“Bring Granny Wirk,” I said to his back. “She lives at the crossroads just on the other side of the Withy.” And she was older than most of the trees in the area and slow to move. A good healer, but it would take him time to return with her. And I hoped to be finished with my own ministrations by then.
Then the door was closing behind him, and I looked at Bee conspiratorially. “I know you couldn’t have kept him from following you,” I told her. “But do you think you can keep Shun occupied? Take her on a tour of the house that doesn’t bring her anywhere near here?”
She stared up at me. Her blue eyes, so unlike my own or Molly’s, seemed to look past my flesh and bones to the heart of me. “Why is she a secret?”
On the table, our guest stirred slightly. She almost lifted her head. Her voice was a whisper. “I’m in danger. Hunted. Please. Let no one know I’m here. The water? Please.”
I had no cup but there was a honey ladle among Molly’s tools. I supported her head as she drank three ladles of the cool water. As I eased her head back onto the table, I reflected that it was too late for me to call Riddle back. He knew she was here, and when he reached the crossroads, Granny Wirk would know we had an injured traveler, too. I pondered a moment.
Bee interrupted my thoughts. “We’ll wait a short time. Then let’s send Shaky Amos to follow Riddle and tell him that our guest felt better and left on her own. And not to bring the healer after all.”
I stared at her in surprise.
“It’s the best we can do,” she said almost sullenly. “If Riddle has already spoken to the healer, it will put any hunters off her trail. For a short time, at least.”
I nodded. “Very well. Off you go, then. After you tell Amos, then you must keep Shun busy for a while. Show her the house, then the gardens, and then take her back to the parlor and leave her there, while you go tell the kitchen to send up a nice tray for her. Then slip away here to let me know how it all went. Can you do all that?” I hoped it would keep her busy as well as keeping Shun occupied.
She gave a sharp nod. “I know where Amos takes his naps,” she said. She stood suddenly taller, inflated with importance. Shaky Amos had a decade or so on me, and had come as part of the Withywoods staff. He was, as his name suggested, afflicted with trembling, the result of a blow to the head many years before. He had been at the estate since Patience’s time there and had earned his quiet days. Once he had been a sheep shearer. That task was beyond him now, but he could lean on a crook and watch the flock on fine days. He liked to be given specific tasks from time to time. He might be slow but he still had his pride. He’d do the job admirably.
At the door, she halted. “So my butterfly man is a girl?”
“So it seems,” I said.
Our invalid had opened her eyes. She stared vacantly and then her gaze fastened on Bee. A slow smile curved her lips. “Where did he come from?”
“Riddle? He followed Bee here. He’s an old friend, and no danger to you.”
Her eyes sagged shut again.
“It’s so strange. I was so sure the butterfly man was a man. Not a girl.” Bee looked annoyed as she shook her head and informed me, “Dreams are not to be trusted. Not completely.”
She stood still, appearing to consider that as if it were a new idea.
“Bee?” Her eyes were far. “Bee? Are you feeling well? You were so strange when you came to tell me about the butterfly man …”
Her eyes finally came to me and then slid away. “I’m fine now. I felt very tired. Then I fell asleep. And the dream came and told me it was time. And it brought me to you and then—” She looked puzzled. “Then the dream was over and here we were.” She slipped quietly from the room.
For a time, I stared after her. Then the girl on the table gave a brief moan of pain. My mind snapped into the now and I went to work. In the cupboards there were pots of honey, sealed with wax, and slabs of cleaned wax waiting to be transformed into candles. They’d probably still be here, a decade hence. I found the cloths Molly had used for straining the honey and the wax. They were stained but very clean. I remembered how she would wash them outside in a big kettle of boiling water and then put them on the line to bleach and dry. I chose the oldest, softest rags and knew she would forgive me as I tore some into strips for bandaging.
I softened the scabs on the young White’s back with the warm water and gently cleaned away the blood and ooze from her wounds. There were four of them. I did not want to probe them, but knew personally the danger of leaving anything inside them. I pressed one and she grunted in pain. “You don’t have to search them,” she said breathlessly. “My companion cleaned them as well as he could. What went into me, there is no taking out. They closed over, for a time, and we fled. It almost seemed they were starting to heal. Before the hunters caught up with us. They killed my friend. And I opened the wounds again when I fled. And in the days since, I haven’t been able to clean them. Now it’s too late.” She blinked her eyes. Drops of blood like ruby tears stood at the corners of them. “It was always too late,” she admitted sadly. “I just couldn’t let myself believe it.”