“Not her nurse. The children of the keep. When she goes for her lessons, they will peck her for being small and pale. Pinch her at meals. Take her sweets away, chase her down the corridors. Mock her. For being different.”
“The other children? Her lessons?” Nettle was incredulous. “Open your eyes, Fitz. Lessons in what? I love her as dearly as anyone can, but a comfortable and safe life is the best we can do for her. I would not send her to lessons, nor put her at a table where she might be mocked or pinched. I’ll keep her safe in her own chamber, near my own. Fed, dressed, and clean, with her simple little toys. It is the best we can offer her and all she knows to want from life.”
I stared at her, baffled by her words. How could she see Bee that way? “You think her a simpleton?”
She looked jolted that I would deny it. Then she reached into herself and found steel. “It happens. It’s not her fault. It’s not your fault. It’s something we cannot hide from. She was born to my mother late in her life, and she was born tiny. Such children seldom have a … a growing mind. They stay children. And for the rest of her life, be it short or long, someone must look after her. So it would be best if—”
“No. She’ll stay here.” I was adamant, shocked that Nettle could suggest otherwise. “Regardless of what you may think, despite her strange ways, she has a bright little mind. And even if she were simple, my answer would be the same. Withywoods is all she has ever known. She knows her way about the house and grounds, and the servants accept her. She isn’t stupid, Nettle, nor slow. She’s small, and yes, she’s different. She may not speak often, but she does talk. And she does things. Sewing, tending the hives, weeding the gardens, writing in her little book. She loves to be outdoors. She loves being free to do as she will. She followed Molly everywhere.”
My elder daughter just stared at me. She tipped her head toward Bee and asked skeptically, “This tiny child sews? And can tend a hive?”
“Surely your mother wrote to you …” My words dwindled away. Writing was a task for Molly. And it was only in the last year that I myself had seen the bright spark of intellect in my child. Why should I think Nettle had known of it? I had not shared the knowledge of it with her, or Chade or anyone at Buckkeep. At first I had feared to rejoice too soon. And after our remembering game, I had been wary of sharing knowledge of the child’s talents with Chade. I was still certain he would quickly find ways to exploit her.
Nettle was shaking her head. “My mother was overly fond of her youngest. She bragged to me of things that seemed … well. It was plain that she longed desperately for Bee to be …” Her voice sank as she could not bring herself to say the words.
“She’s a capable little girl. Ask the servants,” I advised her, and then wondered how much of Bee’s abilities they had seen. I walked back to my desk and dropped into my chair. None of it mattered. “In any case, she’s not going with you, Nettle. She’s my daughter. It’s only right that she stay with me.”
Such words for me to say to her. She stared at me, her mouth slowly flattening. She could have said something cruel then. I saw her choose not to do so. I would have called my words back if I could, would have found another way to state that thought. Instead I added frankly, “I failed at that duty once, with you. This will be my last chance to do it right. She stays.”
Nettle was silent for a short time and then said gently, “I know you mean well. You intend to do right by her. But Fitz, I just doubt that you can. It’s as you say; you’ve never had the care of such a small child as she is—”
“Hap was younger than she when I took him in!”
“Hap was normal.” I do not think she meant for the word to come out so harshly.
I stood. I spoke firmly to my elder daughter. “Bee is normal, too. Normal for who and what she is. She’s going to stay here, Nettle, and keep her little life as it is. Here, where her memories of her mother are.”
Nettle had begun to weep. Not for sorrow but because she was so weary and still knew she was going to defy me and that it would hurt me. Tears slid down her face. She did not sob. I saw her set jaw and knew she would not back down from her decision. Just as I knew I would not allow her to take Bee from me. Someone was going to break; we could not both win this.
“I have to do right by my baby sister. My mother would expect that of me. And I can’t allow her to stay here,” she said. She looked at me, and in her eyes I read a hard sympathy for what she knew I was feeling. Sympathy but no mercy. “Perhaps if I find a good nurse for her at Buckkeep, she could sometimes accompany Bee to come back here and visit,” she offered doubtfully.