Fool's Assassin / Page 170

Page 170


“What is it, what’s wrong?” We were both shouting and in response she only wailed and hugged Riddle’s neck so tightly that I thought she would choke him. She had buried her face in his chest and he held his knife well clear of her in one hand while he awkwardly patted her back with the other. She was saying something over and over, but I could not understand her. I stooped and picked up her blade. I recognized the design as one favored for assassin work. Evidently she had not felt her rudimentary training would protect her against a ghost. I tucked it away in my sleeve.

“I’ll check her room. Keep her safe,” I said to Riddle, but as I moved past them she suddenly lifted her head and shrieked, “Don’t go in there! Don’t go in there! It’s his ghost, crying and crying! He blames me. Rono blames me!”

I halted, feeling a sick fear spread through me. I am not a superstitious man. I do not believe in ghosts. Yet I almost heard the distant wailing of a lost child. My heart sank and I welcomed Riddle’s words as he said to her, “It was only a bad dream, Shun. You’ve been through a lot, and you’ve carried a lot of fear this past fortnight. Here you are, in an unfamiliar house, wondering what shape your life is about to take. It’s only to be expected that you’d have a bad dream.”

She pushed away from him violently. Her voice was indignant. “It wasn’t a bad dream. I wasn’t able to fall asleep. I was lying in bed, thinking, and I began to hear the wailing. It’s Rono. The little wretch was always crying, always whining and begging. Anything sweet or delicious that was cooked for me, he wanted some of it. And even when he was told it was for me, he would keep begging, or he would just steal some of it. And that’s what got him killed!” She was suddenly angry instead of frightened. “He stole from me and ate it, and he died. How can that be my fault?”

“It wasn’t,” Riddle immediately replied. “Of course it wasn’t. The blame falls on whoever was trying to poison you.”

Her sobs changed suddenly, and I wondered how I knew she had gone from terrified to comforted. Her face was buried in his shoulder and she clung to him, her arms wrapped around his neck and her body pressed close to him. He sent me an uncomfortable look over her shoulder. I tried not to scowl. I was not sure what he and Nettle were to each other, but even in this context I did not like seeing him hold another woman. “I’ll check her room. Just to be sure there’s nothing amiss,” I told him.

She lifted her face. Tears and snot had dismissed any beauty from her face. “I was not dreaming, as I was not asleep! Nor did I imagine it! I heard his crying!”

“I’ll see to it.”

As I walked past Riddle, he passed his knife to me. He quirked one eyebrow in an abbreviated shrug. It was always better to be armed than not, in any situation. “I’ll put her in my room for the night,” he offered.

“You cannot leave me alone!” she wailed.

There was deep resignation in his voice as he offered, “I’ll sleep across your threshold, just outside your door. If anything bothers you, I’ll be only steps away.”

I was already moving down the hall and did not hear the words of her choked objection. I halted outside the door of her chamber and settled myself. It could be anything or nothing, I reminded myself. I pulled the door open and looked into the room. I unfurled my Wit-sense, reaching out to investigate the room. Nothing. I sensed no human or animal within the chamber. It was not an absolute assurance that Shun had imagined an intruder, but it was reassuring to me.

Firelight from the low-burning hearth coated the room in honey. The bedding had spilled from the bed and trailed her to the door. I moved inside, stepping softly and listening. What had she heard? For I suspected there would be a grain of truth at least in her complaint. Had the wind whistled through the chimney or past her window? But all was silent save for the muted crackling of the fire.

I lit a branch of candles and explored the room with them, checking behind curtains and under the bed and even in the still-empty clothing chests. They had been freshly cleaned and held only new sachets. They smelled of cedar and lavender and waited to be used. Shun had not unpacked so much as avalanched into the room. Clothing was everywhere, cascading from her baggage, draped across the foot of the bed and on top of the clothing chests. I scowled at her untidiness. Well, by tomorrow, her maid would be here to set her to rights. Still, it did not please me that a girl of her age did not even know how to be orderly in her unpacking. Her jewelry was scattered across the top of the small vanity, next to a bag of pink and yellow sweets.

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