I spoke firmly. “Then I shall. As soon as I’ve been allowed to finish my food.”
“I would not mind something to eat,” Shun agreed, contented now that she had her way. “But have they anything nicer than soup and bread? An apple pastry, perhaps? Chicken?”
I lifted a hand to summon a serving boy. He came and Shun interrogated him ruthlessly as to what foods were available. She badgered him into asking the cook to heat a cold fowl that was in the pantry, and to bring it with a dried apple tart. FitzVigilant was content with soup and bread. The boy mentioned that there were little gingercakes soon to come out of the oven in the kitchen. I asked for six of them, and the boy left.
“Six?” Shun exclaimed in amazement. “Six?”
“Some to eat and some to take. They were my favorites when I was a child, and I think that Bee will like them as much as I did.”
I twisted to ask Bee if she would like to try some of my favorite cakes, and found she was not there. I lifted my eyes to Riddle. He tipped his head toward the rear of the tavern; the privy was out that way.
Shun seized my sleeve. “I forgot to ask for mulling spices in my cider!”
I lifted my hand to summon the boy back. He had his head hunched down, and I was almost certain he was pretending not to see me. I waved my hand wearily. The boy darted off to another table, where he was greeted with raucous cheers from six waiting men. I watched him strike his pose and begin his recitation. The men were grinning at him. “He’s busy right now,” I excused him to Shun.
“He’s ignoring me!”
“I’ll go back to the kitchen and tell them to spice your cider,” FitzVigilant offered.
“Of course you shouldn’t!” she exclaimed. “That boy should come back over here and do his tasks. Tom Badgerlock! Cannot you make that boy do as he should? Why should he ignore his betters to bring food to a table full of lowborn farmers? Call him back here!”
I drew a breath. Riddle stood so abruptly he nearly overset the bench. “I’ll go to the kitchen. The inn is busy today. Leave the boy alone to do his work.”
He swung his leg over the bench, turned, and strode across the crowded inn room as only Riddle could, sliding between the packed customers but somehow giving offense to none.
Except Shun. She stared after him, nostrils flared and mouth pinched white. Riddle’s tone had left no doubt as to his opinion of her. FitzVigilant was staring after him, his mouth slightly ajar. He rolled his eyes to look at Shun and said weakly, “That’s not like Riddle.”
“He’s had a trying day,” I excused him. I pointed my chill remark at Shun but she seemed immune to my intent to shame her. I frowned after Riddle, feeling as if he rebuked me as much as Shun. Lant was right. It wasn’t like Riddle. I suspected that my behavior had far more to do with Riddle’s short temper than Shun’s pique over her mulling spices. I closed my eyes for a moment, tasting bitterness in the back of my throat. That poor old bitch. For years I had rigorously controlled my Wit, refusing to reach out, refusing to allow anyone to reach into me. Today those barriers had fallen and I no more could have turned away than I could have ignored someone beating Bee. That sadistic butcher had not been Witted; but I had felt what radiated from the old dog toward him. It was not the aches in her damaged and aging body as she’d trotted after his cart. It wasn’t even the sharp agony she’d felt as he cut her. I’d learned, over the years, to brace myself against that sort of bleed-over of pain from creatures. No. What had cracked my walls and flooded me with fury was something else she had felt for him. Loyalty. Trust that he knew what was best. For all the days of her life, she’d been his tool and his weapon, deployed however he wished. Her life had been harsh but it had been what she’d been bred for. For that man, she had baited bulls, fought other dogs, set on boars. Whatever he had commanded, she had done, and taken the joy of the weapon in doing what it was created for. When she’d done well and won for him, sometimes there had been a shout of pride over her, or a cut of the meat. Rare as those moments were, they were the best ones in her life, and always she had been ready to make any sacrifice to earn one more of them.
When he had set her on the bull’s head, she had sprung to it. And when he’d sliced off her ear, she kept her teeth clenched, accepting in her dogged way that there was a reason for the pain her master dealt her.
Not so different from how I had been when Chade had first employed me. I’d become what he’d raised me and trained me to be. Just as he had. I did not fault him for what he’d made of me. If he had not taken me as his apprentice, I probably would not have lived past ten years old. He’d taken a bastard—an embarrassment and possibly a liability to the Farseer throne—and made me useful. Even essential.