Dinner that evening stretched uncomfortably. Ellis sat across from Llelas again. He seemed unhurt other than a faint reddening of the knuckles on his left hand. Anthony Ironwright didn’t appear for dinner at all, though, presumably laid up in his room.
The officers didn’t want the fight discussed over the table, so dinner proceeded in a low-toned drone, everyone talking around the subject. Ellis felt relieved when it ended and most of the cadets returned to the Reserve House where they could gossip all they wanted.
Llelas, she noted, stayed behind and followed Lieutenant Dantreon into the library. Thomas remained as well, grasping Ellis’ sleeve before they walked into the library. She wasn’t sure if that was for privacy or to allow privacy for the lieutenant.
“Tomorrow morning,” Thomas informed her, “we’ll go into the village for services.”
“I’m not allowed off the estate,” she protested, her stomach tightening.
“How do you attend services, then?” he asked.
“Father Dachran comes here in the afternoon and holds a separate service for us.”
Thomas raised his eyebrows. “Lieutenant Dantreon informed me you would attend with the rest of us.”
“But I can’t,” she said quickly. Why does he not understand? “I’m not allowed.”
“We’re only going to the village.” The tone of his voice suggested disbelief.
“My father gave orders that I’m not to leave the estate again,” she said, trying to make him listen.
“I’ll as the lieutenant,” Thomas said. When they went to the library to find him, Llelas had already gone, out the other door, apparently.
Lieutenant Dantreon dismissed her worries. “Of course she should go with you,” he told Thomas in a half-distracted fashion, rubbing at his forehead. By now, Ellis knew that gesture meant the lieutenant had a headache. Vindicated, Thomas took himself off to the kitchens.
“My father has forbidden me to leave the estate, sir,” Ellis told the lieutenant, keeping her voice low. She wrung her hands together, and then dropped them to her sides when she realized what she was doing. She didn’t want the lieutenant to see her anxiety.
He sat down in one of the chairs near the fire. “Do you know how to play chess?”
“Uh, no. Well, yes,” she answered, sounding skittish in her own ears. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. “I know how to play, but have never done so, sir.”
“You’ve read about it?”
Now she sounded more in control. “Yes, sir.”
“Good.” He gestured to a second chair set nearby. A small, checkered case leaned against the hearth. The lieutenant retrieved a small table, placed it between the two chairs, and opened the case. He set the board in the center of the table and started placing the pieces around the edges of it.
Ellis picked up one of the wooden chessmen. Well worn by years of frequent use, the edges of the carvings were blunted by the touch of many fingers. “Is this your set, sir?”
He chose the darker pieces and began to set them up. “Yes. I enjoy playing.”
“None of the guardsmen who live here play.” She began setting up the other side, concentrating as she recalled where each piece should stand.
The lieutenant picked one up and held it out for her to look at. “Pawn. What can it do?”
“Guard the king, move forward, or take a piece diagonally or in passing.” That neatly summed up what she’d read on the topic.
“What’s the use in that?” he asked.
She felt surer of herself now. “They’re not very strong, but they can take another piece if your opponent isn’t watching.”
“They can block another piece…and if one reaches the other side of the board, it can be exchanged for a queen.”
He seemed placated and moved on to the rook. She answered his questions with more confidence this time, having a better idea what he sought.
“Why aren’t you allowed off the estate?”
She put down the knight she held, surprised by the verbal flank attack. Thomas wandered back into the library, a cup of coffee in his hands, as she formulated her answer. Her fingers trembled a bit, so she put her hands in her lap. “My father says I make poor decisions,” she finally answered.
Looking interested in the chessboard, Thomas dragged a chair over. Judging by his face, Ellis guessed he hadn’t heard her pronouncement. The lieutenant nodded to Thomas, who continued to scrutinize the board as if he’d heard nothing.
“Does he base this on past experience?”
Ellis nodded and began chewing on one of her thumbnails.
“Now what could you have done to convince him of that?” He glanced across at Thomas. “Make certain she doesn’t make any poor decisions while she’s off the estate.”
Realizing that she was chewing, Ellis forced her hand into her lap again. Chewing her nails was childish. And unattractive. Her mother had told her that. Fortunately, the lieutenant’s question seemed rhetorical now, since he moved on before requesting the answer.
“Yes, sir,” Thomas answered promptly.
“So what does the bishop do?” the lieutenant asked.
They continued through the chessmen until they reached the king and began to play. Thomas whispered hints that kept her from losing this first trial too badly. Nonetheless, in short order the lieutenant had most of her pieces. Clearly, she wasn’t going to beat him tonight or for some time to come. The marshal joined them about them, gazing down on Ellis’ predicament.
“Did you teach him to play, sir?” Ellis asked. In the firelight, the resemblance between him and his son showed strongly. Their eyes were exactly the same shape under identical straight brows.
“Yes and no,” the marshal responded with a wistful smile. “His mother was an excellent player. She could beat me two times out of three. He learned more from her than from me.” He watched for a moment longer and then returned to his reading on the other side of the library.
The lieutenant gestured for her to move, and Ellis considered her few remaining pieces. She touched a pawn, but Thomas shook his head no. Ellis saw that would have let the lieutenant place her king in check again. She finally decided to move her remaining rook. In two turns, he had that as well. While she had only her king and three pawns left, she’d taken only pawns, a rook and his knights. In a few moves, her king would be pinned down by his queen and bishops.
“I can’t possibly win from here, can I?” she asked Thomas. He shook his head. “Then I’ll concede this time. Can I try again, sir?”
“Tomorrow, perhaps. What did you learn from playing?” the lieutenant asked, looking at her curiously.
She took a deep breath, assessing the game in her mind. “Well, Thomas has played against you before, and you’re not offended if he forgets to address you properly. Your mother liked you well enough to play with you. Your father is proud of you. You had no doubt you would win, so you went easy for me. Oh, and you’re very patient, but not a good bluffer. You probably don’t lie very well, sir.”
Thomas laughed at her assessment and patted her hard on the back—a sign that she now recognized as approval on his part.
“I meant about the game, cadet,” the lieutenant clarified in a choking voice.
He should have been specific if that was the answer he wanted. “Oh…that I need to be more willing to sacrifice my pieces or I’m never going to beat you, sir.”
“That was more along the lines of what I was asking.”
Ellis excused herself, wanting to consider the evening’s events. Standing, she discovered that her legs felt worse now.
Thomas accurately read her expression. “If you get up early, we can ride out the worst of it before breakfast.”
“Very well,” she agreed half-heartedly. “What should I wear, sir?” She directed that to the lieutenant.
The lieutenant glanced up at her, dark eyes amused. “The other cadets are wearing their dress uniforms, I believe.”
Ellis nodded and left the library, taking care to keep her stride as normal as possible until she reached the darkness of the hallway. She wasn’t sure whether she’d made a fool of herself or not.
After she left, Thomas took her seat and began setting up the pieces again. “That is one stubborn girl, sir.”
Carmeyon had to agree with Thomas’ assessment. “Do you think she can pull this off?”
“If I were going by sheer will alone, I’d say yes. She tried everything I set her at. Took a few falls, too. She’s going to be bruised but she just kept getting back up again.”
“She’s determined not to fail her father. I don’t know what she did that set him against her, but she wants not to repeat it.”
Thomas made his first move and then waited. “‘Your father is proud of you…your mother liked you well enough to play with you.'”
Carmeyon hadn’t missed those words, either. “I never liked the queen. She was rude to my mother.”
“She would have been rude to mine if she’d ever met her, then. Why do you still try that?” Thomas asked in response to one of Carmeyon’s moves.
“I keep thinking one of these days it’ll work. Master Overton is coming in the morning and he’s not going to be pleased. In fact, he’s going to turn about and head straight back for Jenesetta.” Statements like that didn’t seem to surprise Thomas any longer, so Carmeyon felt comfortable warning him. Thomas apparently considered the Gift no more notable than his own ability to ride.
“What is he a master of?” Thomas asked sarcastically.
Carmeyon shrugged. “I have absolutely no idea. He’s supposed to be teaching her history and geography, though.”
“Two subjects she doesn’t need to be taught. You don’t care that her father has forbidden her to leave the estate?”
“No.” Carmeyon began setting up another attack.
Thomas took his turn, moving the piece Carmeyon expected. “It’s your neck.”
“If the king is upset, we’ll apologize later.”
“The villagers will be shocked when she shows up in a man’s uniform,” Thomas observed.
“I’ve already warned the priest. She needs to learn to deal with people’s censure. She might as well start tomorrow.”
“Do you think perhaps the king’s confused her with one of his sons?”
Carmeyon chuckled at the irreverent suggestion. “He did give her a boy’s name.”
“She’s not a boy. She needs to put on weight if she’s going to be handling a saber.”
“I know. She’s mostly Menhirre, though, and they tend to be stronger than they look—as Mr. Ironwright found out this afternoon. Thank you for the warning, by the way.”
Thomas nodded. “I thought you should know. They’ll have to work it out between themselves sooner or later, but I don’t think it’ll come to blows again.”
“No, I definitely think Mr. Ironwright has learned a lesson about Mr. Sevireiya.”
“Checkmate,” Thomas responded.
August 11, 493
I hurt all over and I don’t have anything else to write.
Ellis capped the ink jar, snuffed out the candle and lay down on her bed. Then remembering, she rose, ripped out the page, and dropped it into the dim fire.
Llelas Sevireiya sat on the roof of the Reserve House in the falling darkness. Scents carried up from the gardens below, the smell of cedar trees grown warm on a fine day. The wind feathered through his hair, cool now that the sun rested. He missed the mountains.
“Make allies,” Sub-marshal Revasien had told him before he came here.
He had already managed to get into a fight and been forced to humble himself before Lieutenant Dantreon. For some reason Llelas could not comprehend, the man hated him. He suspected the officer did not understand it either. Still, the lieutenant had accepted his apology with grace and gritted teeth, which gave Llelas hope the man would try to work with him. Not an ally perhaps, but at least not an enemy.
Anthony Ironwright knew now which of them would come out on top in a fair fight. Not an ally either, but temporarily under control. The other two cadets in his group of four had been there to watch Ironwright beat him, so he doubted they could be counted as allies. He should have tried to win them over. Thomas Farrier, the Versh boy who spoke Cantros, might be considered an ally since he offered to intervene with Anthony. Then again, Farrier was assigned to a different group.
The sub-marshal’s odd directive seemed fruitless so far, but then again, he had only been here a week.
Llelas closed his eyes and concentrated, seeing his half-brother in his mind’s eye. Far away in the capital, Sovre sat at his desk in his library, working by lamplight. His brow furrowed as he peered at a sheaf of papers. The endless paperwork, Sovre always called it.
Llelas opened his eyes, reassured now that his brother was well. All he had to do was stay alive until his father died, and his brother would keep everything on track.
Go on to Chapter 6 (not available yet)