As I took my place at the table, I noticed that Shun did not immediately begin eating, but waited until FitzVigilant had taken his seat beside her. They were most companionable diners, greeting my father and Riddle, but sparing neither word nor glance for me. They passed food to each other, and Shun poured him more tea. For the most part I kept my eyes on my plate and ate. Whenever I did steal a glance at them, the matched beauty they presented clawed at my heart with jealous nails. Truly, they looked as if they had been struck from the same mold, created to be matches. They both possessed the same glossy curls, decided chins, and fine noses. Their gazes admired each other as if they were staring into a vanity mirror. I put my gaze back on my plate and pretended a great interest in my sausage.
My father was offering Riddle a side of good bacon, wines from the cellar, and smoked river fish to take back to Buckkeep Castle with him. If Riddle had said yes to all of it, he could have loaded a wagon and borrowed a team. But he was insisting that he had to travel light, and that he would try to call again soon.
Then my ears caught a fragment of Shun’s words. “… pretend it doesn’t bother me. But I am so glad that you are well enough to teach. A day filled with useful pursuits is, I believe, best for children. And discipline. Will you have a strict hand, do you think?”
FitzVigilant’s voice was low and soft, like a big cat’s rumble. “Very strict to begin with, I think. Better to start with a firm hand, I think, than to try to establish one later.”
My heart sank.
We finished our breakfast, and our scribe bid my father have a good morning. When he looked at me, he did not smile. “I expect to see you promptly in the schoolroom, Lady Bee.”
Courtesy might change his opinion of me. “I shall follow you there, Scribe FitzVigilant.”
He looked at my father rather than me as he said, “I suggest that my students call me Scribe Lant. It is less of a mouthful for young folk to remember.”
“As you wish,” my father replied, but I know he shared my thought. The name did not brand him as a bastard each time it was spoken.
I waited quietly as my teacher bid Riddle good day, then followed him silently as he led the way to the schoolroom. He still had a slight limp, but he strove to strike a brisk pace. I followed him as quickly as I could without breaking into a trot. He said nothing to me as we hastened to the schoolroom, nor did he look back to see if I kept up with him. Foolish as it might seem, my heart was breaking while my dislike for Shun was simmering to a boil. I would put dead rats in her wardrobe. No. That would only lead to trouble for Revel, and he had been kind to me. I tried in vain to think of any nasty trick I could do that would not create trouble for anyone else. It was so unfair that, simply because she was beautiful and a woman grown, she could command the full attention of any man in the household. They were my father, my sister’s companion, and the tutor sent to teach me, but with a toss of her head, it seemed that Shun could make them hers. And I was powerless to stop her.
I had fallen well behind his long-strided haste. He reached the door of the schoolroom and halted, looking back at me in mild annoyance. He was silent as he waited for me, and stood back to allow me to trot into the room ahead of him.
I halted inside the door in astonishment. I had never seen so many children gathered in one place, and they all stood as I entered. It seemed strange and threatening, as when a tree fills up with cawing crows or bees swarm before leaving the hive. I stood still with no idea of where to go. My gaze roved over them. Some I knew from past encounters, some I had glimpsed in passing, and two were complete strangers. Elm and Lea were there, neat and tidy, dressed in the green and yellow of Withywoods, their kitchen aprons set aside for now. Taffy was there, in a simple jerkin and trousers. He glowered, his arms crossed on his chest, obviously not pleased at being there. I found Perseverance in the back, his face so scrubbed it looked raw and his hair bound back in a tail. His clothing was tidy, but had plainly seen more than one owner. The lads near him would be the boys from the stables, Lukor and Ready and Oatil. There was a lad I’d seen working in the gardens, and two, a boy and a girl, that I’d seen tending geese. So many! At least a dozen faces stared at me as I stood frozen.
A disapproving voice spoke behind me. “Lady Bee, if you would please move out of the doorway so I may enter?”
I tottered a few steps out of his way and abruptly realized the children had risen for the scribe, not me. It made me feel a bit better as I edged into the room and their gazes shifted from me to FitzVigilant.
“I am pleased to see such promptness,” he greeted them. I thought I detected a note of dismay in his voice. Was he as astonished as I was at how many children had assembled? He took a short breath. “You will address me as Scribe Lant. I am here to teach you. Lady Nettle has been extremely generous in sending a tutor to instruct the children of her estate. I want all of you to be aware of how rare such generosity is. I hope you will show yourself properly grateful by exhibiting excellent behavior and applying yourselves diligently to your studies. We will begin immediately. Let each of you find a place and be seated. I think my first task will be to determine how much you already know.”