Fool's Assassin / Page 121

Page 121



Again that sound of disdain.

“Were you scared of Daisy?” I asked her.

“Daisy?”

“The herd dog. Did she scare you?”

“No. Of course not! She does like to poke me with her nose. But Daisy’s nice.”

“How do you know?”

A hesitation before she replied. “She wagged her tail. And she wasn’t afraid of me.” A pause. “May I have a puppy?”

Not where I’d wanted the conversation to go, but again it was inevitable. “It would be hard for me to let you have a dog just now.” Not while my heart was so desperately lonely still. Not while I reached out, whether I would or not, to any creature that looked at me with sympathetic eyes. Even if I did not bond, the dog would be drawn to me, not her. No. “Perhaps in the future we can talk about it again. But what I wanted you to see … Are you tired? Shall I carry you?”

Her walk had slowed to a trudge, and her cheeks were bright red with effort and the chill wind’s kiss.

She straightened her spine. “I’m nearly ten. I’m too old to be carried,” she said with great dignity.

“Not by your father,” I said, and swooped her up. She went stiff in my arms, as she always did, but I was relentless. I set her up high on my left shoulder and lengthened my stride. She perched there, speechless and stiff as a stick. I thought I perceived her problem. I took a breath and walled myself in tighter. It wasn’t easy. For a moment I was as disoriented as if I had suddenly discarded my sense of smell or sight. When one has the Wit, to use it is instinctive, and the Skill wells over and out of the untrained. But I was rewarded by her relaxing a trifle, and then exclaiming, “I can see so far! Can you see this far all the time? Well, I suppose you can! How wonderful it is!”

She was so pleased and excited that I hadn’t the heart to drag her back to my lecture. Another time would be soon enough, I promised myself. She had just lost her mother, and she and I were just discovering how to reach out to each other. Tomorrow I would talk with her again about how to put others at ease. For now I would enjoy a moment when she seemed an ordinary child and I could simply be her father.

Chapter Twelve

Explorations

Once there was an old woman who lived all alone in the middle of a busy city. She made her living as a washerwoman for several wealthy merchant families. Each day she would go to one of their homes, gather the dirty clothing, and take it to her own home where she would scrub and pound it clean, spread it to dry on her thatched roof, and do whatever mending might be required. It did not afford her a good livelihood, but she liked her work because she could do it by herself.

She had not always been alone. Once she had had a dog. The dog had been her Wit-beast and her friend. But no dog lives forever, and few live as long as a human, and so the sad day came when the woman found herself alone. And alone she had been ever since then. Or so she thought.

Early one morning as she clambered from her bed, she slipped and fell. And when she tried to stand up, she could not, for she had broken her leg high at the hip. She called for help, but no one heard her and no one came. All that day, and the night, and the next day she lay on the floor. She grew faint with hunger, and thirst took her voice away. Her mind began to wander and she ran the streets of the city as her dog once had. Now as a dog and in her dream, she met a young man and said to him, “My mistress has need of your aid. Follow me, please, I beg of you.”

She woke to a man holding a cup of cool water to her lips. “I dreamed a dog and he brought me here,” he told her. He saved her life, and though she mended but slowly and always walked with a stick and a hitch, ever after that they were friends.

Badgerlock’s Old Blood Tales

When I was sure my father was well and truly on his way, I slid out of my bed, took one of my mother’s scented candles from the supply in the bedside table, and kindled it at the fire. I put it into a holder and set it on the floor while I got a warm woolen robe from my winter clothing chest. I didn’t like the big storage chest. The lid was beautifully carved, with birds and flowers, but it was heavy. I was not tall enough to open it all the way, so I had to hold it up with one hand while I rummaged in the depths with the other. Fortunately there was a robe close to the top, and the prickly touch of the wool against my fingers told me it was the one I wanted. I fished it up and leapt back, letting the lid of the chest fall with a thump. Tomorrow, I decided, I would ask my father to prop the chest open for me so that I could move warm clothing from it to the smaller chest he had made for me. The night’s storm surely meant winter was on its way. It was time to make the changes.


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