“But the Elderlings had all sorts of powerful magic. Why would they need a fort? Who were their enemies? And who destroyed the castle the first time?”
“Now, that is a very good question. Not many people have asked it, and so far as I know, no one can answer it.”
The conversation lapsed, and to say something I blurted out, “One day I should like to visit Buckkeep Castle.”
“Would you? Then you shall.” He fell silent again, and then spoke as if words were painful. “Your tutor spoke of the morning’s lesson today when we were at table.”
I said nothing. Absurdly, I wished the cat were with me.
My father sighed. “He praised the goose-herder’s children for their skill at arithmetic. And was very pleased to discover that Larkspur could read and write.”
I waited. He gave a small cough, and added, “Lady Shun asked then what good numbers could do for a child who would grow up to manage geese. Or what a gardener might read on the earth or in leaves. She sees no sense to educating the children of servants.”
“Revel can read and write and do figures,” I pointed out. “Mama used to give him lists and he would take money and buy things she wanted at the market, and bring back the right amount. Even a goose girl should know enough numbers to count the eggs in a nest! And Larkspur will learn much from reading Lady Patience’s scrolls on plants and gardening. Cook Nutmeg knows how to read and write, and how to keep track of how many sacks of flour or how much salt fish she needs for the winter.”
“You make a good argument,” my father said, approvingly. “Much the same one that I presented to Shun. And then I asked Lant how you had fared at your lessons.”
Lant. My father called him Lant now, as if he were my cousin. I looked down at my blanketed feet. They had been warmer when the cat had been there. And I felt slightly ill, as if something terrible had fallen into my stomach and squatted there.
“I did not like what I heard,” my father said quietly.
There was no one in the world who loved me. I swallowed hard. My words came out breathlessly. “I could not explain.” I shook my head wildly and I felt tears fly from my eyes. “No. He didn’t really want me to explain. He thought he knew what was true, and he did not want to be wrong.”
I hugged my knees tightly to my chest, pulling them in hard, wishing I could break my own legs. Wishing I could destroy myself so I could escape these terrible feelings.
“I took your side, of course,” my father said quietly. “I rebuked him for not asking me about your intellect. Or speaking with you before lessons were to start. I told him that he had deceived himself about you; you had not lied to him. And I told him he would have one more chance to instruct you at a level befitting what you had taught yourself. And that if he could not, he might continue to instruct the other children, but I would not allow you to waste your time. That I would find it a pleasure to instruct you myself in all I think you need to know.”
He said the words so calmly. I stared at him, unable to breathe. He cocked his head at me. His smile looked shaky. “Did you imagine I could do otherwise, Bee?”
I coughed and then flung myself into his lap. My father caught me and held me tight. He was so contained that it did not hurt. But for all that, I felt the anger that simmered in him like hot oil inside a lidded pot. He spoke in such a growl I felt as if it were Wolf-Father speaking inside me. “I will always take your part, Bee. Right or wrong. That is why you must always take care to be right, lest you make your father a fool.”
I slid off his lap and looked up at him, wondering if he was trying to make a joke of all of it. His dark eyes were serious. He read my doubt. “Bee, I will always choose to believe you first. So it is your serious responsibility to be righteous in what you do. It is the pact that must exist between us.”
I could never bear his gaze for long. I looked aside from him, pondering it. Thinking of the ways I already deceived him. The cloak. The cat. My explorations of the tunnels. My stolen reading. But did not he also and already deceive me? I spoke quietly. “Does this go both ways? That if I always take your part, I will not end up a fool?”
He didn’t answer immediately. In a strange way, that pleased me, because I knew it meant he was thinking it through. Could he promise me that I could always believe he was doing what was right? He cleared his throat. “I will do my best, Bee.”
“As will I, then,” I agreed.
“So. Will you sit down to dinner with us, then?”
“When the time comes,” I said slowly.