It was very gratifying. I suddenly wondered if I had ever looked at Chade with such puppyish awe. I made a decision. “Neither one of us needs to be armed,” I told him pleasantly. I bent my hand and the knife was gone. It was enough that he knew how quickly it could reappear. I leaned back in my chair and appeared to relax, and saw his shoulders lower in response. I sighed to myself. The lad had so much to learn.
For now, however, his naïveté served my purpose well. I looked at him for a moment, reading as much as I could of him without making my gaze into a stare. He’d have his guard up against direct questions. But he was already beginning to be uncomfortable with my silence. I sighed, letting my body appear to relax even more as I reached for the wine again. I poured another glass. He shifted his feet uncomfortably. “That’s Lady Rosemary’s favorite wine,” he objected mildly.
“Is it? Well. She has good taste, then. And I know she wouldn’t mind sharing some with me. We’ve known each other a long time … she was just a child when I first met her.”
That piqued his interest. I wondered how much he had been told of me when they’d sent him on his mission to Bee’s cradle. Not too much, I judged. Chade valued caution as a virtue surpassing almost all others. I smiled at him. He took my bait.
“Is that who showed you how to get here? Lady Rosemary?” Furrows showed in his brow as he tried to piece it together and see where I belonged.
“Who are you talking to, Lant?” Lady Rosemary’s voice reached us before she had entered the room. The lad spun toward her. I remained where I was, wineglass in hand.
“Oh.” She halted, holding the curtain aside, and looked at me. I had told the apprentice the truth. I had known her when she was a child, though we’d had little to do with each other since then. Prince Regal had recruited her when she was a chubby little maid, even younger than FitzVigilant. Regal had arranged a position for her, serving the Mountain-born Princess who had wedded King-in-Waiting Verity. She had been Regal’s little spy on his brother’s wife, and quite likely had been the one who greased the tower steps and caused the pregnant Kettricken to take a bad fall. That had never been proven. When Regal had tumbled from power, all of his minions had descended into disgrace as well, the child Rosemary among them.
Only Kettricken’s forgiving nature had saved her. When all else shunned her, Kettricken had seen her as a confused child, torn between loyalties, and quite possibly guilty only of trying to please the man who had been so kind to her mother. Queen Kettricken had taken her back into her court and seen to her education. And Chade, never one to waste anything, had seen her as a partially trained tool for spying and assassination, and quickly made her his own.
Now she stood before me, a woman in the middle of her life, a lady of the court, and a trained assassin. We regarded each other. She knew me. I wondered if she clearly recalled how she had pretended to drowse on the steps of the Queen-in-Waiting’s throne while I reported to Kettricken. Even after all those years, I felt both horror and resentment that a mere child had so easily deceived me. She stepped into the room, lowered her eyes before my gaze and then dropped into a deep curtsy.
“Lord FitzChivalry Farseer. You honor us. Welcome.”
And as neatly as that, she had foxed me again. I did not know if she tried to convey respect to me, or if she was conveying information to her apprentice as quickly as she could. The boy’s swift intake of breath told me that he’d had no idea of my true identity, but that he now guessed the full import of my visit. And perhaps he understood more of his original errand at Withywoods. I looked at her coolly. “Has no one ever warned you what you may conjure up when you give welcome and name a ghost?”
“Welcome? And honor? I’d call it an extreme annoyance, dropping in at this hour, unannounced.” Chade pushed into the room from behind the same tapestry that had admitted Rosemary. Lady Rosemary was attired in a simple morning dress, and I suspected that after whatever lesson she’d planned with FitzVigilant, she had intended to begin her day. In contrast, Chade was nattily attired in a snug-fitting green shirt with voluminous white sleeves. The shirt was belted with black and silver, and the skirts of it fell almost to his knees. His leggings were black, his slippers likewise but worked with silver beads. His silver-gray hair was bound back in a severe warrior’s tail. Obviously he was at the end of a very long night’s entertainment rather than the beginning of a day’s work.
He was blunt. “What brings you here?”
I met his gaze. “That’s the same question I asked young FitzVigilant, about four months ago. His answer did not satisfy me, so I thought I might come here and get a better one. From you.”