I gave him a look. Revel folded his arms. He did not meet my glance, but his mouth was stubborn. I found a bit of patience for him. He was young and fairly new to the household. Cravit Softhands, our ancient steward, had died last year. Riddle had stepped up to shoulder many of the old man’s duties, but insisted that Withywoods needed a new steward trained. I’d casually replied that I did not have time to find one, and within three days Riddle had brought Revel to us. After two months, Revel was still learning his place, I told myself, and considered that perhaps Riddle had infused him with a bit too much caution. Riddle was, after all, Chade’s man, insinuated into our household to watch my back and probably spy on me. Despite his current merriness and devotion to my daughter, he was a man steeped in carefulness. Given his way, we’d have had a guard contingent at Withywoods to rival the Queen’s Own. I reined my mind back to the question at hand.
“Revel, I appreciate your care. But it’s Winterfest. And be they minstrels or wandering beggars, no man should be turned from our door on such a holiday, or on such a snowy evening. While there’s room in the house, they need not sleep in the stable. Bring them in. I’m sure all will be well.”
“Sir.” He was not agreeing, but he was obeying. I suppressed a sigh. That would do for now. I turned to join the throng in the Great Hall.
I turned back to him. My voice was stern as I asked him, “Is there something else, Revel? Something pressing?” I could hear the tentative notes of musicians bringing their instruments into harmony, and then the music suddenly opened into blossom. I’d missed the start of the first dance. I gritted my teeth as I thought of Molly standing alone, watching the dancers whirl.
I saw his teeth catch for an instant on his lower lip. He decided to press on. “Sir, the messenger still waits for you in your study.”
Revel gave a martyred sigh. “Hours ago, I sent one of our temporary pages looking for you with a message. He said he shouted it at you through the door of the steams. I have to inform you, sir, this is what comes of us using untrained boys and girls as pages. We should have a few here permanently, if only to train them for future need.”
At my wearied look, Revel cleared his throat and changed tactics. “My apologies, sir. I should have sent him back to confirm you’d heard him.”
“I didn’t. Revel, would you mind dealing with it for me?” I took a hesitant step toward the hall. The music was rising.
Revel gave a minute shake of his head. “I am very sorry, sir. But the messenger insists the message is specifically for you. I have asked twice if I could be of any help, and offered to write the message for you.” He shook his head. “The messenger insists that only you can receive the words.”
I guessed the message, then. Holder Barit had been trying to wrangle me into agreeing that he could pasture some of his flock with our sheep. Our shepherd had adamantly insisted that this would be too many beasts for our winter pasturage. I intended to listen to Shepherd Lin, even if Barit was now willing to offer a decent amount of money. Winterfest eve was no time to be doing business. It would keep. “It’s fine, Revel. And don’t be too stern with our pages. You are right. We should have one or two on staff. But most of them will grow up to work in the orchards or follow their mothers’ trades. It’s rare that we need them here at Withy.” I didn’t want to be thinking about this right now. Molly was waiting! I took a breath and made my decision. “Thoughtless as it is for me to have left a messenger waiting so long, it would be ruder by far if I leave my lady unpartnered for the second dance as well as the first. Please extend my apology to the messenger for my unfortunate delay and see that he is made comfortable with food and drink. Tell him that I’ll come to the study directly after the second dance.” I had no wish to do so. The festivities beckoned tonight. A better idea came to me. “No! Invite him to join the festivities. Tell him to enjoy himself, and that we will sit down together before noon tomorrow.” I could think of nothing in my life that could possibly be so pressing as to demand my attention tonight.
“Her. The messenger is a girl, sir. Scarcely a woman, by the look of her. Of course, I have already offered her food and drink. I would not so neglect anyone who came to your door. Let alone one who seems to have come a long and weary way.”
Music was playing and Molly was waiting. Better the messenger wait than Molly. “Then offer her a room, and ask if she would like a hot bath drawn or a quiet meal alone before we meet tomorrow. Do your best to see she is comfortable, Revel, and I will give her as much of my time as she wishes tomorrow.”