“You’ve spoiled nothing,” I protested, and opened the door to find our bedroom had been transformed. Draperies of ivy confined our bed, and evergreen boughs graced the mantel and perfumed the air. The fat yellow candles that burned about the room gave off scents of wintergreen and bayberry. There was a new coverlet on the bed and matching hangings, all done in the green and golden-yellow of Withywoods, with twining willow leaves as a motif. I was astonished. “When did you find time to arrange all this?”
“Our new house steward is a man of many talents,” she replied, smiling, but then she sighed and said, “I thought we would be coming here after midnight, drunk with dance and music and wine. I planned on seducing you.”
Before I could respond, she added, “I know that of late, I have not been as ardent as once I was. Sometimes I feel I am the dried husk of a woman now that there is no chance of ever giving you another child. I thought tonight we might regain, for a time … But now I feel light-headed, and not in a pleasant way. Fitz, I think I will do no more in that bed than sleep beside you tonight.” She let go of me and tottered a few steps to sink down on the edge of the bed. Her fingers fumbled at the laces of her kirtle.
“Let me do that for you,” I offered. She raised an eyebrow at me. “With no thought of more than that!” I assured her. “Molly, just to have you sleep beside me every night is the fulfillment of my dream of years. Time enough for more when you are not exhausted.” I loosened the confining laces, and she sighed as I eased her out of the garment. The buttons on her blouse were tiny things made from mother-of-pearl. She brushed my clumsy fingers aside to undo them, then stood. She was very unlike her tidy self as she let her skirts fall on top of the discarded clothing. I’d found and brought to her a soft nightgown. She pulled it on over her head, and it tangled on the holly crown in her hair. I lifted it gently free and smiled as I beheld the woman my lovely Molly Redskirts had become. A long-ago Winterfest came to my mind, as I’m sure it did for her. But as she sank down to sit on the edge of the bed again, I saw the furrows in her brow. She lifted a hand to rub her forehead. “Fitz, I’m so sorry. I’ve ruined all I planned.”
“Nonsense. Here. Let me tuck you in.”
She gripped my shoulder to stand and swayed as I opened the bed to the linens for her. “In you go,” I told her, and she made no saucy reply, but only sighed heavily as she sat, then eased over onto the bed and lifted her feet after her. She closed her eyes. “The room is spinning. And it’s not wine.”
I sat down on the edge of the bed and took her hand. She frowned. “Be still. Any movement makes the room spin faster.”
“It will pass,” I told her, hoping it would, and sat very still. I watched her. The candles burned steadily, releasing the fragrances she had imbued in them over the summer past. The fire on the hearth crackled, flames consuming the carefully stacked logs. Slowly the lines of discomfort in her face eased. Her breathing steadied. The stealth and patience of my youthful training sustained me. I very gradually eased my weight from the bedside and when I finally stood beside the bed, I doubted that she had felt any motion at all, for she slept on.
I ghosted about the room, extinguishing all but two of her candles. I poked at the fire, added another log, and set the fire screen before it. I was not sleepy, or even weary. I had no desire to return to the festivities and explain why I was there while Molly was not. For a time longer I stood, the fire warming my back. Molly was a shape behind the mostly drawn bed curtains. The flames crackled, and my ears could almost sort the kiss of the driven snow against the windows from the sounds of the merrymaking down below. Slowly I took off my festive garments and resumed the comforts of my familiar leggings and tunic. Then silently I left the room, drawing the door slowly closed behind me.
I did not descend by the main stairs. Instead I took a roundabout path, down a servants’ back staircase and through a mostly deserted corridor until finally I reached my private den. I unlocked the tall doors and slipped inside. The remains of the hearth fire were a few winking coals. I woke them with a few twists of paper from my desk, burning the useless musings of that morning and then adding more fuel. I went to my desk, sat, and drew a blank sheet of paper toward me. I stared at it and wondered: Why not just burn it now? Why write on it, stare at the words, and then burn it? Was there really anything left in me that I could trust only to paper? I had the life I had dreamed of: the home, the loving wife, the children grown. Buckkeep Castle respected me. This was the quiet backwater I’d always dreamed of. It was over a decade since I’d even thought of killing anyone. I set down the quill and leaned back in my chair.