Fool's Assassin / Page 203

Page 203


I was not surprised when Bee halted just inside the door and stared in dismay. It could have been any man’s room. Or no one’s. She looked around the room and then back at me.

“I want my things back.” She spoke clearly. There was no trace of huskiness in her voice, no strain of tears held back. I took her to a storage chest under the window, unlocked it, and opened it. She looked in and grew very still.

Inside were not only the items I had removed from her room on that cruel and frantic evening, but many another memento as well. I had the first garment Bee had ever worn, and a ribbon stolen many years ago from Molly’s hair. I had her mother’s brush and her looking glass, and her favorite belt, leather dyed blue with pouches laced to it. Burrich had made it for her, and the buckle was worn thin with use. She had worn it until the day she died. There was a small casket that held not only her mother’s jewelry, but each of Bee’s baby teeth.

Bee found her books, and her nightgowns. “The candles are in my study, kept only for you,” I reminded her. She found and gathered several small figurines. She did not speak, but by her folded lips I knew there were other significant items missing.

“I’m sorry,” I said, when she turned from the trunk with her arms full of her precious items. “I should have asked you. If I could bring back your cherished things, I would.”

She turned, and fleetingly her eyes met mine. Anger and pain smoldered in a banked fire there. Abruptly, she set her armful down on my bed. “I want my mother’s belt-knife,” she announced.

I looked down into the chest. The little knife rode on the belt, where it had for years. It had a bone handle, and at some time Molly or perhaps Burrich had wrapped it with a strip of leather to keep it from slipping. It had a blue sheath to match the leather belt. “The belt will be too big for you for many years,” I said. It was an observation, not an objection. I had never thought of it going to anyone except Bee.

“I just need the knife and sheath now,” she said. She met my eyes again with that sliding glance. “To protect myself.”

I drew a deep breath and took Molly’s belt from the chest. I had to take several little pouches off the belt before I could slide the sheathed knife free. I held it out toward Bee, haft-first, but as she reached for it I drew it back. “Protect yourself from what?” I demanded.

“Assassins.” She asserted it quietly. “And people who hate me.”

Those words hit me like stones. “No one hates you!” I exclaimed.

“They do. Those children that you have decided will take lessons beside me. At least three of them hate me. Maybe more.”

I sat down on the edge of the bed, Molly’s knife loose in my hands. “Bee,” I said rationally. “They scarcely know you, so how could they hate you? And even if they dislike you, I doubt that the children of the keep would dare to—”

“They threw stones at me. And chased me. He slapped me so hard my mouth bled.”

A terrible cold anger welled in me. “Who did this? When?”

She looked away from me. She stared at the corner of the room. I think she fought tears. She spoke very quietly. “It was years ago. And I’m not going to say. Your knowing would only make it worse.”

“I doubt that,” I said harshly. “Tell me who chased you, who dared to stone you, and they will be gone from Withywoods this very night. They and their parents with them.”

Her blue glance slid past me as a swallow skims past a cliff. “Oh, and that would make the other servants love me well, wouldn’t it? A nice life I should have then, with the other children fearful of me and their parents hating me.”

She was right. It made sickness well up in me. My little girl had been chased and stoned and I had not even known. Even knowing, I could not think of a way to protect her. She was right. Anything I did would only make it worse. I found myself handing her the sheathed knife. She took it from me and for a moment I think she was disappointed I had yielded to her. Did she know that I was admitting there were times when I could not protect her? As Bee tugged the short knife free of its sheath, I wondered what Molly would have said to me, or what she would have done. It was a simple blade, showing the wear of much honing. Molly had used it for everything: cutting tough stems on flowers, shaving a wormhole from a carrot, or digging a splinter from my thumb. I glanced at my hand, remembering how she had held it tight and mercilessly dug out the ragged shard of cedar.

Bee had reversed her grip on the knife, holding it as if she was going to stab downward with it. She made several passes at the air, teeth clenched.

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