Fool's Assassin / Page 171

Page 171


Chade had obviously opened his purse for her, and she had taken full advantage of it. What sort of training had he given the girl? She clearly thought much of herself, but no trace of discipline or order did I find in her behavior. How had he looked at her and considered her a candidate to be a spy, let alone an assassin? I wondered where he had found her and why she mattered so much to him. He’d hidden her pedigree well but I was determined to know it now. I’d sniff out his secrets. In my spare time. When I was not looking for the Fool’s misplaced heir. Or accusing my servants of vermin in the bedding. Or repairing the damage I’d done to my daughter. I had not been managing my old life very well. I could not imagine coping with Shun in addition.

I finished my search carefully, checking that the windows and shutters were tightly closed and that her maid’s adjoining room was innocent of all intruders. There was nothing there. I retreated from her chamber, trying to set my concerns about Shun aside for tonight. Tonight, I would take care of my immediate worries. Tomorrow would be time enough to think about adapting Shun to our simpler habits. Tomorrow … we were well past midnight. Today.

I took the lit candles with me and went down the hall to where Riddle stood in his nightshirt, his arms crossed on his chest. I had never seen the man look so stubborn. A rumpled kitchenmaid, one of the village girls newly hired to help, stood nearby in her nightrobe and shawl, looking both sleepy and alarmed. Mild stood nearby, disapproval at this uproar stamped on her face. And Shun was complaining loudly. Mentally, I was thankful that Revel had not been roused. Tomorrow would be soon enough to put the house steward in an uproar.

Shun set her hands to her hips and glared at Riddle. Her dark curling hair was wild on her shoulders and her nightdress strained against her out-thrust chest. “No. I don’t want her sleeping beside me. And what could she do if the ghost came back? Riddle, you are supposed to protect me. I want you to sleep in my room!”

“Lady Shun, that would not be appropriate,” Riddle replied firmly. I had the feeling was repeating himself. “You wanted a companion for the night? Here is Pansy, ready to serve. And I assure both of you that I’ll be right here, stretched across the threshold should you need any sort of assistance.”

“Ghost?” Pansy broke in, her sleepiness vanishing. She turned her shock and appeal on Riddle. “Sir, I beg you, the lady is right! I would be useless should a ghost come into the room. I’m certain I should faint dead away!”

“I checked Lady Shun’s room. I assure you, there is no intruder and nothing to fear there,” I announced firmly.

“Of course there isn’t now!” Shun objected. “It was Rono’s little ghost, crying and accusing me! Ghosts cannot be found when you search for them. They come and go as they please!”

“Rono?” Mild laughed, and then said, “Oh, beg pardon, Lady Shun, but there is no Rono ghost in that room. The only ghost known to walk through those chambers is old Lord Pike. So his parents named him, but all the maidservants in the manor called him old Lord Peek, for he dearly loved to catch a glimpse of any woman in her shift or drawers! My own mother told me that he would hide in the—”

“No more stories tonight!” I announced firmly. I already knew from the look on Pansy’s face that she would be giving her notice tomorrow. The suppressed amusement in Riddle’s eyes could not lighten my mood. All I wanted was to seek my own bed. I put authority into my voice.

“Mild, if you would, help Riddle to make up a pallet outside Lady Shun’s door. Lady Shun, if you wish a companion to share this chamber with you, then we are offering you Pansy. No one else. Pansy, you will be paid extra for this service tonight. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all. I am going to my own bed now. There have been enough disruptions after a very taxing day.”

“If Rono’s ghost throttles me in the night in vengeance for his death, I hope you will have a good explanation for Lord Chade as to how you failed in your duty to protect me!”

She threw the stony words at my back. I continued to walk away. I knew I was leaving the burden of sorting it out on Riddle’s shoulders. I knew he could handle it. And he’d had at least some sleep, and had not murdered anyone nor burned a body tonight.

I opened the door to Bee’s chamber. Empty. So she had had the sense to change her clothing and go to my room. I continued down the corridor. I opened the door to my room and stood still. I could feel that she wasn’t there. The room gave me no Wit-sense of her presence, only chill and emptiness. The fire had almost burned out.

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