Unfortunately, the fall session brought another round of history lessons with Master Overton. Somehow no one had warned her about that joyful event, so the next morning, when Ellis peered out her bedroom window and saw Overton step down from his royal coach, she groaned. He’d taught history the previous year, and had bored them all senseless.
He’d been her father’s tutor when the king was a boy, and now served as the king’s advisor. Her father had sent Overton to teach her, not all the others, and the man let his disapproval of his expanded duties be known at every opportunity. He seemed to intensely dislike all the Menhirre cadets. He wasn’t very fond of Ellis, either.
Ellis understood from Captain Dantreon, though, that they couldn’t just refuse to have the man around. She had to simply hope that the other classes would make up for the man’s presence.
Verin Dantreon, it turned out, was not there to instruct them in engineering. The Engineers Corps sent one Captain Melieiren to instruct their class. Clearly more accustomed to speaking to university students than to cadets, the captain taught at a level beyond what half of the cadets could even begin to comprehend. But Verin could restate what the engineer had said in terms simple enough for the cadets to follow. He planned to work them in the Reserve House library after and between classes, he claimed, interpreting the captain’s lectures.
Cantros was likely to cause Ellis much more trouble than engineering—she had a good head for mathematics, but not as much for languages. Llelas still ribbed her about her poorly accented Relance. Ara Siviata, the instructor for that class, seemed most unimpressed with the cadets, Ellis in particular.
“I think he likes me even less than Master Overton does,” she confided to Captain Dantreon after the first day of classes. She had stopped in the kitchen to pick up a cup of coffee to perk herself up before Thomas’ planned study session that evening.
Fortunately for East—Ellis’ squad—Thomas spoke Cantros fluently, so that would give them an edge, and Yefin had studied engineering before coming to the war college. But Thomas wanted them all properly organized for the semester’s classes, so he was already preparing added assignments and reading for the five of them.
Captain Dantreon sighed. “I don’t believe it’s anything personal. You’re out of your proper place. Cantreidians don’t approve of that.”
“Women aren’t supposed to be soldiers, then?”
“Women are supposed to do exactly as their parents bid them. They are to marry as arranged, to an appropriate member of their own clan.”
His voice sounded bitter when he said that, unusual for the captain. “Did your mother?” she asked.
He glanced across at her, brown eyes serious. “No. Her parents allowed the marriage to my father, but her brothers never forgave her for lowering herself to marry an outsider. If you notice, he won’t talk to me or Verin at all.”
“Siviata. He’s one of my mother’s brothers.”
“He’s your uncle?” The instructor never said anything to the cadets, never indicated any relationship. She tried to recall if there was much family resemblance between Siviata and Captain Dantreon. Siviata had looked more like Verin actually, although Ellis wasn’t entirely sure why she thought that.
“The garrison in Perisen arranged the instructor for us,” the captain added. “I had no idea who was coming until he got here.”
And he’s not happy about this. “Has he said anything, sir?”
“Only that Verin and I are not to presume on our relationship,” he answered. “My mother did not raise us properly, in his view.”
Ellis thought the instructor was definitely on the losing end of that prejudice. She finished her coffee and told the captain that she had to head back to the Reserve House library.
The captain tapped his fingers to his forehead. “Damnation, I forgot. Sirtris was looking for you. I think he received something via messenger.”
Ellis shook her head. Captain Sirtris had been involved in the intrigues with Grandfather before the week’s break, and Captain Dantreon was not supposed to know anything about that. “I’ll go find him, sir. Probably something about a library book for me.”
That made a reasonable story, since Sirtris had been facilitating the transportation of books from the public libraries of the capital to the small village of Kensit nearby. Ellis left Captain Dantreon and headed back to her bedroom, thinking that Captain Sirtris might have asked one of the household staff to leave her a note. She ran into Merielle in the hallway, though, saving her from walking all the way back.
“Captain Sirtris asked me to find you and bring you to the kitchens,” Merielle said a bit breathlessly.
“He didn’t say why?” Ellis asked the other girl.
Merielle shook her head and chewed her lower lip. “He asked me to come with you, though, so it must be…important.”
To require a witness? Yes, Ellis supposed it must. And it likely wasn’t about Grandfather then, since he’d included Merielle. Even so, the choice of Merielle as the witness must mean she would end up being upset. Ellis sighed, not wanting to deal with any more family drama, not when she barely knew them. “Let’s go get this over with, then.”
The fact that he’d summoned her to the kitchen rather than the library was also strange, but Captain Sirtris was nothing if not discreet, so he probably had a reason. She walked down the hallway with Merielle, through the now-dark dining hall, and into the kitchen where a pair of young maids were gathering their wraps to leave for the night. They both cast a startled glance at the new arrivals, but then left out the back door.
The cook, Melia, remained, wiping down the counters. A stern-faced Jenear woman, she gestured with her head toward the back of the kitchen, where Captain Sirtris waited at the work table, a file laid squarely before him. “Do you want me to leave, Captain?” Melia asked.
“No, Mrs. Seran.” The captain gestured for Ellis to join him. “This is a private matter, but hardly a state secret.”
She nodded and continued working. Ellis went to the table to join the captain, Merielle trailing along uncertainly behind her.
The captain glanced up, then. “I was unclear, Miss Dantreon. I need to speak with Merielle, not you.”
Merielle blinked as if those words didn’t make sense at all. “Sir?”
“Would you sit down, please, Miss?” He gestured at the other side of the table. “I thought it would be better to have Miss Dantreon here, but if you’d prefer that this discussion be private, she can wait over there with Mrs. Seran.”
It took a second for Merielle to answer, possibly because she hadn’t realized he’d asked her input. “Could she stay?”
“It’s completely up to you,” the captain said.
“Please.” Merielle sank down on the bench.
Ellis tucked herself in next to the other girl. “What is this, sir?”
Captain Sirtris shifted on his bench to face Merielle more squarely. “Do you recall that we talked a bit last year about what you could remember about your mother?”
Merielle’s lower lip began to tremble slightly. “Yes,” she whispered.
“I didn’t mention it to you at the time, miss, but my mother is involved with the movement pushing to close the debtors’ prisons, at least the ones bordering Galas.”
The captain rarely talked about himself, so Ellis hadn’t heard that before. Merielle just nodded blankly.
“As such, she and her associates have some access to records of past inmates. You said you couldn’t recall your mother’s name, but the number of girls named Merielle who were sold around the time you would have been is limited.”
Merielle gazed at him, her mouth part-way open.
“I received these records by messenger today,” Sirtris went on, opening out the folder that lay before him. “Here we have the records of imprisonment of one Eladielle Kiadine. Her daughter Merielle was taken from her when she was three and sold to the Grand Allasev Conservatory. The date is right for that to be you.”
Allasev was a name that Ellis knew well, the capital of Verina. Verina controlled the western half of the former kingdom of Galas, and among other things, had few qualms about selling their Galasiene inhabitants into slavery for the slightest offenses.
“No,” Merielle said with a sniff. “I was sold to Lady Goodsummer.”
“You weren’t,” Sirtris said gently. “Lady Goodsummer was one of many Versh citizens who never actually purchased slaves. They rented them, from the conservatory. That way she didn’t pay property taxes, on you or any of the others. But my mother’s investigators did verify that your name was on the list of personnel that lady rented from the conservatory.”
Merielle sniffled again and tentatively touched the paper that lay in front of her. “So, this is my mother?”
“Yes,” he said. “My mother is quite certain. Therefore, we now know that your proper surname would be Eladine, and your grandmother would have been named Kiadielle. Or your grandfather was Kiadion. We don’t have any way to tell which it was.”
Merielle clapped a hand over her mouth, her eyes glittering with tears. Uncertain what to do, Ellis just remained close. Merielle had always hated not knowing her surname.
With Galasiene names, it was actually quite difficult to trace one generation to the next. Rather than having surnames that covered an entire family, like Dantreon, they took their surnames from one of their parents. So Merielle’s mother’s surname, Kiadine, literally meant that she was Kiadielle’s or Kiadion’s daughter. Depending how many Kiadielles and Kiadions there were in Galas, finding the right set of ancestors could be impossible.
“Is she…” Merielle began.
Sirtris shook his head. “Unfortunately, after you were taken away from her, your mother’s health declined, and she died about a year later.”
Merielle tugged the paper closer. “Does it say anything about my father?”
Sirtris sighed. “Unfortunately, no. Your mother refused to list your father’s name. She might have done so to keep her debt from passing to him if she died. And as the village she came from no longer exists, they didn’t have any luck finding someone who knew who he was. If they do run across that information, my mother will forward it to me.”
For a long moment, Merielle gazed down at the paper in front of her. “What do I do?”
“Well, given that we now know that Lady Goodsummer wasn’t actually your…” He paused, as if searching for the correct word.
“Owner,” Merielle said softly.
“Owner,” he said. “Since she wasn’t, her sale of you to a second party was illegal, and all later transactions involving you become invalid. Technically, you are still the property of the conservatory. Essentially, stolen property. So, my mother’s association made an offer and the conservatory agreed.” He picked up a second piece of paper. “Here we have a bill of sale for emancipation of Merielle Eladine, age seventeen. If you sign this, with me as your witness—Miss Dantreon, you’re too young—it can be filed with the proper authorities in Verina and you will be a free citizen.”
Merielle drew in a shuddering breath and took the paper in shaking hands. Ellis set a hand on her shoulder, unsure how better to comfort her. Merielle looked at the captain. “How much?”
He shook his head. “Miss Eladine, this is what the association does. They work to obtain freedom for those unfairly imprisoned…”
“How much?” Merielle insisted, peering closely at the deed.
“My mother didn’t send that information,” he said firmly.
“How can I pay them back, then?” Merielle asked, a hint of desperation in her voice.
“They never divulge how much any sale cost them,” he said with a shake of his head. “Just…let them do this for you. It would make my mother happy.” He pushed a pen and inkwell over to where her hand rested on the table.
Merielle picked up the pen, dipped it, and signed the paper.
The captain signed on the line underneath, then set it aside to dry as he capped the inkwell.
“Can I keep this?” Merielle asked him, touching the sheet of paper with information about her mother.
“Yes,” Sirtris said. “That’s yours.”
She took the paper and folded it carefully. Then she rose and bowed. “Thank you, Captain.”
He rose as well, which Ellis knew meant an end to their meeting. “Believe me, Miss Eladine,” he said, “it was my pleasure.”
Merielle nodded silently before walking toward the door of the kitchen. Ellis regarded the captain with narrowed eyes for a moment, trying to work out all the ramifications of whatever had just happened. “Sir, can you send a message to the Reserve House for me to tell East I won’t be there?”
“I’ll go there myself,” he said.
Relieved, Ellis jogged after the other girl and found her in the darkened dining room standing as if frozen. “Merielle?”
“What do I do?” the other girl asked.
“Whatever you want,” Ellis told her. “I suppose once the paperwork goes through you can go back to Galas, even.”
“I don’t remember Galas,” Merielle said. “Do I have to go?”
Ellis laughed, suddenly grasping Merielle’s fear. “No. You’re welcome to stay here forever. You’re my best friend.”
Merielle’s lips trembled. She sniffled, trying not to cry.
Ellis put her hands on Merielle’s elbows. That wasn’t quite right, so she stepped closer and hugged the other girl. And that made Merielle chuckle wetly, probably because Ellis wasn’t any good at hugging people.
Another thing I need to practice.
Merielle accompanied her back to her room and they’d talked for hours about what it meant to Merielle to know she had a surname. She’d had a mother who’d cared about her, and who’d been taken up for a ridiculously small amount of debt. She had refused to name Merielle’s father, likely to ensure he wasn’t jailed as well. There were other possible explanations, but Ellis decided to let Merielle see the information she had however she preferred to see it. It was her family, after all.
And now she knew her birthdate. Merielle had always thought she was a couple of years older than Ellis, but they never had been sure. It helped Merielle to know where she stood.
Ellis understood why that helped. She’d spent hours researching the book that Captain Dantreon had brought for her, and she felt better for knowing exactly how she was related to the others.
If one looked far back enough, Llelas’ mother was an Arnacassan through her mother’s mother. Interestingly, his father was also an Arnacassan through his mother, meaning Llelas bore that bloodline on both sides. Just as she’d suggested, the name had died out, with only women carrying on the line. And that meant she and Llelas were actually very distant cousins, although through her mother’s mother, not through the Dantreon side of the family.
She and Jerin had a common ancestor three generations back. That made them second cousins, as she understood it. Captain Dantreon and his sister were farther out, fifth cousins to both her and Jerin. Jerin and Llelas turned out to be first cousins, though. Even though Jerin had never laid eyes on him before coming to Amiestrin, Llelas was actually Jerin’s nearest relative outside his immediate family. Their mothers were half-sisters, separated by eleven years.
“But…doesn’t the eldest Marisi want to marry you?” Merielle asked when told all that. “I mean, he’s your cousin, so is that allowed?”
That was true. She’d heard more than once that if Jerin’s eldest brother, Anton Marisi, wanted to secure his place in the royal succession, that he would want to marry her. Currently her younger brother—the legitimate one, Kerris—was supposed to inherit the throne, but Kerris had never stepped foot in Jenear. The queen had fled back to her home country of Verina while pregnant with Kerris, and had never returned. And while Ellis had two other brothers, they weren’t legitimate. Jesse and Michael Revasien were the children of her father’s mistress, and therefore would never be part of the line of royal succession. So all that stood between Anton Marisi and the throne was an eight-year-old boy.
“I’ve looked through that book,” Ellis told Merielle, “and there are a lot of first cousins who married, let alone second cousins, so I don’t think I can use that as an argument. But I wouldn’t marry him anyway. Llelas thinks he’s terrible and Thomas says he’s a Separatist. Jerin can’t even find much good to say about him other than that he plays the mandolin well. When Jerin can’t find something good to say, that’s pretty bad.”
Merielle flushed, her eyes on the fabric of Ellis’ coverlet. While Ellis knew that Jerin was captivated by Merielle, she’d never been quite sure whether Merielle was equally smitten by her admirer. I guess she is.