“I do remember that. But what was the mistake?”
“At the end, when the Blue Soldier had slain the Boar with Red Tusks and freed the Rain Cloud so it could rain on the land and the crops would grow? The story was meant to stop there. But then, when they were folding the curtains, I saw the Blue Soldier dangling next to the Boar with Red Tusks, and his tusks were deep in the soldier’s vitals. So I knew that in the end, the Boar came back and slew the soldier after all.”
“Uh, no, Bee. That wasn’t part of the story at all! It was just something that happened when the puppets were put away.”
He didn’t understand at all. I explained to him. “No. It was the next story. Like your friend said could happen. An accident when it was all supposed to be over.”
He looked at me with his dark eyes. I could look into them to a deep place where things were still broken, never to be mended. My mother had always been able to make that broken part recede, but I didn’t know how. Maybe no one did, now. “Well. It’s late,” he said suddenly. “And I’ve wakened you and kept you awake longer than I intended. I just wanted to make sure that you weren’t worrying about your cousin coming. I’m glad you’re fine with it.” He stood and stretched.
“Do I have to obey her?”
He dropped his arms suddenly. “What?”
“Must I obey Shun Fallstar when she comes?”
“Well, she’s a woman grown, so she is to be respected by you. Just as you respect Tavia or Mild.”
Respect. Not obey. I could do that. I nodded slowly and slid down in my bed. My mother would have come to tuck the covers more closely around me. He didn’t.
He walked softly to the door, and then paused. “Did you want a story? Or a song?”
I thought about it. Did I? No. I had his stories, his real ones, to think about until I fell asleep. “Not tonight,” I said and yawned.
“Very well. Sleep, then. I’ll see you in the morning.” He yawned widely. “It’s going to be a big day for all of us,” he said, and to me it sounded more like dread than anticipation.
He stopped just inside the door. “What is it?”
“You should trim your hair tonight. Or make it lie down with grease tomorrow, or however boys do that. It looks very wild now. And your beard is awful. Like, like …” I searched for words I had heard long ago. “Like a mountain pony with its coat half-shed.”
He stood very still, and then smiled. “You heard that from Nettle.”
“I think so. But it’s true.” I dared to add, “Please shave it off. You don’t need to look older, like Mother’s husband anymore. I want you to look like my father instead of my grandfather.”
He stood there, one hand touching his beard.
“No. She never liked it in the first place. You should cut it all off.” I’d known what he was thinking.
“Well. Perhaps I shall, then.” And he softly closed the door behind himself.
A Full House
Wildeye was ever a reluctant Catalyst to her Master, for she regarded him as more tormentor than mentor. For his part, the old White was not pleased that his Catalyst was such a homely and resentful young woman. He complained in all his writings that fate had made him wait through most of his life for her to be born, and then when he did find her and make her his companion, she made his old age a trial to him. Nonetheless, as his darkening showed, he was able to complete some of the tasks that were appointed to him by fate, and when he died it was said that he had, indeed, set the world on a better path.
Whites and Catalysts, Eulen Screep
Shun arrived in the afternoon. She rode a trim little sorrel mare with white stockings, and Riddle accompanied her on a rangy white gelding. Her green cloak was trimmed with fur and draped not just her but half her mount. A mule followed laden with a trunk on one side and several boxes on the other. The sorrel’s tack was gleaming new, as was the trunk. So. Chade had provided the coin, and Shun had wasted no time in directing Riddle to take her to a larger market town. I suspected that the days since I had last seen her had been spent in acquiring these things. I wondered again what had precipitated such a speedy departure from wherever Chade had been keeping her that she had left her possessions behind. Had the attempt on her life been that dire? And who was her enemy that he could find her when neither Riddle nor I knew of her existence, let alone her location? There were still far more mysteries attached to this young lady than I liked.
I met them in the carriageway. My hair was brushed and my face stung from scraping the last remnants of beard off it. I’d found my last clean shirt and given my boots a hasty wipe with my dirty shirt. I needed to make time to bundle my dirty clothing and ask one of the servants to see to it. I had realized, with shame, that I’d never given a thought to such things before. Molly had seen to it that my wardrobe was kept in order. Molly …