The Passing of Pawns, Chapter 4

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On Wednesday morning, Ellis decided she shouldn’t have worried whether Thomas and Llelas would get around to having the same talk that she’d had with Llelas, because they had created a joint schedule for her this semester. She would work with Llelas on Tuesday evenings and Thomas on Thursdays. There was even a set of rules for extenuating circumstances, such as practice sessions being put off by studying for an exam. She had no doubt that idea had come from Thomas.

But it had streamlined her fighting practice to two days a week with them, rather than two apiece, which gave her more time to study. “You’re not concerned I’ll fall behind?” she asked Thomas on Thursday evening.

Yefin had come to act as chaperon, more a witness for the officers if anything should happen to either Ellis or Thomas. But he’d brought his engineering text and sat on the edge of the dais to read ahead while they practiced.

“No,” Thomas said as he donned his chest guard and jacket. “To be honest, most soldiers don’t practice the sword as much as you do. Over-reliant on their rifles and pistols.”

She knew the captains—or the marshals, rather—wanted to add more firearms practice this year. Good news for her, since it was something she found easy enough. It would mean the dogs would have to stay in more often, though, since they didn’t want them wandering across the shooting range. At their age, they were growing lazy, so she suspected that wouldn’t be a problem after all. “I see.”

“Captain Sirtris also suggested we bring in some of the other cadets to spar with you,” Thomas added, taking his wooden saber out to the center of the ballroom and putting on his mask. “That should prove a challenge, since most of them have qualms about fighting with you.”

Now that wasn’t about her skill, it was a bias against fighting a member of the opposite sex. Neither Thomas nor Llelas possessed that bias. Both had no issue dealing out blows that left her bruised and aching. Yefin head heard the pronouncement and hadn’t flinched. But Mikhal? He would never willingly fight her.

“I don’t think I want to fight Anthony,” she said, only half-kidding. Anthony Ironwright was easily the largest of the cadets, who could probably kill her just by falling on her.

“Ready?” Thomas asked, ignoring her quip. “On guard.” He sank back into a fighting stance, blade angled to protect his chest.

And they began to spar, Thomas scored several hits with the lightest touch. He was easing her back into practice, she decided, even though they’d only missed two weeks. Then he closed with her abruptly, his shoulder slamming into her chest. Surprised, Ellis stumbled back over her feet and ended up falling onto one hip. Thomas lowered his saber until the tip touched her chest. Then he took off his helmet and peered down at her where she lay on the wood floor, her breath coming short.

“One of the things that you’re going to learn this year,” he said, “is that when it comes to war, they’ll hand swords to the rankest idiots. And that means you’ll be fighting men who don’t know what they aren’t supposed to do. They’ll just whack at you with their sword like it’s a machete, or throw it at you, or hit you with the guard instead and cut off their own fingers.”

He offered her a hand to help her up. Ellis eyed his hand doubtfully, then rolled away and got to her feet. Fortunately, he didn’t hit her again in all that. “Have you seen someone do that? Cut off their own fingers because they don’t know how to handle their saber?”

“No,” Thomas said, “but the man who trained me had, during the Cantreidian coup. That’s why we learn in advance, so that when that moment of pressure comes, we have good training to fall back on.”

Ellis recalled that Thomas’ family had several old Cantreidian cavalrymen who worked with the horses there. “I understand.”

“You trusted me too much that time,” he said, settling his weight back to start again. “Now you need to think, to watch for the unexpected move. What’s the easiest counter for what I just did?”

She realized that something Llelas had taught her would apply here. “You put all your weight on one foot, so I should have just stepped out of your way and let you fall forward.”

He nodded. “That’s good.”

They started again, and went on until Ellis’ jacket and mask were wet with sweat. At some point, Yefin had set his book aside and was now watching them practice. “She’s faster than you, Thomas,” he said.

Thomas stepped back and pulled off his mask. “I’ve noticed. Menhirre blood.”

Ellis took off her own mask, well aware that she looked bedraggled and her cheeks were likely red. “Do I fight Yefin first?”

That would be optimal, since Yefin was similar to Thomas in size.

“No,” Thomas said with a laugh. “You’ll get to fight Llelas first. If there’s anyone here not afraid to fight dirty, it’s him.”

For all she knew Llelas might think saber involved his feet. “Then do I get to fistfight you?”

One of Thomas’ dark brows rose. “Yes, aren’t you lucky?”

Her hip hurt from where she’d slammed into the floor, and she’d taken a few jabs to the ribs that wouldn’t bruise much thanks to her chest protector, but didn’t feel good, either. Lucky was relative.


“So, what did the Trust say?” Anthony sat on his bunk, polishing his boots.

Llelas licked his lips, trying to make his answer neither too positive nor too negative. He was in the middle of writing a letter in response to Sovre’s, and had to stop to give Anthony his full attention. “It has promise, only the steel will be an issue.”

“Once the rail line is completed, we can bring that in from Comhi,” he said with a shrug, “so steel shouldn’t be a problem.”

Anthony had thought of the entire plan, a business opportunity in a province where the Ironwright Company had no foothold. A weapons foundry in Sandrine would be welcome, but Llelas worried over the supplies. It would be better to produce iron and closer to home. Iron and coal needed to come from somewhere within the province. Llelas knew the location of a coal mine with potential. There were huge magnetite deposits on the north side of the mountains, toward Bremen that could produce iron ore. None of those had ever been exploited, though.

Llelas suspected Grandfather’s hand in that, a refusal to let anything stain his mountains, or change them in any way. If he couldn’t convince the mountain people to go along with the plan, then that steel would have to come from Comhi.

But if Sandrine was going to move her citizens into the modern age and out of poverty, the province needed to produce something more than furniture, timber, and myths.

The idea for the foundry had to remain a secret until the Sandrine Trust decided to go ahead. Coal, steel, transportation, workers—they had to have arranged for them all before they went ahead with the plan. And they had to be sure that Llelas’ father could not ruin all their preparations. As duke, he could spoil their plan with a few words. So Llelas had to hope that, while in the planning stages, Anthony and the rest of the Ironwright clan could keep their mouths shut.

Make allies, Sub-marshal Revasien had told him before coming to the war college. Llelas had done his best. Even though the idea for a new Ironwright Foundry had come from outside of Sandrine, Llelas had seen the possibilities immediately.

Because the Sandrine Trust was planning for a war. Sub-marshal Revasien was unsure what would drive the war, but when it did come, believed Sandrine might be cut off from Serione and Jestriyan, the largest coal suppliers in all of Jenear. That was a secret Llelas would not tell Anthony, no matter that they had become friends.

Sub-marshal Revasien kept secret from the world that he was a Seer. Having him on the board of the Sandrine Trust meant the trust often made strange-seeming decisions, but so far, Revasien had always steered them in the right direction.

“We simply need time to line up all the legal details,” Llelas said instead.

“That’s fine,” Anthony said. “I just want to be sure that we’re doing this correctly.”

This was Anthony’s first business venture, no doubt intended to impress his parents, so Llelas could understand his frustration with the slowness of the process. Llelas turned back to his letter, and once he finished writing, he dutifully shined his own boots, prepared his uniform for the next day, and talked with Anthony about their quarter’s assignments for the week.

Then he lay down to sleep, but his Gift kept thrusting sight at him, his spirit-self yanking back and forth between various places he had lived. He saw his father in an opium den, having graduated from his addiction to cataia to that. Sovre worked late at night in his office, and Siva had retreated to her tiny cabin in the mountains.

Might as well use it. Llelas took a deep breath, and thought hard about Grandfather.

There had been no word since Grandfather left the estate before the break, in pursuit of another of his kind.  Not surprising, since he would sometimes not hear from Grandfather for months. He thought of Grandfather’s capriciousness, of his tendency to leave things half-finished, his passionate defense of his children, as he called the Menhirre.

His spirit-self walked the dark street of an unfamiliar city, then. Under the streetlights, pedestrians in fine clothes passed him, paying him no heed, since they could neither see nor hear him. A fine well-lit building in the distance, one with a spire, told him of a Versh church. And the slightly incorrect fashion of the passersby resolved itself into the knowledge that he was Watching Grandfather somewhere other than Jenear. I am in Verina.

A beggar girl huddled in a doorway, a small bowl before her with a handful of coppers in it. No, not a child, but a young woman. Her garb looked ragged, the sole of one scratched shoe splitting. Her blond braid was unraveling and she held one hand under her belly as if she might be pregnant. As Llelas watched, a man in a dark suit walked past and hurled some invective at her that Llelas could not quite hear. She cringed back, tugging the bowl closer with one dirty hand.

“Go away, boy,” she said in a soft Versh-accented voice. Her eyes lifted to meet his, the pale blue of Galasiene bloodlines.

“Grandfather?” Llelas asked.

An older woman in a severe suit approached the beggar, and the young woman gazed up at her. “Do you need somewhere to stay the night, miss? We can give you a bed if you’re willing to work, but if you stay here, the police will take you up.”

The young woman blinked up at the newcomer, her eyes filling with tears. “Is it safe there?”

The older woman reached out a hand to help her up. The beggar swiftly picked up her bowl and pocketed the small amount of change. Then she rose with the other woman’s help and limped away without a single glance back at Llelas’ spirit-self.

What is she doing disguised as a beggar? Llelas could not seem to follow, stuck in that one spot, so he shook himself free, fleeing back to his bed at Amiestrin.

Grandfather threw herself into these roles, becoming a housemaid or a groom, so a beggar should not surprise him. And Llelas would simply have to wait until she returned to find out.


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