“She saw him,” Bee decided with great satisfaction. She nodded to herself. “He came to get her at last. It’s a good end to her story. May I keep her book up here, the one of herbs?”
I wondered if Molly would come to get me someday. A fluttering of hope rose in me. Then I came back to myself, to the little room and my daughter sitting at the folded-down desktop. “You could keep books up here if you wish. You may keep anything here that you want. You may have candles and a tinderbox, if you promise to be very careful with them. But you must remember, this room and its entrance are a secret, one that is not to be shared with anyone. Only you and I know that it exists. It’s important that it stays our secret.”
She nodded gravely. “Can you show me where the other passage goes, the one we passed, and how to open the other doors?”
“Perhaps tomorrow. Right now, we must close it up snug, and then go see the man who takes care of the sheep.”
“Lin,” she reminded me casually. “Shepherd Lin takes care of the sheep.”
“Yes. Lin. We need to talk to him.” An idea blossomed in my mind. “He has a son named Boj, who has a wife and a little girl at his house. Perhaps you would like to meet them?”
“No. Thank you.”
Her crisp reply killed that hope. I knew there would be more to that story. I waited in patient silence as she took up our lamp and led us down the narrow stair. She paused hopefully at the intersection to the other passage, lifting her lamp to peer into the darkness, but then with a short sigh led us back down to my study. I held the lamp as she closed the panel and secured it. Then I blew out the lamp and drew open the heavy curtains to let in the gray light. It was raining. I blinked as my eyes adjusted and realized we must have had a frost in the night. The leaves had begun to change, with the edges and veins of the birch leaves turning gold. Winter was drawing closer. I still hadn’t spoken.
“Other children don’t like me. I make them uncomfortable. They think I’m a tiny child dressed up as a girl, and then, when I can do things, like pare apples with a sharp knife, they think … I don’t know what they think. But when I go into the kitchen, Tavia’s sons would go out. They used to come to work with her every day. They don’t anymore.” She looked away from me. “Elm and Lea, the kitchen girls, hate me.”
“Oh, Bee, they don’t hate you! They hardly know you. And Tavia’s sons are of an age where they go with their father now, to learn what he does all day. It’s not you, Bee.” I was looking down at my small daughter with a sympathetic smile. She glanced up at me and, for the instant that our eyes met, the blue anger in hers burned me.
She looked down at the floor, her whole body stiff. “Perhaps I shall stay in out of the rain today,” she said in an icy little voice. “It might be a good day to stay by myself.”
“Bee,” I said, but before I could go on that fury was flashed at me again.
“I hate it when you lie. You know that other children will fear me. And I know when they hate me. It’s not something I pretend. It’s real. Don’t lie to me to make me think that I’m the one who is judging them badly. Lies are bad, no matter who tells them. Mama put up with it from you, but I shan’t.” She folded her arms across her chest and stood staring defiantly at my knees.
“Bee! I am your father. You cannot speak to me like that!”
“If I cannot be honest with you, I shall not speak to you at all.” All the force of her will was behind her words. I knew that she was completely capable of resuming her long silence. The thought of being deprived of the only companionship I’d found since Molly’s death struck me so deep a blow that I immediately recognized how close a bond I was forming with my daughter. The second bolt of lightning was how dangerous it would be to both of us if I let my need for her company overcome my duty to be her parent.
“You can be honest with me and still respect me. As I can with you. You are different, Bee. It will make some parts of your life very difficult. But if you always fall back on your differences to explain everything you dislike about the world, you will fall into self-pity. I’ve no doubt that you did make Tavia’s boys uneasy. But I also know that neither one of them liked working in the kitchens, and so their father took them down to the mill, to see if that suited them better. It is not always all about you. Sometimes you are just one factor.”
She lowered her eyes to the floor. She did not uncross her arms.
“Get your cloak on. We’re going down to see Lin.” I gave the order confidently, holding in my anguish over what I would do if she refused to obey. When Starling had given Hap to me he’d led such a life of privation that he was pathetically grateful to sleep inside and be given food. He’d been well past ten before we’d had any confrontations about my authority. The thought of physically disciplining a creature as small as Bee filled me with revulsion. Yet I knew I had to win this battle.