“Will Shun be there?”
“Yes. And Riddle.” He wasn’t trying to make me trot, but my legs were short. When he walked at his normal stride, I always had to hurry to keep up. I noticed that the house was quieter. I surmised that he had sent the workmen home for the evening.
“I like it when the house is quiet again.”
“I do, too. These repairs will take some time, Bee, and we will have to put up with noise and dust and strangers in our house for a while. But when they have finished, things will go back to being quiet and calm.”
I thought about dinner tonight. Shun and Riddle at the table with us. And breakfast the next day. I thought about walking into a room in my home and finding Shun there. Would she walk in the garden rooms? Would she read the scrolls in the library? Now that I thought of her wandering through my home it suddenly seemed as if I could never be unaware of her presence. “How long will Shun be here?” Somehow I doubted that quiet, calm, and Shun would dwell in the same house.
“As long as she needs to be here.” He tried to speak firmly but now I heard the dread in his voice. Clearly he had not asked himself that question. I liked that he disliked the answer as much as I did. It made me feel better.
He escorted me to my room. I washed and combed my hair. When I left the room to go down to dinner, he was outside the door waiting for me. I looked up at him. “I like that you shaved off your beard,” I said. I had noticed it that morning, but not commented on it then. He glanced at me, nodded once, and we walked down to the dining room together. The servants had put us in the big dining hall, but had only lit a fire in the nearest hearth. The other end of the room was a dim cave. Riddle and Shun were already seated at the table, talking, but the vast space of the room devoured their words. “And here we all are,” my father announced as we came in. He had good control of his voice. He sounded pleased that all of us were there.
He seated me at his right hand, as if I were my mother, drawing out my chair for me and then pushing it in when I perched on it. Shun sat to my right and Riddle to his left. Her hair was pinned up and her dress looked as if she had expected to meet the Queen in our dining room. Her face was freshly scrubbed, but cold water had not bleached all the pink from her eyes. She had been crying. Riddle looked as if he wanted to cry but had a smile hooked to his cheeks instead.
As soon as we were seated and my father had rung the bell for the food to be brought in, Shun spoke. “You didn’t find any other sign of the stranger?”
“I told you, Shun, she left. She was an injured traveler, no more than that. Obviously she didn’t feel safe, even here, and as soon as she could move on, she did.”
Two men I didn’t know came into the room carrying platters. I looked at my father. He smiled at me. They served us soup and bread and then stood back. “Cor, Jet, thank you.” As soon as my father spoke the words, they bowed and went back to the kitchen. I stared at him in consternation.
“I hired more staff, Bee. It’s time we did things a bit more properly here. You’ll soon get to know them and be comfortable with them. They are cousins to Tavia’s husband, and highly recommended.”
I nodded but I still felt unhappy about it. The meal went in stages, and my father was careful to speak to Riddle and to Shun, as if conversation was something he had to share evenly with everyone at the table. He asked Shun if her room suited her, for now. She replied stiffly that it would be fine. He asked Riddle what he thought of the soup, and Riddle said it was as good as that served at Buckkeep Castle. Throughout the meal, he and Riddle spoke only of very ordinary topics. Did he think it would snow more tomorrow? My father hoped the snows would not be too deep this year. Riddle said it would be good if they were not too deep this year. Did Shun enjoy riding? There were some fine riding trails at Withywoods, and my father thought her horse looked like a good one. Perhaps she would like to explore the estate of Withywoods a bit tomorrow?
Riddle asked if my father still had the gray mare he had used to ride. My father said that he did. Riddle asked if they might go look at her after dinner. He had been thinking of asking my father if she would carry a foal from a certain black stud at Buckkeep for him.
It was such a transparent excuse for getting my father alone to talk to him that I almost couldn’t stand it. After dinner, we went to a little room with comfortable chairs and a nice fire in the hearth. Riddle and my father left to walk out to the stables. Shun and I sat and looked at each other. Tavia came in with tea for us. “Chamomile and sweetbreath, to ease you to sleep after your long travels today,” she said to Shun with a smile.