Ho de dum. Precious little progress on the last 20K words I need to write. Okay, only 19K now. Sigh.
His hands went for one of the ever-present knives, which he stroked and turned while giving me a narrow look-over. “You served my wife well in her last days. I feel that you deserve some reward for your faithful attendance. I understand that you lived on a farm in your previous life?”
“Yes, sir.” I almost said ‘aye’.
“It’s in my power to grant you a small homestead in the first ward. It’s only a one-room cabin on an acre of land. You could raise chickens and . . . goats, was it?”
“It’d be a small living, but your own house, and you’d work on your own time. I could give this homestead over to you entirely for the duration of your life, as a reward for your service to my wife.”
That cheered me up. The first ward was as far as possible from Dagger’s home, farther even than his obligations in the second ward. If it really meant fresh air and independence then it was an ideal place for a child, and it was very near the trail that went up the mountain and into No Man’s Land. I could perhaps escape from it . . .
With an infant? No. My heart sank. As time went on it had become more and more clear that I couldn’t abandon my child in order to go on a wild goose chase for my sister. I had to depend on the Bear to find her. And being in the first ward would mean being as far away from him as I could be.
Maybe that was the point. Maybe he wanted to use me the way Dagger had. Maybe he was isolating me so that he could have his way when he visited the northern reaches of the Hollow. The way he had handled me in the woods that winter made it seem possible, and my brief service to Willow surely didn’t merit a homestead.
I let my head drop so that he wouldn’t see me screw up with tears. I guessed it was something pregnancy did to my brain, or perhaps the great, mysterious knowledge that a new, small person would soon depend on me for everything, but my tears had been very near to the surface recently. Brave Perry had disappeared.
“Ms. Drinkwater,” his voice was soft, “the homestead is yours if you want it. You needn’t say yes, only nod your head and Bean will sign it over to you.”
I might as well take what was offered. Desperation forbade pride. I nodded, with the back of my hand to my nose. Bean turned toward his writing table. The Bear’s fingers were still, the knife arrested between them.
“Have you signed, Bean?”
“Yes, sir,” Bean chirruped.
“There. You’re a land-owner now, Ms. Drinkwater. You have an independent living. No one can take it from you, not even me. Can you look as if you’re pleased about that?”
I did a miserable job of it, which got a curling smile in response.
“Now that you’re independent, Ms. Drinkwater, I have another question for you.”