I concealed my relief when she retrieved her cloak and put it on. I didn’t say anything to nettle her pride as we left the study and went out onto the grounds. I did shorten my stride as we walked out to the pastures and the sheds. She still had to trot to keep up with me.
Lin was waiting for me. He showed me three sheep that he’d isolated from the flock after they’d developed a rash that had them rubbing themselves raw on trees and fence posts. I knew little of sheep, but Lin had been tending them since he was a youth, and his hair was now as gray as most of his woolly charges. So I listened, and nodded, and asked him to keep me informed if any more of the ewes became infected. As we spoke, his eyes wandered from me to my small charge and then back again. Bee, perhaps still smarting from being corrected, stood small and stiff and silent throughout our conversation. Lin’s dog Daisy wandered over to inspect her. When Bee stepped back at her approach, she wagged her tail appreciatively and her tongue lolled with dog laughter. So easy to herd. I chose to ignore them as Daisy backed my daughter into a corner and then prodded her with a nose, her tail wagging all the while. Lin glanced at them apprehensively, but I walked over to a ewe and asked him how old she was. Distracted, he came to me. I asked if mites might be causing the irritation, making Lin furrow his brow and go down to part the sheep’s wool and look for insects.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Bee reach out to fondle one of the dog’s silky little ears. Daisy sat down and leaned against her. Bee buried her chilled hands into the herd dog’s thick golden ruff and I saw suddenly that she and the dog were easy and familiar with each other. Her earlier backing away from the dog had not been apprehension, but an invitation to their game. I listened to Lin recount the ewe’s earlier symptoms with only half my attention.
When Lin was satisfied that I’d heard his worries and had confidence in what he was doing, our meeting was over. I’d never enjoyed sheep, and had little to do with their care when I was growing up at Buckkeep Castle, so I did with Lin what Burrich had done with the hawk tenders at Buckkeep. I’d found a good man who knew more about the woolly knot-heads than I’d ever care to learn and entrusted Nettle’s flocks to him. But hearing him out did take a time and I felt my morning fleeing.
When I turned around to look for Bee, she was not there. Daisy was sitting calmly. My reaction was instinctive. I reached out to both dog and man as I asked, “Where is she? Where did my daughter go?”
“Kittens,” they responded as one. If Lin was Witted and Daisy his beast-partner, he had never told me, and now was not a time to ask. He would not be the first unWitted man I’d met who behaved as if he and his partner could speak to each other. But my concern now was not with them but Bee.
“There’s a litter back there under one of the mangers. Got their eyes open two weeks ago and now they’ve started to explore.”
Indeed they had. And the litter of four kits was exploring my daughter as she lay on her belly in the damp straw and let them climb on her. An orange-and-white one sat on her back and pulled her hair, his pin teeth set in her scruffy hair and his small feet braced. Two calicos were in the curve of her arms under her chin. At a short distance a black-and-white kit with a kink in his tail glared at her as she stared back at him. “Bee, it’s time to go,” I warned her.
She moved slowly, reluctantly. I reached down to unfasten the orange kitten from her hair. It smacked me experimentally. I set it on the straw beside her. “We need to go now,” I prodded her.
She sighed. “I like the kittens. I’ve never held one before. These ones are nice, but that one won’t let me touch him.”
Lin spoke. “Oh, that blackie is like his father. Full of piss and vinegar already. He’ll be a good ratter, but I wouldn’t choose him, Mistress Bee.”
“We’re not choosing any of them,” I corrected him. “She just wanted to hold one.”
Lin cocked his head at me. At his side, his dog mimicked him. “Well, I’m just saying she’s welcome to one if you want him. They’re the right age to find a new home. Their mother is tired of them and they’ve started to hunt. And a little friend might be a comfort to the little girl, sir. A warm little bit of company.” He cleared his throat and added, “Though I think a pup would be better for her.”
I knew a moment of impatience. A kitten or puppy would not cure her grief over her mother’s death. Then a sharp memory of a pup named Nosy intruded into my mind. But another young creature to be her friend could help. A lot. And perhaps in all the wrong ways. I spoke firmly.