Blood had the power to waken memory stone, whether it was an Elderling-carved dragon or the bust the Fool had shaped. And in that brief linking, I knew that the girl was dead. I’d felt her terror at being hunted and cornered, her memory of past torments, and the agony of her death. By that, I knew her for Revel’s girlish messenger rather than the soldier-schooled woman I’d seen with the two men. They’d followed her, they’d hunted her through my home, and they’d killed her. I did not know why or what message they had foiled, but I would find them and I would find out.
I rolled to my belly, still holding the carving to my chest. My head swam. I got my knees under me, knelt, and managed to stand by holding on to the desk top. Staggering to my chair, I sat down. I set the carving on the desk before me and looked at it. It had not changed. Had I imagined that movement, the Fool’s soundless scream and staring eyes? Had I shared some distant experience of the Fool’s, or had the carving expressed the terror and pain the messenger had felt at her death?
I started to lift the carving, to set it to my brow to view again the simple memories he had stored in it for me. But my hands shook and I set it back on the desk. Not now. If somehow I’d merged the girl’s pain into the stone, I did not want to know that now, or share that agony again. Right now I needed to hunt.
I tugged my sleeves down over my hands, and restored the carving to its place on the mantel. Still a bit shaky, I explored my den, looking for other signs of their presence, but found nothing.
Someone had come here, to my private den, forced the doors, and disturbed some very private possessions. There were few things that touched to the heart of me as that carving did, precious few things that tied me to a past when I had served my King with the two dearest friends I had ever known. That someone, a stranger, had dared to handle it and had profaned it with blood he had shed brought me to the edge of a killing fury, and when I considered that it might easily have been stolen, my vision went red for a moment.
I shook my head angrily, forcing cold on myself. Think. How had they found this place? It was obvious. When Revel had been sent to find me, they had followed. But if finding me was the true objective, why hadn’t they attacked then? And how had I missed being aware of them? Were they Forged, as Web had first suspected, humans with every connection to humanity torn from them? I doubted it; they had moved as a group in the ballroom, with trepidation and self-control such as I had never seen in the Forged. Had they, then, had some way of masking their life signatures? I knew of no magic that could do that. When my wolf had been alive we had, with difficulty, learned to keep our communication private. But that was scarcely the same as being able to completely conceal myself from the awareness of other Witted.
I pushed that concern aside for a moment. I reached for Nettle with the Skill, and swiftly shared most of what I knew with her. I made no mention of the blood or the carving. That was private.
I’m with Mother. Riddle took Hearth and Just with him. He has told Just that he must guard Patience’s door while Riddle and Hearth are checking every unoccupied room in the manor.
Excellent. How is your mother?
Still sleeping. She looks as she always does and I can detect nothing wrong with her. But I was very alarmed when she fainted earlier. Much more worried than I wished her to see. Her father died when he was only two years older than she is now.
He had ruined his health with drink, and the brawling and stupid accidents that go with it.
Her mother died very young.
I pressed my palms to my eyes and pushed on my brow with my fingers. It was too frightening. I could not think about it. Stay there with her, please. I’ve just a few more places that I wish to search, and then I’ll come take your place.
I’m fine here. You needn’t hurry.
Did she suspect what I was about to do? I doubted it. Only Patience and Molly and I knew of the concealed labyrinth of secret passages in Withywoods. While the peepholes within the passage did not give me a view of every single bedchamber, they would allow me to look in on many of them, to see if any harbored more guests than we had invited.
It was closer to dawn than midnight when I emerged from the passageways. I was festooned with cobwebs, chilled to the bone, and weary. I had discovered nothing save that at least two of the housemaids were willing, for luck, fancy, or perhaps some coin, to spend the night in beds not their own. I’d seen one young wife weeping into her hands while her husband snored drunkenly halfway into their bed, and one old couple indulging in Smoke so potent that the slight drift of it into my secret passageway had dizzied me.
But of the peculiar minstrels or the messenger’s body, there was no sign.