Bee watched me handling the acorn. When I set it back on the table, she picked it up to examine it. She had begun to use small phrases to the staff: “Please, more bread.” Or a simple “Good morning.” Her childish lisp was not entirely pretense, but I was not sure if I felt pride or dismay at how polished an actress she was. In the last few evenings, we had played our memory game as well as Stones, and at both she seemed incredibly gifted. I tutted at my fatherly pride, reminding myself that every parent must think his child the cleverest and prettiest. She had shown me a page from an herbal that she had copied out with painstaking care at my urgent request. She had her mother’s gift for illustration. And she had written a brief note to Nettle, scarcely blotched at all and in a hand so like my own that I wondered if her sister would deem it counterfeit. Our last few weeks together had been like balm on a wound. Briefly, it eased the aching.
But Chade’s summons I could not ignore. The only times when he went back to the cryptic communications of my boyhood were when he had something of the utmost delicacy to broach to me. Was it private to him, or too dangerous to share? My heart sank at the thought. Now what? What was happening at Buckkeep Castle that was worthy of this secret liaison? What was he trying to drag me into?
And what arrangements could I make for Bee that evening? If I went to meet Chade, I would not be there to see her to bed that night. We had begun to build something, we two, and I did not want to neglect it. As Nettle had warned me, caring for the child full-time was not as easy as one might think it, but neither was it as hard as she had painted it. I was enjoying my daughter, even when we both were in the same room but quiet and busy at our own tasks. Her latest fancy was a set of brushes and some paints. Her copies of illustrations were painstaking and accurate. She sighed over them, but since I had suggested that Nettle needed to see her abilities, she did them. I was more charmed by the peculiar and childish images she created when left alone with brushes and inks. She had painted a small man with his cheeks puffed as if blowing, and told me that he breathed out fog. She had never seen the ocean or a ship, but had drawn a little boat towed through the waves by water snakes. Another was a row of flowers with tiny faces. She showed me such work shyly, and I sensed she was letting me into her world. I didn’t want to leave her for a housemaid to tuck into bed. Nor would I drag her out and into the night with me. An autumn storm was threatening.
Bee was looking at me curiously as I pondered my lack of choices. “What’s this?” she piped in her childish voice, and held up the acorn.
“An acorn. A seed from an oak tree.”
“I know that!” she said, as if amazed I could think her so ignorant. She silenced herself hastily. Tavia had come out of the kitchen with a steaming kettle of porridge. She set it down on the table and ladled two generous servings into our bowls. A pitcher of cream and a pot of honey were already on the table, beside a loaf of freshly baked dark bread. One of the younger kitchen girls, Elm, followed her with a bowl of butter and a dish of stewed prunes. She did not look at Bee, I noticed. I marked, too, how Bee stiffened slightly and did not breathe as the girl passed behind her chair. I nodded my thanks to Tavia and waited until she had whisked herself and her daughter back to the kitchen before I spoke.
“I have to go on a brief trip this evening. I may be gone all night.”
I felt Bee’s eyes flicker over my face, trying to read what I was thinking. It was a new habit she had. She still did not meet my gaze, but sometimes I felt her looking at me. She was relieved that I now attempted to keep my Skill contained at all times, but I think it also made me more mysterious to her. I had to wonder how much she had read from me in the first nine years of her life. The thought was so saddening that I pushed it aside. She had not spoken. “Shall I ask Tavia to put you to bed tonight?”
She shook her head briskly.
“Mild, then?” The other kitchenmaid was younger, in her twenties. Perhaps she would suit Bee better.
Bee lowered her eyes to her porridge and shook her head more slowly. Well, that canceled both of my easy solutions, unless I simply told her she’d have to endure whatever arrangements I could make. I wasn’t ready to be so firm with her yet. I wondered if I ever would be, and then chided myself to think that I might be the sort of father who spoiled a child by indulging her will. I would think of something, I promised myself, and pushed the matter from my mind for the time being.
Despite Chade’s visit looming before me, I went about my regular tasks for the day. The needs of a manor stop for nothing, not even a death. I was swiftly discovering just how many unseen parts there were to managing a household, even with Revel stepping up to much of it. Molly had always been the one to coordinate with him. Together they had discussed meals and seasonal tasks, routine maintenance, hiring of help. It had all been invisible to me, and now the man and his insistence that we meet each afternoon to discuss the day’s needs nearly drove me mad. He was a pleasant enough fellow and good at what he did, but every time he tapped at my study door it was a reminder that Molly was not there to intercept him. Twice he had brought up maintenance that should be done before winter. The carefully detailed notes he gave me, with suggestions as to tradesmen and material and dates, overwhelmed me. It was all stacked on top of my ordinary work. Today I was already late paying the staff, and though they had seemed understanding of my grief, I knew that their lives went on. How to manage? Hire yet another person to nag me through the day? I dreaded trying to find someone trustworthy, and my heart sank even deeper as I realized that I still needed to find a nanny or tutor for Bee as well. I wondered if FitzVigilant was ready yet, and then realized that for a little girl, a woman would be more appropriate. Someone who could sleep in the unused servant’s chamber adjacent to her own. Someone who would move from being a nanny to a maid as Bee grew. My woe deepened at the thought of bringing a woman into her life who would do some of what her mother had done for her. I knew I must. Although Chade’s visit would be the first task to take me from her side, it would not be the last.