His face grew darker. He turned to go and then turned back. “Molly?”
“I put Revel on her door.”
He made a face. “I’ll check them first. Revel has potential, but for now it’s only potential.” He stepped toward the door.
“Riddle.” My voice stopped him. I took the bottle of brandy from the shelf and handed it to him. “Let no one think anything is amiss. Tell Nettle if you think it wise.”
He nodded. I nodded back and as he left, I took down a sword that had hung on the mantel. Decoration now, but it had once been a weapon and would be again. It had a nice heft. No time for a cloak or boots. No time to go for a lantern or torch. I waded out into the snow, sword in hand, the light from the opened doors behind me. In twenty paces I knew all I needed to know. The wind had erased their tracks completely. I stood, staring off into the darkness, flinging myself wide-Witted into the night. No humans. Two small creatures, rabbits probably, had hunkered down in the shelter of some snow-draped bushes. But that was all. No tracks, and whoever had done this was already both out of my eyesight and beyond the range of my Wit. And if they were the strangers, it seemed my Wit might not have found them even if they were close.
I went back into the den, shaking the snow from my wet shoes before I entered. I shut the door behind me and let the curtain fall. My messenger and her message were gone. Dead? Or fled? Had someone gone out the door, or had she let someone in? Was it her blood on the floor, or someone else’s? The fury I had felt earlier at the idea that someone might do violence to a guest in my home flared in me again. I suppressed it. Later, I might indulge it. When I had a target.
Find the target.
I left the study, closing the door behind me. I moved swiftly and silently, years and dignity and present social standing swept aside and erased. I made no sound and carried no light with me. I kept the sword at my side. First, to my own bedchamber. I built castles of thoughts as I ran. The messenger had sought me. Regardless of whether she was attacker or attacked, I might be the intended target for the violence. I flowed up the stair like a hunting cat, every sense burning and raw. I was aware of Revel keeping his vigil by the door long before he knew I was coming. I lifted a finger to my lips as I drew near. He startled when he saw me, but kept silent. I drew close. “All is well here?” I breathed the question.
He nodded and as softly replied, “Riddle was here not that long ago, sir, and insisted I admit him to be sure that all was well with the lady.” He stared at the sword.
“And it was?”
His gaze snapped back to me. “Of course, sir! Would I stand here so calmly were it not so?”
“Of course not. Forgive my asking. Revel, please remain here until I come back to relieve you, or I send Riddle or one of Molly’s sons.” I offered him the sword. He took it, holding it like a poker. He looked from it to me.
“But our guests …” he began feebly.
“Are never as important as our lady. Guard this door, Revel.”
“I will, sir.”
I reflected that he deserved more than an order. “We still do not know whose blood was shed. Someone used the doors in the study that go out to the garden. To enter or to leave, I do not know. Tell me a bit more of the messenger’s appearance.”
He bit his upper lip, worrying the information from his memory. “She was a girl, sir. That is, more girl than woman. Slight and slender. Her hair was blond and she wore it loose. Her clothing looked as if it had been of good quality but had seen hard use. It was a foreign style, the cape tapered in at the waist and then belling out, with sleeves belled as well. It was green and looked heavy but did not appear to be wool. There was fur on the edging of the hood, of a kind I do not know. I offered to take her cloak and hood but she did not wish to give them up to me. She wore loose trousers, perhaps of the same fabric, but black with white flowers figured on them. Her boots did not reach her knee and seemed thin and were laced tight to her calf.”
So much detail about her garments! “But what did she herself look like?”
“She was young. She looked white with cold and seemed grateful when I built up the fire for her and offered her hot tea. Her fingers were pale as ice against the mug when she took it from me …” His voice trailed away. He looked up at me suddenly. “She didn’t want to leave the study, sir. Or to give up her cloak. Should I have known she was frightened?”
Had Riddle truly thought he could make more of this man than a house steward? Tears stood in his brown eyes. “Revel, you did all that you should have done. If anyone is at fault, it is I. I should have gone to the study as soon as I heard there was a messenger. Please. Just keep watch here for a short time longer until I send someone to relieve you. Then you should go back to what you do best. Tend to our guests. Let no one suspect that anything is amiss.”