Something I knew but could not bring to the front of my mind uncurled in the back of my thoughts. I was staring at the girl. Her lips curled in a cat smile.
Chade paused, then walked in and seated himself at the table. It was a well-appointed room designed to accommodate traveling parties, with a table and four chairs, four narrow beds, and heavy curtains at the window. There was a trunk in the corner, the new leather straps barely scuffed. The girl might not have been there at all for all the attention Chade paid to her. Instead he spoke to Riddle. “See if you can find hot food for all of us. And perhaps another drink. Tom, one for you?”
I shook my head slowly. I’d had enough and suddenly I didn’t want my wits to be muzzy. “Food would be good. They were roasting a nice beef joint earlier. A carve off that and some bread, perhaps.”
Riddle looked at me a moment longer. He knew he was once more being dismissed, and like me he could not imagine why. Also like me, he did not like it. Chade had said nothing about the strange girl.
I looked directly at her. “I think we had a misunderstanding earlier. Perhaps you should go now.”
She looked at Chade and he spoke. “No. She needs to stay here.” He didn’t look at anyone as he said, “Riddle, please. Food. And another hot drink.” He looked at the girl. “For you?” She gave the tiniest nod. “For all of us,” he confirmed for Riddle.
Riddle’s glance met mine, and I knew what he asked. I spoke it aloud. “I have his back, Riddle. You can go.”
Chade started to speak, then nodded instead. Riddle left with one more baleful glance at me. I moved around the room, making no pretenses as I looked under the beds for other intruders, checked that the sole window was tightly closed and latched, and then inspected the strapped trunk. “That’s not really necessary,” Chade said in a low voice.
“That’s not what you taught me,” I said, and finished my tasks. I came back to the table and sat down.
The girl still hadn’t moved from her perch on the foot of the bed, but now she spoke. “Looks to me like you’ve forgotten a lot of what he taught you. Checking under the beds now is too little and too late.” She cocked her head at me. “I can see why he might need me.”
Chade spoke softly. “Please join us at the table.” He cleared his throat and transferred his gaze to me. “I wish I had not been delayed. But here we all are, so we may as well discuss this together.” It was as close as he would come to an apology for not preparing me for this. Whatever “this” was. Something he had not wanted to discuss via the Skill. Yet if Riddle knew, then Nettle would know. But not King Dutiful, perhaps. I pushed those thoughts aside. Focus on the here and now.
I watched the girl as she rose to accept his invitation. She moved like a cat, save for the sway of her hips as she sauntered to the table. If she’d been wearing bells on them, they’d have rung at each step. I tried to catch Chade’s gaze. He evaded me. So I studied her as she crossed the room. She did not look dangerous; nor did she appear innocuous in the way that the most dangerous people I have known appeared. She looked ordinary, but contained. No. Not contained. Ready to burst with pride in herself. She walked like a cat with a bird in her mouth, one that wasn’t quite dead. In a moment she’d release her prey for the joy of pouncing on it again.
I suddenly recognized what made her familiar. Her heritage was unmistakably Farseer. I was accustomed to seeing those features echoed in the males of my lineage. Nettle now resembled her mother more than she had ever resembled me. But this girl, despite the femininity of her features, echoed Verity and, eerily, me. My mind was assembling bits of knowledge into theory as fast as it could. A Farseer born. Younger than Dutiful, but too old to be his get. Certainly not mine. So whose? I felt as if the room had suddenly tilted. Whence had come this sprout on the family tree?
I waited for one of them to speak. I wondered at her slow stroll to the table. Chade would have interpreted that as insolence if I’d ever tried it, and a rap on the skull would have been the least reminder I would have received. But in her, he tolerated it. Something to mull.
As soon as she sat down, he said, “Report.”
She cast me one glance and then focused her attention on Chade. “He’s careless,” she said offhandedly. “His ‘disguise’ is pathetic. I bumped him twice before he noticed me. It was stupidly easy to get next to him. All he was thinking about was watching for you.” She swung her eyes to look at me, daring me to respond. “I could have killed him three times over, drugged him, or picked his pocket.”