Fool's Assassin / Page 221

Page 221


“Child, you’ve been in here for hours. I suspect they are holding dinner for us now.”

That was too sudden. I clenched my teeth for a moment and then asked him honestly, “Must I? I do not feel I am ready to face them, yet.”

He looked down at his hands, and I felt a dreadful gulf open in my belly. “You need to do this, Bee,” he said softly. “I want you to think of what tidings Riddle must carry back to your sister. I do not wish Shun or FitzVigilant to see you as backward or awkward. So, young as you are, you must master yourself and your feelings and come to table tonight. I understand, far better than you can imagine, what you feel toward someone who mocked you and punished you when he was supposed to be teaching you. It will be hard for you to believe this, but I don’t think he is an inherently cruel man. I think he is just very young, and prone to take the word of others before he finds out things for himself. I even dare to hope that he will prove worthy of your regard, and that you might even come to enjoy each other. Though I will add that right now it is difficult for me to pretend to enjoy his company. Something that I suspect he knows.”

His voice sank to a low growl on those last words, and I realized then that my father was profoundly angry with FitzVigilant. He would observe the rules of society but it did not abate the active dislike that the scribe had wakened in him. I looked at my hands folded loosely in my lap. If my father could do so, if he could contain his anger and treat FitzVigilant in a civil fashion, then perhaps I could do so as well. I tried to imagine myself sitting at the table. I did not have to sit with my head lowered as if guilty. Nor did I have to let him know how badly he had hurt me. I could be my father’s daughter. Impervious to what he had done. Sure of my own worthiness. I lifted my chin. “I think perhaps I am hungry after all.”

The evening meal was not comfortable for me. I was aware that both Shun and Lant were looking at me, but I have never been good at meeting anyone’s stare. So I looked at my plate or glanced just past my father or Riddle. I did not flinch when Lea or Elm passed near my chair, but neither did I accept any food from any dish they brought. I saw them once, rolling their eyes to the corners to exchange a glance at they passed each other behind Riddle. Elm’s cheeks grew very pink and I suddenly realized that Riddle, old as he was, was still a handsome man. Certainly Elm stood very close to his chair as she offered food. And Riddle, I saw as I smiled triumphantly to myself, noticed her no more than a fly on the wall.

For the first part of the meal, I was silent. Father and Riddle were once more talking about his departure for Buckkeep. Shun and Lant immersed themselves in their own quiet conversation, frequently punctuated by her laughter. I had read a poem about a girl with “silvery laughter” but Shun’s sounded to me as if someone had fallen down a long flight of steps with a basket of cheap tin pans. After Father had spent some little time in conversation with Riddle, he turned to me and said, “So what did you think of Taker Farseer and his invasion of this land?”

“I had not thought of it that way,” I responded. Truly I had not. And in the next breath, I had to ask, “Then who was here before Taker and his men came and claimed the land around the mouth of the Buck River? The scroll says that the bones of the old stone keep were deserted. Were the folk who were living here the same ones who had once had a fortification there? You said it might have originally been built by Elderlings? So were they Elderlings he fought to take this land?”

“Well. They were mostly fishermen and farmers and goatherds, I believe. Lord Chade has tried to find more writings by those people, but they don’t seem to have entrusted their lore to letters and scrolls. Some of the bards say that our oldest songs are actually rooted in their songs. But we can’t really say ‘they’ and ‘them’ because we are really the product of Taker and his invaders and the folk that were already here.”

Had he known? Did he deliberately give me that opening? “Then, in those days, people learned things from songs? Or poems?”

“Of course. The best minstrels still recite the longest genealogies from memory. They are, of course, entrusted to paper as well, now that paper is more abundant. But a minstrel learns them from the mouth of his master, not from a paper.”

Riddle was listening as raptly as I, and when Father paused, he jumped in. “So that song that Hap favored us with the last time I saw him, a very old song about Eld Silverskin, the dragon’s friend?”

The next lines came into my mind and were out my mouth before I paused to consider. “‘Of precious things, he has no end. A stone that speaks, a drum that gleams, he’s pecksie-kissed or so it seems.’”

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