I could feel my anger start to build. Who was she to question my competence in this? The answer that came to me was a dash of cold water in my face. She was the daughter I had abandoned so that I might serve my king. The daughter raised by another man. More than anyone else in the world, she had the right to believe me an incompetent parent. I looked away from both my daughters.
“If you take her, I’ll be alone here.” The words sounded so self-pitying that I instantly regretted them.
Nettle spoke softly and more gently than such a selfish statement deserved. “Then the answer is clear. Close up Withywoods. Leave the staff to run it. Pack up your things. Come back with me to Buckkeep Castle.”
I opened my mouth to speak and could think of nothing to say. I’d never even considered the idea that I might return to Buckkeep Castle one day. Part of my heart leapt up at the thought. No need to face this gulf of loneliness. I could run from it. At Buckkeep, I’d see old friends again, the halls of the keep, the kitchens, the steams, the stables, the steep streets of Buckkeep Town …
As abruptly, my enthusiasm died. Empty. No Molly, no Burrich, no Verity, no Shrewd. No Nighteyes. The yawning cavern of emptiness gaped wider as each remembered death slashed at me.
“No,” I said. “I can’t. There’s nothing for me there. Only politics and intrigue.”
The sympathy I had seen in her face faded. “Nothing.” She said the word stiffly. “Only me.” She cleared her throat. “And Chade and Dutiful and Kettricken and Thick.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Suddenly I was too tired to explain. I tried anyway. “The Buckkeep Castle I knew is long gone. And life there has gone on without me for too long. I don’t know how I’d fit in there now. Not as FitzChivalry Farseer, certainly. Not as the assassin and spy for the royal family. Nor as Tom Badgerlock, the serving man. One day I’ll come to visit for a week or even a month, and see everyone then. But not to stay, my dear. Never again to stay there. And not now. The thought of going somewhere now, of meeting old friends, eating and drinking, laughing and talking … no. I have no heart for it.”
She rose and came to me. She stood behind my chair and set her hands to my shoulders. “I understand,” she said. There was forgiveness in her voice for my thoughtless remark. She had that in her, that ability to forgive easily. I had no idea where she had learned it. It humbled me: I knew I didn’t deserve it. She spoke on. “I had hoped it might be otherwise, but I understand. And maybe in the spring you will feel differently. Maybe by then you’ll be ready to come and spend some time with us.”
She sighed, squeezed my shoulders a final time, and then yawned like a cat. “Oh. It’s gotten late somehow. I should have put Bee to bed hours ago. We’ve an early start to make, and I still need to find a way to make her comfortable in a pannier. I should go to bed now.”
I made no reply. Let her go to bed and get some sleep. In the morning, when she tried to take Bee, I’d simply say no. But for tonight, I could let it go. A coward’s way out.
Bee was still sitting cross-legged, still staring into the flames. “Come, Bee, bedtime,” Nettle said, and stooped to pick up her sister. Bee rolled her little shoulders in a way I knew well, moving herself just outside Nettle’s grip. Nettle tried again, and again the child shrugged her away. “Bee!” Nettle objected.
Bee turned her face up and looked somewhere between Nettle and me. “No. I’m staying with Papa.”
Never had I heard her speak so clearly. It shocked me, and I fought to keep that from my face and from my Skill.
Nettle froze. Then slowly she crouched down next to her sister to peer into her face. “Staying with Papa?” She spoke each word slowly and carefully.
Bee turned her head sharply aside and said nothing. She looked away from both of us, into the shadowy corners of the room. Nettle shot me an incredulous look. I realized that it might be the first time she had ever heard her sister speak a full sentence. Nettle put her attention back on the child.
“Bee, it’s time to go to bed. In the morning we must get up very early. You’re going for a ride with me, a long ride to a place called Buckkeep Castle. It will be so much fun to see a new place! So come to me so I can take you to your bed and tuck you in.”
I saw Bee’s shoulders tighten. She bent her head down, tucking her chin to her chest.
“Bee,” Nettle warned her and then tried again to pick her up. Again Bee squirmed out of her grip.
She had moved closer to me, but I knew better than to try to pick her up. Instead I addressed her directly.