The weeks began to fly as summer came to an end. For several days, the harvest took the new stable boys back to the village, deferring their chores back to the cadets. Ellis didn’t mind. At those times, it seemed like they were all on an equal footing. She could muck out stables with the best of them now.
She struggled in horsemanship, far behind most of the others. She lacked the physical strength to do more than minor damage to the stationary posts Master Winhain set up in the practice yard, a fact Thomas made certain to point out. Lieutenant Dantreon reassured her she would grow stronger, but at times her arms ached so fiercely she began to worry she would wake one morning to find them fallen off.
Her marksmanship was good though, particularly with a pistol–as long as she remained firmly on the ground. On horseback, her stationary targets were spotty and she couldn’t hit a moving target at all.
She excelled at her class work. While some of the others had their work returned to them on a regular basis to be rewritten, it only happened to her once. She had a natural talent for researching material that made the others in East appreciate her presence. She could often remember exactly where to find a certain text they needed or come up with an appropriate quote. She had a perfect memory for maps and history. In fact, she twice won disputes with Master Overton regarding details in history that she indeed knew better than he did. Her ability to back her words with the text forced him to give in, but her dogged insistence on correctness at his expense caused him to hold her in dislike. Her grades suffered in his class–unfairly, she thought.
After eight weeks, she finally beat Lieutenant Dantreon at chess without Thomas’ help. She got through a service in the village without prompting from Jerin. She took the head off a practice post in the yard with a saber blow that made her elbow ache for days. She could clear a double jump and stay on the horse’s back. Small victories, perhaps, but signs that she’d improved.
Most of the cadets had taken to treating her like a little brother and were on good terms with her, although a few still rarely spoke to her. Even if they rolled their eyes, they did listen when she spoke. They all knew by now that she would persist until heard.
They spent another Saturday morning out in the meadow shooting. With little else to do save ride into the village or back to Jenesetta, several of the cadets had started coming with them to try their hands as well. Ellis felt particularly proud of herself. She bested Jerin, Llelas and Heall that morning. When they finished, she sat on a large, flat rock and began cleaning her pistol as the others talked.
Ellis could hear them behind her, Jerin’s clear voice against a deeper one, which she recognized as Llelas’. Her attention wandered from the pistol when she realized she couldn’t understand what Llelas was saying.
He wasn’t speaking Versh.
Jerin answered him in what must be Relance. She hadn’t known Jerin spoke it. She’d always thought it the obscure language of the mountain people–after all, she’d never heard it spoken before.
Ellis turned her attention back to the pistol, thinking hard. There were places, Thomas had told her, where people never learned Versh, places where one could get by without Versh. She’d thought he meant far out in the countryside.
She never heard Llelas talk much. In fact, when he did talk, he sounded hesitant, as if always searching for the right words. Llelas constantly had to rewrite his work not because his writing was poor, she realized, but because his Versh was poor. Ellis mulled that over as her hands worked.
October 6, 493
Llelas is Menhirre, as is Kellen and Heall, Mikhal and presumably Jerin. They speak Relance.
Thomas is Versh, so are Anthony and Joseph. I have no idea about Yefin.
The ones of us in between Menhirre and Versh must be what they call Jenear. Most of us must have some of both bloods, but I guess how we were raised makes the biggest difference.
I must have more Menhirre blood in my veins than Versh though, because I know the queen is part Menhirre. Her mother was from Jenear. I was raised to speak Versh, though, and I didn’t know anyone who speaks the other language, until now that is.
I wonder how difficult it is to learn Versh if you’ve spoken Relance all your life? For that matter, how difficult will the opposite be when I have to learn Relance? Is that the sort of thing that I can just ask about, or will I offend everyone again if I do?
I think I might be able to work out a trade.
Llelas pulled his gelding alongside the girl’s to pass her. She glanced at him furtively, and then said, “You don’t speak Versh very well.”
“Kijal, I do not speak Versh badly,” Llelas snapped back. Was she trying to be obnoxious?
She flushed though, apparently realizing that her claim was, if not inaccurate, rude. “You don’t speak Versh poorly,” she corrected. “But you don’t speak it well either. When did you learn to speak Versh?”
He gave her a level gaze, daring her to continue.
“I can just ask the others,” she offered, “but I’d prefer to ask you.”
Just as persistent as her earlier questions into things that were not her business. “It is not your…concern.”
Shes shrugged. “I was going to offer to help with your writing, but if you don’t need help, then I’ve nothing to offer.”
He gave her a measured stare. Anthony had started working with him on his papers, but Anthony lacked patience as a teacher. If there was one thing that girl did have, it was patience. “Why should you help me?”
“I want something in return,” she said, glancing back as if to make sure they were alone on the road.
Llelas grimaced down at his hands, steeling himself for something bad. He had been asked favors before. “What do you want from me?”
The girl drew a breath, looking uncertain now. “I want you to teach me how to fight,” she said in a rush.
Not what I expected. In any way. He barely managed to keep the laugh out of his voice. “What?”
“All the others know how to fist-fight,” she said, chin firming. “I don’t. I need to learn how.”
He gazed at her. She was a head-strong girl, but had not considered the political ramifications. The propriety of the suggestion. Grandfather might want him to get to know her, but this would cause talk. “You do not understand what you ask.”
She fiddled with her reins, but faced his squarely. “I know what I’m asking. I have to be able to fight well enough to hold my own against a man. I’m not as big as most men so I need to learn to fight better and smarter. If you’re good enough to take down Anthony Ironwright, then you’re the best person to teach me.”
He pulled his mount to a stop. “Why do you do this?”
Her brows drew together. “What do you mean?”
“Why do you learn to be a soldier?” He held his mount and gazed at her expectantly.
For a moment, her focus fled somewhere inward, but then she regarded him staunchly. “As long as I can remember, I have lived surrounded by soldiers. All of the books in my library are about being a soldier. It is the only thing I know to do.”
He gazed down at his gloved hands on his reins for a time. This would cause problems. Not only having the heir of Sandrine Province that close to a member of the royal family, but having him—never known for his moderation or good sense—interacting regularly with her, a girl of a very susceptible age. He kicked his horse into motion, calling back after himself, “I will consider.”
It surprised Carmeyon to hear the idea, particularly coming from Llelas Sevireiya as it did. All this time, he’d thought Ellis brought everything to him, all her concerns and worries. Evidently, this idea had bypassed him completely, which alarmed him.
But it said something that Sevireiya had sought him out in the library before making any kind of promise to Ellis. Sevireiya knew how it would look to gossips, particularly those who saw political motivation in every scrap of information.
“I do not think that you must permit it,” Llelas continued, “but it is a good idea. It is the solitary thing that I can teach her.”
Carmeyon sat for a while, considering the younger man before him. He tried to dismiss what he knew of Sevireiya’s reputation, but it lurked at the back of his mind, making it difficult to be fair. Sevireiya didn’t seem to expect an immediate answer, so he would have time to consider.
“You were a prizefighter before you entered the Guard, I hear,” Carmeyon said finally.
“I was, sir.”
Well, at least he didn’t try to deny it, Carmeyon thought. “Do you think Miss Dantreon needs to learn that, Mr. Sevireiya?”
“She says she must learn to fight better and smarter–she has right there. If she is to have respect of men who work under her she must be able to fight them. She must not be afraid of them. I can teach her that better than the others, sir.”
“Better than I could?” Carmeyon tapped his pen on the table, irritated.
Sevireiya didn’t flinch. “You are a big man. You fight like a big man, I think, Lieutenant. She will not ever be your size. She will be as tall as me–no more and no bigger. She must learn to fight like a small man, sir.”
Llelas wasn’t what Carmeyon would have called a small man, but he blamed Sevireiya’s lack of vocabulary. Average better described his size. Carmeyon dismissed the younger man with a promise to think about his request.
In some ways, Ellis had less to learn than many of the cadets. She’d taught herself most of the history and theory the cadets now studied. She lagged, however, in practical matters–things boys learned growing up and their sisters didn’t. Ellis paid for that now, working in her time off with Thomas and Geris to master horsemanship and to handle a pistol or a saber or a rifle. She had little time to herself.
Now she proposed to give most of her remaining free time into the hands of Llelas Sevireiya, a young man who, according to rumor, had been following in his father’s dissolute footsteps until very recently. He wasn’t the sort to inspire Carmeyon’s trust.
Nor were his political ambitions clear. Sevireiya’s father sat firmly in the Separatists camp, in Anton Marisi’s pocket in any Council vote. That didn’t necessarily mean the son followed his father’s leanings, though. And he had a foul mouth, which Ellis probably missed, not knowing enough Relance to recognize swearing when she heard it.
Carmeyon sat until the sun set outside, plunging the library into darkness. One of the maids came, lit the candles and whisked back out without speaking.
What it came down to was that he simply didn’t like Llelas Sevireiya. He didn’t want Ellis around the man. He would have preferred Thomas by far, or Jerin or Yefin.
Sevireiya could teach her to use her head in a fight, something Carmeyon knew from past experience that he didn’t always do himself. He suspected that when the time came, Sevireiya wouldn’t pull his punches either. He wouldn’t be soft on her because she was a girl.
Sevireiya was the best choice. All the same, Carmeyon sought out his father in his rooms. His father listened patiently while he poured out his concerns.
“Is there no one who likes this young man?” his father asked.
“He doesn’t go out of his way to be popular,” Carmeyon finally said.
The marshal sighed. “You asked at the outset if he should come here. I told you he was meant to come. I felt it. Who put him on the list in the first place?”
“Sirien usually knows what he’s doing,” his father said.
With a Gift possibly even stronger than the king’s, Sub-Marshal Sirien Revasien might have foreseen something about Llelas Sevireiya that none of the rest of them knew. “He believes in second chances,” Carmeyon said.
“You said Sevireiya’s been in no trouble since he entered the Guard.”
“That’s true, save for the one fight. Even I will admit that was forced on him.”
“Then this would be his first chance, not his second. Give him the responsibility and the chance to prove he’s trustworthy, and don’t let your antipathy blind you to his value.”
It never felt good to have one’s father point out one’s personal bias, no matter how kindly phrased. Carmeyon grimaced. “When you’ve discovered what that value is, father, please tell me.”
“You’ve kept her with the cadets you think are safest. Perhaps she should be exposed more to the cadets who are rougher in their manners. She’ll hardly be able to avoid men like that in the Guard.”
“She’s only fifteen, father. Do you think it’s wise to start teaching her to curse in three languages? She will keep at them, you know, until she knows what every word means,” he sighed. Ellis might learn other things of them as well, beyond bad language and poor manners. “I think it’s best to keep her with East. Thomas will look out for her.”
His father had the ability to make him feel like a child with a mere glance. “I would have wanted to protect you, too, if I could have been there your first months in the Guard. You had to learn the hard way that old prejudices die hard. Remember how difficult it was? She’s going to have to deal with much worse than you got, son. She needs to start learning now. You can’t protect her all the time.”
Of course, Father is always right. Carmeyon stood to leave, but paused at the door. “Will it be well?”
His father closed his eyes for a moment, conferring with his inner voice. “Yes, she’ll be fine.”
With his father’s assurance, he left the manor house and walked through the dark to the reserve house, worrying what he’d allowed Ellis to get herself into. He found sleep elusive that night, wondering when things had slipped beyond his control.