Fool's Assassin / Page 224

Page 224


FitzVigilant breathed out through his nose. The day had barely begun but he already sounded tired as he said, “Children, I have been charged with teaching you. It is not my first choice of what I would do with the days of my life, but it has been given me as a duty, and I will do it. I commend your families for seeing the wisdom of sending you to me. I am well aware that several of you wish yourselves elsewhere. Taffy made it clear to me yesterday that he regarded our lessons as a waste of his time. Today he pretends illness to avoid me. Well, I will not tolerate such malingering!”

Several children exchanged puzzled looks at the unfamiliar word, but Perseverance didn’t even look up from his letter as he said softly, “Taffy’s not shamming.” Could everyone hear the satisfaction in his voice or was it only me? I stared at him, but he did not lift his eyes to meet mine.

Our scribe spoke. There was condemnation in his voice. “And did your fists have anything to do with his ‘feeling poorly’?”

Perseverance looked up. He met the scribe’s eyes. I knew he was only a few years older than me, but he sounded like a man as he said, “Sir, my fists took no action until after his mouth had said untrue things about my sister. Then I did what any man would do when his family was insulted.” He looked at FitzVigilant. Perseverance’s brow was unlined and his gaze open. There was no guilt in him for what he had done, only righteousness.

A silence held in the schoolroom. My feelings were mixed. I had not even known that Perseverance had a sister. She was not here, so she was either much younger than him, or much older. Or perhaps his parents did not think a girl needed to read and write. Some were like that, even in Buck.

Neither of them looked away, but the scribe spoke first. “Let us return to our lessons.”

Perseverance immediately lowered his eyes to the wax tablet and resumed his careful tracing of the letter he had engraved there. I spoke under my breath, a sentence I had heard in a dream about a young bull. “Horns not grown, he swings his head in warning and still all take heed.”

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Time and Again

Withywoods is a feast of perfection, in all seasons. In summer, on the rounded hills of the high lands of the estate, the oaks make a pleasant shade, while down near the creek the twisted willows that give the place its name drip a soft rain that is refreshing. Trees to climb and a creek to fish in. What more could a boy wish? In autumn any child would be happy to gather acorns from the oak forest, or pick for himself ripe grapes in our own vineyards. In the winter? Deep banks of fallen leaves give way to slopes of snow, perfect for coasting, and a hearth in a hall that begs for Winterfest to be celebrated not for a night, but for a whole month. Spring brings new lambs frolicking on the hills, and kittens and puppies in the stables.

I know, I know that the boy would be happy here. I know I could win his heart and make him mine. I was so foolish to be hurt and bitter when first I heard of him. Conceived years before Chivalry made me his, how could I rebuke him for unfaithfulness to a wife he did not have? But I did. For I wanted, so desperately, what an accident had bequeathed to a woman who did not want him, the child, the heir I would have cherished. I have begged him, even on my knees, to send for the boy, but he refuses. “He would not be safe here,” he tells me. “Where safer than under his father’s roof, protected by his father’s sword arm?” I ask of him. It is the only serious quarrel we have ever had. He is adamant.

Lady Patience’s private journal, discovered behind a stack of flowerpots

The night before we were to visit the market, I went to bed full of anticipation. Sleep evaded me at first, and then it came with a hailstorm of dreams. Some were nightmarish, others so intense that I desperately tried to fight free of them. Yet I could not seem to fully wake. My room seemed full of a thick fog, and each time I thought I had wakened myself, images formed and pulled me back into a dream.

When morning came, I was still weary. The world seemed hazy and I was not fully convinced I was not still dreaming. Careful was there, insisting that I must arise. She shook my covers to let the cold air in and then sat me on a stool before the fire. I could barely hold my head straight. I made no resistance as she tugged a brush through the growing tangle of my curls. “You don’t want to dawdle today, my little lady! Oh, how I envy you, going to market for pretty new things! Your father said as much to Revel, and he has made me a little list to give you. Here it is! He’s a lettered man, is our steward, as I regret to say I am not, but he has told me what it says. Revel says you need boots and shoes, gloves of both wool and leather, stockings of wool in at least three colors, and he has dared to suggest a seamstress in town, one who knows how to sew the little frocks that girls wear nowadays rather than your jerkins and tunics! As if you were a boy! What your father is thinking I don’t know! Not to criticize him, of course. The poor man, with no wife to tell him these things!”

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