Ellis hadn’t liked Master Overton’s history class the previous year. The man talked endlessly, somehow making even history—one of her favorite things to read about—boring.
This year, however, he seemed determined to step past boring into inaccuracy. The previous course had concerned mostly the settlement and laws of the country. This time he was tackling Military History, one subject Ellis knew like the back of her own hand. She’d read the entire history section of the military library back at the main house. Her brain remembered things she’d read, word for word, and Overton was getting his facts wrong.
“The Guard repelled the Bremagni invaders in twelve different actions…” Overton was currently lecturing on the First Bremagni War, nearly two hundred years past, now. “…taking place across the time of one month. The first occurred near the current location of the Bremen South Garrison…”
Ellis tapped her pen on her notebook. Does he not sense how offended some of the cadets are? A few of these cadets had actually served in militias before entering the Guard, and she was certain some had brothers or uncles or grandfathers who had.
“…the Guard moved through the valley, breaking the raiders’ line. At that time…”
First was the wrong word for that military action. Ellis held it in for a moment, then blurted, “Actually, sir, hadn’t the military defense of the border had been going on for some time?”
Thomas’ boot came down gently on her foot.
Overton glared at her. “What happened before the Guard arrived could hardly be called a military defense, Miss Dantreon.”
“But the levies of both North Country and Sandrine provinces were called up almost two years before that. They engaged the raiders constantly in that time.”
“A poor defense, and not important in the greater scheme of things.”
“According to Belaric’s History of the Bremagni Wars, sir, they lost hundreds of men in the defense. If they’d not done so, we probably would have lost that territory…”
“Nonsense. It was the threat of the Guard that kept the Bremagni at bay.” Overton had gone white around the nostrils, his face furious.
“On page 41, sir, the third paragraph states ‘The North Country Levy kept the Bregmani Horde from the border for seven months…’” she began.
“Belaric’s text is questionably sourced,” Overton snapped.
“That assertion is also made by Orndine in his North Country, Elincassan in his Formation of a Nation, and Whitetower in his Our Neighboring Lands. I can go fetch copies from the library, if you’d like…”
“Even now, sir,” Thomas interrupted, his foot grinding on her boot, “the North Country militia makes up an important part of the border’s defense there. The Bremagni won’t try the mountains of Sandrine–they’re too superstitious–but they still regularly attempt the border on the flats.”
Overton had puffed up like a winter bird, spots of red showing on his cheeks. “We are discussing the First Bremagni War, Mr. Farrier. While I am aware you’ve fought on that border, I also know you weren’t there during the war in question. We are studying the actions that bear historical importance. The militias involved had no impact on the outcome of that war.”
Silence followed that statement. Ellis heard a chair scrape on the stone floor. One of the cadets from the North Country Province, Sereis Fallarcassan, got up and walked out, shutting the door firmly behind him.
“What is his name?” Overton demanded of Heall, who headed West, Sereis’ quarter.
Heall put on his best ‘I don’t understand Versh’ face.
Ellis didn’t know which shocked her more: Sereis’ rebellion or the fact that Overton clearly didn’t know his name after weeks in the classroom.
Then the other cadet from North Country, Kirvan Misroven, got up and left. Llelas went as well, bowing mockingly before he went out the door.
“Now look what you did,” Thomas whispered in her ear.
Ellis tried to look innocent.
“The names of the two who left, Mr. Farrier,” Overton insisted.
“Excuse me, which two, sir? There were three.”
“I know who that Menhirre boy is, Mr. Farrier,” Overton snapped. “The other two.”
Thomas hesitated. Silence stretched in the classroom.
Mikhal coughed into his hand. “Just tell him.”
“I’m thinking,” Thomas replied.
“What is there to think about, Farrier?” Overton demanded.
“My apologies, sir. I am trying to determine which of the three is ‘that Menhirre boy’.”
“I know Sevireiya, Mr. Farrier. Tell me who the other two were, or should I add your defiance to the list of complaints I intend to give Marshal Dantreon?”
Thomas sat very still, his jaw clenched.
“Misroven and Fallarcassan,” Dleyan Merzeyes supplied from the back of the room. “Do you know which one I am, sir?”
It was the first time Ellis had ever heard Dleyan speak aloud in the classroom unbidden. He stood and walked to the front of the room, dropping a reassuring hand on Thomas’ shoulder as he passed. “Merzeyes,” he supplied and then walked out the door, not even bothering to shut it.
Ellis glanced at the open door.
Thomas’ hand descended on her sleeve, pressing down hard. “Don’t,” he whispered.
The back of her throat felt tight. “I have to.”
She stood, meeting Overton’s angry eyes. “If you only teach the bits of history that you like, then it becomes propaganda. Dantreon,” she supplied, “but I suppose you know that, sir.”
“I should have expected as much,” he said as she walked to the door. “Wherever he goes, you follow.”
Ellis paused in the doorway, wondering what he meant, and then decided to ignore his jibe. She walked down the hallway, not looking back.
The captain will be so disappointed with me. She wiped at her face with her sleeve, not wanting the others to see her cry.
“You don’t intend to apologize?” Carmeyon asked.
Ellis sat across from him, in the fifth of these conversations he’d had so far. She looked pale, her eyes reddened as if she’d been crying, although he doubted she’d admit it. “For what do you wish me to apologize, sir?”
They’d all been very clear on their positions, which made him certain they’d discussed it in the Reserve House library before coming to place themselves at the officers’ mercy. “For your defiance toward Master Overton.”
“No, sir,” she answered.
“You realize you’ll have to be disciplined.”
“Yes, sir,” she whispered.
“I should let Sirtris do this. He’s better at discipline than I am.” Carmeyon sighed, tapping his pen on the table.
What he wanted to do was to have a good laugh about this and kick Overton out of Amiestrin. He wanted this to be over with and he didn’t want to punish nine of the seventeen cadets who felt, with some reason, that they’d been insulted. He didn’t want to be the officer to place the first disciplinary notice in her personnel file, or Thomas’. “Do you understand that this would be a vastly different issue if Overton were a member of the Guard and a superior officer?”
“Yes, sir. That would be insubordination, sir.”
“As it is, it’s rudeness to both an elder and an instructor approved by your superior officers. If you had a problem, the correct course would have been to bring it to me or to Captain Sirtris. Do you understand that?”
She lifted her chin, and the afternoon sun highlighted the scar running across her cheek. “Yes, sir.”
“Very well. I will be assigning a schedule of extra duties for you. I should have that drawn up tomorrow. In the future, I expect no disturbances in Master Overton’s class. I’m requesting that as your superior officer. I suppose I should have made that position clearer before.”
Ellis nodded. “Is that all, sir?”
Carmeyon sighed again, feeling tired and ill with this. “Yes. You’re dismissed. If you would send in Mr. Merzeyes.”
She rose stiffly to leave, but stopped near his chair. “I am sorry, sir.”
Carmeyon looked up at her. She’d already said she wasn’t willing to apologize to Master Overton. “For what, exactly, are you sorry?”
“For putting you in this position. For disappointing you, sir.” Her jaw clenched and she turned and left the room without saying anything further.
Carmeyon cursed under his breath, wondering again if there was any way to get Overton out of his hair.
“The best thing to do,” Thomas told them, “is to follow the officer’s rules. If we have a disagreement over something he’s teaching, we can discuss it among ourselves later.”
They’d met in the Reserve House library at a time when they knew the officers would be at the manor. Ellis didn’t want to sit in Overton’s class, but the captain had made very clear that he expected her to do just that, along with all the others who’d rebelled. “If he’s teaching the wrong thing…” she started.
“The man is clearly biased,” Mikhal said softly.
“Which we all knew,” Thomas admitted. “You may think whatever you want of the man, provided you remain polite during his class and if you encounter him here on the grounds. He’s the one who will be testing us, who’ll be assigning our grades. I don’t care if you’re drawing scurrilous cartoons of the man with a milk-maid and sending them to the newspapers, so long as he doesn’t see it. Do you understand?”
Dleyan, whom Ellis knew to be something of an artist, looked suddenly inspired.
“But Thomas, he’s teaching the wrong thing,” Ellis protested again.
Thomas dropped a hand on her sleeve. “I know. The officers didn’t argue that. The king sent the man here, we’re stuck with him.”
That drew a mild groan from the assembled cadets. In the back, Llelas cleaned dirt from the stables from under his nails with his knife, not looking interested in the conversation. “It is politics,” he announced, “and he has the power. The officers are on the spinning log.”
“Over a barrel.” Thomas interpreted the idiom before Ellis could figure it out. “Be polite.”
Ellis held her tongue.
The captain gave her kitchen duty, which Ellis considered one of the nicer punishments she could have drawn. He’d given others stable duty, including Thomas and Llelas. Others got cleaning duties at the Reserve House. Two weeks of working with Melia in the kitchens wouldn’t be too bad.
They all endured the punishments with good humor and gained a touch of camaraderie from the experience. She came out of it liking even Fallarcassan slightly better.
After class in the Reserve House library, they rehashed everything Overton said. Ellis suspected they worked harder to prove Overton wrong than they would have simply to do his requested work. They had done enough research independently that they would all be qualified to teach history after Winter Solstice, Captain Dantreon claimed.
“We’re losing one of the guardsmen,” Sirtris told Carmeyon on a November morning. “His father’s died, and he’s asked permission to leave the estate and return to help his mother on the family farm. I didn’t see any reason to refuse.”
Shortly after they’d arrived the previous year, Carmeyon recalled that the guardsman had asked to visit his parents, although for a short period of time. His departure would leave the original guardsmen’s normal rounds of inspection and patrol short a man though.
It had been one of the oddest things they’d found on arriving at a royal estate that housed a member of the royal family—only four guardsmen, none of whom were actually working for the Guard any longer. They’d been fired for their involvement in Ellis’ purchase of a young girl rather than a horse in Comhi. The king had told Ellis then, via a letter from his secretary, that is she intended to defy his instructions, then she could fend for herself. Between Mrs. Verus and Elis herself, they’d managed to pay the guards salaries out of estate funding, keeping some military presence there despite the king’s orders.
That was the main reason that Master Overton was still here, despite the antipathy the cadets had for the man. The king reacted unpredictably when crossed, and sending the king’s childhood tutor packing could very well end up in the lot of them being released from service and the war college being closed.
“This would be a good opportunity to have the cadets pick up some of the responsibility,” Sirtris noted.
“They could work in through the schedule Geris has set up,” Carmeyon suggested. The four illicit guards had been going about their duties, securing the estate grounds for years. Geris Seran had his schedules down to a science at this point.
“However, since the guards’ purpose is ostensibly to guard the royal family, it would be foolish to have Miss Dantreon patrolling the grounds…” Sirtris began.
Carmeyon guessed that Sirtris had the first month’s schedules already worked out in his head. “But?”
“She should share some responsibility for this,” Sirtris said. “I suggest she take over managing the schedule for Guardsman Seran.”
Not what I expected him to say. Carmeyon agreed, though and Sirtris set everything in motion. Every day one of the cadets would take a long duty shift with one of the older guardsmen. Later they might even start sending out two cadets together once they’d learned the routine. They would ride the edges of the estate, looking for signs of intrusion.
At first Ellis seemed to think the scheduling would be a simple proposition, merely providing the proper number of hours and dividing those between the cadets. It quickly became a continual torrent of niggling complaints. Even so, she managed to work out all the problems eventually and got a smooth eighteen-day rotating schedule put into place. She handled it well, Carmeyon decided.
November 16, 494
The captain seems to have forgiven us for the ‘incident’. He hasn’t taken me to task again, save to reward me with the scheduling nightmare. If this is how hard it is to schedule nineteen people, I can only tremble at the thought of working this out for a hundred or more like a garrison captain sometimes does. They must be terribly underpaid.
I do wonder if, in another six months when the cadets are all sent their separate ways, they will bring in another group. So what will I do then? Start over again? I hope they let the captains stay. They’ve put so much work into this place I think it would break their hearts to be replaced. I would miss them, too. Of course, with the marshal being retired, they can hardly send him away. I’ll just invite him to stay.
Thomas wants to get back to the North Country Garrison, I know, where there’s (he told me) some action. Sitting out here for so long has been frustrating for him. Mikhal wants to go anywhere but home. Jerin would be perfectly pleased staying here, I know. Yefin doesn’t say anything (of course). I hope that since he’s to be married just after he leaves here, the marshals will post him somewhere close to Kilmesia.
If the method of assignment is nearly as arcane as working out duty shifts, I would think that they would spend most of their time doing that.
I am glad that it’s almost Solstice. We need a break.