But he did not. He was still the New Boy in the gaggle of town children that he ran with, and barely sure of his acceptance there. To bring another stranger with him, especially one so pale and odd, dressed in the motley of a jester, would risk all he had gained. He feared then that he either would have been excluded along with the pale fellow or, worse, would have had to choose between defending him from a beating and joining in with fists and feet to prove he was one with his new friends. And so he had turned his back and hurried on with his dog and left the pale boy perched there.
I lifted the last sheet, expecting to find more of the story, but there were only a few smudged words there, the ink so run with water that I could not read what he had begun to write. I restacked his pages and tapped them into alignment. The ink on the pages was dark and new; this was something he had written not years ago, but days at most. And so he would probably look for it soon, perhaps to finish it, and discover it missing. That might be disastrous for me.
And yet I could not resist the urge to read it over again before I crept back to his study to return it and filch more paper. But that was not all I took.
I had always known that my father spent time almost every evening with pen and ink. I had always assumed that it had to do with the estate accounts, keeping track of wages paid and how many sheep were sheared and how many lambs born in the spring and what the grape harvest had been like. Indeed, when I later explored his ordinary study, that was what I found in his papers. But here, in his private study, was quite a different assortment of writing. I was certain it was writing that he had never expected to share with anyone.
My mother was a pragmatic reader, given only to deciphering texts that had some use to her. She had come to letters late in her life, and though she had mastered them, they had never become her good friends. So doubtless my father would have judged her unlikely to pore over his papers. Nor were most of our servants lettered folk, save Revel; my father did not employ a clerk to keep the accounts or write his correspondence, preferring to do that for himself. And his private study was not an area where the servants tidied or came and went at all. My father kept its disorder to a level he found tolerable, and no one else ventured in.
Except for me.
And so his private writings were hidden in plain sight. I did not take many, only a handful, and those from the dustiest shelves. I restored the ones I had taken by accident to his stack of papers and then absconded with this new supply of fascinating reading. I began to do this as an everyday exercise, reading, replacing, and stealing more. It opened a window onto my father’s life that I otherwise would never have glimpsed.
I sensed that I had picked up his tale in the middle, for the earliest journals were musings on coming to Withywoods and taking up residence with my mother. He recounted how he presented himself as Lady Molly’s husbandman, a commoner born and simply the caretaker of Lady Nettle’s estate. It explained to me why they had chosen to live so simply; he was still hiding from any who might suspect that FitzChivalry Farseer had not died in Prince Regal’s dungeons, but had risen from his grave and become Tom Badgerlock. That was a tale I discerned in bits and pieces from his writing. I suspected that somewhere, perhaps in Buckkeep Castle, there was a full accounting of that portion of his life. I longed to know why he had been put to death and how he had survived, and a thousand other things about him. I discovered, in bits, that Nettle was indeed my full sister. That was a revelation. My father, I quickly saw, was not the man I had thought he was. The lies and deceptions cloaked and covered him in so many layers that it woke fear in me. To discover that all I thought I knew about both my parents was based on falsehoods and deliberate deceptions shook me.
If he was FitzChivalry Farseer, firstborn son of a king who had abdicated the throne, then who was I? Princess Bee? Or simply Bee Badgerlock, daughter of the stepfather of Lady Nettle? Snatches of overheard conversations between my parents, thoughts my mother had had while pregnant with me, comments from Nettle all began to fall into order and make an astonishing sense.
I had just returned to my bedchamber late on the third day of my discovery about my father. I had exited from my little den via the entrance in the pantry and, in the dark, crept up the stairs and regained the safety of my room. I had dared to take one of my father’s documents with me. He had noted on the top that it was a fresh copy of an old manuscript. It was titled Instructing Potential Skill-Students in Guarding One’s Mind. Lately, he had had some rather strange material on his desk. There had been a written copy of a song called “Crossfire’s Coterie.” And a manuscript about mushrooms with lovely painted illustrations. I was trying to read the one on guarding the mind when I heard my father’s tap at my door. I dived onto my bed, pushed the paper under my pillow, and burrowed hastily under my blankets. As he opened the door, I turned toward him slowly as if roused from sleep.