“Good night,” I said again, taking up my lamp.
I started for the door, and her whisper reached me softly as blown thistledown. “Mama always sang a song.”
“A song?” I asked stupidly.
“You don’t know any,” she surmised. I heard her turn away from me.
I spoke to the curtains. “Actually, I do.” Obtusely, it was “Crossfire’s Coterie” that leapt to the forefront of my mind, a martial and tragic tale completely inappropriate for a child’s bedtime. I thought of others I knew, the learning tunes and rhymes I had acquired growing up. “The Poisoner’s Prayer,” a list of deadly herbs. “Blood Points,” a musical recitation of where to stab a man to make the blood leap. Perhaps not for bedtime.
She whispered again, “Do you know ‘The Twelve Healing Herbs’?”
“I do.” Burrich had taught it to me, as well as Lady Patience hammering it into my head. I cleared my throat. When had I last sung a song when mine was the only lifted voice? A lifetime ago. I drew a breath and suddenly changed my mind. “Here’s a song I learned when I was much younger than you are now. It’s about horses, and choosing a good one.” I cleared my throat again and found the note.
“One white hoof, buy him.
Two white hooves, try him.
Three white hooves, think for a day.
Four white hooves, turn him away.”
A brief silence greeted my effort. Then, “That seems cruel. Because his hooves are white, you turn him away?”
I smiled into darkness, and remembered Burrich’s answer. “Because his hooves are soft. Sometimes. White hooves can be softer than black hooves. You don’t want to buy a horse whose hooves will split easily. The rule isn’t always true, but it reminds you to check the hooves of a horse you are thinking of buying.”
“Oh.” A pause. “Sing it again, please.”
And I did. Four more times, until my listener did not request an encore. I took my lamp and walked softly to the door. The fragrance of lavender and soft candlelight remained as I stepped out into the corridor. I looked back at the draped bed, so large in comparison with the very small person who slept there. So small, with only me to protect her. Then I eased the door closed behind me and sought my own chill and empty bedchamber.
The next morning I woke at dawn. I lay still, looking up at the shadowy corners of the bedchamber ceiling. I had slept but a few hours, and yet sleep had deserted me. There was something.
I took in a sudden breath. It happened, not often, that I heard my wolf speak in my mind as clearly as if he still lived. It was a Wit phenomenon, something that happened to people who had been so long partnered with an animal that when it died, some influence lingered. It was close to a score of years since I had lost Nighteyes, and yet in that instant he was at my side, and I felt the nudge as clearly as if it were a cold nose intruding under the blankets. I sat up. “It’s barely dawn,” I grumbled, but I swung my legs over the edge of the bed.
I found a clean tunic and leggings and dressed. The view from my window showed me a beautiful summer day. I let the curtains drop back into place and then took a deep breath. Life wasn’t about me anymore, I discovered. It surprised me to discover that it had been so. Molly, I thought to myself. I had believed that I spoiled her with my attentions and gifts. Actually, she was the one who had spoiled me, allowing me to wake in the morning and think first of what I needed to do that day, rather than what someone else needed done.
The wolf in me had been correct. When I tapped softly on Bee’s door and then entered at her muffled invitation, I found her awake and considering a variety of garments she had taken from her little clothing chest. Her blond hair stuck up in tufts. “Do you need any help with that?” I asked her.
She shook her head. “Not with clothes. But Mama always stood on the other side of the bed as we made it each morning. I’ve tried, but it doesn’t go straight for me.”
I looked at her effort. It had probably been like trying to raise canvas on a ship by herself. “Well, I know how to do that,” I told her. “I’ll make the bed for you.”
“We are supposed to do it together,” she rebuked me. She took a deep breath and squared her little shoulders. “Mama told me that I must always be able to take care of myself, for few in this world will make allowances that I am small.”
Yes. Molly would have thought of that.
“Then let’s make it together,” I offered, and followed her very precise directions to do so. I did not tell her that I could simply tell one of the housemaids that this was now her task. What Molly had carefully built in our small daughter, I would not tear down.