“What is ‘pecksie-kissed’?” Riddle demanded as my father simultaneously said, “Hap will be proud to know you have remembered his song so well!” Then he turned to Riddle. “‘Pecksie-kissed’ means lucky out in far Farrow. But I do not know if Silverskin is Hap’s own song, or a much older one.”
Shun interrupted abruptly. “You know Hap Gladheart? You’ve heard him sing?” She sounded scandalized. Or furiously jealous.
My father smiled. “Of course. I fostered Hap when he was an orphan. And I was never so glad myself as when I heard that he had taken that name for himself. Gladheart.” He turned back to Riddle. “But we are getting far afield from Bee’s question. Riddle, who do you think first built a fort on that cliff?”
Soon all three of us were speculating, with Riddle adding comments about things he had noticed in the lower reaches of Buckkeep Castle. He had seen what might have been runes, badly eroded, on the wall of one dungeon. My father spoke about the Witness Stones, and the Buck tradition of holding combats there, as well as weddings. Now that we knew the Witness Stones were actually portals that the highly trained Skill-user might use to cover great distances in a single stride, it was intriguing to speculate how they had come to be called the Witness Stones.
It was only when the meal was drawing to a close that I realized that my father had staged our conversation as carefully as if it were a counterattack on a fortification. In talking with Riddle and him I had completely forgotten my bruised feelings. I became aware that FitzVigilant’s conversation with Shun had faltered to a halt and that he was listening in on our talk. She was picking a piece of bread to pieces, her mouth pursed in displeasure. I became aware of all this only when my father shifted in his seat and casually said, “Well, Scribe Lant, and what do you think of Riddle’s theory? Have you ever been in the lower reaches of Buckkeep Castle?”
He jumped a tiny bit, as if discomfited to be discovered eavesdropping. But he recovered and admitted that when he was younger, he had ventured into the bowels of the keep with several of his friends. It had been done as a dare, but when they ventured too close to the cells down there, a guard had turned them back with a stern warning, and he’d never gone there again. “It was a miserable place. Cold and dark and dank. It gave me the greatest fright of my young life when the guard threatened to put us in a cell and hold us until someone came looking for us. We all ran at that. Oh, doubtless there are folk who deserve such confinement but I never even wished to look on it again.”
“Doubtless,” my father said in an affable voice, but Wolf-Father looked out of his eyes for a moment, and there were deep sparks of black anger in his gaze. I stared at him. Wolf-Father lived in my other father? This was a revelation to me, and I said little while I pondered it for the rest of the evening.
When the meal was over, my father offered me his arm. I managed not to seem surprised as I took it, and let him guide me to the sitting room where the men had brandy and Shun had red wine and, to my surprise, there was a mug of mulled cider on the tray for me. My father picked up our conversation about the Elderlings, and Scribe Lant joined in. I was surprised at how affable he was; I had expected him to be sullen or sarcastic, for my father had told me that his earlier rebuke of him had been rather sharp. Yet the scribe seemed to have accepted that correction, and twice he even spoke directly to me in a way that did not seem condescending or mocking. Very, very slowly, I decided that he had accepted that he had been mistaken in his impression and his treatment of me, and that he now wished to make up for it.
I saw that he looked at my father almost anxiously, as if his approval was extremely important. He fears him, I thought to myself. And then I thought how silly I was not to realize that Scribe Lant was very vulnerable, not just in that he had seen what my father was capable of when he was a boy, but also in that he was relying on my father’s hospitality to remain safely hidden. If my father turned him out, where could he go? How long before he would be found and killed? My feelings became very mixed. Shun’s green-eyed annoyance that he was paying more attention to my father and the conversation than he was to her was very gratifying. At the same time I felt uncomfortable that his rudeness to me had had the end result of making him puppyishly subservient to my father. I fell silent, more watching and listening than speaking, and finally begged to be excused, saying I was tired.
I went to bed in my pleasant new room that night. My thoughts were complicated and troubling. Sleep was late in coming, and in the morning there was Careful again, tugging at me and fussing over my hair. I thanked her for the use of the lace but declined it that day, saying that I feared ink and chalk would mar it. I think she was relieved to rescue her collar and cuffs from such potential disaster, but suggested that when my father took me to the market, I should buy some lace I liked and have the seamstress fashion me some of my own. I agreed softly but wondered if I would. I did not feel like a lace-and-earrings sort of person, I discovered. My mother had enjoyed such finery and I had loved how it looked on her. I felt more drawn to emulate my father’s plain clothing and simple ways.