I took my scroll of letters with me when I descended to breakfast. I set it by my plate, greeted everyone at the table very politely, and then paid attention to my food. Despite my father’s support, I felt sick as I thought of the lesson time to come. My father might have convinced FitzVigilant that I was not a deceptive little half-wit and perhaps my tutor now feared to treat me disrespectfully, but that would do me little good with the other children. I excused myself early from the table and went directly to the schoolroom.
Some of the other children had already arrived. The goose children were there, standing close to the gardener’s boy. Larkspur was pointing to the letters on their scroll and naming each for them. Perseverance was waiting, wearing a stable boy’s livery that fit him much better and looked almost new. I was not sure I liked him in green and yellow as much as I had in his simple leathers. He was also wearing a black eye and a swollen lower lip. It looked hideous when he smiled, the fat lip stretching painfully. But smile he did at the sight of me, as if we had never quarreled. I slowed my steps as I walked toward him, completely bewildered. Could it be that simple? Simply pretend we had never quarreled; just go back to treating each other as we had before? It didn’t seem possible. But I was determined to try it. I smiled back at him, and for an instant his grin grew wider. Then he lifted the back of his hand to his bruised mouth and winced. But the smile stayed in his eyes.
“Perseverance,” I greeted him when I was two steps away.
“Lady Bee,” he responded gravely, and actually sketched a bow at me as if I were truly a lady grown. “Exactly who I was hoping to see before lessons began.”
“Truly?” I raised my brows at him skeptically, trying to conceal how much my heart had lifted at his words. One ally. One ally was all I needed in that wretched schoolroom and I could endure it.
“Truly. Because I have completely jumbled what these two letters are, and neither my father nor my mother could help me.” He spoke in a low voice as he unrolled the scroll, and I did not ask him why he had not asked Larkspur. I was the one he could ask for help without awkwardness. Just as he had been able to teach me to sit a horse. Without speaking a word about it, we drifted away from the others. We stood with our backs to the wall and both unrolled our letter scrolls as if we were comparing them.
I breathed out the names of the first five letters and just as softly, Perseverance repeated them. Under his breath, he added, “They look like hen’s tracks and have names that are just sounds. Who can remember such useless things?”
I had never seen letters in such a light. But I had seen them through my mother’s eyes before I was born, and had seen them for myself when I sat on her lap of an evening and she read aloud to me. When I considered Perseverance’s words, I understood his frustration. I tried to make connections for him. “The first one, see, it makes the sound at the beginning of Revel’s name, and it has long legs, just as he does. And this second one that makes the sound at the beginning of water has a curl here, like water running over a rock.” In this way we named not just the first five letters, but ten of them. So engrossed were we in this new game of looking at letters that neither of us was aware of the looks from the other children until Elm giggled in a very nasty way. We both looked up to see her roll her eyes at Lea. And there, coming down the hall toward us, was our teacher.
As he passed me, he observed in a jolly voice, “You, Lady Bee, have no need of that!” and he plucked the letter scroll from my startled fingers. Before I could react, he called all of us to assemble in the schoolroom. We entered, each resuming the same place as the day before. He was much more brisk than he had been the day before. He organized us into groups, putting children of similar ages together with a wax tablet. He sent Larkspur and me to a different corner of the room. He gave us a scroll about the geography and crops of each of the Six Duchies, along with a map, and told us to familiarize ourselves with them. He smiled at both of us as he directed us, and it seemed a sincere expression. Now that I knew fear was the source of his kindly regard, I felt shamed for us both. Then he looked round in annoyance and demanded, “Where is Taffy? I will not tolerate tardiness!”
A silence held among the children. Several exchanged glances, and I became aware that there was a secret I didn’t know. Perseverance was focused on his tablet. I watched him carefully copy a letter.
“Well?” Scribe FitzVigilant demanded of us. “Does no one know where he is?”
“He’s home,” Elm said.
One of the sheep-smelling boys said quietly, “He’s poorly. He won’t come today.” He glanced at Perseverance. A very slight smile stretched the stable boy’s swollen lip tight. He appeared to be very intent on his letter scroll.