Yet stare they did, and not one offered to help me as I struggled with the heavy lid of the chest. I contented myself with grabbing whatever garments I could reach. I carried them off with me and went back to the relative privacy of my mother’s room to change out of my nightrobe.
I changed hastily there, squatting behind the screens in the corner. The tunic was from summer and a bit too small for me, shorter than my mother would have allowed me to wear. The leggings bagged at the knee and bottom. I consulted the small pieces of looking glass set in a decorative lamp cover. My shorn hair stood up like the stubble in a harvested field. I looked more like a serving boy than our serving boys did. I took a deep breath and refused to think of Shun’s fine clothing and hair combs and rings and scarves.
My new red nightrobe was on the floor. I picked it up and shook it out. I gathered it in my arms and smelled it. My mother’s scent had faded but was still there. I folded it and hid it behind a stool. I myself would wash it out and scent it with one of her rose sachets. I went in search of my father.
I found him, Shun, and Riddle at breakfast in the dining room. I was surprised to see the table made up so formally. There were covered serving dishes and two pots of tea on the table. An empty place setting awaited me. I wondered if it would be like this every day now that Shun was living with us. They had almost finished eating. I came into the room quietly and slipped into the empty place.
Shun was talking, some nonsense about warding off ghosts with cups of green tea. I let her finish. Before my father could speak, I observed to him, “You had breakfast without me.” It hurt me deeply and I didn’t try to hide that. It was a small ritual we had shared since we had been left alone after my mother’s death. Whatever else happened, he woke me in the morning and we had breakfast together.
He looked very draggled and weary, even though he had shaved and his shirt was clean. But I refused to feel sorry for him as he said, “It was a late night for all of us. I thought you would want the extra sleep.”
“You should have wakened me to see if I wanted to join you.”
“I probably should have,” my father said quietly. He spoke in a voice that told me he wasn’t pleased we were having this discussion in front of Riddle and Shun. Suddenly I regretted it.
“Children need more sleep than adults. Everyone knows that,” Shun informed me helpfully. She picked up her teacup and observed me over the rim as she sipped from it. She had the eyes of an evil cat.
I looked at her levelly. “And everyone knows that ghosts are bound to the site of their deaths. Your Rono is wherever you left him. Ghosts don’t follow people about.”
If she had been a cat, she would have hissed at me. Her lips pulled back from her teeth in just the same way. But if she had been a cat, she would have known the noise in the walls was just another cat. I looked at her as I asked my father, “Is there any food left for me?”
He looked at me without speaking and then rang a small bell. A servant I didn’t know hurried into the room. My father directed him to bring breakfast for me. I think Riddle was trying to be soothing when he asked me, “Well, Bee, and what are your plans for the day?”
Shun narrowed her eyes when he spoke to me and I knew instantly what I wanted to do that day. Keep Riddle so busy he would have no time for Shun. I lifted my chin and smiled at him. “Since you are here, and my father has been so busy preparing for our guest and with the repairs to the house that he has little time for me, I wondered if you would show me how to ride a horse today?”
His eyes widened with genuine pleasure. “With your father’s permission, I would be delighted!”
My father looked stunned. My heart sank. I should have known that asking Riddle to teach me would hurt his feelings. I had aimed for Shun and struck my father instead. Not that I had missed Shun. Her narrowed eyes made her look even more like a dunked cat. My father spoke. “I thought you said that you didn’t want to learn to ride; that you didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of sitting on another creature’s back and telling it where to go.”
I had said that, when I was much smaller, and it still made perfect sense to me. But I would not have said it in front of Shun. I felt the burn rise to my cheeks.
“Such a peculiar idea!” Shun exclaimed and laughed delightedly.
I stared at my father. How could he have said that aloud and in front of a relative stranger? Had he done it on purpose, because I’d hurt his feelings? I spoke stiffly. “I still feel it is unfair, simply because we are humans and can force animals to obey us, that we should do it. But if I am ever to visit my sister at Buckkeep Castle, it is a thing I must learn.”