I am. Treat him well and make him welcome. And whatever it was, Nettle was not divulging it to me, either. I’m going to sleep now, she informed me. Not all of us are night wolves, Tom. Some of us prefer to sleep.
Good night, then, my dear.
And she was gone, fading from my awareness like perfume blown from a room by an errant breeze.
She was not the only daughter I had who was adept at avoiding me. For the next few days Bee managed always to be leaving the room as I entered it. I saw her at meals but she had renewed her silent ways while Shun chattered like a hen that had just laid an egg and wished the whole chicken yard to know of it. She had, after much dithering, chosen the Purple Suite, which she called the Lavender Chambers, to be her domain. But if I had thought that was going to win me a reprieve from her demands and complaints, I was soon divested of that idea. She found the pattern on the draperies “too busy” and thought the bed hangings faded. The looking glass was “spotty, and far too small to be of any real use.” Candelabra would not do: She wanted lamps for her dressing table. I dared not refer her directly to Revel, for I feared he would not only give way to every one of her requests, but amplify them. Riddle’s solemn face and merrily glinting eyes convinced me that he had well earned my compromise, which was to send him off, with Shun and a letter of credit, to the big trading market at Lakesend, a journey that would require them to overnight at the inn there and give me at least one evening of peace. Once Revel heard of their errand, he gave me a list of needed items of such magnitude that I ordered up a wagon and team to accompany them. Tavia was next, complaining of battered pans and knives whetted away to nothing. Her list was added, and then I thought of a few items of my own that needed replacing. They departed eventually with two wagons and teams. Riddle was not smiling as they rode off. I was. I judged that the additional lists had granted me at least one extra day and possibly two before they would return.
In addition to Shun’s and Revel’s errands, I gave Riddle one of my own. On the way he was to listen for any news of strangers seeking to find a pale girl such as the one who had visited us. I told him that I was very curious as to why she had fled so abruptly. I wanted to know what she had feared, and if those persecuting her should, in their turn, be hunted down by the King’s Guard. I know that Riddle suspected there was far more to that tale than he had been told, and that, I decided, would add spurs to his quest for news. And Shun would be out from under my roof for at least a hand of days. The level of relief I felt was startling.
I would not force Bee to be near me. Perhaps after what she had seen that night, she needed a distance. But quietly, and from a good distance, I informed myself of where she went and what she did. She spent a good amount of time in her hiding place, and I soon discovered the sort of reading she was doing. I was appalled, as much as by my carelessness as by what she had probably learned of me. Well, that was my own fault, and I knew how to deal with it. Just as Chade had when he had discovered that I had not limited my reading to what he was putting in front of me. Over the next five days I threw myself into my work. Revel could not do it all. He was a good manager of tasks, a man who could locate the right people, hire them, and tell them what he wanted done. But he was not the best man to see that a job was being done properly. Burrich had taught me the fine art of strolling past idlers and motivating them with a single look, and I did not hesitate to employ it. I could not claim a fine knowledge of brick-and-mortar work, nor carpentry, but I could spot workers who were only pretending to labor. It was also fascinating to watch a master such as Ant taking her time on brickwork to do the best job and to let her make her own pace.
In addition to all the repairs and tidying going on, the regular work of the estate did not falter. I sensed that Bee was avoiding me, but could not blame her. She had much to think about, as did I. And perhaps I was avoiding her as well, hoping that I had not put too much on her small shoulders. If I called her to me and we sat down to discuss it, would it gain weight and importance in her mind? Could I be honest in my answers to the questions she would ask? For those days I pushed thoughts of the messenger’s errand out of my mind, telling myself that if the Fool’s unexpected son had been hidden for so many years, a few more days could not matter. I had visited the sheep pasture and looked at the softening horse tracks in the snow there. Lin was right. Three horses had come and gone the same night that I’d burned the messenger’s body. I found the prints of one dismounted man, enough to let me know that someone had at least stretched his legs. There was no sign of a campfire or prolonged use of the area. I stood where the tracks were and looked toward Withywoods. There was little they could see of the house from here; the garden walls and shade trees screened it from view. They would have been able to see my bone fire. They might have stood and watched me and Bee as we burned a bundle of bedding. More than that, they would not have seen. That was all the ground could tell me, and I set it out of my mind as useless information. Travelers, or poachers or passing thieves, perhaps.