I lifted my branch of candles high, trying to tell if she had been here. So far as I could tell, nothing had changed since I’d last left the room. Habit made me cross to the hearth and add wood to the fire. “Bee?” I called softly. “Are you hiding in here?” I dragged the rucked blankets off the bed to be sure she hadn’t burrowed in and fallen asleep. The ridged sheets and stink of sweaty male assured me that she would have found it an unappealing hiding spot. No. She had not been here.
I headed back to her room. All was quiet in the corridor. Riddle opened his eyes and lifted his head as I passed. “Just checking on Bee,” I told him. I was reluctant to let him know that I’d misplaced my own daughter. Just the thought of what he would report back to Nettle about the disorder in my household made me wince. Ghosts and smoking chimneys and a half-trained staff were as nothing compared with misplacing Nettle’s small sister.
Candles held high, I entered her room. “Bee?” I called softly. Obviously not on the bared bedstead. I knew a moment of fear. Had she crept into the bedding in the servant’s room? I hated myself that I had not taken it and burned it immediately. “Bee?” I cried louder, and two hasty strides carried me to the door of the adjoining chamber.
Empty. I tried to remember how it had looked when I had last seen it. Had not the bedding been less on the floor and more on the bedstead? I prayed to gods I scarcely acknowledged that she had not touched it. The room was so small that it was the work of a moment to be sure she wasn’t in it. I stepped out of it and then, horror-stricken, rushed to her winter clothing chest. How often had I reminded myself that she needed something smaller with a lighter lid? I knew she had fallen into it, her head smashed, and then suffocated in the dark.
But all it held was her clothing, in pushed heaps and wads. Relief warred with worry. She wasn’t there. I felt a spasm of annoyance that her clothing was so ill kept. Had the servants abandoned this room when I chased them from mine? In so many ways I was failing my child, but most of all in that I had lost her tonight. My foot nudged something and I looked down at a heap of wet clothing on the floor. Bee’s clothes. So she had changed here. She’d been here and now she was gone. Where could she be? Where would she go? The kitchen? Had she been hungry? No. She’d been unsettled, even scared. So where would she go?
And I knew.
I walked past Riddle, feigning a calm I didn’t feel. “Good night!” I wished him wryly. He watched me pass, and then rolled to his feet in a fluid motion.
“I’ll help you look for her.”
I hated his perspicacity, and welcomed it. “You take the kitchens, then. I’ll check my study.”
He nodded and was off at a trot. Shielding my candle flames, I followed. At the bottom of the stair, we went our separate ways. I doubled back to go to my private study. All was quiet and dark as I traversed the dark passageways. When I reached the double doors of the study, they were closed. All was still.
Was a time when I knew peace in your presence. Though, to be truthful with myself, there were as many times when your presence plunged me into deadliest danger. Or pain. Or fear. But the peace is what I remember and long for. Were you here, I would seize you by the shoulders and shake you until your teeth rattled. What is the meaning of this truncated message you have sent me? Did you fear to entrust too much information? Did you suspect how cruelly your messenger would be hunted, or how she would suffer such a tortured death? What need could compel you to knowingly risk her to such a fate? I ask myself that, and the only answer I can find is that if you did not, she would face a worse one? What, I ask myself, could be worse? And then I wonder what sort of danger you yourself are in right now, that you did not bring this message yourself.
All I have are questions, and each one is a torment to me at a time when I am overwhelmed by other concerns. You have set me a mysterious task with few clues. I fear it is an essential one. But just as essential are those already in my hands. The raising of my daughter … shall I again abandon my own child, this time to go in search of yours? Too little information, old friend, and too large a sacrifice.
Unfinished letter from the desk of FitzChivalry Farseer
I stood alone in my room and listened to Shun shrieking out in the hallway. Bitterness rose in me. After all I had gone through tonight with him, all I had done to help him, one cry from her, and my father ran off and left me standing in the semi-dark in soggy clothing. I pushed the lid of the chest up higher and strained to reach the bottom and, by touch, discover something dry and comfortable I would wear to bed. I pushed past winter socks and itchy wool shirts. My fingertips touched something, and then I got hold of it and pulled it up from the bottom of the chest.