Fool's Assassin / Page 258

Page 258



Shakerloom’s Travels, Repple Shakerloom

We returned to Withywoods in the dark and cold. FitzVigilant was not as good a driver as my father or Riddle. The horses knew the way home, but he did not keep the wheels of the wagon in the ruts as my father did, so they rubbed up against the edges of the banked snow and lurched or sawed along. In the darkness and with the road hidden under the ever-deepening snow, I am sure driving the team was more difficult than it looked. I huddled under some blankets in the back of the wagon, worrying about my father, and wondering about the beggar and wishing we were already home. I was very tired and rather miserable at how quickly I’d been abandoned. It did not help that all the way home, Shun and FitzVigilant huddled together on the wagon seat, well bundled in lap robes, and conversed in low, outraged tones about all that had happened in town. They spoke of my father and Riddle in a way that made it seem they thought me deaf, or dismissed my feelings as unimportant.

They’d seen the incident with the dog, but had hung back to avoid whatever sort of trouble it might bring them. Shun fervently hoped that no gossip in Oaksbywater would connect her to the madman that Tom Badgerlock had become over a dog. She had been humiliated enough by how he had spoken to her in the tavern, in front of everyone! FitzVigilant could not make sense of what my father and Riddle had done regarding the beggar, not why nor how, and that seemed to offend both of them most of all. That they’d been left out of any detailed explanation seemed incredibly rude to them, yet that entire long ride back from Gallows Hill they spoke not a word to me. As we jolted slowly homeward, the cold took me in its fist and squeezed me ever tighter. I kept falling into an uncomfortable sleep and then being jolted out of it.

By the time we reached the estate, I was half-sick from the lurching and bumping. I woke a final time when FitzVigilant pulled the horses in before the tall doors of the manor house and jumped down shouting for a stable boy. He handed Shun down carefully and told her to hurry into the house and get warm. She wondered aloud why there was no servant waiting on the steps with a lantern to guide her. FitzVigilant agreed that the staff was very lax indeed and needed training. They had known we would return that night. They should have been waiting.

The falling snow had added damp weight to the blankets that had covered me. My muscles were reluctant to move from sitting still and yet not still from the wagon’s lurching. I was struggling to get out from under my coverings as FitzVigilant came to the back of the wagon. “Come here, Bee,” he said.

“I’m trying,” I replied. He huffed impatiently, seized the edge of one wrap, and dragged them all off me, sending the mounded cold snow cascading over me. I gasped at the shock, and tried in vain not to let it become a sob. He looked appalled at what he had done to me but spoke sternly. “Now, don’t be a baby. It’s just snow. We’re all tired and cold, but we’re home. Come here, and we’ll get you into the house and warmed up.”

I didn’t reply. The sharp motion of the blanket had overset my market bag. I felt about in the darkness, trying to gather my precious purchases from the dark wagon bed. They were scattered everywhere now, under snow and the hodgepodge of blankets he had dropped. He probably could not see what I was doing as he said, “Come now, Bee, or I’ll leave you here.”

I found a breath and pushed some words out. “I don’t care. Please go.”

“I mean it!”

I didn’t respond, and after standing for a silent moment he turned and stalked toward the house. A stable boy had come with a lantern, and was standing by to take the wagon and team on to the stables to be unharnessed. He cleared his throat.

“I’m trying to hurry,” I said in a choked voice.

“You don’t need to hurry,” he said, and suddenly it was Perseverance. He lifted the lantern higher, and both light and shadows filled the wagon bed.

“I just need to find the things Papa bought for me,” I said. Tears were trying to force a way out of me but I would not let them. He didn’t say anything. He just climbed up the wheel and into the bed of the wagon, where he began to carefully lift blankets and wraps. He shook each one free of snow and folded it before he set it on the seat, and little by little our purchases were revealed. I gathered them up, putting them carefully back into my basket.

The door to Withywoods opened and closed, and then more shadows leapt and confused me as Revel came bearing a larger lantern. “Lady Bee?” he asked the air, and “A moment more, please,” I replied hoarsely. I was trying. Why did they all wish to hurry me when I was so cold?


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