Llelas was unsure how long he sat in that makeshift infirmary with Grandfather before seeing even a twitch. Grandfather’s kind did this, he knew that. He had simply never seen it happen before.
He held the cool rag that Anthony brought him earlier against his temple. The ice in it had long since melted, but it helped with the persistent ache. It felt like the aftermath of pertret, making him wonder if he would go through the agony of withdrawal all over again.
It is all in my head. The pertret had never entered his body. He had never breathed it in. But he felt it anyway, a lingering dampening of his mind and gift. And that could not be possible. He closed his eyes and began breathing slowly again, taking control of his mind and body.
“Are you hurt?” Ellis asked from near the doorway.
Llelas looked up at her. Her wrinkled uniform bore an out-of-place smell with it. “It that sour milk?”
Ellis flushed, but gestured for him to scoot over to make room for her on the bench. He did so, all the while wishing she would take the smell farther away. “Is that Grandfather?” she whispered.
“Yes,” Llelas admitted with a sigh. “He wears this face up in the mountains.”
“Is the blood his?”
“Likely the other stabbed him.” Llelas surveyed Ellis’ rumpled uniform. “You found her?”
Ellis nodded. “Yes. She’s unhurt. The captain is currently taking Idiris back to town, but he’ll want to ask questions when he gets back.”
“I have no idea when he will wake,” Llelas admitted. “This is a sleep to preserve his life. Deep sleep.”
Ellis touched the slice in Grandfather’s bloodied shirt, then lifted the fabric. “I don’t see any wound.”
“His flesh closes to hide wounds.”
Ellis’ dark brows rumpled almost comically. “Oh, I guess he’s wearing clothes right now.”
Llelas laughed. Not many people would make the logical connection between Grandfather’s ability to instantly alter his garments…and the fact that meant he must not be wearing any. Not quickly, at least. “I expect so.”
“Sirtris suspects the imposter might have been trying to get to you,” she said then. “Not me.”
Grandfather moved, a slow breath filling his chest. “After me, not either of you children.”
Ellis got to her feet. “Are you all right?”
“For someone who was stabbed earlier today, I suppose so.” He took a deeper breath and flinched. “That hurt.”
“You stabbed the imposter,” Llelas pointed out.
“That was a scratch. Enough to break her skin and hold her there. The other one meant to kill me, no doubt.”
“Other one?” Llelas rose and stood over the bed. “What do you mean?”
“The one who appeared in the garden was a different aras. So there are two of them, working together. That’s why I’ve had so much trouble pinning down where the imposter was.”
“You’ve been going back and forth between here and Perisen,” Ellis said. “Because there were two?”
“Yes,” Grandfather said.
Llelas glanced out the open door to be sure no one was nearby in the hallway. “How do you know they were two different aras?”
“They smelled different,” Grandfather said as he gingerly touched his ribs. “I should have caught that earlier, but I never got a good whiff of the younger one. The one here, I mean.”
“Trahe.” Llelas preferred not to deal with one of these aras. Two was worse. “Why try to kill you?”
Grandfather moaned. “I should think that was obvious, boy.”
Llelas crossed his arms over his chest, wishing his head would clear. “Tell me anyway.”
“They know I protect my people, so getting rid of me makes it easier for them to close in.”
Ellis touched Llelas’ sleeve. “But why would the imposter have been asking about Llelas then?”
Grandfather gestured, and Llelas helped him sit up. “Apparently someone suspected him of being an aras.”
Llelas rolled his eyes.
“They had to have known an aras was about somewhere,” Grandfather said, sitting up but with one hand firmly pressed to his ribs. “They considered the people here and narrowed it down to the boy.”
Ellis’ eyes flicked between him and Grandfather, likely noting how strong the resemblance was between himself and this particular form. “I can see why,” she said after a second.
“He smells human,” Grandfather said. “Mostly.”
That failed to reassure him. Llelas sighed. “What do we do now?”
“We ask Kiya what he learned.” Grandfather slipped off the edge of the bed to his feet, pausing there as if assessing his health. “Unfortunately, I revealed you and Kiya both to them, so we need to stop them before they get out of the country.”
“Can they not simply move themselves away?”
“Not that far. And one of them has an injury, that might slow them.”
Llelas refrained from pointing out that Grandfather was injured himself. “Why not just let them go? Did you not want the one to carry a message back?”
“Where’s your Captain Sirtris?” Grandfather snapped.
“He’s taking Miss Dantreon’s niece back to the village.”
“Damnation. I need him, not you children.”
He wants to kill someone, and Ellis should not be involved. That should have occurred to him before. There was no other way to stop an aras, was there? “What about Lieutenant Sidreiyan?”
“Let’s go talk to him.” Grandfather walked past both of them out the door, and disappeared down the hall.
Ellis puffed out a vexed breath. “What’s going on here?”
“He does not know,” Llelas admitted. “And that should worry all of us.”
Before they’d even reached the door to Lieutenant Sidreiyan’s room, Ellis could see that the door was propped open. Just a bit. Since Llelas was helping Grandfather along the hallway, she pushed the door farther open and peered around the corner.
The lieutenant lay in his bed, still fully dressed, even wearing his boots. A worn crocheted throw had been drawn over him. One bare hand lay atop that throw, twitching slightly.
Seated in a chair a few feet from him was Merielle, her eyes wide. “Don’t touch him,” she hissed at Ellis.
Ellis stepped inside the room. “What?” she hissed back.
“No one’s supposed to touch him. That groom told me it was very important that no one touches him.”
A hand on her back shoved Ellis forward. She stumbled farther into the room, but the toe of her boot caught on the edge of the braided rug. Merielle jumped up as if to catch her, nearly sending both of them tumbling onto the lieutenant’s bed atop him. Ellis managed to stop their plunge with one hand on the mattress, only inches from the lieutenant’s bare fingers.
“Why are you two dancing around?” Grandfather snapped. “Get away from him.”
“Why is it so important that no one touch him?” Ellis asked as she righted herself and Merielle. Apparently, there was no need to keep quiet any longer, since Grandfather hadn’t bothered.
Llelas helped Grandfather over to the chair that Merielle had vacated. “She should probably go,” Llelas said, tilting his chin toward Merielle.
“Oh, yes,” Merielle said, and rushed out of the room before Ellis could say anything in her defense.
“She would stain the memories he picked up from the aras,” Grandfather said, still not modulating his voice.
Ellis glanced at the open door, and quickly pushed it almost all the way shut. She wasn’t supposed to be up here. In fact, she hadn’t been in this wing since the officers arrived, and she had no idea what Captain Dantreon would do if he found them up here.
“He reads people’s pasts,” Llelas said. “Like reading your journal. But if he reads two people too soon, he might confuse their stories.”
“Their past?” Ellis asked. “What part of their past?”
“All of it,” Grandfather answered. “That’s why he falls unconscious. Too much for his brain to handle.”
If a what a Watcher does is invasive, this is even worse. Ellis tried to recall whether the captain had ever touched her. “All of it?”
“All of it,” Grandfather said. “As soon as he wakes up he’ll start forgetting bits, like a dream, but for a little while he’ll know everything about the imposter in the stable.”
Ellis leaned back against the wall near the door, trying to stay out of the way. “What do we do?”
Grandfather reached over and jabbed the lieutenant’s shoulder. When the lieutenant didn’t respond, he did it again, harder, earning a grunt and a grimace.
“Ow,” the lieutenant said, but didn’t open his eyes.
“I need you awake and functioning, Kiya,” Grandfather said.
“My head is swarming,” the lieutenant said, eyes still closed.
“And I’ve been stabbed. I don’t have time for either problem.” Grandfather pressed one hand to his ribs. “Sit up. I need to talk to you.”
The lieutenant grimaced and struggled to comply. When Llelas tried to help, the lieutenant waved him back. “Water?” he asked.
A pitcher of water with a small glass atop it stood next to the bed—Ellis suspected Merielle’s touch—so she pointed that out to Llelas.
He looks terrible. His dark hair was rumpled and his skin had a greenish cast. Ellis chewed on her lower lip, hoping this thing he’d done for Grandfather wouldn’t have lasting effects. Llelas poured a glass for the lieutenant, who gingerly took it in his still-gloved hand. He took a sip and then cleared his throat.
“Did anyone find the captain’s sister?” he asked, eyes lifting. “She is at a dairy farm.”
“They found her,” Llelas said. “She is safe now.”
The lieutenant let out a puff of breath and rubbed one of his temples with his gloved hand. “Good. What do you want to know?”
“Why did she come here?”
“There is a team of three,” the lieutenant said. “They came to hunt for you, and anyone like you. You…are a threat to their plans, so they wish to be rid of you first.”
“I should have thought of that,” Grandfather said, sounding weary now.
“There is more.” The lieutenant sniffed and moved the un-gloved hand to his lap. “They’ve been to Serione and Perisen and the capital, and they plan to recommend exterminating all of us in time.”
“All of us?” Ellis asked. “Who are all of us?”
The lieutenant turned bruised-looking eyes on her. “Anyone with aras blood. They think impure blood is…anathema.”
“Why?” Ellis turned to Llelas. “Why would they think that?”
Llelas let his head fall back against the wall. “Because those of us with mixed blood have gifts that pose a danger to them, so if they plan to come here, they need to be rid of us first.”
“Trahe,” Grandfather said. “I always thought the humans would try to kill off my children. How odd that my own kind have become intolerant instead.”
“How long since you spoke with one of your own kind?” Llelas asked with a dry laugh.
“Other than today? Decades. And that was the Old Man of Serione. We merely agreed to keep out of one another’s way.”
“So…what do we do?” Ellis asked.
“I would have preferred to let them go with a warning,” Grandfather said, “but they’ve left me with no choice.”
Ellis glanced between the three men in the room, all of whom were threatened now. “You’re going to have to kill them.”