The winter classes proceeded calmly, particularly when compared to the chaos of Master Overton’s class in the fall, so some of the cadets took to creating excitement. A string of pranks plagued the Reserve House. There were things as harmless as the short sheeting of beds–which Jerin had to explain to Ellis since she’d never heard of it—all the way to the importation of a snake into Kirvan’s bed. It likely only wanted to be warm, he claimed, and kept it, although he had to hide it from the officers. Items went missing only to turn up in the library or a classroom. Mikhal took it very personally when his journal disappeared and resurfaced in the Manor House dining hall. Thomas had snow dump on him from a platform hastily secured above a doorway.
All in all, the pranks were harmless and good-natured, but they took on the nature of a small war, each of the squads attempting to do the most annoying but harmless thing to the others. Ellis even ended up on the receiving end when East went out to the stables only to find the cinch-straps missing from all of their saddles, hanging over the rafters.
Ellis felt grateful for something so benign. She’d been keeping an eye out for Kirvan’s pet snake, certain it would turn up in her saddlebag or under her pillow. The pranks finally died down after about a month, and then another annoyance took hold.
One by one, the cadets came down with the cold. They mumbled and sneezed their way through classes. Since Ellis now arranged the duty roster for guard patrols around the manor, she often had to scramble to fill holes created when Captain Sirtris ordered feverish cadets to bed. Scheduling became a constant headache. Then she caught the cold as well.
Captain Sirtris mercifully took over the scheduling again, sparing her the embarrassment of sneezing all over the duty roster. She stayed in bed for two days, until the worst of it passed.
Engineering and its late-night study sessions finally ended as March arrived. Thomas managed to stay at the top of the group, with Yefin close behind, although in the end, Yefin’s engineering scores turned out to be slightly higher. Ellis felt pleased just to be in the top quarter of their class of seventeen.
With spring’s arrival, simple logistics and supply took the place of engineering. While infantry movements were similar to cavalry, in many ways they were completely different. Their study of Galasiene continued, but they also began a new class—a short study of field medicine. Ellis hoped she’d not have to use that too much.
The Guard sent a field surgeon to teach basics of field dressing. Lieutenant Telmaren often expressed frustration that he couldn’t demonstrate techniques effectively without an actual victim. It would have been better, he claimed, to take them to a hospital to learn.
Captain Sirtris scheduled mounted drills, swordsmanship and marksmanship practice, hoping to get the cadets back into the flow of a regular garrison training schedule, and three of the current marshals came out to observe them. Ellis had held her own, although she hadn’t stood out from the group save with a pistol.
And knowing that their two years would be over in a few months, the cadets started talking about being reassigned.
“King’s Bodyguard,” Sereis Fallarcassan said one night as they were all listing off their choices in the Reserve House library. “As a sniper, of course. I’ve already informed the captains of that.”
As annoying as she found Sereis, Ellis couldn’t argue with his choice. Sereis was the top marksman of the class after all.
“Back to North Country,” Thomas said when the question was posed to him, not exactly a surprise.
“Kilmesia, of course,” Yefin said with a shrug—his home province and closer to his family.
Mikhal had decided to ask to be sent to Serione, which received a strange look from Arhen and Heall, the two cadets from that province. Serione was known to be insular, so it seemed strange for Mikhal to want to go there, but she knew he didn’t want to return to Jestriyan—even if it would be good for him.
“What about you?” she asked Jerin quietly. She knew where the others wanted to go, but Jerin had never committed himself to an answer.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t care.”
She set a hand on his sleeve. “Stop saying that.”
He glanced at her, likely surprised by the sharpness of her tone. Then he shook his head. “You know what I mean.”
Merielle was being courted by the blacksmith from Kensit. The man was at least a decade older than Merielle and had two children by his first wife. Since he’d noticed her at the winter festival, the smith had begun to ask if she would sit with him at church or join him for lunch on her half day. She refused every time, but he persisted, evidently hoping her shyness would fade.
That situation took up far too many of Jerin’s thoughts, yet there was nothing he could do about it. And Ellis wasn’t sure whether encouraging Jerin’s interest in Merielle was a good idea. Do I tell him what Merielle said?
Unfortunately, the next Sunday brought that particular issue to the officer’s attention. After the services, Ellis walked with Jerin to where their horses waited on the edge of the churchyard. She was loosening Five’s reins when a sudden movement of Jerin’s head warned her. She followed the direction of his gaze and saw Merielle still near the church doors. The smit—speaking urgently—gripped her forearm. Merielle said something and tried to tug her arm free of his grasp, but he didn’t let her go.
Before Ellis could say anything, Jerin had dropped his reins and was running toward them.
Oh, no. Ellis ran after him, hoping to stop him before he did something foolish that would get him kicked out of the war college. I won’t make it.
But Thomas was there before her, interposing his large body between Jerin and Merielle. He grabbed Jerin’s arms and pushed him in Ellis’ direction. She almost slammed into them but managed to stop a couple of steps short.
“Don’t do it,” she hissed at Jerin, grabbing the back of his uniform jacket to hold him in place…not too obviously, she hoped.
He cast an angry glance at her. “I won’t…”
Thomas slapped a hand over Jerin’s mouth.
The disturbance, however, had captured the smith’s attention long enough for Merielle to jerk free of his grasp. Ellis almost went to defend her, but Miralys Dantreon was already in motion.
Miralys looped one arm through Merielle’s and smiled at the smith, and loudly said, “Miss Eladine and I have a previous engagement. I’m afraid she can’t accompany you to…” She waved her free hand vaguely. “Wherever it is you want her to go.”
Merielle’s face was pale, but she lifted her chin. “Nor any other day, sir. I do not wish for your attentions. Please stop.”
The smith seemed shocked when she said that and opened his mouth to argue. Captain Sirtris caught up with Miralys then and gave the man a stern look before he guided Merielle and Miralys away.
Captain Sirtris had to have seen every moment of that. Ellis kept one hand firmly on Jerin’s arm as she and Thomas dragged him back toward the horses. “You can’t say anything,” she told him. “It’s against the rules.”
Jerin jerked his arm away. “I can tell him not to put his hands on her.”
Thomas had a firmer grip on him and kept dragging him away. “Miss Eladine did fine on her own, Jerin. And I’d bet that Captain Sirtris will stop by and speak with the man before he returns to the estate. But you are not supposed to be involved with her, so let it go.”
Yefin stood holding the reins of all their horses now, ready for them all to leave together. Mikhal was already mounted and waiting. Thomas almost threw Jerin onto his horse, and Mikhal and Yefin herded him toward the road to the estate.
Thomas just shook his head. “It’s just eight more weeks, damnit.”
Ellis shot him a surprised glance. Thomas rarely cursed. “I know.”
Thomas threw up his hands in frustration. “Come on, let’s make sure he doesn’t double back and get himself in trouble.”
Llelas found Jerin in the library of the Reserve House. He sat at a table with Mikhal Deviron, looking morose. Jerin had not, in truth, done anything specifically wrong. What he had done was make clear he had some interest in one of the estate’s maids, which gave the impression that he had broken the officers’ strictures regarding the girls on staff…and exposed the girl to gossip she could ill afford.
“Not you, too,” Jerin said as he followed Llelas to the other side of the room. “I know. I am a fool.”
Llelas regarded him silently for a moment. The others of his quarter would already have lectured him about the situation. “Sit down.”
Jerin sighed but sat at the table Llelas pointed out. They were far enough away from the others that none would overhear what he had to say to his cousin. Llelas sat across from him but leaned closer to keep their words between them. “Are you going to marry that girl?”
Jerin’s eyes came up to meet his. “I…”
Llelas waited, but Jerin had no answer. Jerin barely knew her, which was what made this situation so frustrating. “You would like to know more of her,” Llelas guessed.
Llelas licked his lips, reckoning that if it were him, he would have found ways to meet with the girl. But other than mooning at her while she played her fiddle and making excuses to watch her play, he had never done so. Not even a single stolen kiss, as far as Llelas knew. Jerin was either too honorable or too complaint. Or both. “In two months we will be gone from here. Then you can talk with her or write to her…”
Jerin pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Sixty days, Jerin. Less, in truth. You heard what she said. She will not be stolen by this blacksmith in the meantime.”
Jerin leaned closer. “How could I not do something?”
About the smith’s manhandling of the girl, he meant. “Were there not others between you? Did you not see Captain Sirtris there, or Captain Dantreon? Or the marshal? None of them would have let him hurt her. You must be aware of appearances.”
“I know.” Jerin ran fingers through his hair. “I just…”
“I understand,” Llelas said when he trailed off. There was little Jerin could say. It had been an instinctive reaction, and those were damnably hard to quell. “You know she was a slave, so you must realize…”
“Stop,” Jerin said, jaw squaring. “What happened to her before was not her choice. I would never…I would never hold that against her. Or anyone like her.”
Good. At least he has thought it though. “What would your mother say about such a relationship?”
Jerin groaned. “It would not please her at all.”
And that likely meant she would cut off Jerin’s allowance, so he would have to rely on his position with the Guard for an income. For a young man raised in a palace—particularly if he had a wife—that was not much.
Llelas touched Jerin’s sleeve. “If there is a time when your family turns their backs on you, remember that I am family as well. That makes my family yours. We Sevireiyas may not have a fine palace in Perisen, but we will always shelter you.”
March 28, 495
Jerin has been ordered to go speak with the officers in the morning. Thomas says the captains can’t discipline him. They have no evidence that he’s done anything wrong. But they are likely to talk to him about his behavior in public and how that reflects on the war college. Jerin hates that he’s upset people.
Merielle is just as distressed. She sees this as her fault, which it isn’t in any way. I hate that there’s nothing I can do to fix this.
I know the rules have reasons behind them and I am determined not to disappoint the captain again, but there has to be something I can do to help them. But as Thomas pointed out, it’s only eight more weeks. Surely Jerin can follow the rules until then. Merielle told me she’ll just stay away from him.
She keeps saying that he can do better than marrying someone like her. I think life should be about more than doing the proper thing. Or doing better.
Except for Jerin and I, the cadets are all starting to plan what they’ll do once they leave Amiestrin. The captain wrote to my father, but there is still no word. I, it seems, am going nowhere.