Securely wrapped in the cloak with only one eye peering out, I was confident I would not be discovered. From my vantage, I could watch the comings and goings of all the tradesfolk moving in and out of my home. It was not my first time to do so. The cloak was surprisingly warm for how thin it was. This meant I did not have to bundle myself in layers of wool against the winter chill. Whenever I saw an arrival that I wished to investigate further, I could clamber quickly down from my hiding place, sneak back into the house, hide my cloak, and quickly emerge dressed as if I had never left the manor.
I was at my observation post that afternoon when I saw a morose young man on a gleaming black horse ride up the carriageway. He had a mule with two panniers of luggage strapped to it on a lead line. The rider was warmly dressed for the cold day. Black boots hugged his legs to his knee. His woolen leggings were dark green. They matched his cloak, a heavy one trimmed with wolf fur. His dark hair was not in a warrior’s tail but fell to his shoulders in natural ringlets. He wore two silver earrings in one ear, and a sparkling red stone dangled from the other. He passed so close under my tree that I could smell him, or rather the fragrance he wore. Violets. I had never thought of a man smelling like violets. I quickly decided by his fine clothing that this must be my tutor. I stared down at him, trying to reconcile a babyish memory of danger from a boy with the man I saw below me. I wondered what had befallen him on his journey, for both his eyes were blacked and his face bruised purple and green all over the left side.
Despite his battered face, he was the handsomest person I had ever seen. His shoulders were wide, his back straight as he rode. The bruising could not disguise his straight nose and strong jaw.
I watched him ride up to the door, his posture very stiff. My instincts warred in me. He was a handsome man, smelling of violets and rather battered. I had been prepared to fear and hate him. Now I wasn’t sure what to make of him. He had no servant to dash ahead of him; nor did he shout for anyone to come and take his horse. Instead he dismounted stiffly. He gave a small grunt of pain as his foot touched the ground, and once he had both feet on the ground he leaned his head against his saddle, catching his breath. When he straightened, he stood for a time, stroking his horse’s neck and looking around. Dread, I decided, was what he felt. He did not come as a man hired to tutor a girl, but as someone expelled from one life into another. I wondered if he had come of his own will. I remembered something I had read in my father’s writing. “Chade, you old spider,” I whispered softly, and was shocked when he flinched a look in my direction. I sat very still, my legs tucked tight to my body, peering through a tiny gap in the cloak’s shelter. His gaze went right past me. Still, I held my breath and remained motionless. He turned back to look at the door of the house. And still he hesitated.
A servant emerged suddenly, to ask courteously, “May I be of service, sir?”
FitzVigilant had a boy’s voice still. “I’m the new scribe,” he announced uncertainly, as if he could not quite believe it himself. “I’ve come to be Lady Bee’s tutor.”
“Of course. We’ve been expecting you. Please, do come in. I’ll call a boy to take your mount and mule, and see that your things are carried up to your room.” The servant stepped aside and gestured him toward the open door. With the cautious dignity of a man in pain, my tutor carefully ascended the steps.
The door closed behind him. I sat still, watching the space where he had been. I had the feeling that something momentous had happened in my life. I had a very tiny awareness that I should hurry inside and make myself presentable. I suspected that my father would soon be summoning me to meet my new tutor. Uneasiness roiled in me. Was I afraid? Eager to meet him? Likely he would be a part of my life now for many years.
Unless he killed me.
When common sense asserted itself, I clambered down, folded my cloak carefully, stuffed it under my tunic, and dashed for the servant’s entrance. I tiptoed past the kitchen door and then sped down the hall. I reached the pantry and slipped inside.
Someone was waiting for me there. I stopped dead and stared.
The mice? He was sitting in the middle of the pantry, his kinked tail curled neatly around his mismatched feet.
“How did you know to come here?” I whispered.
He stared at me, mice dancing in his green gaze.
“This way,” I told him. I dropped to my knees and crawled behind the stacked crates of fish. He followed. When I turned around to shut the hatch to the secret corridor, he darted back out of it. “No. Come in,” I told him. He did. I reached to shut the door. He darted out. “I can’t leave it open wide.”