“You’ve gone quiet,” she observed intently. She was like a bored cat poking at a mouse to see if it was dead all the way.
“It’s late, for me. I’m a child, you know. I go to bed quite early on most nights.” I yawned for her, not covering my mouth. In a softer voice, I added, “And self-pitying tales of woe always bore me, which makes me sleepy.”
She stared at me, her eyes going greener. She reached as if to tidy her hair and pulled out one of the long pins that secured it. She drew it between her thumb and forefinger as if to deliberately call my attention to it. Did she think to threaten me with it? She stood abruptly and I jumped to my feet. I bet I could outrun her, but dodging past her to the door might be a challenge. I heard a murmur in the hall and an instant later Riddle opened the door. My father was behind him. “Good night!” I called cheerily to them. I ran past a glowering Shun to hug my father briefly and then step back hastily. “It’s been such a long day, and so full of unexpected events. I’m quite weary. I think I shall take myself to bed now.”
“Well …” My father looked astonished. “If you’re tired. Shall I see you to your room?”
“Yes,” Riddle said strongly before I could reply. Shun was tidying her hair, smiling as she slid the pin back into her bound tresses. “She didn’t feel well earlier. You should see that she is tucked in warmly and that a nice fire is on her hearth.”
“Yes. I should,” he agreed. He was smiling and nodding, as if it were perfectly normal that I seek my bed at such an hour. Usually we stayed up late together, and often I fell asleep on the hearth in his study. Now he begged his guests to excuse him briefly, promised to return, and then took my hand as we left. I did not pull it free of his grip until the door was closed behind us. “What are you up to?” he demanded as we made our way toward the stairs and my bedchamber.
“Nothing. It’s night. I’m going to bed. It’s what children do, I am told.”
“Shun’s face was flushed.”
“I think she was sitting too close to the fire.”
“Bee.” My name was all he said, but there was rebuke in the word. I was silent. I did not feel I deserved it. Should I tell him of her hairpin? Doubtless he would think me silly.
We reached my door and I seized the door handle before he could. “I want only to go to bed tonight. Doubtless you need to hurry back to talk to the other adults.”
“Bee!” he exclaimed, and now my name meant that I had struck him, hurting him and also provoking a bit of anger. I didn’t care. Let him go fuss over poor pitiful Shun. She needed his sympathy, not me. His face went still. “Stay here while I check your room.”
I did as he told me, waiting by the open door. But the moment he came out, I slipped in through the door and shut it behind me. I waited, holding on to the door handle, to see if he would try to come in and talk to me.
But he didn’t. I knew he wouldn’t. I walked across the room and put another log on the hearth fire. I wasn’t sleepy.
I peeled off my clothing, bunched it up, and sniffed it. Not just dirty, but definitely a mousy smell to it, probably from the spy-corridors. I thought of Stripy patrolling for rats and mice. I thought of stealthily leaving my room and going to my father’s study to see if the cat wanted to come out yet. But I would have to get dressed again, and if my father caught me wandering the halls tonight he would be angry. I’d get up very early, I decided. Both my winter nightshirts smelled a bit fusty. When my mother was alive clothing always smelled like cedar and herbs if taken right from the chest, or sunlight and lavender if freshly washed. I had suspected that the household staff had become more lax about their chores since my mother’s death, but this was the first time I had realized how directly it would affect me.
I blamed my father. Then I blamed myself. How could I even begin to imagine that he could know these things? He probably had no idea that it had been weeks since I had bathed my whole body or washed my hair. True, it was winter, but my mother had always made me wash my whole body in a tub at least once a week, even in winter. I wondered if the extra servants he had hired would mean that things would go back to the way they had been. I rather thought not. I doubted they would until someone took the reins.
Perhaps Shun? The thought made steel of my spine. No. Me. This was my household, really. I was the female here, standing in my sister’s stead, in my sister’s house. I imagined that the servants my father had always supervised were doing their work as they always had. Revel looked over his shoulder for those ones. But my mother had overseen the household staff. Revel was good at making things fancy, but I didn’t think he supervised the daily washing up and dusting and tidying. I would have to step up to that now.