Fools assassin, p.50
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       Fools Assassin, p.50

         Part #1 of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy series by Robin Hobb
Page 184


  I walked past the sheep pens on the way back to the house. On a lichened rock in the middle of the close-cropped pasture a lean black kitten was hunched, looking down at the deeper grass. He had two white paws that I could see, and a crook in his tail. He was hunting. I stopped and stood silently. I watched his muscles tighten and tighten and then, like an arrow released from the bow, he dived down onto something in the grass. He hit it hard with both his front paws and then shot his head in to kill it with a swift bite. He looked up at me and I suddenly knew he had been aware of my scrutiny the whole time. The dark-gray mouse was limp in his jaws.

  “I know where there are plenty of mice, mice fat on cheese and sausages,” I called to him. He looked at me silently as if considering my words, and then turned and trotted purposefully away with his prey. He had grown up fast, I thought to myself.

  Cats do. Once a cat can hunt, he can get all he needs. Then his life is his own.

  The thought came so clearly to my mind that I almost believed it was my own.

  “I have need of a hunter such as you!” I called after him. He did not pause as he trotted away.

  I watched him go and thought that my needs meant little to anyone but me. What I needed, I would have to obtain for myself.

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Search for the Son

  The first task a lady must undertake in her new home is the establishment of respect for herself. This may be more difficult than one might expect, especially if one is moving into her new residence after wedding, and one’s husband’s mother is still the mistress of the household. But, startling as it might seem, it can be even more difficult for the lady who takes charge of her bachelor husband’s residence after wedding. In a case where servants have become accustomed to there being only a master of the house, the new lady may find it difficult to wrest control or even gain respect from the upper echelon of servants. Stewards and cooks are notoriously hard to deal with in this regard. The new mistress of the house will rapidly tire of hearing, “But this is how it has always been done here. ” Even worse is to be told by a servant, “This is how the master prefers it be done. ” If it is not addressed immediately, the new lady of the house will find herself delegated to the same status as a visiting minstrel.

  Often the best course is simply to dismiss the heads of staff and begin afresh with servants of the lady’s choosing. But in cases where the master is attached to older servants, the lady must be direct and firm in taking immediate control. It is a mistake simply to accede to what is first offered to her. Immediately challenge the menus, the flower arrangements, the attire of the staff—in other words, establish control of your domestic domain from the moment you step in the door.

  Lady Celestia’s Guide to Manners

  I found Revel already busy with the workmen. He was outside the door of the rooms that were to be Shun’s, berating them for the mud they had tracked in. I waited until he had finished, and then mentioned to him that perhaps Lady Shun would want a different color of room. Could the Yellow Suite be painted to accommodate her?

  He looked at me as if I were daft. “But then the rainbow would be out of order. ”

  “I beg your pardon?”

  “By Lady Patience’s decree, years ago, the seven suites were painted to reflect the order of colors in the rainbow. Thus it begins with red, then orange. Yellow is followed by green, then blue, and …”

  “And purple. Is the Purple Suite in good repair?”

  The crease between his eyes deepened. “As good a repair as I’ve been able to keep it in, given the budget you’ve allotted me. ” He looked down on me, struggling to hide his disapproval over how little consideration I’d given to the estate over the years.

  I made a hasty decision. “Send for Lady Shun. Let her select the room with the color that best suits her. And prepare the Green Suite as well. No. Wait. You are right, Revel. Bring me a list of what must be done for each of the suites in the main house in order to meet your approval. Let us begin, as we should have years ago, to make them right, one after another. Oh, and there will be another guest coming to stay with us, arriving in ten days or less. FitzVigilant is to be tutor to Lady Bee. And perhaps to some of the other estate children. ”

  That last came to me in a flash. King Shrewd had always insisted that every child at Buckkeep be afforded at least a chance for letters and numbers. Not all parents chose to take advantage of that, and many a child begged his way out of it, but every youngster at Buckkeep Castle was offered a chance to learn. It was time I stepped up to that legacy as well.

  Revel breathed in deep through his nose. For a man with such a merry name, he looked very dour as he said, “Then the schoolroom must also be put to rights, sir? And the adjoining chambers for the scribe?”

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  Schoolroom. I recalled abruptly that Withywoods had one. My early education had happened at one of the lesser hearths in the Great Hall at Buckkeep. And Molly’s boys had come to me with a good foundation in reading and reckoning from Burrich, and had mainly been educated by me and by the other folk at Withywoods. They’d learned from the arborist, the orchard man, the shepherd … I’d never demanded they master another language, and their knowledge of Six Duchies history and geography had mostly been passed to them during long conversations in the evenings or minstrel songs at holidays. Had I been lax in educating Burrich’s sons? Neither Molly nor either of the boys had ever asked that I supply more than that. Guilt squeezed me.

  “Sir?” Revel’s query jolted me back to the present. I stared at him, wondering what we had been discussing.

  At my questioning look, he repeated, “The schoolroom, Holder Badgerlock. It was Lady Patience’s doing. Many years ago, when she still hoped that she would have babes of her own that would grow up here. There is a schoolroom. A room especially for teaching children. ” He spoke the last two words as if I might not be familiar with such a concept.

  Of course. And, “Of course, then, Revel. Freshen the schoolroom and the scribe’s chambers, and make a list for me of any more serious repairs they might need. Oh. And a list of the children, please, who might wish to learn their letters and reckoning. ”

  Revel’s eyes held a martyr’s determination to excel as he asked, “And is there anything else, sir?”

  I conceded. “That’s as much as I can think of right now. If anything more occurs to you, please bring it to my attention. ”

  “As it should be, sir,” he agreed, and I could almost hear his thought: As it should have been done all along.

  That evening, when the workmen were gone and Bee once more asleep in Molly’s sewing room, I Skilled to my elder daughter. I was getting ready for bed, Nettle greeted my questing touch.

  I didn’t realize it was so late, I apologized. I wished to apprise you of my latest round of renovations to Withywoods. I deem them necessary, as does Revel, but I fear it will eat into the reserves I had set aside from the income.

  I felt her sigh. Please stop the formalities. You are not truly my Holder reporting to me. We both know that, by every right, Withywoods should have come to you. Your insistence that it is mine and you must justify every action you take there wears on me.

  But it is your inheri—

  And it hurts my feelings. Do you truly think I would object to what you might do there to benefit Bee? Or yourself? I know you do not believe me so selfish. So stop, please. Do what must be done to keep it standing and in good repair, and spend the income from the lands as it must be spent. Or as you’d like to spend it. A pause. You know that FitzVigilant will soon be on his way to you?

  I’ve been so informed, yes. I tried to conceal from her the reservations I felt about the arrangements.

  Well, I do not think he is truly fit for travel yet. I’ve urged Chade to leave him in hiding for a time. When he arrives, you should have a healer see to him. He’s a stiff-necked lad, and will insist he is quite
all right, thank you very much. Insist on it. He took a bad beating, a very bad beating. I think Chade will finally send him away in the hope it will keep him safe. He should have been sent to you years ago. As I’ve told Chade repeatedly. He should have put the boy’s best interests before his inclination to keep him near.

  I’ll see that he’s well cared for. I was going to put him in the Green Suite, but then Revel informed me that Patience had created a schoolroom in the east wing and that there are living chambers for the schoolmaster adjacent to them.

  Is there? Oh, yes, I recall it now. It’s a rambling old place, isn’t it? But that should suit Lant well. He’s private. And seems to be even more so since the beating.

  Physical abuse tends to bring that out in a person, I thought to myself. It was nothing that I needed to share with Nettle. But I well recalled what Regal’s torture had done to me, and how withdrawn the Fool had been after the Pale Woman’s savage attentions. We live in our bodies. An assault on that outside fortress of the mind leaves scars that may not show, but never heal. I would give him his privacy. And if he chose to talk, his words would remain safe with me.

  Are you still awake? Nettle sounded annoyed that I might disturb her rest with my Skilling and then nod off myself.

  Yes. Just mulling over the arrangements I’ll make for FitzVigilant.

  Treat him gently.

  You’re fond of him, aren’t you? Again, I had the impression that he was more important than Chade had informed me.

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  I am. Treat him well and make him welcome. And whatever it was, Nettle was not divulging it to me, either. I’m going to sleep now, she informed me. Not all of us are night wolves, Tom. Some of us prefer to sleep.

  Good night, then, my dear.

  Good night.

  And she was gone, fading from my awareness like perfume blown from a room by an errant breeze.

  She was not the only daughter I had who was adept at avoiding me. For the next few days Bee managed always to be leaving the room as I entered it. I saw her at meals but she had renewed her silent ways while Shun chattered like a hen that had just laid an egg and wished the whole chicken yard to know of it. She had, after much dithering, chosen the Purple Suite, which she called the Lavender Chambers, to be her domain. But if I had thought that was going to win me a reprieve from her demands and complaints, I was soon divested of that idea. She found the pattern on the draperies “too busy” and thought the bed hangings faded. The looking glass was “spotty, and far too small to be of any real use. ” Candelabra would not do: She wanted lamps for her dressing table. I dared not refer her directly to Revel, for I feared he would not only give way to every one of her requests, but amplify them. Riddle’s solemn face and merrily glinting eyes convinced me that he had well earned my compromise, which was to send him off, with Shun and a letter of credit, to the big trading market at Lakesend, a journey that would require them to overnight at the inn there and give me at least one evening of peace. Once Revel heard of their errand, he gave me a list of needed items of such magnitude that I ordered up a wagon and team to accompany them. Tavia was next, complaining of battered pans and knives whetted away to nothing. Her list was added, and then I thought of a few items of my own that needed replacing. They departed eventually with two wagons and teams. Riddle was not smiling as they rode off. I was. I judged that the additional lists had granted me at least one extra day and possibly two before they would return.

  In addition to Shun’s and Revel’s errands, I gave Riddle one of my own. On the way he was to listen for any news of strangers seeking to find a pale girl such as the one who had visited us. I told him that I was very curious as to why she had fled so abruptly. I wanted to know what she had feared, and if those persecuting her should, in their turn, be hunted down by the King’s Guard. I know that Riddle suspected there was far more to that tale than he had been told, and that, I decided, would add spurs to his quest for news. And Shun would be out from under my roof for at least a hand of days. The level of relief I felt was startling.

  I would not force Bee to be near me. Perhaps after what she had seen that night, she needed a distance. But quietly, and from a good distance, I informed myself of where she went and what she did. She spent a good amount of time in her hiding place, and I soon discovered the sort of reading she was doing. I was appalled, as much as by my carelessness as by what she had probably learned of me. Well, that was my own fault, and I knew how to deal with it. Just as Chade had when he had discovered that I had not limited my reading to what he was putting in front of me. Over the next five days I threw myself into my work. Revel could not do it all. He was a good manager of tasks, a man who could locate the right people, hire them, and tell them what he wanted done. But he was not the best man to see that a job was being done properly. Burrich had taught me the fine art of strolling past idlers and motivating them with a single look, and I did not hesitate to employ it. I could not claim a fine knowledge of brick-and-mortar work, nor carpentry, but I could spot workers who were only pretending to labor. It was also fascinating to watch a master such as Ant taking her time on brickwork to do the best job and to let her make her own pace.

  In addition to all the repairs and tidying going on, the regular work of the estate did not falter. I sensed that Bee was avoiding me, but could not blame her. She had much to think about, as did I. And perhaps I was avoiding her as well, hoping that I had not put too much on her small shoulders. If I called her to me and we sat down to discuss it, would it gain weight and importance in her mind? Could I be honest in my answers to the questions she would ask? For those days I pushed thoughts of the messenger’s errand out of my mind, telling myself that if the Fool’s unexpected son had been hidden for so many years, a few more days could not matter. I had visited the sheep pasture and looked at the softening horse tracks in the snow there. Lin was right. Three horses had come and gone the same night that I’d burned the messenger’s body. I found the prints of one dismounted man, enough to let me know that someone had at least stretched his legs. There was no sign of a campfire or prolonged use of the area. I stood where the tracks were and looked toward Withywoods. There was little they could see of the house from here; the garden walls and shade trees screened it from view. They would have been able to see my bone fire. They might have stood and watched me and Bee as we burned a bundle of bedding. More than that, they would not have seen. That was all the ground could tell me, and I set it out of my mind as useless information. Travelers, or poachers or passing thieves, perhaps.

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  Or had they been the messenger’s pursuers? I weighed what she had told me of them, and decided not. Either they would be vicious enough to pursue her to my door, or they would have needed to be confident of her death. I could not imagine them standing at a distance, watching the place where she might have taken refuge, and then moving on. No. Coincidence. Nothing more. I suspected they might still be trying to find her. If they were about, Riddle would hear of them. He was good at that sort of listening.

  But I would keep my guard up in case they were still tracking her. And I promised myself that I would undertake the search for this unexpected son as soon as I could. For now I would secure my home and my unexpected ward before I took on any other tasks. Better to make all clean and strong at home before I had to leave. I dreaded a trip to the Mountains in winter, but possibly I’d have to undertake one. I doubted Jofron would respond to any message from me. If that was where the trail led, I’d have to go there personally.

  At night, before I slept, the strange mission would come into my mind. How could I leave Bee at home to undertake such a quest? I could not. Could I take her with me? Into danger? I could not. Send her to Nettle? Would the tutor be any sort of a bodyguard for her, as Chade had once suggested? How could Lant be? The beating he had taken was a poor recommendation for his ability to protect himself, let alone my child.

; Shun as bodyguard for Bee was a bad jest. She disliked my daughter and was afraid of noises in the night. Not the sort of protector I would choose for Bee. I’d have to find someone I could trust. Until then, I could not go off on the Fool’s errand. Yet I could not ignore it. Anxiety vied with anger: I feared that my old friend was in grave danger, might indeed be dead already. And I was furious that he had sent me such a cryptic message. I knew that his presentiments for the future were vague now, but surely he could have told me something of his own situation! Perhaps if his messenger had lived longer, she would have been clearer. Some nights, I feared I had been hasty in granting her a merciful death. Useless to think of that now, I scolded myself. Then I would try to find a more comfortable position in my bed, close my eyes, and berate myself for what I had done to my daughters. Mostly I chided myself, over and over, for letting Chade send me his problems. But how could I have said no to him?

  I steeled myself to the necessity of beginning my task at least. I will admit it was a bit petty of me to wait until the middle of the night was well past before Skilling to Chade. If I had hoped to wake him, I had wasted my effort. He was immediately open to me, and even expressed pleasure at the contact. It made me realize that I was not often the one to reach out. It made it harder to keep my secrets close.

  I’ve an odd favor to ask you. And even odder, I must refuse, for now, to tell you why.

  Oh, well, this is off to an intriguing start. Ask away, then. But don’t blame me if I manage to divine your intent before you share it with me. I could feel him settling back in the chair in his den, stretching his legs out to the fire.

  He seemed to relish the possibility that he might outfox me and divine my goal. So. Let it become a game for him. He’d dig like a badger for my secret and perhaps uncover others in the process.

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