“I will speak to Nettle about it, but not just now. Next time she comes to visit us, perhaps. I will have to think how to phrase the request.” I had no intention of conveying this to Nettle, not until I myself had decided how best to handle it. I was rummaging in my thoughts, trying to decide how best to push my question of why she had concealed her intellect and speaking abilities, when she suddenly stood up. She looked up at me, all big blue eyes, with her little red nightrobe falling down to her slippered feet. My child. My little girl, sleepy and innocent-eyed. My heart swelled with love for her. She was my last vestige of Molly, the vessel that held all the love Molly had poured into her. She was a strange child, and no mistake. But Molly had always been a keen judge of people. I suddenly knew that if she had seen fit to trust her heart to Bee then I need not fear to emulate her. I smiled down at her.
Her eyes widened in surprise. Then she cast her eyes aside from my gaze, but an answering smile blossomed on her face. “I’m sleepy now,” she said quietly. “I’m going to bed.” She looked toward the darkened doorway outside the circle of firelight and lamplight. She squared her little shoulders, resolving to face the dark.
I lifted the lamp from my desk. “I’ll take you to your bed,” I told her. It suddenly seemed very strange to me that in all nine years of her life, it had always been Molly who put her to bed at night. Molly would bring her to me as I was at my books or writing, and I would say good night, and she would whisk the child away. Often Molly, too, had gone to bed without me, knowing I would join her as soon as I had trapped my thoughts on paper. Why, I suddenly wondered, had I wasted all those hours I could have spent with her? Why hadn’t I gone with them, to listen to a bedtime story or nursery song? To hold Molly as she fell asleep in my arms?
Grief choked me so I could not speak. Without a word, I followed my daughter as she led the way through the paneled halls of her grandparents’ home. We passed portraits of our ancestors, and tapestries, and mounted arms. Her small slippers whispered on the grand stair as we mounted to the second floor. These corridors were chill and she wrapped her little arms around herself and shivered as she walked, bereft of a mother’s embrace now.
She had to reach for the door handle, standing on tiptoes, and then she pushed it open to a room lit only by the fading fire on the hearth. The servants had prepared her bedchamber hours ago. The candles they had lit for her had guttered out.
I set my lamp on a table by her canopied bed and went to the hearth to build her fire up again for her. She stood silently watching me. When I was sure the logs were catching well, I turned back to her. She nodded grave thanks and then stepped on a low stool and clambered up onto the tall bed. She had finally outgrown the small one we’d had made for her. But this one was still far larger than she needed. She pulled off her slippers and let them fall over the side of the bed. I saw her shiver as she crawled between the chill white sheets. She reminded me of a small puppy trying to find comfort in a big dog’s kennel. I moved to her bedside and tucked the blankets in well around her.
“It will warm up soon enough,” I comforted her.
“I know.” Her blue gaze roamed the room, and for the first time it struck me how strange this world might look to her. The room was immense in comparison with her, everything sized for the benefit of a grown man. Could she even see out of her windows when she stood by them? Open the heavy cedar lid of her blanket chest? I suddenly remembered my first night in my bedchamber at Buckkeep Castle after years of sleeping cozy in Burrich’s chamber in the lofts above the stables. At least the tapestries here were all of flowers and birds, with no golden-eyed Elderlings staring down at an awestruck child who was trying to fall asleep. Still, I saw a dozen changes that needed to be made in the room, changes that would have been wrought years ago by a father with any sensitivity. Shame flooded me. It felt wrong to leave her alone in such a large and empty space.
I stood over her in the darkness. I promised myself I would do better. I reached to smooth the pale stubble on her skull. She curled away from my touch. “No, please,” she whispered into the darkness, looking away from me. It was a knife to my heart, a stab I well deserved. I drew back my hand, did not stoop for the kiss I had intended to bestow on her. I held back my sigh.
“Very well. Good night, Bee.”
I took up my lamp and was halfway to the door when she asked timidly, “Can you leave a short candle burning? Mama always left me one candle.”
I immediately knew what she meant. Molly often lit a small fat candle by our bedside, one that scented the room as she drifted off to sleep. I could not recall how many times I had come to our bed to find her deep in slumber and the last bit of flame dancing on the foundering wick. A pottery saucer on Bee’s bedside table awaited such a candle. I opened the cupboard beneath the table and found ranks and rows of such candles. Their sweet fragrances drifted out to me as if Molly herself had entered the room. I chose lavender for its restfulness. I lit the candle from my lamp and set it in its place. I drew the bed’s draperies closed, imagining how the dancing candlelight would seep through the hangings to softly illuminate the enclosed space.