But at the time I was numb and stunned, thoughtless of anyone except myself. Molly had been my safety, my home, my center. With her gone I felt flung to pieces, as if my core had exploded and chunks of me were strewn to the wind. For almost all of my life, there had been Molly. Even when I could not be with her, even the agony of watching her from afar as she gave her life and love to another man, even that pain was infinitely preferable to her total absence from my world. In our years apart, I had always been able to dream “one day.” Now all dreams were over.
Some days after her death, when the house had emptied of guests and the extra staff Revel had called in had also departed, Nettle came into my private study. Her duties at Buckkeep were calling her. She had to return, and I did not blame her, for I knew there was nothing she could do here that would improve anything. When Nettle entered, I lifted my eyes from my paper and set my pen carefully aside. Writing down my thoughts has always been my retreat. That night, I had written page after page, burning each one almost as soon as it was finished. Rituals do not have to make sense. On the hearth, on a folded blanket, Bee was curled into a kitten ball. She was dressed in her little red robe and fur slippers. Her curved back was to me, her face turned toward the fire. Night was deep, and we had not spoken a single word to each other.
Nettle looked as if she should have gone to her rest hours ago. Weeping had left her eyes red-rimmed, and her glorious mane of black waves had been reduced to a curly cap. It made the circles under her eyes darker and the thinness of her face bony. The simple blue robe she wore hung on her, and I realized how much flesh she had lost.
Her voice was hoarse. “I have to return to Buckkeep tomorrow. Riddle will escort me.”
“I know,” I said at last. I did not tell her it would be a relief to be alone where I could mourn as savagely as I needed and no one would witness it. I did not tell her that I felt suspended, restrained by civility in a place where I could not express the anguish I felt. Instead I said, “I know you must wonder. You know I brought the Fool back from the other side of death. You must wonder why I let your mother go.”
I had thought my words would trigger her hidden anger. Instead she looked horrified. “That would have been the last thing I wished for! Or that she would have wanted! To every creature is given both a place and a time, and when that time is over, we have to let them go. Mother and I spoke plainly of that, once. I had come to her about Thick. You know how he is, how his joints hurt him. I asked her for a liniment that Burrich used to make for the boys when they had strained muscles, and she mixed some up for me. Sweet Eda, that is another thing gone! Why did I never write that down? So much she knew, so much he knew, and they took it to their graves with them.”
I did not tell her, then, that I knew that recipe as well as anyone could. Doubtless Burrich had passed his lore on to his sons as well. It was not a time to speak of those things. I noticed there was ink on the little finger of my right hand. I always managed to get ink on myself when I wrote. I took up my pen wipe and smeared it away. “What did Molly say about Thick?” I dared to ask.
Nettle came back to herself as if she had walked a far and darkening path. “Only that there was mercy in making pain bearable, but not in forcing someone to remain in this life when their body’s work was done. She was cautioning me about using the Skill on him. I told her that Thick was far stronger in that area than I was, and that he was more than capable of turning that talent on himself as he desired it. He hasn’t. So I’ll respect his choice. But I know that Chade has availed himself of that magic. He keeps himself as spry as he was when I first met him.”
Her voice trailed away, but I thought I heard her unasked question. “I don’t,” I told her bluntly. “I never desired to stay young and watch your mother age away from me. No. If I could have aged with her, Nettle, I would have. I am still bearing the consequences of that mad Skill-healing that our coterie did on me. Could I stop it, I would. It renews me when I wish it would not. I strain a shoulder doing some task, and that night I lose flesh as my body burns me up repairing itself. I wake ravenous and am tired for a week. But my shoulder will have healed.” I tossed my latest sheet of writing onto the fire, and shoved it deeper into the flames with the poker. “There. Now you know.”
“I knew already,” she told me tartly. “Do you think my mother didn’t know? Fitz, stop it. No one blames you for her death; nor should you feel guilty for not following her. She would not have wanted that. I love you for the life you gave her. After my father … after Burrich died, I thought she would never smile again. And when she discovered you were still alive, after she had so long mourned you as dead, I thought she would never stop being furious. But you came back to her and were patient enough to win her back. You were good for her, and she has lived her last years exactly as I wished all her life could have been.”