He crossed his arms on his chest and leaned back in his chair. “Fitz. Stop being an ass and come back to the table. Those threats never went away. You of all people should know that. You put yourself mostly out of harm’s way, and it’s worked for you. Most of the folk who have deduced who you are either have no ill will toward you, or haven’t had much reason of late to wish you dead. But when you produced a child, that changed things. I thought that surely you had recognized that and were taking precautions. The first time I tested your boundaries, you seemed well aware of the danger.
“But when Nettle told me how mired you are in grief, and that the child may well need special protection for the rest of her life, I resolved to offer you help, if you needed it. Especially when she mentioned that you might send the child to Buckkeep. Or come back there yourself.”
“I’ve no intention of coming back to Buckkeep. And I don’t need anyone to help me protect myself or Bee!” I hated that he had called me Fitz in front of her. A lapse or deliberate? “The only threats I’ve encountered of late seem to come from those I thought I could trust.”
Chade gave me a look. It appealed to me for something. I wasn’t sure what he was asking. His words contradicted his expression. “That’s exactly how I expected you to respond. Which was why I charged Shun with first determining if you did or not. And you obviously do.”
Riddle warned us with a knock before he shouldered open the door and entered with a tray of plates and mugs. His dark eyes flickered over the room, taking in my stance, the overturned chair, and the girl’s sullen face. I saw his brows lift slightly. But he made no comment. As he slid the heavy tray onto the table, he noted, “I brought plenty for all of us. I assume she’s our guest?” He stooped and righted the chair, gestured courteously at it for the girl.
“Let’s eat before we talk more,” Chade suggested.
I came to the table reluctantly. My pride was chafed. I didn’t like Chade sharing so much about me with this girl when I knew so little about her, save what I’d surmised. He’d spoken my name before her! All I knew of her was that she was related to us. How old was she, who was her mother, and how long had Chade been training her? Was she nobly born, with all the political strings that would attach to her? And why did he suddenly want to place her with me?
For that was obviously his intent, that he’d put her in my household, ostensibly as Bee’s bodyguard. A laudable idea, in some ways, if my child had truly needed guarding. Patience had always had Lacey at her side, and no one had questioned that Prince Chivalry’s wife would be accompanied everywhere by her servant. Nor had they thought it odd that Lacey had always had her tatting and her long needles for working lace with her. Lacey had watched over Patience, keeping her safe even after assassins had managed to kill her husband. In their old age the roles had reversed, and Patience had lovingly tended her failing “serving woman” to the end of her days.
But I doubted this girl had the temperament for such a role. She looked of an age to be a nurse or nanny for a small child, but she had shown me no signs that she could adopt such an identity. Her stealth skills were impressive, but in a physical fight she had no muscle or weight to draw on. Her Farseer features would draw too much attention at Buckkeep; she’d be useless as a spy there.
I doubted even more that we would get along well enough for me to trust her with my daughter. And I didn’t like that Riddle had looked surprised and still seemed to regard her with caution. Obviously, he had known as little of Chade’s plan as I had. He hadn’t recognized her. I couldn’t tell if he had realized she was related to the royal family or not.
I seated myself opposite her. Riddle served her first, setting a laden plate in front of her. For short notice, he’d done well by us. Thick slabs of steaming meat fresh carved from the spit, the crackling fat nicely browned, potatoes popping white and mealy from crispy baked skins, and dark-brown gravy. There was a loaf of warm bread and a pot of pale butter beside it. It was simple but there was plenty of it and Shun swallowed audibly as he set it in front of her. She had a healthy appetite and made no pretense of waiting for the rest of us, but seized a fork and knife and began eating. Riddle raised his brows at such childish manners but said nothing as he set out plates for Chade and me and then himself. He’d brought up a pot of tea and four cups as well.
Riddle went back to the door, latched it, and then returned to join us at table. Riddle ate with an appetite. Chade sorted through his food like an old man. As for me, I recognized that the food was of good quality but could not concentrate on it enough to enjoy it. I drank hot tea and watched them. Chade was quiet, his gaze moving between me and the girl as he ate. At the end of the meal, he looked much the better for having eaten. Shun ate with obvious and focused enjoyment. She seized the teapot and refilled her own cup without asking if any of us would care for more. She did not hesitate to take the last potato in the dish, and when she was finished she leaned back in her chair and breathed a loud sign of satiation. When Riddle began gathering and stacking the emptied plates back on the tray, I spoke bluntly to the old assassin.