Fool's Assassin / Page 228

Page 228


“Cold comes from the heart, on waves of red blood,” I heard myself say. And I was cold. I looked at my fingers. They were white. As white as the beggar’s eyes. Had he looked at them and made them white? No. He could not see me if I didn’t look at him. I looked at my father. He seemed to move away from me without moving. Everything had stepped back at me. Why? Was I a danger to them? I reached for my father’s hand. He reached for mine, but I did not think we touched. I felt Riddle’s eyes on me but could not meet his gaze. He was looking at me but I was not where he was looking. A time passed, short or long, and then suddenly with a lurch the world started up around me again. I heard the sounds of the market, smelled the horse and cart that plodded past us in the street. I gripped my father’s fingers tightly.

My father spoke hastily as if to distract us from each other. “She’s just cold. That’s all. We should get to the cobbler’s shop and get her some boots! And then, Bee, let’s buy you a warm scarf to wear. Riddle, do you need to be on your way soon?”

“I think I’ll stay a bit longer,” he said quietly. “Perhaps I’ll even stay the night in the inn. The snow is coming thickly; not the best weather for starting a journey.”

“I wonder where Shun and FitzVigilant have gone.” My father glanced about as if worried. It came to me that he hoped Riddle would offer to find them. He was worried about me, and wished for us to be alone.

Riddle did not take the bait. “Those two seemed pleased enough with their own company. Perhaps we should take Bee somewhere and get her something warm to drink.”

“After the cobbler,” my father replied stubbornly. He stooped suddenly and picked me up.

“Papa?” I objected and tried to wriggle free.

“My legs are longer. And your boots are letting the snow in. Let me carry you until we reach the cobbler’s shop.” He held me tight to his chest and his thoughts even tighter. We passed a man leaning up against the corner of a building. He looked at me with his eyes all wrong. The fat man in the alley near him pointed at me and smiled. Gleaming fog billowed around him. People walking past the mouth of the alley slowed and looked puzzled. Then they hurried on. I huddled closer to my father, closing my eyes to keep out the light and fog, and Wolf-Father growled at them. Three steps later I opened my eyes and looked back. I could not see them.

And there was the cobbler’s shop, on the next corner. My father swung me down. We stamped snow from our boots and brushed it from our clothes before we crowded in. The shop smelled pleasantly of leather and oil, and the cobbler had a roaring fire on his hearth. The cobbler was a spry little man named Pacer. He had known me since I was a baby, and he had never made much of my differences, but had made my shoes to fit my peculiarly small feet. Now he exclaimed in dismay to see how his handiwork had been outgrown. He sat me down before his fire and had my boots off before I could reach for them. He measured my feet with a bit of string and his warm hands, and promised me new boots and a set of shoes within two days, and his apprentice to deliver them to Withywoods.

He would not let me put my old boots back on, but gifted me with a pair that he’d had on his shelves. They were too big for me, but he stuffed both toes with wool and promised that they’d serve me better than the old ones that were splitting at the seams. “I would feel shame to send you out into the falling snow in those old boots. I’m sure those must feel better,” he said to me.

I looked down at them and tried to find words. “I feel taller to see my feet looking longer,” I said. My father and Riddle laughed as if I had said the cleverest thing in the world.

Then we were out into the snow again, and at the next door we ducked into a woolmonger’s, where I saw skeins of yarns dyed in every color imaginable. As I wandered past the shelves, gently touching each color and smiling to myself, I saw Riddle find a pair of green gloves and a hood that matched them. While he paid for them and had them wrapped, my father chose a thick wool shawl in bright red and soft gray. I was startled when he put it around me. It was large for me, blanketing my shoulders even when I pulled it up to cover my head. But it was so warm, not just with the wool but with his thinking of me before I had ever asked for such a thing.

I thought then that I should take out Revel’s list of things he thought I needed, but my father seemed so pleased to be finding and buying things that I did not want to stop him. Out we went into the busy streets, and in and out of all sorts of little shops and stalls. Then I saw the man with the cart of puppies. A worn-out donkey was pulling the little two-wheeled cart through the crowded street, and an old brindled mother dog was trotting anxiously after it, for her pups were standing up in the cart, their front paws on the edge, yelping and whining to her. A skinny man with ginger whiskers was driving the little cart, and he made the donkey trot right up to one of the oaks in the central square of the market. He stood up on the cart’s seat, and to my surprise he tossed a rope up over one of the oak’s low bare branches.

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