After sending the last of the cadets to the Reserve House with orders to get some sleep, Geris and James took over the night’s sentry duty. Ellis sat in the library, staring into the flames. Carmeyon conferred with Sirtris, planning what to do in the morning. With the body removed to the stables now, Carmeyon couldn’t examine it without leaving Ellis, and he had no intention of doing that.
After Sirtris left, Carmeyon considered Ellis in the chill light. If he knew her at all, she probably felt numb. She still sat at the table, a hand over her mouth, but it appeared that the brandy had calmed her.
“You need to try to get some sleep as well,” he said.
Ellis brought her attention to his face, not reacting to his voice as quickly as normal. For a moment, he expected her to deny it, but then she reconsidered and nodded. She couldn’t do anything at this hour, so she might as well try to sleep—the most logical course.
Carmeyon held the door open for her and followed her through the dim hallways to her room. Geris stood half-invisible in a doorway, determined to watch the night out. Carmeyon felt better seeing him, knowing Geris had always had a care for his young ward.
Ellis stopped on the doorstep of her rooms, a grimace crossing her face. No sign clung about the room of what had passed earlier that night. Candles burned in the sconces. The maids had refitted the bed with elegant dressings purloined from one of the other rooms. They’d even turned the coverlet back.
“One of the new maids picked this out,” Ellis noted. “Merielle would know better than to choose something like this.”
A soft yellow coverlet with a floral appliqué pattern adorned the bed. The bed curtains had been replaced with matching lace-trimmed ones, something Ellis surely wouldn’t have picked herself. “You can find something else tomorrow,” he told her.
She stepped across the threshold and walked about to the other side of the bed, searching. “He had to have been hiding in my dressing room.”
“I agree. He was probably there before dinner—the only time when there aren’t any servants about.”
Ellis nodded. She looked across at the door separating the dressing room from the rest of the suite. She flung it open, gazing into the shadows. “He must have hidden in the armoire and waited until I was asleep to come out. I never got near enough to it for him to try to grab me earlier.”
Carmeyon watched her open her armoire and look inside. The vanity had been cleaned in their absence and the basin replaced. He didn’t see his bloodstained shirt, so he assumed they’d taken that as well. Ellis methodically poked about in all the corners of the dressing room and then repeated the process in the bathing room. Finally, she looked out the doorway into the courtyard. He hadn’t had the heart to tell her that her dogs weren’t there.
“Thank you for staying while I looked around, sir.”
Sirtris had left the gun lying on Ellis’ desk. She picked it up and handed it to him. “You saved my life, sir. I’m grateful.”
“If you hadn’t had the gun, you would have found some other way.” She would have fought with anything at hand, he suspected. Sevireiya had taught her well. Carmeyon glanced at the gun in his hand and then handed it back to her. He figured Sirtris had left it intentionally. “It should never have come to this, and you know it. We should have had you better guarded all this time.”
Ellis shook her head. “No point in worrying now, sir.”
He could hear in her voice that the shock of it had sunk in. Looking about, he located the cast-iron doorstop the servants used to prop the door to her rooms open when cleaning. He blocked the door open and settled on the bench next to it.
“Keep the gun nearby. I’ll feel better. Tomorrow I want one of the maids to move in here with you. Don’t try to argue about it, because I won’t change my mind.”
She frowned at him, probably not liking his intrusion into her personal domain. “Merielle.”
“I don’t mean it as an insult. I know you can take care of yourself. But if there’d been someone else here, he would have had a harder time slipping in unnoticed. Someone to look after you while your back is turned.”
“She has duties. She can’t stay here all the time.”
“Make her your companion, then.”
Ellis blinked dully. “She’ll be at risk, then, sir.”
“One hopes not,” he said, “but she can learn to handle a pistol at the very least.”
She mulled that over, visibly softening toward the idea. For a time, she remained silent, gravely considering him as he sat on the bench. Eventually, she realized that he had no intention of leaving. Tired past arguing, she went into the dressing room and returned a moment later still wearing her trousers and shirt.
Carmeyon stretched his legs out as she snuffed the candles and then climbed into the bed. He thought he would have a difficult time falling asleep with someone else watching him, so he turned his eyes toward the darkened hallway, catching a glimpse of Geris as he moved down the hallway.
Carmeyon stared into the darkness, mind spinning away. Tomorrow would mean dealing with a corpse that now waited in the stables. He had to tell her about her dogs as well. They’d been given something—most likely a sedative, Telmaren guessed—but he surgeon wasn’t sure whether the geriatric dogs would survive the amount they’d ingested. All four had been removed to the stables so they could remain under the stable master’s watchful eye, but one dog had slipped away already. Ellis will be devastated.
If she had died, they would have lost everything they’d worked to build here. His career, and probably Sirtris’ as well, would have ended. He didn’t particularly care.
He knew exactly what made him run out into the snow and break through the manor doors. He’d been telling himself that it was affection for a student he was mentoring, but tonight’s terror told him it was more than that…and he knew how futile that was. She is a student here, and untouchable.
He reminded himself of that again, in case he’d forgotten. He would be twenty-five in a few months, and she was only sixteen. And he was a Dantreon as well, but one of the brown-skinned children of the family, and only a captain in the Guard. Not exactly the sort of man the king’s daughter would be expected to court if she ever took it in her head to consider pursuing a relationship anyway. It wasn’t as if she had time to think, either. Given her reported response to Fallarcassan’s blunt approach, Carmeyon suspected she wouldn’t put up with any advance from anyone.
He dropped his head and rubbed at his temples. The cold was beginning to sink into his joints. He shifted stiffly. He didn’t need to be worrying about himself right now. How long had the assassin been in the house? Why would an assassin wait days to make the attempt?
“I can’t sleep. I’m thinking too hard.”
Carmeyon started. Ellis had risen and come over to the bench where he sat. He’d been concentrating on his own thoughts to the exclusion of everything else. She settled on the other end of the bench, pulled her bare feet up, and wrapped her arms around her legs. She laid her head on her knees, her eyes turned toward him in the dim room. “I’ve tried, but my mind just keeps going.”
“Cantrian’s First Premise,” he demanded.
After a moment, she began reciting the premise, verbatim he presumed—almost a full page.
“The third day of lessons from the Master’s journal,” he said as soon as she reached the end.
She began to rattle that off. He followed with an engineering text that Verin had forced on the cadets and no one but Yefin had truly comprehended. Then there were Anerion’s principles. Eventually she began to mumble Anerion’s words and stopped altogether. She’d fallen asleep sitting up, her head bowed on her knees. Trust Anerion to put one to sleep.
He caught her before she tumbled off the bench onto the floor. She barely stirred as he lowered her to lie on her side on the bench. He pulled his jacket off and draped it over her to ward off the cold, thinking that once she fell soundly asleep again he could carry her to her bed. He saw Geris pass at the end of the hall again. He had the chilling thought that this would look very inappropriate should Geris choose to come down the hall.
Ellis slept for some time curled up on the bench, her head resting on his leg. Only when she began to dream did he carry her to her bed. He pulled the yellow coverlet back over her. In the dim light of the candles he could see her brow furrow, pursued by some ill in her dream. He placed a hand on her forehead and she relaxed, as if recognizing that he stood watch over her.
He stood for a moment gazing down at her and then returned to his vigil by the open door.
By the time dawn arrived, Carmeyon’s head had returned to its pounding and the cold made him feel prematurely old. The minor injuries he’d sustained the previous night had stiffened. Sleep was a long way off, he knew.
As the sunlight began to shine off the snow, Mrs. Verus came down the hall, disapproval clearly showing on her face when she spotted him still guarding her charge’s room. Ellis slept on, oblivious.
Joining Mrs. Verus in the hall, Carmeyon explained the plan to move the other girl into Ellis’s room. Fortunately, Mrs. Verus didn’t protest. Carmeyon didn’t feel like arguing.
He left her in the hallway and made his way down to the kitchens. A cup of coffee improved his alertness, but the appearance of Sirtris in his usual morning fettle didn’t improve his temper. Sirtris surely hadn’t had much sleep either, but still gave the impression of readiness. Carmeyon finished his coffee and poured a second cup.
“I suppose I need to go out and look at the body,” Carmeyon began sourly. “Is it out in the stables?”
Sirtris nodded. “A clean shot. She took him right through the temple.”
“At that distance, she couldn’t have missed.”
“No, but it might have been better if she had. We could have questioned him. Now all we have is a corpse and a number of questions to which we don’t have answers.” Sirtris disapproved of ends that didn’t neatly tie together.
“He’s been hiding in the house.”
“Yes,” Sirtris said, “I figured that last night. If he’d come in during the night, the snow would have shown.”
“If he’s been here in the manor house, there has to be some trace of him.”
“I’ve already asked Geris to talk to all the staff.”
Two steps ahead of me. “I’ve told Ellis that one of the maids will share her room from now on. The room is large enough.”
“And she agreed?”
“I didn’t give her a choice.” At Sirtris’ raised eyebrow, he continued. “She’s concerned about the girl’s safety but, other than that, she’s willing to cooperate.”
Sirtris gazed at him for a time, no doubt taking in his shadowed eyes and stiff posture. “You didn’t sleep any, did you?”
Carmeyon shook his head. He might be able to sleep this afternoon, but now he had too much work to do. He stood and tried to stretch out some of his stiffness. “I might as well go. I don’t think I’ll see anything you didn’t, but I’ll feel better once it’s done.”
Heat from the horses warmed the stable but Carmeyon could still see his breath steaming. The man stretched out before them had none to see. “He should be buried in the village cemetery, not here,” Carmeyon said.
“Not yet, though,” Sirtris countered as he pulled back the blanket. “I need everyone to look at him. I mean that, Carmeyon, perhaps even the little girl.”
He meant Geris Seran’s daughter, Daria, Carmeyon realized. “Are you sure?”
“I’ll let Geris decide, but yes. She might have seen the man slip into the house.”
Carmeyon knelt next to the body to get a better look. Menhirre, Carmeyon decided, perhaps in his late thirties. Blood congealed around the entry wound and marks of it ran down his face, but he showed little other sign of his violent end. Carmeyon didn’t want to know what the back of the man’s head looked like.
“He has blue eyes,” Sirtris said when Carmeyon reached out a hand, saving him from prying a lid open. “The face doesn’t tell me much, but his clothes are expensive.”
Sirtris pulled the coverlet away and Carmeyon realized what he meant. The black shirt had never been mended. He wore new trousers with a silver watch chain and a silver watch in the pocket. His boots had light soles, made for walking silently, not for hard wear. Had he succeeded, he would have been well paid, Carmeyon suspected, but it appeared he’d been successful at some larceny before this failed attempt.
Sirtris crouched down next to him, his head cocked as he considered. “The boots are custom made—but I don’t think we’ll find any boot maker who’ll admit to making them. These are made for stealth.”
He pulled the watch from its pocket and detached the chain. “This might tell us something…” He snapped back the lid, but saw only an inscription written in Relance.
Sirtris rubbed at his chin, sitting back on his haunches. “The haircut looks northern. The watch is from the capital, I’ll bet, or Perisen. God only knows where these clothes were sewn, but they’re clean. If he’s been hiding in the manor, he brought a change of clothing with him. Most likely ashes in the fire pit now or extra clothes in the laundry. They might not tell us anything, but they’re worth looking for.”
“He certainly didn’t walk into the house dressed that way,” Carmeyon said. “Someone would have noticed.”
Sirtris nodded, glancing at the watch again. “This cold isn’t going to last. I’d like to get everyone out here today to get a look at him.”
Carmeyon considered. “I don’t think Jerin has anything to do with this, but if he can tell us anything, I want him to have one more look.”
“I’ll organize the cadets and Mr. Seran can get the staff out here. I’ll leave it to you to bring Ellis to look at the body. She needs to see,” Sirtris insisted, clearly noting his hesitation, “at least to recognize what she did last night. We taught her to kill. It’s too late to take that back.”
Carmeyon pulled the blanket over the body, hoping they weren’t being too harsh with her.
Upon returning to the Reserve House, he found Jerin waiting by his door. Clearly, the young man hadn’t slept at all. His skin looked sallow and pale, with shadows under his eyes. Even his hair was unkempt—for Jerin, an unusual thing.
Carmeyon opened his door, motioning for Jerin to precede him in. While he awkwardly splashed his face one-handed with ice-cold water, Jerin leaned against his desk, struggling for something to say. Shocked into wakefulness, Carmeyon opened his wardrobe, pulled out his second best uniform and hung it up on the hook, still waiting. Finally, he turned to look at Jerin.
“I think I’ve seen him with one of my brothers.” Jerin didn’t want to say it, Carmeyon could tell.
“He’s too old to be a friend of theirs,” Carmeyon guessed. “Even Anton would be too young.”
“Not to hire him.” The accusation was implied, but Jerin sounded unhappy saying even that.
“Evidence suggests someone in the house aided him.”
“Which would logically be me.” When Carmeyon didn’t respond, he added. “I could have let him in. I could have stolen Llelas’ knife.”
“But you didn’t.” Carmeyon interjected smoothly. “We don’t have answers yet but I’m certain this doesn’t have anything to do with you.”
Jerin dropped his gaze. “Not everyone thinks so.”
“Not everyone thinks Llelas is innocent either, I’m sure. But neither of you did this.”
“How can you be so certain?”
Carmeyon looked across at his young cousin. “Even if your brothers did have something to do with it, that doesn’t involve you.” When Jerin breathed a rather obvious sigh of relief, he continued. “Get some rest, Jerin.”
Jerin nodded, recognizing an order when he heard one. He ducked out the door with a quick ‘yes, sir’ and made his way off to what would no doubt be a troubled sleep.
Go on to Chapter 14