Carmeyon thought April had come too soon. There would likely be a late cold spell, giving them one last taste of winter before it finally fled. He dressed quickly and shaved with water that had turned icy overnight. He had a headache, so he didn’t worry too much over his appearance.
When he opened the door, he found Llelas Sevireiya lounging in the hallway outside his door. Sevireiya and his followers had foregone their usual run into the village due to the cold and were up earlier than the others. He’d taken advantage of the time to dress, looking annoying clean.
Of course, I might just feel that way about him because of my headache. Then again, he found Sevireiya annoying on every other day as well.
“Is there a reason you’re loitering in the hall?” It came out sounding more cross than he’d intended.
Sevireiya raised an eyebrow. “I waited for you, sir.”
“What did you want, then?”
“My knife is missing, sir,” Llelas said in a clipped tone, “from yesterday now.”
Carmeyon decided that meant the knife had gone missing the day before. Every once in a while, the man’s grasp of Versh syntax failed. Either that, or he simply didn’t bother to make himself comprehensible. “Where did you have it?”
“Under my mattress, sir.”
Most of the cadets owned a weapon or two not issued by the Guard. Carmeyon knew for certain his roommate had a gun stashed somewhere. “Is Anthony’s gun still there?”
Carmeyon hoped they weren’t in for another string of pranks. Now that Verin had gone back to Jenesetta, he’d thought all of that would stop. “Did you ask Anthony?”
“Yes. He does not have it.”
“Has anyone been in your room?”
Since the cadets cleaned their own quarters, no servant would have picked it up. Unfortunately, the doors didn’t have locks, meaning anyone could have taken the knife.
Beckoning for Sevireiya to follow, Carmeyon headed down the flight of stairs to the room that served as the armory. Neat rows of racks for rifles, pistols, sabers, and knives filled the room. Carmeyon took stock of each, not finding any missing weapons save those of Geris Seran and Mark Winterdown, who’d had patrol duty the night just past.
“Any chance you lost it?” Carmeyon asked.
“No, sir, there is not.” Sevireiya touched his pistol where it rested in the rack. “Something is not proper,” he said quietly.
Carmeyon turned to look at him. He’d closed his eyes and stood still as if listening for an odd noise. Almost a minute passed as he stood there, seemingly unaware of Carmeyon’s scrutiny.
Sevireiya’s eyes opened, a puzzled expression crossing his face. “If you will excuse me, sir.”
Carmeyon didn’t protest as the cadet swept out of the armory doors. The day continued on that quirky path, with Sevireiya’s anxiety seeming to infect several of the other cadets. They fidgeted during field medicine class. Tempers flared during marksmanship practice.
Kirvan’s pistol misfired, flashing fire across his arm, but since the air had grown chilly, he wore his greatcoat and gloves. He stripped off his coat and glove before any lasting damage was done to his person, and fortunately, the charge barely reached his face. Lieutenant Telmaren pronounced him well enough to rejoin the others by dinner but ordered him back to his quarters to rest until then.
On the way to return the weapons to the house, Mark Winterdown, tired from being on duty most of the previous night, managed to tangle his own feet on the garden path, fell sideways over a bench and ended up on the ground with a dislocated shoulder. Amid the laughter, they got Mark back on his feet and walked him back to the Reserve House.
Lieutenant Telmaren looked on the accident as an opportunity–an excellent chance to demonstrate resetting of shoulder joints, although Mark didn’t appreciate the value of the lesson. Sitting on the floor next to Mark, the lieutenant put a foot in Mark’s armpit and twisted the arm down, out, and then across the chest. They all heard the click of the bone snapping back into place. Mark, already ghostly white with pain, passed out. The lieutenant cheerfully bandaged Mark’s arm to his body, happy to have had such luck.
With the makeshift lesson over, Carmeyon decided to walk with Ellis back to the Manor House. They walked back up the garden path, both quiet. Just as they reached the bench over which Mark had fallen, Ellis pointed at a dull glint in the afternoon sun.
Beneath the small evergreen tree that had taken the brunt of Mark’s weight lay his pistol, the dark metal mostly obscured by the tree. In the crush of cadets milling around, no one had noticed it.
Carmeyon hooked it out with his boot and picked it up.
“Lucky for Mark it didn’t go off when he fell,” he observed, clicking the breech closed on the single bullet in the chamber. That small accident could have turned far worse.
His head suddenly hurt.
Mark must have forgotten to unload it, since he’d been one of the cadets helping Kirvan out of his smoldering coat. Most likely, the cadet had dropped the gun in the pocket of his greatcoat, and it slid out when he fell.
Carmeyon almost pocketed the gun, but as he stood there in the afternoon sun, he knew he wasn’t going to take it back to the armory. “Take this,” he said, holding out to Ellis.
Ellis looked up at him blankly. “Sir?”
He pushed the gun at her, his headache accelerating to a pounding in his temples. “Take it,” he ground out, “keep it.”
Ellis took the gun from his hand. He felt the weight of it gone and fell to his knees in the middle of the path, his hands pressing into his temples. She pulled at him then, dragging him to his feet.
He couldn’t open his eyes in the glare of the afternoon sun. She took some of his weight, helping him walk for a long time. He wasn’t certain which way they went. Then he felt other hands grabbing at his coat, Thomas’ voice talking to him, guiding him up steps, Sirtris nearby. Carmeyon heard his voice and tried to spot him, but the light stabbed painfully through his skull. Darkness closed about him.
Ellis had seen the captain with headaches before, but this was one of the bad ones, like when he’d forgotten an entire evening.
Thomas helped her get the captain back to the Reserve House and Yefin ran to fetch Captain Sirtris. On his instructions, Ellis and Thomas helped the captain up the stairs to his room and left him there in the dark.
Captain Sirtris dispersed the cadets who congregated in the hallway to watch the commotion. When only she and Thomas remained, he turned back to her.
“What happened?” Sirtris asked sharply.
“We were walking back and talking about Mark,” Ellis offered. “He rubbed his nose, like he does when he’s about to get a headache. Then he dropped like a rock.”
That last part was the lie, but Captain Sirtris would order her to take the pistol back to the armory. Captain Dantreon must have given it to her for a reason.
Sirtris frowned at her. “Did he say anything else?”
“He said something about it being lucky Mark wasn’t worse off,” Ellis admitted.
“None of his predictions?” Sirtris seemed displeased, never happy with things out of his control.
Ellis shook her head. “No, sir.”
Sirtris let it go. “He’s done this before. He’ll be fine in the morning.”
Ellis sighed with relief. The captain’s sudden collapse frightened her, but Thomas didn’t seem too worried, and Captain Sirtris did say he would be better come morning.
This time Thomas walked the quarter-mile back up to the house with her. Although Thomas did stop to remark regretfully about the damage to the young ‘arborvitae’ on which Mark had fallen, nothing else happened. It amused Ellis that Thomas knew exactly what kind of plant it was.
Once she reached her room and shut the door, Ellis pulled the gun out of her pocket and placed it on her desk. She knew why Captain Sirtris took such pains with the weapons. A gun left loose could fall into anyone’s hands. After a moment, she unlocked her desk and put the gun inside. She locked the desk and put the key away in the mantel clock. Not completely secure, she knew, but at least it would defeat Daria.
Ellis changed out of her uniform into her practice clothes, only to arrive at the ballroom to learn that an unnerved Llelas had decided to cancel their practice session. She retreated to the library to rewrite the duty rosters for the next two weeks. According to Lieutenant Telmaren, Mark wouldn’t be able to stand duty for a while.
She stopped working on the schedule long enough to go to the dining hall and grab some bread and an apple. The day’s oddities had disturbed everyone. Only half of the cadets were there eating. Several had wrapped their dinner up in brown paper and carried it back to the Reserve House.
Ellis ate alone in the library and finished the rosters, the room quiet without the captains there. She was tempted to go out to the Reserve House and see if Captain Dantreon felt better, but a late frost had begun to mark the windows, so she decided to go to bed early.
She opened her desk to fetch out the writing paper and saw Mark’s gun. She checked the gun to be certain it was properly loaded and the safety set, more cautious after Kirvan’s accident. Then she took the gun and placed it under her pillow where her hand could touch the cool metal.
April 1, 495
We’ve all been on edge today. I think it might just be the weather turning nasty so late in the year. Kirvan will have a red face tomorrow. That could have been far worse. Actually this is the first time I’ve seen one of these guns misfire, so, statistically, we’ve been very fortunate so far. I suppose that a certain number of accidents are likely in any day. It’s just odd to have them all at once.
The captain told me…
Ellis stopped for a moment, deciding whether she should mention the gun. If the captain had told her to keep it, did that mean she shouldn’t tell anyone who might report her? After all, Llelas had been rather cool towards her this spring, and had turned into a stickler for the rules. If he found out, he might tell Captain Sirtris.
…Mark was fortunate not to have been hurt worse. Unfortunately, Llelas said that Mark’s shoulder will always be weak from now on. I suppose Llelas has seen this sort of injury before, so he would know. I hope he’s wrong, though.
Llelas is acting strangely as well. He didn’t want to practice today because he told me something was wrong, but he’s been canceling practice frequently in the last few months. I think he’s avoiding me. I’ve made him angry and I can’t seem to figure out what I’ve done. Perhaps he’s just grown tired of working with me.
I hope the captain is feeling better. Sirtris thought he would be. I worried for a moment that something in his brain had burst. I hope that he’ll be all right, and this wont be like the last time, with all his memories fading away.
And does this mean Grandfather is here somewhere, provoking Captain Dantreon’s attack? Or another one like Grandfather, making everyone edgy?
Ellis stared at the page. Once she’d felt she could write anything she wanted.
Llelas didn’t scare her. She knew him well enough to know he didn’t pose a threat to her. He would never do anything or reveal anything that would hurt her. But if Llelas existed, then he wasn’t the only one.
She hadn’t written how reassuring it had been to lay her hand on the grip of the pistol. She hadn’t written how frustrated she’d become with Llelas and his refusal to talk to her. Nor had she written down how very frightened she’d been in that moment when the captain fell to his knees.
She wadded up the paper, getting a smear of ink on her fingers, and threw it into the fireplace. The paper burned in a matter of moments.
She changed into her nightshirt and crawled into bed, her hand just touching the cool steel beneath the pillow.
Carmeyon woke in the morning with a nasty taste in his mouth. Someone had put him to bed in his uniform, he realized. They hadn’t brushed his teeth for him, either. At least they had pulled off his boots. He lay there for a time, his brain twisting with that gummy feeling he always had after one of his bad headaches. What happened?
He finally got out of the bed. He opened the window and the shutters, letting in the freezing air to help clear his mind. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed, pulling a blanket back around himself.
The gun, he suddenly recalled. He’d handed Ellis a gun and told her to keep it. He’d felt the steel in his hand and known he would hand it to her.
Completion—he’d done something solely because he’d known he would.
Despite the number of times his father had warned him, he’d done it anyway. The Gift made it easy to do things without rational thought—just a reaction. He would just have to pray now that he’d not done something incredibly stupid.
Ellis got up early and, seeing that a light snow had fallen, knew they wouldn’t be running into the village. Feeling guiltily relieved, she went through her morning routine of exercises and then made herself presentable for breakfast.
Mark appeared at the table, his left arm tightly strapped to his chest. He endured the teasing about his clumsiness but seemed in good spirits. Kirvan’s greatcoat and gloves had been declared a complete loss, but his face looked only as if he’d been in the sun too long.
Captain Dantreon seemed completely recovered when she did see him in passing. He glanced in her direction and she knew then that he recalled exactly what had happened out on the garden path. He couldn’t have told Sirtris, she decided, and wondered why.
The snow released them from horsemanship, but after classes that day Ellis practiced with Thomas at the Reserve House. They used the practice room there, since they didn’t want to sink a blade into anything in the Manor House.
Exhausted, Ellis decided to bathe and then turn in early. The dogs weren’t at the courtyard door, so she decided Daria must have let them into her room again. When she crawled into bed, she reached her hand out and touched the grip of the pistol, thinking that by tomorrow Captain Sirtris would certainly have noticed Mark’s missing gun. She would have to take it back then.