I had no idea where to begin looking for a servant who could fulfill such a demanding role.
I was silent as I ate, pondering my dilemma, and silent when I rose. For neither the first nor the last time I considered the strange isolation my peculiar station in life had conferred on me. To the landholders and gentry around Buckkeep, Molly and I had been neither aristocracy nor common folk, but creatures trapped between classes. The men who worked for me as groundskeepers and ostlers spoke of me well and appreciated my firsthand knowledge of their tasks, but they did not consider me a friend. And those nobles with holdings within an easy ride had known us as Holder Tom Badgerlock and Lady Molly. To their eyes Molly had been elevated only as recognition from the crown for Burrich’s services. They had been pleasant enough when we encountered them, but none had extended invitations to socialize and Molly had wisely held back from pressing the matter. We’d had each other for daily company, and the irregular invasions of our relatives to inject both chaos and merriment into our lives. It had been enough for us both.
But now that she was gone I looked around myself and perceived how solitary my life at Withywoods was without her. Our children had gone back to their own lives and left me here alone. All save one. I glanced down at her. It wasn’t right for a child to grow up so alone.
Bee’s little slippers were close to silent as she ghosted along behind me through the house. I glanced back at her and said, “I have to go out to the stables. And a storm is waiting. Let’s get you into some warm clothes.”
“I can do that myself,” she insisted softly.
“Can you reach everything?” I frowned to myself. Were her winter things still stored in a chest somewhere? Would they still fit her?
She thought about it for a moment, and then nodded consideringly. She tilted her head up, and I felt her gaze brush across me. “I’m not as little as I look. I’m nine.”
“Very well. I’ll wait for you in my private study.”
She bobbed her head in grave acknowledgment and I watched her hasten up the stairs. It was a climb for her, a reach for every step. I tried to imagine being so small in a world scaled for adults, and could not. She was a very capable child, I thought to myself, and wondered if I was underestimating her. There was a danger in asking too much of a child, but the danger of asking too little was almost equal. Nonetheless, provision should be made for her, lest she need me and I not be there to protect her. I reached a decision.
When she came into my study, she was wearing her boots and warm leggings, with her winter cloak slung over her arm. Her hair was brushed back untidily. I could tell she had done it herself and did not criticize it. She looked around the room, obviously wondering why we were there so early in the day. The room was smaller than the formal study, but pleasant enough. The walls were rich dark wood, and the hearth was built of big flat river stones. It was a comfortable room, a man’s retreat, but that was not why I had chosen it for my den. I considered and hesitated. But she was nine. The same age I had been when Buckkeep Castle’s secret had been shared with me.
“Please close the door behind you,” I told her as she came in.
She did so, and then looked past my shoulder, wondering at my odd request. “I thought we were going out.”
“We are. But not right away. I want to show you something. And see if you can do it. But first I have to explain it. Sit down, please.”
She climbed up to sit on one of the cushioned chairs and perched there, watching me but not meeting my eyes. “This is a secret,” I warned her. “It’s a secret only for you and me. Patience showed it to your mother and me when we first came here. Patience is gone, and now Molly is gone, too.” I waited, swallowed, and went on. “So only I know about this now. And soon you will, too. It’s not written down anywhere, and it must never be put on paper. You cannot show it to anyone else. Do you understand?”
For a time she was very still. Then she nodded slowly.
I got up from my seat behind the desk, went to the door, and made sure it was latched. “This door has to be shut completely,” I told her. I touched the hinges of the massive door. “Look here. This door has four hinges. Two at the top, and two closer to the bottom. They all look just the same.”
I waited and again she nodded gravely.
“This one, not the lowest one, but this one above it is false. When you pull the pin out of the top of this hinge, it becomes a handle. See? Then you can do this.” I pulled the brass pin out, took hold of the false hinge and pulled on it. A tall narrow door disguised as a wood wall panel swung open. Spiderwebs stretched and broke as I pulled it open. Darkness breathed out. I glanced back at Bee. Her attention was absolute, her lower lip caught between her small perfect teeth. “It’s a secret passageway.”