Fool's Assassin / Page 261

Page 261



“Are you sure of that?” I wasn’t.

“Yes,” he replied firmly. “And until he does, I am here.”

He closed his eyes. I watched him. The fire was warm on our backs and he smelled good, of wild clean places. I closed my eyes.

I woke deep into the morning with Careful bustling about the chamber. “I’ve let you sleep in, as you came in so late, and Scribe FitzVigilant said that he would begin lessons late today as well. But now you must wake up and face the day, Lady Bee!”

She wore her new beads, and a sprig of holly in her hair. “Is it Winterfest?” I asked her, and she smiled.

“Tomorrow night. But the kitchen is already cooking for it, and very late last night some minstrels arrived offering to make it merry for us. Steward Revel decided to allow them to stay until he could ask your father’s permission. In your father’s absence he conferred with Scribe FitzVigilant, and he said of course they must stay. And this morning Lady Shun sat down with Revel to make up the menu for the feast! Oh, such dishes as she has ordered up! It will be a feast such as we haven’t seen in many a year!”

I felt torn. I was excited to know there would be music and dancing and a great feast and insulted to think that it had all been arranged in my father’s absence and without his permission. My reaction puzzled me. Had he been home, I was certain he would have approved it. And yet to have those two arranging it all still offended me.

I sat up in bed and asked, “What has become of my fur nightrobe?” For I was wearing my mother’s red woolen nightshirt.

“A fur nightrobe? Did you buy a fur nightrobe in town? I’ve never heard of such a thing!” Careful hastened to my wardrobe and opened the door, only to reveal nothing of the sort.

My head was clearing of the night’s fancies. “It was a dream,” I admitted to her. “I dreamed I had a nightrobe of wolf fur lined with red wool.”

“Fancy how warm that would make you! A bit too warm for my taste,” Careful said, laughing, and she set about finding clothes for me. She was disappointed that I had not bought new garments for myself while I was in town. She shook her head as she set out one of the too-large tunics and a new set of wool leggings. I let her chatter flow past me as I tried to relegate my experience to the status of “only a dream.” It was not a dream such as I had had before; it was much more like the first time I had met Wolf-Father in the passages. Who was he? What was he? He was the wolf in the carving, just as the beggar was the “Scentless One.”

As soon as I was dressed I left the room, but instead of seeking breakfast I went to my father’s study. I opened the door to a chill room; the hearth had been swept clean since last it had been used. I touched the cold stones and knew that there had been no blazing fire in here last night. I looked again at the carved black stone on the mantel. Well, that part of my dream had been true. The other man in the carving was definitely the beggar as a youngster. I looked at his face and thought he must have been a merry fellow back then. I studied the wolf as well; the carver had done his dark, deep eyes justice. I suddenly envied my father, having such friends when he was just a boy. Who did I have? Perseverance, I told myself. Revel. And a cat who still hadn’t told me his name. For a moment I felt as if I could vomit loneliness and sadness. Then I squared my shoulders and shook my head. Self-pity would get me nothing but more of the same.

There was another carving on the mantelpiece, one of wood. It was the wolf only. I took it down. It was hard and poked me when I hugged it, but for a long, long time I held it in my arms. I wanted it very badly, but I set it back where it had been. When my father came home, I resolved I would ask for it.

I shut the study doors, latched them, and then opened the panel to my own den. I went up to my hiding place and checked my water and bread supplies. More candles, I decided. I felt I might be spending a lot of time in here until my father got back. It would let me be undisturbed, and I doubted anyone would miss me. The cat was not there, but he had left my cloak on the floor. I found it with my foot and then, as I stooped to pick it up, I discovered he had left a half-eaten mouse on it. Wrinkling my nose in disgust, I gathered the cloak and took it back to my father’s study with me. The tiny half-corpse I disposed of in the fireplace. I sniffed the cloak gingerly; it smelled of tomcat and dead mouse. I shook it out and folded it into a tiny packet. I’d have to find a private place to wash it out myself. And then, I resolved, I’d find a new hiding place for it, one not shared with a cat. He had asked for a basket and a blanket, and I hadn’t yet fulfilled that part of the bargain. Later today, I would. I thrust the handful of butterfly cloak into the front of my tunic, sealed up the secret panel, and left my father’s den after a final glance at the wolf.


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