Head still lowered, she lifted one shoulder and shook her head mutely. I had not expected any answer. In truth, I understood the keeping of such secrets. For years in my own childhood, I had hidden the secret of my bastardy from Molly, pretending I was no more than the scribe’s errand boy. Not to deceive her but because I had longed to be so unremarkable. I knew too well that the longer that sort of secret is kept, the harder it is to expose it without seeming deceitful. How could I not have seen this? How could I keep her from the mistakes I had made? I tried to speak to her as a father should.
“Well, it’s an odd secret you’ve kept. And I advise you to surrender it now. You should begin to speak to other people. Not like we are talking now, but with a few words here and there. Naming things you want when you point at them. Then moving on to simple requests.”
“You want me to practice a new sort of deception,” she said slowly. “You want me to pretend I’m just now learning to speak.”
And I realized I had sounded more like an assassin’s mentor than a loving father. I was giving her the sort of advice Chade would have given me. I felt uncomfortable at that thought and spoke more firmly because of it. “Well. Yes. I suppose I am. But I think it’s a necessary deception, based on the first one you chose. Why on earth would you pretend that you can barely speak at all? Why did you keep your words so hidden?”
She pulled her knees tighter to her chest, clasped her arms round them, and held herself tight and small. Holding her secret close, I guessed. Doubt dropped the floor of my belly. There was more here that I did not know. I consciously took my eyes off her. Don’t stare at her. She is only nine. How large a secret could such a tiny person conceal? I thought of myself at nine and grew still inside.
She didn’t answer my question. Instead she asked, “How did you do that?”
She rocked slightly, chewing on her lip. “You are holding it in now. Not spilling out everywhere.”
I rubbed my face and decided to let her lead the conversation, even if she carried me onto painful ground. Let her become accustomed to talking to me … and me to listening to her. “You mean, how sad I’ve been? That I’m not weeping today?”
An impatient shake of her head. “No. I mean everything.” Again that tilt of her little head and a look from the corners of her eyes.
I considered my words and spoke gently. “You’re going to have to explain better than that.”
“You … boil. Like the big kettle in the kitchen. When you come near, ideas and images and what you think come out of you like the steam from the pot. I feel your heat and smell what seethes inside you. I try to hold back but it drenches me and scalds me. And then, when my sister was here, suddenly you put a lid on. I could still feel the heat but you kept in the steam and the smells … There! Just now! You made the lid tighter and cooled the heat.”
She was right. I had. As she had spoken, dread had risen in me. She did not think of the Skill as I did, but the images she used could not apply to anything else. And the moment I realized that she had been privy to my thoughts and emotions, I had slammed my Skill-walls tighter, sealing myself behind them as Verity had taught me so many years ago. Verity had pleaded with me to learn to hold my walls tight because my adolescent dreams of Molly were spilling over into his sleep and infiltrating his own dreams and destroying his rest. And now I walled out my little daughter. I cast my thoughts back over not just that evening, but all the days and nights of the past nine years, wondering what she had heard and seen in her father’s thoughts. I recalled how she had always stiffened when I touched her, and how she averted her eyes from my glance. Even as she did now. I had suspected she disliked me, and it had grieved me. Never had I stopped to think that if she knew all my thoughts about her she had every right to dislike me, the man who had never been content with her, who had always wished his daughter to be someone else.
But now she looked up at me cautiously. For less than a wink, our gazes met. “It’s so much better,” she said quietly. “So much more peaceful when you are contained.”
“I wasn’t aware that you were … so beset by my, my thinking. I shall try to keep my walls closed when I am around you.”
“Oh, could you?” she begged, relief evident in her voice. “And Nettle? Can you ask her, also, to close her walls when she comes near me?”
No. I could not. To tell her sister that she must keep her Skill-walls tight when she was around Bee would betray to her how sensitive her sister was to that magic. And I was not prepared for Nettle to wonder, as I did now, just how much ability Bee would have for that Farseer magic. How “useful” might she be? I was suddenly Chade, seeing before me a child, apparently a very young child, but actually years older and Skilled. Rosemary had been an excellent child-spy. But Bee would outshine her as the sun outshines a candle. Walls tight, I did not betray that thought to her. Senseless to make her worry about such things just yet. I would do all the worrying for both of us. I made my voice calm.