As if that would have increased my standing in Scribe FitzVigilant’s eyes. No. For him, the only person at the table was Shun. She cocked her head and smiled at him as she took a sip of wine and he lifted his glass to her and smiled back. My father spoke with Riddle about his return to Buckkeep, when he would depart, messages he would carry to Lord Chade and Lady Nettle and even to King Dutiful. The grapes at Withywoods had done well, and there were preserves he wished to send to Lady Kettricken as well as a sampling of wine now aged five years from the Withywoods cellars that he felt showed great promise.
And I sat silent among them, cutting and eating my meat, buttering my bread, and looking away whenever Elm came into the room to put out a fresh dish or to clear plates. She was old enough now to serve at table, and her apron of Withywoods green and yellow suited her very well. Her hair was smoothed flat to her head and the length of it was pinned in a neat coiled braid on the back of her head. I wanted to lift a hand to my own head to see if my pale thatch of hair was still combed neatly or wandering on my head like torn corn silk. I put my hands under the table and clasped them tightly together.
When it was time to leave the table, my tutor moved quickly to slide Shun’s chair back and offer his arm to her. She took it readily and thanked “Lant” very prettily. So. He was Lant to her, and Scribe FitzVigilant to me. My father offered his arm to me, and as I looked up at him in surprise, his dark eyes danced with amusement as he flicked a glance at the young couple. I looked at Riddle, who rolled his eyes but also looked charmed by their behavior. I found nothing amusing about it.
“I think I shall seek my own chamber now,” I said quietly.
“Are you well?” my father asked me quickly, concern in his eyes.
“Quite. I’ve simply had a long day.”
“Very well. I’ll tap on your door later to say good night.”
I nodded. Was he warning me to be where I said I’d be? Well, I would be. By then. I took a candle in a holder to light my way.
Lady Shun and Scribe FitzVigilant had not even noticed that we had paused. They had moved out of the dining room and were headed toward one of the cozier sitting rooms. I didn’t want to see them sitting and chatting together. I turned away from all of them and strode away, my hand cupped to shelter my candle’s flame.
It had been a long day, truly, but not because of anything I’d done. Rather, it was the not-doing that had stretched the hours for me. I hadn’t gone down to the stables. For a time, I’d been trapped in my hidey-hole while my father and Riddle talked, until I had crept away down the passage to appear stealthily in the kitchens. But I had not dared to linger there to watch Mild knead the bread or turn the spit. Lea was there always now, sweeping up spilled flour or stirring a slowly bubbling kettle of cornmeal. Her dark eyes were like knives, her flat mouth an anvil to pound me against with her brief words. So I had spent the most of my day in one of Patience’s garden rooms, with a copy of Badgerlock’s Old Blood Tales. Every time my father had seen me with it, he had offered me a different book, which had made me believe there was something in it he did not wish me to read. Yet he had not taken it away from me. And so I was intent on reading every page of it, even the boring parts. I had finished it today and still had no idea what part of it he had dreaded me reading. Then I had wandered about the plant room, pinching dead bits off the plants. As most were dormant for the winter, this was not as interesting as it might have been.
My steps slowed as I traversed the corridor to my bedchamber. And when I reached the door of my old room, I slowed and looked carefully behind me. No one was watching. I opened the door and slipped inside.
It was dark. There was no fire on the hearth. The draperies over the window were drawn. I stepped inside and let the door close behind me. I stood still, breathing quietly, waiting for my eyes to adjust. My candle could barely push the darkness back. I moved forward slowly, groping my way. I found the corner post of my bed. By touch, I moved to the emptied chest at the foot of it. Only a few steps, and my hands met the cold stonework of the hearth.
The door to the adjacent servant’s chamber was closed, and suddenly that was frightening. A prickling ran up my back. The messenger had died in there. No, actually she had died right on my bed. Right behind me. For a moment I could not make myself turn to look at it, and then I simply had to. Knowing I was being silly didn’t help. Or was I being silly? I had told Shun that everyone knew ghosts only lingered where the person had died. And she had died there. I turned slowly. My hands were shaking and my candle trembled, sending shadows leaping about the room.