Fools assassin, p.54
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       Fools Assassin, p.54

         Part #1 of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy series by Robin Hobb
Page 199


  I swung my feet out in front of me. I wore last year’s boots, the leather cracking at the sides of my feet. My leggings were thick with burrs from taking a shortcut through the gardens. The knees were dirtied and a dead leaf clung to one shin; I must have knelt down somewhere. I stood and pulled my tunic dress out in front of me. It was not dirty, but it was stained. I’d had less clothing since that scrubbing out of my room. I felt a vague alarm that perhaps some of my clothes had been burned. Perhaps I should check on the state of my possessions. I scratched at a bit of mud on the hem of the tunic, and it popped off. I’d put this on only a day or two ago. The stain on the breast was an old one. Dirty and stained were not the same thing at all, I thought.

  Unless you were looking at someone and didn’t know that those were stains, not fresh soiling. I thought about it for some time. It was all distressing. Lessons with children who hated me, who would poke and pinch and mock me if they had the slightest chance. People were talking about my father and about me in ways that I didn’t like. They believed things that weren’t true, but it was because they looked true. It would look to someone else that my father didn’t care about me. When my mother was alive, she had done all that was needed to keep me neat and clean. I hadn’t given it much thought; it was just something she did for me, one of the many things she did for all of us. Now she was gone. And my father hadn’t begun doing those things for me because, I decided slowly, they weren’t important to him. He saw me, not that my boots were cracked at the sides or that every tunic I owned was stained. He had mentioned that we had to “do better” but then he had done nothing.

  And I was just like him. Those things hadn’t mattered at all to me, until someone had pointed out that perhaps they should. I stood up and brushed at the front of my tunic. I felt very grown up as I decided that the answer wasn’t to mope about it or blame my father. I lifted a hand to my fraying hair. I would simply tell him what I needed, and he would get it for me. He’d done it for Shun, hadn’t he?

  I went directly to find him. It took me a short time but eventually I discovered him in the Yellow Suite. He was speaking to Revel. Next to them was a servant standing on a stool, hanging the cleaned bed draperies. One of the new maids, a girl named Careful, was standing by with an armful of linens. The featherbed had been put into a fresh cover and looked deep and soft. If no one had been looking, I would immediately have tried it out.

  Instead I waited patiently until my father turned, saw me, smiled, and asked, “Well, Bee, what do you think of it? Can you think of anything else you’d like done to your new chambers?”

  I stared, mouth ajar. Revel gave a very pleased chuckle. My father cocked his head at me. “You’ve caught us a bit early, but we’re close enough to finished here. I knew you’d be surprised but I didn’t think you’d be speechless. ”

  “I like my own room,” I said breathlessly. With the secret entrance to the spy-maze, I did not say aloud. I looked around me and saw what I hadn’t before. The chest at the foot of the bed was sized down to make it easier for me to find things in it. The empty wardrobe standing open in the corner had a stool beside it for the upper shelves. The hooks inside it were placed where I could easily reach them. This was proof that my father did think of me. I knew I could not reject this misguided gift. “You did all this for me?” I asked before he could speak again.

  “With some advice from Revel,” my father noted. The tall steward nodded a curt agreement.

  I looked slowly around the room. I recognized the small chair by the fire. I’d seen it somewhere else in the house; now it was freshened with new varnish and yellow cushions. I didn’t recognize the footstool. It wasn’t an exact match for the chair, but it was close enough, with the cushion done in the same fabric as the chair. The window had a box seat in it; a step had been added to make it easier for me to take a place there, and a handful of various-sized cushions in bright fabrics beckoned me to relax there. I glanced from it to my father.

  “Lots of help from Revel,” he amended sheepishly, and the steward now beamed. “You know that I know nothing of such things as curtains and cushions. I told him after we’d found the bedbugs that I would not put you in that room again. He said it was known among the servants that you favored this suite of rooms, and so he suggested that, as we’d already begun to freshen them, that we finish them especially for you. And here you are, just in time to say if you approve. ”

  I found my tongue. “They’re very nice. Very pretty. ”

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  My father waited and I had to add, “But I do love my old room. ” I could not tell him, in front of the servants, that I wanted a room with an entrance to the spy-maze. I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell him about that entrance. I liked being the only one who knew about it. I weighed my secret and quick access to the spyhole against a chance to dispel some of the gossip. And what if he decided that he must improve my old room instead? The spy-door might be found! I cleared my throat. “But it was a baby’s room, wasn’t it? This is much better. Thank you, Father. It’s lovely. ”

  It was a bit awkward, but I went to him and put my face up to be kissed. I was probably the only one who knew he was surprised, and certainly only he and I knew how seldom we touched in that way. But he stooped to give me a kiss on the cheek, exactly as if it were something we were both comfortable doing. We were allies, I suddenly knew, holding our walls against a hostile world.

  Revel was fairly wriggling with excitement. The moment I stepped back from my father, he bowed and said, “Mistress Bee, if you have a moment, I’d enjoy showing you the cunning drawers in the wardrobe, and how the mirror folds down. ” The moment I gave a faint nod he stretched his long legs, and in two strides he stood before my new wardrobe cabinet. “See. There are hooks for necklaces, and tiny drawers for other jewelry. Here is the little shelf for scents! And, to be amusing, I’ve already added some for you! This charming little bottle holds rose essence, and this blue one has honeysuckle; both are very appropriate for a young lady of your years!

  “I’ve added a clever little stepstool for you, to allow you to reach every shelf and to see yourself in the mirror. See how it folds up or down! And here, this compartment for larger hanging items, ah, such a pleasant scent—lined with cedar, to keep those nasty little moths away!” As he spoke, he was opening empty drawers and tapping hooks with much more enthusiasm than I could ever have mustered for a wardrobe. I smiled as best I could and continued to smile as he assured me that the maid’s chamber attached to my room would soon be ready for an occupant. He commended Careful to my attention as a possible lady’s maid, and I had to turn and keep all dismay from my face as she presented herself. I judged her to be at least fifteen and perhaps older. She blushed as she curtsied, her arms still full of linens, and I had no idea what to say to her. A maid. What would I have her do? Would she always be near me, following me about? Suddenly I was glad I had been gracious about accepting the new room. If I had insisted on my old one, and they had put her in there, I’d have no chance to use my secret entrance. As it was, if she was sleeping adjacent to my room, would I be able to slip out unnoticed?

  I turned back to Revel. Carefully, carefully. “The room is so lovely, and the wardrobe is enchanting. You have given a great deal of thought to everything. And how kind of you, to make it easier for me to reach things. So often that has been a challenge for me, and now you have solved it. ”

  I had never seen Revel flush pink with pleasure, but he did now. His brown eyes suddenly twinkled at me, and to my shock I realized I’d made him my friend. I turned from him to my father. I had come seeking him, intending to ask him for new winter boots and some longer tunics. But I now perceived that I must not ask for those things in front of the servants. I looked round at them, Careful and Revel and the man installing the bed hangings. He was nearly finished now, and Careful was stepping forward and giving a final tug to make them hang straight. I had known Revel all
my life, but I had lived like the feral kitten, slipping past the tall house steward without a word. What possible interest could such a dignified and important adult have in me? And yet here he was, taking absolute joy in creating this room for me.

  And now Careful would obviously become part of my world. All of the enlarged ranks of folk that would populate Withywoods would now be people I must encounter and speak to every day. And there would be other children, larger than me but equal in years, in the schoolroom with me every day. So many people were becoming part of my world. How would I deal with so many people?

  Part of my world, but not part of my family. My father was my family. And he and I must stand back-to-back, always, and defend ourselves against all gossip and speculation. I was not sure why that was so … and then I knew. They might call me Bee Badgerlock, but I knew that in truth I was Bee Farseer. That knowledge was like a brick being set in place to fill up a chink in a wall. I was a Farseer. Like my father. So I smiled and took care to speak clearly as I said, “I came to ask when the tutor might be ready to begin my lessons, Father. I am very eager to start. ”

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  I saw understanding dawn in my father’s eyes, and he played to our audience as well. “He has said that he thinks he could begin in two days. He is finally feeling recovered from his journey. ”

  His beating, I thought. Such a polite pretense we were all sharing, but enough had seen his battered face when he arrived to know why our new tutor was keeping to his rooms and bed.

  “That is wonderful, then. ” I looked slowly around my new room, smiling large to be sure that all would see and know how pleased I was with it. “The room is finished? I may sleep here tonight?”

  Revel smiled. “As soon as the bedding is smoothed on the bed, mistress. ”

  “Thank you. I’m sure I will love being here. There are some things in my old room that I will want to bring here. I’ll fetch them. ”

  “Oh, little need, Lady Bee, I assure you!” Revel strode to the chest at the foot of my new bed and flung it open. He went down on one knee and beckoned me over as his long fingers crawled down the stack of folded fabrics. “An extra blanket of yellow and cream, for when the nights are very cold. And here, a lap rug for when you want to sit in your window. A new red shawl with a hood. Now, as we had to dispose of so much of your wardrobe, I had Seamstress Lily fashion you some new tunics. Looking at you, I fear we have made them too large, but they will suffice until we have time to get a proper fitting done. See, here is a brown one with yellow trim, and here a green one. This one is a bit plain; would you like some embroidery done round the hems? Never mind, of course you would. I’ll send it to the seamstresses. ”

  I had stopped listening. Revel was wallowing in his enjoyment. His words flowed past me. I did not know how to feel. All this new clothing, all at once, and none of it made by my mother’s hands. No one had held it up against me to check the length, or asked if I would have flowers or scrolls round the hem. I knit my brow and tried to comprehend my mother’s death, all over again. Every time I thought I had mastered it, some new manifestation of it would overwhelm me.

  Revel had finished. I was smiling. Smiling, smiling, smiling. I looked at my father desperately and managed to stammer out, “It’s all so lovely. Still, there are a few things I will bring from my other room. Thank you all so much. ”

  Then I fled. I hoped I exited gracefully, but once I was out of the room, I ran. I skittered past two servants carrying in a rolled-up rug, turned down the hall, and found the door of my old room. I bolted inside and shut the door behind me.

  The hearth was swept, empty, and cold. The stripped bed frame looked skeletal. I made myself go to the door of the maid’s room and peer in. It was as bare. The heavy bedstead was still pushed into the corner, the headboard neatly obscuring the subtle joins in the woodwork that concealed my entrance. That, at least, was still safe.

  I came back slowly into my room. Nothing on the mantel over the fireplace. No blue pottery candleholder. No little carving of an owl that my mother and I had bought at the Oaksbywater market. I opened my small clothing chest. Empty. The larger chest at the foot of my old bed. Empty save for a faint waft of cedar and lavender. Even the sachets had been cleared away. The blue woolen blanket, worn to thinness, was gone. Not one of my old nightgowns or tunics remained. All those stitches from my mother’s hands, gone to ash to protect my father’s pretense, so no one could know we had burned a body in the night. The only old clothing left to me would be what I had carried off to my mother’s room where I had been sleeping. And the nightrobe I had hidden there. Unless those had already been discovered and taken, too!

  I crossed my arms on my chest and held myself tightly as I cataloged what else was missing. The engraved “book” of herbs that I had always kept by my bed. The candleholder for my bed table. A terrible fear seized me and I fell to my knees by that table and opened the cupboard beneath it. Gone, all gone, every one of the fat scented candles that my mother had made. I’d never slept in this room without one burning as I drowsed off, and I could not imagine moving into a new room without their comforting fragrance. I stared into the dim emptiness of the cupboard and held myself tighter, digging my nails into my arms to keep from flying into pieces. I shut my eyes tightly. If I breathed slowly through my nose, I could catch the fading essence of the candles that had been there.

  I wasn’t aware of him until he sat down on the floor behind me and put his arms around me. My father spoke by my ear. “Bee. I saved them. I came back here, late that night. I took the candles and a few other things that I knew you would want. I’ve got them safe for you. ”

  I opened my eyes but I didn’t relax in his arms. “You should have told me,” I said fiercely, suddenly furious with him. How could he have let me feel that loss, even for a few minutes? “You should have let me come here to get my important things before they were burned. ”

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  “I should have,” he conceded, and then he stabbed me with, “I didn’t think of it then. And it had to be done immediately. So much was happening here, so fast. ”

  My voice was cold as I asked, “So what did you save? My candles? My book on herbs? My owl figurine, my candleholder? Did you save my blue blanket? The tunic with the daisies embroidered around the hem?”

  “I didn’t save the blue blanket,” he admitted hoarsely. “I didn’t know it was important. ”

  “You should have asked me! You should have asked me!” I hated the tears that suddenly flooded my eyes and how my throat closed and choked me. I didn’t want to be sad. I wanted to be angry. Angry hurt less. I turned and did something I’d never done before. I hit my father, as hard as I could, my fist connecting with the braced muscles of his chest. It wasn’t a little girl’s slapping. I hit him with as much force as I could muster, wanting to hurt him. I hit him again, and again, until I realized he was allowing me to do it, that he could have seized my arms and stopped me at any time. That perhaps he even wanted me to hurt him. That made it useless and worse than futile. I stopped and looked up at him. His face was still. His eyes looked at me, open, offering no defense against my anger. He accepted it as just.

  That woke no sympathy in me. It only made me angrier. This was my pain; I had been robbed of things I had cherished. How dare he stare at me as if he were the one who was hurt? I folded my arms again, this time to lock him out. I bowed my head so I wouldn’t have to look at him. When he put one hand on my cheek and the other on top of my head, I only set my muscles and curled in more tightly. He sighed.

  “I do my best, Bee, poor as it is sometimes. I saved what I thought was important to you. When you want to, tell me, and we’ll get them and put them in your new room. I wanted it to be something of a surprise for you; I thought you’d like having the Yellow Suite. It was a mistake. Too great a change, too fast, and you should have had more say in it. ”

  I didn’t loosen my muscles, b
ut I listened.

  “So. This will not be a surprise. In five days you and I are going into Oaksbywater. Revel was clever enough to suggest that you might want to choose some fabric from the weavers there for your heavy winter tunics. And we will visit the cobbler instead of waiting for him to make his winter visit here. I think your feet have done more than a year’s growing already. Revel told me that you needed new shoes, and that you needed boots as well. For riding. ”

  That jolted me enough to look up at him. Sorrow still filled his eyes, but he said kindly, “That was a surprise for me. A very nice one. ”

  I looked down again. I hadn’t intended it to be anything for him. Though, now that I considered it, I had looked forward to him seeing that I could ride a horse, even if neither he nor Riddle had had time to think it important enough to teach me. I realized then how deeply angry I was with both of them that they always seemed to spend more time on Shun than on me. I wanted to hold on to that anger and make it deeper and stronger. But more than that, I wanted my mother’s touches in the room where I would sleep tonight.

  I spoke to the floor. I hated the hitch in my voice. “I’d like to go get my things now, please. And put them safe in my room. ”

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