Fool's Assassin / Page 184

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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