“Yes?” she queried, and I realized I was telling her the obvious. I scratched my cheek and felt how deep my beard had grown. I’d still not trimmed it, I suddenly realized, and Molly had not rebuked me. All thoughts fled my mind for a moment as a wave of loss drenched and drowned me again.
“Papa?” Bee tugged at my shirt cuff.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and drew breath again.
“I’m sorry, too,” she said. She did not take my hand, but held on to my cuff. I had not even been aware of her getting down from the chair or crossing the room to me. She cleared her little throat, and I became aware of the glistening tracks on her cheeks. I tightened my Skill-walls, and she nodded a silent thanks to me. In a low voice she asked me, “Where does it go?”
And so, together, we crested that wave of sorrow and pushed on.
“It goes to a little room above and to the left of the hearth. There’s a tiny peephole there, so someone could sit there and watch people come and go and talk in this room.” I rubbed my eyes. “And from that little room, there is a narrow stair that goes to a very low crawlway. And it goes to other little spy-rooms in other parts of the house.” I swallowed and my voice became almost normal as I added, “I think it’s a Farseer obsession. We seem to like spyholes and secret places in our homes.”
She nodded, staring past me at the door. The broken cobwebs stirred in a slight draft. A smile dawned on her face and she actually clasped her little hands together under her chin. “I love it! Is it for me?”
It was the last reaction I could have predicted from her. I found my smile answering hers. “It is now,” I told her. “There are two other ways to get into it. One from my bedroom. And another from a pantry. Those are both difficult to open, mostly because they haven’t been used in a very, very long time. This one is easier. But it, too, hasn’t been used in a long time. So it will be full of cobwebs and dust, and mice and spiders.”
She had advanced to the edge of the passageway. She flapped a hand through the dangling webs and then shook her fingers free of the rags, undaunted by small things with many legs. A glance back in my direction. “Can I go in now? Can I take a lamp?”
“I suppose so.” Her enthusiasm had caught me off guard. I had thought only to seed an idea with her today, to show her a place to retreat to if she were ever in danger and I was not around to protect her. I shot the concealed bolts on the study doors so that no one could enter. I took the lamp from my desk. Then I shut the door to the passage and dropped the hinge pin back into its place. “You try to open it.”
The pin was stubborn and it took some tugging before she freed it. “We can oil that,” she said breathlessly, and then stood up to pull the panel open. She glanced back at me. “Can I take the lamp and go first?”
If she fell and dropped the lamp, the spilled oil and flame would set all of Withywoods afire. “Be careful,” I told her as I handed it to her. “Use both hands. And don’t fall.”
“I won’t,” she replied, but as soon as it was in her hands, I doubted my wisdom in entrusting it to her. She was so obviously excited and focused only on exploring. She walked unhesitatingly into the narrow dark corridor. I stooped and followed her.
The spy-passages of Withywoods were not nearly as elaborate as the ones that threaded Buckkeep Castle. I think if they had been my father’s handiwork, he would have made them for a taller man. I suspected they dated back to the first rebuilding of the house, when they had added the south wing. I’d often wondered if there were more of them, the secret of opening the doors lost in the process of the house changing inhabitants.
The passage had a short landing and then a steep stair. At the top of the stair there was a landing and a sharp turn to the left. There the passage became slightly wider. It went up six more steps and then was flat until it reached the area beside the hearth. I could not stand straight in the little compartment, but someone had been comfortable there once. There was a short sturdy stool for him to perch on while he did his spying, a little cabinet of dark wood, its doors securely closed, and a small shelf where Bee set down her lamp. Her instinct was correct. I noticed now the little guard around the peephole that would keep the lamplight from being visible. She sat down on the stool without dusting it off, leaned forward to peer into my study, then leaned back and proclaimed, “I love it. It fits me perfectly. Oh, Papa, thank you!”
She stood up and went to the little cupboard, reaching the handle easily. She peered inside. “Look! Here’s an inkpot! It’s all dried up, but I could put ink in it. And here’s an old quill pen, all eaten away to its spine. I’ll need a fresh one. Look! The shelf folds down and now it’s a little table for writing! How clever! Is it truly all for me?”