I was casting my mind back over recent conversations with Riddle, trying to scavenge a clue to what she was talking about. I was distracted to think she had bothered poor FitzVigilant with her chatter. “Riddle is actually Lady Nettle’s man, only loaned to Lord Chade for your safekeeping. And to look in on young Lady Bee, her sister.”
“Her ‘sister.’” Shun smiled. She cocked her head at me and regarded me with a trace of sympathy. “I respect you, Holder Badgerlock. Truly, I do. Living in your stepdaughter’s home, maintaining it so diligently. And offering haven to the bastards of Buckkeep. FitzVigilant and myself and Bee. Tell me. What lord fathered her that she must hide here with you? I’m thinking her father was from Farrow. I’ve heard that wheat hair and cornflower eyes are more common there.”
Such a surge of emotions. If I had not possessed the benefit of Chade’s years of training, I think that for the first time in my life I would have struck an unarmed woman. I stared at her, masking everything I felt from her empty smile. Or was it? Was she seeking to hurt me? Truly, Bee was right. A girl did not need to hit to hurt someone. I could not tell if the blow she had dealt me was intended or not. She had her head cocked, smiling at me confidentially, as if begging for a stray bit of gossip. I spoke slowly and softly. “Bee is my true daughter, the child my loving wife bore to me. No taint of bastardy touches her.”
Her gaze changed, her sympathy apparently deepening. “Oh, dear. I beg your pardon. I thought that surely, as she does not resemble you at all … but of course, I am sure you know what is true in that regard. So there are only three bastards seeking sanctuary at Withywoods. Myself and FitzVigilant, and, of course, you.”
I matched her tone perfectly. “Of course.”
I heard a soft tread and looked past her to see Riddle approaching. His movements slowed as if he had seen a crouching lynx or a snake poised to strike. Uncertainty turned to dismay as he accepted that he might have to attempt to protect Shun from me. When had the man come to know me so well? I stepped back from her, putting myself beyond striking distance, and saw his shoulders relax, then tighten again as Shun shadowed my movement, putting herself back in harm’s way. His eyes met mine for a moment and then he strode lightly up to join us. When he touched Shun on the shoulder, she jumped. She had been completely unaware of his approach.
“I’ve arranged a meeting with Revel for you,” he lied quickly. “I think he is our best source for an appropriate music instructor for you. And perhaps a dancing master as well.”
She bristled, perhaps offended at being touched, and while he had her attention I walked away, leaving him with the problem. Unfair, perhaps, but safer for all of us.
In the safety of my study, with the door closed, I finally allowed myself to feel everything she had roused in me. Fury was foremost. How dared she, a guest in my home, speak so of my daughter! The slur on Molly’s name was equally unforgivable. But bafflement followed fury. Why? Why had Shun, who depended on my goodwill, said such things? Was she so blind to all levels of courtesy that she regarded such a question as acceptable? Had she been deliberately trying to insult or wound me, and if so, why?
Did she truly believe Molly had cuckolded me? Did others look at Bee’s pale hair and blue eyes and think me a fool?
I controlled my glance as I sat down at my desk, sparing only a flicker of a look at the wall above my worktable. Across Bee’s peephole, I had coaxed a thread of spider silk, and trapped a tiny bit of bird down in it. It hung motionless save when Bee was in residence. It had given a tiny jiggle as I crossed the room. She was there now. I wondered if she had preceded me to the study, or if she had used her badly hidden pantry entrance. I hoped she was not weeping over her father’s idiocy in disposing of her treasures. Her anger was hard for me to bear, but weeping would have been worse.
I looked down at the scroll on my desk. I had no real interest in it at the moment; it was written in an archaic style in faded ink, and was something Chade had sent to me to be recopied. It dealt with a Skill-exercise for new students. I doubted it would interest my daughter. The hair I had left across one corner of it was undisturbed. So. She had not thumbed through my papers today. I remained certain that she had done so previously. I was not sure when she had begun to read papers left in my study, so I could not be certain just what she had seen of my personal writing. I sighed to myself. Every time I thought I had stepped forward to being a better parent, I discovered a new failing. I had not confronted her about her investigation of her father; I had known she could read, and I had been careless. In my own youth I had read more than one missive or scroll that Chade had left carelessly lying about.