I swung my feet out in front of me. I wore last year’s boots, the leather cracking at the sides of my feet. My leggings were thick with burrs from taking a shortcut through the gardens. The knees were dirtied and a dead leaf clung to one shin; I must have knelt down somewhere. I stood and pulled my tunic dress out in front of me. It was not dirty, but it was stained. I’d had less clothing since that scrubbing out of my room. I felt a vague alarm that perhaps some of my clothes had been burned. Perhaps I should check on the state of my possessions. I scratched at a bit of mud on the hem of the tunic, and it popped off. I’d put this on only a day or two ago. The stain on the breast was an old one. Dirty and stained were not the same thing at all, I thought.
Unless you were looking at someone and didn’t know that those were stains, not fresh soiling. I thought about it for some time. It was all distressing. Lessons with children who hated me, who would poke and pinch and mock me if they had the slightest chance. People were talking about my father and about me in ways that I didn’t like. They believed things that weren’t true, but it was because they looked true. It would look to someone else that my father didn’t care about me. When my mother was alive, she had done all that was needed to keep me neat and clean. I hadn’t given it much thought; it was just something she did for me, one of the many things she did for all of us. Now she was gone. And my father hadn’t begun doing those things for me because, I decided slowly, they weren’t important to him. He saw me, not that my boots were cracked at the sides or that every tunic I owned was stained. He had mentioned that we had to “do better” but then he had done nothing.
And I was just like him. Those things hadn’t mattered at all to me, until someone had pointed out that perhaps they should. I stood up and brushed at the front of my tunic. I felt very grown up as I decided that the answer wasn’t to mope about it or blame my father. I lifted a hand to my fraying hair. I would simply tell him what I needed, and he would get it for me. He’d done it for Shun, hadn’t he?
I went directly to find him. It took me a short time but eventually I discovered him in the Yellow Suite. He was speaking to Revel. Next to them was a servant standing on a stool, hanging the cleaned bed draperies. One of the new maids, a girl named Careful, was standing by with an armful of linens. The featherbed had been put into a fresh cover and looked deep and soft. If no one had been looking, I would immediately have tried it out.
Instead I waited patiently until my father turned, saw me, smiled, and asked, “Well, Bee, what do you think of it? Can you think of anything else you’d like done to your new chambers?”
I stared, mouth ajar. Revel gave a very pleased chuckle. My father cocked his head at me. “You’ve caught us a bit early, but we’re close enough to finished here. I knew you’d be surprised but I didn’t think you’d be speechless.”
“I like my own room,” I said breathlessly. With the secret entrance to the spy-maze, I did not say aloud. I looked around me and saw what I hadn’t before. The chest at the foot of the bed was sized down to make it easier for me to find things in it. The empty wardrobe standing open in the corner had a stool beside it for the upper shelves. The hooks inside it were placed where I could easily reach them. This was proof that my father did think of me. I knew I could not reject this misguided gift. “You did all this for me?” I asked before he could speak again.
“With some advice from Revel,” my father noted. The tall steward nodded a curt agreement.
I looked slowly around the room. I recognized the small chair by the fire. I’d seen it somewhere else in the house; now it was freshened with new varnish and yellow cushions. I didn’t recognize the footstool. It wasn’t an exact match for the chair, but it was close enough, with the cushion done in the same fabric as the chair. The window had a box seat in it; a step had been added to make it easier for me to take a place there, and a handful of various-sized cushions in bright fabrics beckoned me to relax there. I glanced from it to my father.
“Lots of help from Revel,” he amended sheepishly, and the steward now beamed. “You know that I know nothing of such things as curtains and cushions. I told him after we’d found the bedbugs that I would not put you in that room again. He said it was known among the servants that you favored this suite of rooms, and so he suggested that, as we’d already begun to freshen them, that we finish them especially for you. And here you are, just in time to say if you approve.”
I found my tongue. “They’re very nice. Very pretty.”