Arnacassan.” That was one of Grandfather’s myriad names, so he felt safe using it. “He works for Sub-marshal Viridias, sir, so he is allowed here.”
“And what does he have to do with all the insanity going on this afternoon? Did he attack you? Or Lieutenant Sidreiyan?”
“Sidreiyan, sir? What happened to him?”
“Unconscious, like this fellow.” The captain jaw clenched. “Does this have something to do with drugs?”
Of course, he would think that of me…and I deserve it. “I do not believe so. Will you tell me, sir, what has happened?”
The captain stared at him. “I hoped you would explain.”
“I think I was unconscious before anyone else.”
“What were you doing then?”
Llelas licked his lips. “Captain Sirtris and I went to find Ellis in the stables. When we arrived, she was being held hostage by an unknown man. One of the grooms interfered, and in the aftermath, I became unconscious.”
Every word of that was true except for the word man.
“Apparently Thomas brought you back here,” the captain said, “and the groom in question took Lieutenant Sidreiyan to his quarters, then Thomas, Ellis, and Sirtris all left together. Amid all that, my sister must have left, too, leaving my niece behind, which is very unlike her. You have no better explanation for your involvement in all this?”
He was not going to answer that question, not until he had some guidance from Grandfather. “No, sir. May I stay with him for now? To know that he is recovering?”
The captain shook his head. “Fine. Stay here and keep an eye on him. I’ll check on the lieutenant again.”
Once the captain swept out of the room, Anthony patted Llelas’ shoulder. “He always thinks it’s you.”
“I am the most important man in the country,” Llelas said, sinking down into the chair next to the bed.
“You are, I’m sure,” Anthony said, before leaving him to his vigil.
Ellis was relieved when Captain Sirtris returned to the dairy farm to collect her. She now had experience milking a cow, since Thomas declared it was a skill she—as a soldier—might need one day. And evidently, unmilked cows became uncomfortable and, if left alone long enough, could develop infections in their udders. Ellis had no idea when a soldier would need that information, but she stashed it away in a corner of her mind for the future.
But now she smelled of sweaty wool with a touch of spoiled milk. She didn’t recall getting milk on her trousers, but she had. Mr. Benianis and his son were grateful for their help, though, which made the smell worth it.
For his part, Thomas had simmered quietly, waiting for her to tell him what was happening. He held his questions, though, until they were on their horses headed back to the estate in the twilight. “What exactly was happening in that stable?” he asked as he drew up next to her.
He had one hand loosely in his horse’s mane, but the horse probably didn’t even need that guidance from him. It was all in Thomas’ legs and feet, and she doubted she would ever control a horse with that ease. Ellis sighed. “I’m not supposed to tell you.”
“I’m not supposed to tell anyone,” she said. “But especially not Captain Dantreon, and you talk to him all the time.”
Thomas reached out and grabbed her reins. “This is a secret from the captain? And Sirtris is in on it?”
They were nearing the village now, and Ellis was relieved to see Captain Sirtris heading their direction from the churchyard. He drew his horse to a stop and waited for them to catch up to him. He turned his mount to join them, catching Ellis between him and Thomas. When all three were back on the road together, Ellis dared to ask about her cousin.
“He hit her and then drugged her,” Sirtris said, his voice carrying a snap. “Although she’s not certain with what. She recalls losing consciousness, no more. Then she was tied up and left in the dark. And she won’t be happy until I get her niece back home to her.”
“She’s angry with me?” Ellis asked.
“No. I’m moderately sure she’ll make this my fault, somehow,” Captain Sirtris said. “It’s always my fault.”
“Sir, who was he?” Thomas asked. “Who are you talking about?”
Sirtris cast a dry glance at Ellis.
She shrugged. “I needed someone to watch the stable door.”
“And you picked Mr. Farrier? Who has never told a lie in his life? And you expect him to lie to Captain Dantreon in the future?”
Ellis felt her cheeks burn. While Thomas’ honesty had seemed a positive rather than a negative, Sirtris was correct about him lying to Captain Dantreon. “I am sorry, sir.”
“Yes, I gather that,” the captain said. He leaned forward a bit to talk past her. “Mr. Farrier, I was involved in some chicanery by Sub-marshal Viridias that I am apparently not allowed to discuss with any of the Dantreons. I had little choice at the time, but you can choose not to know anything at this point.”
“Why would you not be allowed to discuss something with the Dantreons?” Thomas asked.
Ellis considered just stopping her mount and letting the two of them ride ahead of her rather than talk around her.
“Because that is what the sub-marshal demanded of me,” Sirtris said. “I was asked not to discuss it with them, and I won’t do so. That’s the end of it.”
“Yes, sir,” Thomas said, sounding shamefaced, although Ellis couldn’t see him to verify that.
“So Miss Dantreon,” the captain said. “the other Miss Dantreon informed me that she was called to the Benianis home by note, asking her to deliver a few books from the lending library to their son. She has been doing that recently, I am told.”
Ellis didn’t think she’d heard that, but she hadn’t asked, either.
“She was greeted at the farm’s main house not by the family, however,” the captain went on, “but by Llelas Sevireiya, who led her inside, where she realized that something was wrong and confronted the imposter.”
“What imposter?” Thomas asked.
“I am not speaking to you, Mr. Farrier,” the captain said. “I am speaking to Miss Dantreon.”
“What did she spot that was wrong?”
“First she thought he looked wrong—too short. Then, she tried to greet him in Cantros, but the imposter didn’t appear to understand her. They’ve been using their walks together as a chance for her to practice that language.”
“That’s not…conclusive, is it?”
“He apparently said, ‘I didn’t understand what you said.’”
Ellis knew that was wrong. “A contraction? Did the imposter actually use a contraction?”
“Ah, you’re noted that. Yes, Mr. Sevireiya, like a certain percentage of the mountain people, is too formal in his speech to allow himself even an occasional contraction. Between that, not understanding Cantros, and being too short, the imposter failed completely. Miss Dantreon knew she was looking at someone who resembled him, but clearly was not Mr. Sevireiya, so she asked who he was. That was when he resorted to hitting her.”
“Oh.” It seemed wrong for someone to hit ladylike Miralys, Ellis reflected, even though Llelas hit her regularly. “I’m sorry he hit her.”
“As am I,” the captain said. “She’ll recover. She had little else to tell me beyond that. She woke in the cheese cellar, recognized that she was on a dairy farm, that the rope around her neck meant she shouldn’t try to twist out of her bonds, and she did her best to wait. People ask questions when the milk doesn’t arrive on schedule, so she figured a day at the most. She flopped onto her side and went to sleep, if you can believe that.”
Oddly, Ellis wasn’t surprised. Miralys struck her as pragmatic about certain things. “It’s what a spy would do.”
Sirtris let out a vexed breath. “Do not encourage her.”
“Me?” Ellis asked. “Encourage her?”
“Or Idiris,” Sirtris said. “I don’t want her growing up to be a spy, either.”
A snort from the other side told Ellis that Thomas was having a hard time not laughing at Sirtris’ scandalized tone. In fact, Thomas was listening to the whole discussion.
“So the imposter pretended to be Miralys then? Had he already tied up the Benianis family?”
“It seems likely,” Sirtris said, “given that they were nowhere in sight when she arrived at the farm. She thought it was odd. And he—no, she by that point—grabbed Idiris, who hadn’t seen any of what happened to her real aunt, and they proceeded to walk to the estate.”
“Not talking much,” Ellis noted.
“Which is what got the imposter in trouble with Miralys. My question for you, Miss Dantreon, is whether the imposter tried to harm you at any point.”
“I…I don’t think so,” Ellis admitted after a moment. “She had an arm around my neck in the stable, but…given how strong she was, she could have broken my neck at any point. She didn’t. She kept asking where we would find Llelas.”
“That’s why the imposter chose to imitate Miralys,” Sirtris said. “People think she’s pursuing him, so for her to visit the estate and ask after him might not be noted. People would think her forward, but if they know her at all, it wouldn’t be out of character.”
“You’re saying that the imposter was after Llelas, not me?”
“I’m not sure,” Sirtirs said. “It’s a possibility.”
And they’d left Llelas unable to defend himself. “Thomas, where did you take Llelas?”
“To his quarters,” Thomas answered. “I left Anthony watching him.”
If the imposter was too short to imitate Llelas successfully, then imitating Anthony Ironwright would be impossible.
“So is anyone going to tell me about this imposter who can pass for both Llelas Sevireiya and Miralys Dantreon?” Thomas asked.
“I’m not,” Captain Sirtris said, and touched his heels to his horse’s side.
Ellis watched the captain and his horse speed on along the road to the estate in the dusk. Then she looked over at Thomas.
“Do I want to know?” he asked. “Or is it better not?”
Thomas might be more discreet than her, but now that he was curious, he wouldn’t stop until he unraveled every secret in the world. In the end, she told him everything.