Fool's Assassin / Page 122

Page 122

I pulled the robe on over my nightdress, and then put on my warm stockings. I didn’t bother with shoes. My house shoes were too tight to go over the thick wool and my old boots too heavy for what I had in mind. I picked up my candle, opened the door, and peered out into the corridor. All was quiet. I slipped out, letting the door shut softly behind me. Finally I would have the leisure to explore the secret passageway as thoroughly as I wished. Ever since I had glimpsed it, I had thought of nothing else. I had wanted to return there directly as soon as we came back from the sheep pens, but there had been a meal to eat, and then my father had kept me by his side as he worried and fretted that he would have to leave me alone that night. So silly. Was not I alone every night when he sat in his study or slept in his bed? What difference did it make that he was far from our home?

The banked embers of the hearth fire in my father’s study had burned low. I added another log, as much for light as warmth. I took two tall candles from the drawer of his desk. Then I carefully did as he had done earlier, making sure that the drapery at the window was tightly closed, latching the study doors, and working the secret catch on the false hinge. When the narrow door opened, the house breathed out at me, a chill breath of old secrets. I breathed it in and felt them fill me. Candleholder in hand, I started up the narrow way.

I went first to the small room my father had shown me. I investigated it more carefully, but found little that I hadn’t seen before. It was pleasant to sit there alone, the candle making a yellow pool of light around me while I thought of how I would put my book on the little shelf and my ink pot and pen beside them. I had never realized how much I had longed for a space of my very own. My bedroom had always seemed a vast and chilly space to me, little different from trying to sleep in the middle of the table in the dining hall. Here I felt cozy and sheltered. I resolved that the next time I came here, I would bring a duster to sweep away cobwebs and make it all tidy, and a cushion and blanket to make it cozy. I would make pictures to go on the walls. It was very satisfying to imagine the space made over to suit me exactly, and I lingered so long at that pursuit that my scented candle burned low. I kindled one of the tapers I had taken from my father’s desk. I quickly resolved that a supply of them must be kept here. No time like the present. I put my extra taper onto the little shelf and turned to pinch out the small flame on what was left of the scented candle. A tiny wisp of fragrant smoke rose from it, scenting the air. I set the stub on my desk and put the lit taper in the holder. I should bring some of the sachets my mother and I had made, some of the rose and honeysuckle ones. I would fill the little cabinet with all the things I wished to keep here. Dried apricots and raisins. The hard little sausages that I loved to chew. It would be cozy and comfortable, a place to read or draw or write. My own tiny room.

The fresh candle reminded me of the passing time. I wanted to explore the other passageway that I had only glimpsed earlier. I recalled that my father said it led to two other entrances, one in his bedroom and one in the pantry. The pantry was on the lower floor behind the kitchens while my parent’s chamber was in the main part of the house and upstairs. So at some point there must be stairs, I reasoned, and immediately decided that I would explore that passage.

I returned to the intersection that I had earlier glimpsed and this time instead of going back to the study, I followed the other passage. I noticed that the passageway was walled with dark-planked wood here, and wondered if it was older than the first section I had explored. As my father had warned me, it had not been used in quite some time. Draping cobwebs sizzled and twitched as they met my candle’s flame. The passage bent first one way and then another as it followed the walls of the chambers. At one point, the wall of the passage was brick and mortar and very cold. Drafts made the flame of my candle dance and I shielded it with my hand. I felt that perhaps I was now in the main part of the house. I hurried along, passing the bared bones of a mouse, dead so long there was no stink to him. I found two more peepholes, each shuttered with a tiny lid. I set my candle down and endeavored to see where I was, but try as I might, I could see nothing of the darkened rooms they spied on. Indeed, I had only a hazy idea of where I was in the house, and could not tell if I passed bedchambers or sitting rooms.

I came to a place where the passage diverged into not two but three possible paths. So perhaps there were more entrances to the spy-tunnels than my father had told me. The first one I chose was a disappointment. It did not go far before it came to a peephole and another little bench beneath it. Again I set my candle down and after a short struggle, I managed to push the stubborn cover to one side. I was astonished to find I was looking into my own bedchamber. The fire was burning low but it still cast enough light for me to see by. I was on the hearth-wall of my room, where I could look down on the bed. I wondered if there was a secret entrance to my bedroom, and carefully felt all along the nearby wall for some catch or hinge. But if there was one, I did not find it, which was very disappointing—I had become quite excited at the idea of being able to access my new refuge from my bedroom.

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