Etiquette & Espionage / Page 16

Page 16

Captain Niall walked along the row, examining the sticks.

When he got to Dimity he took the stick from her. “An interesting choice.”

“I like the shape and smoothness,” said Dimity.

“Not the best reason I have ever heard for choosing a knife, but not the worst, either. We will go over workmanship next week. Selecting a knife is like choosing a quality pair of gloves—appearance is important, but how it has been put together accounts for most of its function and duration.”

Dimity nodded, and he returned the stick to her.

He turned to Sophronia. “Why so small?”

“I thought you might ask us to hide it.”

“Interesting reasoning.” With no additional comment, he moved on.

Sophronia let out a shaky sigh. She told herself that this was because she was not yet accustomed to the fact that he was a werewolf. Professor Braithwope’s vampiric nature was now routine, but Captain Niall was still wild and mysterious. And he smells funny. In actual fact, Sophronia wanted to impress him because everyone else seemed so taken with the man.

He took Sidheag’s stick, one eyebrow raised. “Like large sticks, do you, Lady Kingair?”

Sidheag shrugged like a boy, but Sophronia could tell the tall girl was hiding a smile.

“Know how to use it?” Captain Niall sniffed. Not in the way that a lady might sniff when offended by a comment, but in the way of a dog, tasting the air.

Then he tossed the stick at Sidheag, causing Sophronia to flinch. Sidheag, however, caught it with one hand, as though expecting just such a violent action.

The werewolf produced a knife from his greatcoat pocket—a short-bladed, all-wooden weapon, carved from mahogany.

“Oooh,” said Dimity, “How pretty!”

“For vampires, of course,” said Monique, trying to impress, but Captain Niall wasn’t listening to her.

Sidheag, grinning, stepped forward out of the line.

The girls murmured in confusion.

Sidheag lunged first. Using her stick as though it were actually a bladed weapon, she slashed out at the werewolf. It was not a wild slash, either, of the kind Sophronia and her brothers played at with fake swords.

Sophronia watched with interest, partly from a learning perspective and partly because Sidheag was exposing more of her character now than she had over the past weeks of intimate acquaintance. She’d been trained by someone who actually knew how to fight.

“Sidheag even moves like a boy!” commented Dimity.

“Yes, but she’s good, isn’t she?” Sophronia was favorably impressed. Better than my brothers, that’s certain!

Preshea wanted to know, “What high-rank lady gets that kind of training?”

“A lady by title only.” Monique crossed her arms and stuck her nose in the air.

Captain Niall was holding himself back. He must be. He is a werewolf, after all, and twice as fast as even the most highly trained soldier. He was also ten times as strong, if the legends were to be believed. Nevertheless, Sidheag isn’t at all bad. She keeps her stick in motion, always pressing forward, looking for a hole in her opponent’s defenses.

After a few minutes, Captain Niall called a halt to the impromptu match.

“Very interesting, Lady Kingair. I sense some of your”—he paused delicately—“ father’s training.”

Sidheag inclined her head and resumed her place in line.

Sophronia, Dimity, Preshea, and Agatha all turned to stare at her, mouths slightly agape.

“I guess we found ourselves a teacher’s pet,” said Monique. “Then again, can you be a pet to a werewolf?”

“Oh, now, Miss Pelouse, I understand that playing favorites with professors is more your approach,” Sidheag shot back.

“Now, ladies, what you really want is to never get into the kind of situation Lady Kingair and I just demonstrated. You never want to actually engage with a rival. Your greatest advantage is surprise. Make the decision to strike first and with intent, and—if you will excuse the pun—stick to it. Miss Pelouse, if you would like to demonstrate?”

Monique moved forward, head held high, a small smile on her face.

Captain Niall approached her.

Monique, instead of striking out in the manner of Sidheag, stepped in toward the werewolf. She commented on the pleasantness of the day and the beauty of the countryside. She fluttered her eyelashes in a way Sophronia had come to recognize as very advanced. I should never have thought there would be a time when I would envy another girl’s eyelash manipulation.

Playing her game, Captain Niall leaned in. He flirted back. He looked deeply into her eyes.

Monique struck him hard in the side of the neck with her stick, behind and below the ear. A stick that she had, somehow, sharpened into a point.

It speared into the werewolf’s body half an inch at least.

Blood leaked out around the stick.

Captain Niall winced and gave a little gasp of pain. “Ah. Yes. Very good, Miss Pelouse.”

Sophronia gasped herself, raising a hand to her mouth in horror. A small, untraumatized part of her wondered why Monique had not displayed such skill when faced with flywaymen. Had she wanted them to kidnap her?

Several of the other girls gave little mewling cries of distress.

Captain Niall reached up and pulled the stick out of his neck. Blood oozed forth, but not of the color or quantity that Sophronia expected. It was darker, almost black, and slower. Then, right before her eyes, the wound began to heal and close.

The werewolf handed the bloody stick back to Monique, who took it with a little curtsy.

Dimity fell facedown into the grass in a dead faint.

Sophronia crouched over her friend and with a gesture signaled Sidheag to help.

The tall girl bent down, and under cover of the hum of confusion, Sophronia asked, “What did you mean by that? What you said to Monique?”

Sidheag looked at her, assessing. “Only that the rumor is she has an advocate among the teachers.”

“Like a patron?”

“Very like.”


“No one knows.”

Sophronia nodded, then turned back to Dimity. Someone passed over the sal volatile, and soon enough, her friend’s soft brown eyes blinked open. Sophronia helped Dimity to sit, and while she did so whispered in one ear, “Monique has an advocate on staff. I think that’s how she’s managed to keep the prototype location secret.”

Dimity looked at her, still recovering. “Really, Sophronia, it makes me most uncomfortable how you manage to sort everything out every time I faint.”


Sidheag, why does Captain Niall behave differently around you?” Sophronia had decided that her tactics with Sidheag ought to imitate those she used when handling her brothers. Direct questions, lack of delicacy, and a general roughness of manner is clearly called for. Consequently, the two girls were developing some kind of a relationship. It could not precisely be termed friendly, but Sidheag was less hostile to Sophronia than she was to most everyone else.

The girls were gathered in their parlor, practicing discarding gloves with purpose, during a moment of peace before bed.

Sidheag didn’t even look at Sophronia. “I dinna ken your meaning.”

“Oh, yes, you do.”

Sidheag sighed. “I was raised by wolves.”

“Yes, so Monique intimated.”

“No, literally. Kingair Castle is a werewolf holding. Lord Maccon isn’t my father, he’s my great-great-great-great-grandfather. And he’s still alive. He was bitten after he had already bred.”

Sophronia blinked in startlement, and not in the correct eyelash-fluttering manner. Lady Linette would have been most upset. “That must be odd.”

“You have no idea.”

Dimity tilted her head. “Are they all soldiers? Like Captain Niall?”

“Of course.”

“Well, that explains your conduct,” said Monique snidely.

Sophronia looked at Monique. “I’d watch your tongue if I were you. Sidheag here is rather adept with weapons, and judging from our flywaymen experience, you are not.”

“Why, thank you very much, Sophronia.” Sidheag actually looked like she was trying to blush at the compliment. Trying, mind you.

“My,” snipped Monique, “aren’t you two chummy.”

“I know the very idea is well outside of your capacities, Monique. Do you actually have any friends?” retorted Sophronia.

Dimity gasped and then jumped in to temper the insult by diverting the conversation. Dimity was, as a general rule, a very nice person. “Is Captain Niall like other werewolves?”

Sidheag’s brow quirked. “How do you mean?”

Dimity only blushed. She, unlike Sidheag, had almost mastered the skill. Her round porcelain cheeks darkened, and no flush extended to any other part of her face. She did it so well she was under orders from Lady Linette to learn how to better control the timing. “When someone blushes as prettily as you do, my dear, one must become proficient at exact execution!”

Sophronia looked accusingly at Dimity. “I thought your parents were progressive!”

“They are, but that doesn’t mean I’ve met many werewolves before now.”


“Well, any, even.”

Sidheag laughed. “Believe me, they dinna act all wonderful en masse.”

“His wound healing like that was remarkable,” said Sophronia.

“Oh, don’t, Sophronia.” Dimity put a hand to her head and looked pale.

Preshea said, “I hear they make the best… ooh la la.” She wiggled her torso suggestively.

Sophronia could feel her face heating at the very thought, and she knew for a fact that her blush wasn’t pretty at all. It mashed in with her freckles and made her look feverish and blotchy. She was under orders not to blush at all if possible.

“Practice, I suppose,” said Sidheag, deadpan.

“Had some personal experience, have you?” needled Monique.

“Dinna be disgusting. Pack is family!” Sidheag looked revolted, which only encouraged Monique.

“Wagging tails at you, were they?”

Sophronia jumped in to rescue Sidheag before the girl did something violent. “It must have been a fascinating childhood, being raised in a pack.”

“It was more like having six assorted fathers with very decided opinions on upbringing.”

Dimity perked up. “Really? Strict parents? Mine, too. What about your mum?”

Sidheag shook her head. “That’s why they sent me here; all of them were between wives. Gramps decided I was getting a mite unfeminine and needed polish.”

“Imagine that,” said Monique. “Me agreeing with a werewolf.”

Dimity said, “You might be better off not having polish. Mummy finished here, so there was no chance I could avoid it. But you’re a lady already by rights; why not go off and have a proper ladylike life? Mummy says I daydream overmuch and I ought to learn to kill something once in a while. But you don’t have to.”

“Except you keep fainting,” pointed out Sophronia.

“True. I’m afraid I’m doomed to be a terrible disappointment to her.”

Sidheag grimaced. “There’s my advantage. Old Gramps dinna know how a young lady ought to behave, so he’s bound to be pleased by any improvement.”

“Even if only a very minor one?” Monique added.

“Exactly!” Sidheag said with a grin, choosing to ignore the insult. She had quite a nice smile; it crinkled the edges of her strange yellow eyes. Sophronia wondered if those eyes had to do with her werewolf ancestry.

Bumbersnoot came waddling in.

The girls continued dropping gloves and indicating the drop with a slide of the eye and lowering of the lid. It quickly became a matter of then rushing to pick them up, as Bumbersnoot seemed to think this a lovely new game. He would try to get to the fallen gloves first and swallow them, at which juncture they would have to wait for him to emit them out the other end—that is, if they went into his storage compartment, and not his boiler.

“Oh, really!” exclaimed Preshea in distress when she was not quite fast enough. Bumbersnoot got to her lavender glove first and smeared it with a drop of boiling drool from his internal steam engine before she was able to pull it away.

“I don’t know why you keep that thing around,” said Monique. “It’s a terrible nuisance, and I’m certain you’re going to be in masses of trouble if anyone finds out.”

“You going to tell?”

Monique took deep offense. “I’m not a snitch!”

“Your one redeeming character trait?”

“Oh, la,” said Monique. “I happen to enjoy being flawless.”

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