Or so I had thought. I wondered if he did then as I did now, which was to leave out only those that I thought might intrigue her mind or educate her. My private thoughts I recorded in a ledger that I now wrote in only within my bedchamber. Even if she had known of the sliding compartment in the great chest at the foot of my bed, she would not have been able to reach it.
I thought of calling her out of her hiding place and decided against it. Let her have her private place in which to sulk or mourn.
There was a tap at my door. “Riddle,” I said, and he eased the door open. He peered round it, cautious as a fox, and then sidled in, closing the door softly behind him.
“I’m so sorry,” he said.
“No harm done,” I replied. I was not sure if he was apologizing for Shun accosting me about music lessons, or if he had overhead her remarks about bastards and was offering sympathy. In either case, “I’ve no desire to discuss it now.”
“I’m afraid we must,” he offered. “Revel was delighted with Lady Shun’s request. He thinks it would be absolutely marvelous for you to have music and dancing at Withywoods again. He says there’s an old man in Oaksbywater who can no longer croak out a note, but can teach Lady Shun to coax a tune from a harp. And Revel has offered himself as a dancing master to her, ‘Only, of course, until a more suitable partner can be discovered for such a lady.’ I will add that Lady Shun was not greatly pleased when he eagerly suggested that Bee might also profit from instruction in dance and music.”
I saw the glint in his eye and surmised, “But you accepted on her behalf.”
“I’m afraid I could not resist,” he admitted, and I saw the cobweb stir, as if someone had either sighed or drawn in a breath. Little spy. What was bred in the bone, I supposed, would not be beaten out of the flesh.
“Well. Doubtless it will do her no harm,” I mercilessly replied, and the cobweb stirred again. “Time and past time that my daughter received the education of a lady.” Better music and dancing, I thought to myself, than the lessons in blood points and poisons. Perhaps if she was put out of my influence in the area of her education, I could refrain from raising her as I had been raised. Burning bodies by moonlight, and fighting with knives. Oh, well done, Fitz. Well done. And yet, in a dim corner of my mind, a sage old wolf opined that the smallest cub was the one that needed the sharpest teeth.
Riddle was still watching me. “There’s more, isn’t there?” I asked reluctantly.
He gave a tight nod. “Yes. But from a different source. I’ve a message from Chade.”
That piqued my interest. “You have? And how, perchance, did that message reach you?” And did I dare let him relay it with Bee listening?
He shrugged one shoulder. “Pigeon.” He proffered a tiny scroll to me. “You can read it yourself, if you wish.”
“He sent it to you. Did he intend we both know whatever is in it?”
“Well, it’s a peculiar note, especially coming from Chade. He offers a cask of Sandsedge brandy, apricot brandy, if I can discover exactly how you deduced FitzVigilant’s maternal line.”
A shiver of almost-knowing ran over my skin. “I’m sure I don’t know what we are discussing here.” For an instant I debated shushing him, wondering if a secret was about to be shared that my little daughter had no right to know.
Riddle shrugged and uncoiled the tiny scroll. He held it close to his face to read, and then moved it out until his eyes could focus on the minute lettering. He spoke its words aloud. “‘Huntswoman or gardener’s girl, he surmised. And the huntswoman it was. A cask of apricot Sandsedge brandy if you can discover for me how he narrowed it to those two …’”
I smiled as Riddle’s voice faltered. “And the rest, no doubt, for your eyes alone?”
Riddle raised his brows. “Well, perhaps he intended it that way, but how I could keep it from you, I don’t know. He ardently desires to know why this is such an important piece of information to you.”
I leaned on my elbows and steepled my fingers, tapping them against my lips as I considered. “It probably isn’t,” I told him bluntly. Would the small listener in the wall behind me have put the shards together as quickly as I had? Most likely. It was not a difficult riddle.
“I was seeking for a child born of either of those women. But not sired by Lord Vigilant. Unless …” It was my turn to let my words trickle away as a peculiar thought came to me. Many a bastard had been blessed with a mother deceptive enough to proclaim him the product of the rightful marriage bed. Was this a case of a mother finding a more acceptable illegitimacy for her son? Would Laurel have conceived by the Fool, and then claimed the child was the offspring of another tryst? No. Not only did I believe that the huntswoman would have cherished any babe Lord Golden fathered on her, but the age was wrong. FitzVigilant might be Laurel’s son, but he could not be the Fool’s. And knowing Laurel as I had, I doubt she would willingly have ceded a lovingly conceived child, no matter his bastardy, to his father’s sole care. There was more of a tale there than I had the heart to know, something dark. A rape? A dishonest seduction? Laurel had left a child to be raised by a man who acknowledged him but was either incapable or unwilling to protect him as he grew. Why? And why did Chade and Nettle seem to value him so?