I wheezed in a breath past my constricted throat. I wanted to thank her but could not find words. I didn’t need to. She sighed and reached out to pat my arm. “So. We’ll be gone in the morning, then. I was a bit surprised to find that Bee does not have a pony, and seemed completely unfamiliar with the concept of riding. Nine years old and she can’t ride! Burrich put me on a horse when I was … well, I simply can’t remember a time when I couldn’t ride. When I tried to put Bee up on a horse, she struggled against me and clambered down the other side of the beast as swiftly as she could. So I think our journey to Buckkeep will be an interesting one for me. She is small enough that I think I can fit her into a pannier on a pack animal and balance her with her clothes and toys. Or some of them. I was totally astonished that one small child could possess so many toys and so much clothing!”
I felt as if I were running along behind her. “Bee?” I asked. “Why would you take Bee to Buckkeep?”
She gave me an exasperated look. “Where else can I take her? Both Chivalry and Nimble offered to have her, even though Nimble does not even have a wife to help him with her. I said no to both of them. They’ve no idea of what they would be taking on. At least I’ve my experience of Thick. I think in time, I will be able to reach through her fog and get some understanding of her.”
“Her fog,” I said stupidly.
My elder daughter just stared at me. “She’s nine. She should be speaking by now. And she can’t. She used to babble at Mother, but I haven’t even heard her do that lately. With Mother gone, who will be able to understand the poor little thing? I wonder if she even knows that Mother has died. I’ve tried to speak to her about it, but she just turns away from me.” Nettle sighed heavily. “I wish I knew how much of anything she grasps.” She cocked her head at me and spoke hesitantly. “I know Mother would not have approved, but I have to ask. Have you ever used the Skill to try to touch her mind?”
I shook my head slowly. I wasn’t following her trail of thought. I tried to make a connection. “Molly did not wish me to do that, and so I did not. I discovered the dangers of letting Skill touch children years ago. Don’t you recall?”
That wrung a bit of a smile from her. “Both Dutiful and I recall that well. But I thought that after years of silence from your daughter, you’d at least have tried to see if she had a mind.”
“Of course she does! She’s a clever little creature. Sometimes alarmingly so! And she talks when she pleases. It’s just not very clear. Or as often as one might expect.” I had not stopped to think that Nettle had never seen her little sister sewing a sampler at their mother’s knee, or standing on a table to take candles from their molds. All she had ever seen of Bee in her comings and goings was a shy and elfin child, quiet and watchful. And now she was a mute child, curled in a tight ball. I rose, paced around the room, and then stooped by my younger daughter. “Come here, Bee,” I said impulsively, but the moment I set my hand on the child’s back, she stiffened straight as a sun-dried fish, then scooted away from my touch and curled again, her face away from me.
“Leave her be,” Nettle said firmly. “Fitz, let us speak plainly to each other. You are a man in deep grief and you cannot think outside yourself right now. Even before this happened, you were not … well, focused on your daughter. You cannot care for her. Did I not know you better, I would say she fears you. I do know it is not in you to be cruel to a child. So I will plainly say only that she does not want to be touched by you. How could you possibly take care of her? She will have to go with me tomorrow. There are many nurses at Buckkeep, and as I have seen in the last few days she actually takes little tending. Once dressed, she feeds herself, she knows not to soil herself, and left alone she seems content to sit and stare into a fire. One of the women who used to tend Thick would be a good choice, I think, especially one who is older now and looking for a simple position.” Nettle drew a chair closer to the fire and sat down. She leaned down to touch her sister. The child wriggled away from her, and Nettle let her go. Bee found her favorite spot on the hearth and folded her legs up inside her robe. I watched her little body relax as she folded her hands and lost herself in the dancing flames. Safe there. Safe as she would not be in Buckkeep. I thought of letting her go with her sister. I didn’t like the idea. Was it selfish to keep her with me? I wasn’t sure.
“They’ll be cruel to her there.” The words bled slowly from me.
“I would not hire a woman who would be cruel! Do you think so little of my judgment?” Nettle was outraged.