I have dozens of questions. Who is her mother, and who is she married to now? Does Shun know who her father is? She doesn’t name him, or her mother. Why have you kept her concealed from everyone? Or have you? Has Kettricken added her to her genealogy of unacknowledged Farseers?
Not now! He didn’t even glance at me as he responded. Nor did he look at Riddle. Concealed from Nettle as well? I boiled with questions and wondered if I’d ever get a chance to ask them privately. Some I would not speak in front of the girl and some were better not aired in front of Riddle. There was one I could ask.
“And you have trained her?”
He glanced at her and then met my eyes. “In some things. Not personally, but she had a suitable instructor. Not as you were trained, but as I saw fit.” He cleared his throat. “Mostly so she could protect herself. Though I did wonder if she might not be brought along in my footsteps.” He coughed and added, “There is much you could teach her, if you would.”
I sighed. I suspected he had given me as much information as he intended to give me in this company. “Well. You still haven’t told me all I need to know. And you must know that I need to prepare my household. I can’t simply ride down to the inn for ale on a stormy night and come back with a girl on the back of my horse.”
“That’s why I brought Riddle. I sent Shun here several days ago, and now that Riddle is here, he will act as her protector until he can deliver her to your door.”
Riddle’s mouth quirked once. This was news to him as well.
I tried to find my feet in the rushing current of Chade’s planning. “So, in a few days she will arrive at Withywoods. Where I will greet her as my distant cousin, come to help care for my child in my bereavement.”
“Exactly.” Chade smiled.
I wasn’t amused. It was too soon for me to find strength to help anyone except myself. I’d have to tell him no. I just couldn’t do this. I’d lost Molly and found our child and was fumbling my way toward knowing her. I felt a sudden sharp pang of anxiety. Was Bee safe? Was she frightened? I’d left her alone tonight and come here to this meeting, expecting it to be some brief consultation on a political situation into which he wanted my insights. Now he was asking me to take a young woman into my household, a woman I knew nothing about, and both protect her and educate her in how she must protect herself. My first impression of her was that I would not like her, nor would she enjoy my company. With terrible regret, I wished he had been able to speak to me privately. I would have told him all the reasons I had to say no. Now he had me trapped at a table with both Shun and Riddle watching, and possibly Nettle. How could I say no in these circumstances?
I drew a breath. “I’m just not sure this is the best solution, Chade. Bee is very young, and I am still in mourning.” I turned to Shun. “Have you any experience with small children?”
She stared at me. Her mouth opened and closed twice. Her glance fixed on Chade. I saw both alarm and resentment build on her face as she demanded, “How small? How young? I was stuck caring for my mother’s spoiled nieces when I stayed with her, despite their having a nanny and a tutor. I didn’t care for it. If you think you can exile me from court and hide me at some provincial manor to play governess under the pretense that I’m protecting her, well, you can’t. Nor do I accept the idea that this Tom will watch over me. I proved for myself and you that however sharp he used to be, he’s grown careless and soft. He did not guard himself; how can he protect me?”
“No one said ‘governess.’ We are simply discussing what it might be said you are doing while Fitz continues your training. It would be excellent practice for you to protect his daughter, as her bodyguard.”
I flinched. It was the second time he had called me Fitz in front of her. She did not seem mature enough to be entrusted completely with that secret. Yet it was almost insulting that she had not seemed to realize she had been handed such a secret. I felt a sudden needle to my vanity. Nineteen. Hadn’t she even heard of FitzChivalry Farseer?
She crossed her arms on her chest and lifted her head high, defying Chade. “What if I say no? This is not why I thought I was coming here. I thought you had found a task for me, something significant to do with my life. I’m tired of hiding in the darkness like a rat. I’ve done nothing wrong. You told me that my life would be better with you. I thought I’d live in Buckkeep Castle, at court!”
Chade steepled his fingers and spoke carefully to them. “You can, of course, say no. You do have a choice, Shun.” He sighed suddenly and lifted his eyes to meet hers. “No choices were given to me, so I do know that such things matter. In this regard, I will do all I can for you. I wish I could say you had many choices, but I am as constrained by fate as you are.”