I heard her mother in her voice and didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. “That’s true,” I surrendered. “You left her where?”
“I took her back to the Mockingbird Room. But there’s no assurance she’s still there. She does have legs, you know. And she’s a nosy sort of person. She opened the door to nearly every bedchamber to see if there was one she liked better than the one Revel had prepared. She’s not a bit shy.”
“Indeed,” I agreed. I propped the girl’s head up and held the cup to her lips. She opened her eyes to white slits, but she sucked at the water and took some down. I put the cup on the stand beside her. “I think she will be all right for now. I’ll tell Tavia that you need a nice warm broth. Try to get her to drink some while it’s still warm. Is there anything you really want to eat?”
Bee shook her head. “Not hungry just yet.”
“Very well.” I hesitated. “Do you think you can give her some broth if she wakes?”
She looked offended that I would ask.
I cast a glance at the unconscious girl. She had a message for me, one from the Fool. She had warned me of danger already, hunters on her trail. And who did I trust to watch over her? A nine-year-old girl the size of a six-year-old. I’d have to do better, but for now … “Keep watch, and I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
I visited the kitchen, delivered Bee’s suggested message to Tavia, asked them to send food for me to the Mockingbird Room, and then joined Shun there. As soon as I entered the room, Mild bustled in to set a fresh pot of tea. When she left the room, I apologized to Shun for neglecting her. “Riddle was called off on an errand, and I’m afraid Bee does not feel well right now. She has taken to her bed for a few hours. So.” I forced a hearty smile onto my face. “What do you think of Withywoods? Do you think you can be happy here with us for a time?”
Shun looked at me incredulously. “Happy here? Who of you is happy here? I have seen only chaos since I arrived. Riddle has left me to my own devices, without a ‘by your leave’ or even a farewell. Your daughter … Well. You yourself must know what a strange little work she is! She looks like a boy! If Riddle had not informed me that was your daughter, I would have thought her part of the stable staff here. I do not know what Lord Chade was thinking to send me here!”
Somewhere in the house, a workman began sawing something. I felt as if he were cutting into my skull. I sat down heavily opposite her. “He was probably thinking you’d be safe here for a time,” I said bluntly.
Mild came bustling in to set steaming bowls of mutton-and-barley soup before us, with more bread for the basket on the table. “Thank you,” I told her. “This will be all I require. I desire to have some quiet conversation with Lady Shun.”
“Of course, sir,” she responded and hastened from the room. I waited for the door to close completely behind her before I resumed speaking. “It’s not the best plan Lord Chade and I have ever cooked up, but for short notice, it’s not a bad one.” I picked up my spoon and stirred my soup. Chunks of carrot bobbed to the surface and sank again while steam rose in a cloud. I set down my spoon to wait for it to cool and asked her rhetorically, “Can you think of a better one?”
“Yes. Kill the people who are trying to kill me, so I can live as I wish, where I wish.” Her response was so immediate that I knew she had considered it for some time.
I decided to take her suggestion seriously. “It’s seldom as simple as killing one person. First, we must determine who is trying to kill you. And most often, that person is merely the tool, not the instigator. For every one person you kill, chances are you’ve created six new enemies. And you might want to ask yourself why that person must die so that you can live your life as you wish.” I spoke severely.
“A question that perhaps you can put to whoever it is before you kill him!” she responded angrily. She pushed her bowl and plate away from her as I broke bread and spread butter thick on it. When I did not speak, she went on, “Why must I pay for the actions of others? Why cannot I live as my birth made me? What did I do that I must be hidden away? As a noble lady’s firstborn, I should rightfully inherit my mother’s titles and lands! But no! No, because she was not wed when I was conceived, her shame falls on me! I pay for her selfish act, condemned to be raised in a backwater hamlet by my aging grandparents, to watch them die and then to be sent off to be pawed by my mother’s lecherous husband. From there, I was banished, near-kidnapped by Lord Chade, and then hidden away from all society for two years! No parties, not a ball, not one single dress from Bingtown or Jamaillia. No. Nothing for Shun, she was born on the wrong side of the blankets! And above all, the person responsible for that must be able to dodge all consequences of it. And then, even hidden away, where I daily feared that boredom would end my life, someone tried to poison me. In my very own home, someone tried to poison me!”