And so I had lived, and like the bitch I’d done as he told me and never questioned it was for the best. I would never forget the first time I had completely realized that Chade was not infallible. For years, when I suffered from headaches after I Skilled or attempted to Skill, he had dosed me with elfbark. I had endured the bleak spirit and wildly nervous energy for the sake of banishing the pain. And he had commiserated with me and urged me to try ever harder in developing my Skill. For years, neither of us had known that the elfbark itself was actually eroding my ability for that magic. But when I discovered that, what I had felt was not devastation that my magic was damaged, but astonishment that Chade had been wrong.
I was beginning to suspect I’d fallen into the same trap again. Habits of thinking are hard to break.
A remarkable silence had fallen to either side of me. Shun was seething still, FitzVigilant torn. I suspected he and Riddle had known each other well at Buckkeep Castle, and despite the differences in their positions he had perhaps even regarded him as a friend. And now he must make a choice and declare for the lady, or defend his friend. I wondered if his need to win my approval would weigh into this at all. I waited silently, knowing that how he decided would be how I judged him.
He leaned on the table to look past me at Lady Shun. “You should not judge the serving boy too harshly,” he suggested. For a moment my heart warmed toward him. Then he ruined it by saying, “We are seated here among the commoners, and he is but a tavern lad in a backwater town. It would be a wonder if he had been schooled to the ability to recognize a highborn lady and grant her the priority that she deserves.”
How had Chade let him acquire such a high opinion of himself? While Chade had never debased me for the illegitimacy we shared, he had let me know that my birth to a common mother meant I could never assume that the privilege of the noble class would be accorded to me. I wondered if FitzVigilant knew his mother had been a huntswoman, esteemed by the Queen but of no great standing at court. Did he imagine himself to be lost nobility of a very high order? Better than humble Tom Badgerlock, son of a commoner?
Better than Bee?
And in that moment I knew with great clarity that FitzVigilant was completely unsuitable to teach my daughter. How could I have ever believed otherwise? Once more I found myself shaking my head over my own stupidity. FitzVigilant had failed as an assassin, so Chade had assumed he would do better as a scribe and teacher. And I had gone along with such a crooked piece of logic. Why? Did either of us believe that teaching children might be easier than killing them?
What was wrong with me, that after so many years I still found myself willing to accept unquestioningly Chade’s suggestions? I was an adult, surely, by now? But such was the power of my old mentor over me. I had long ago learned he was fallible, yet in unguarded moments I always fell back into the default that Chade knew better than I did. I seldom questioned his commands; even worse, I seldom tried to pry out information he had not shared with me. Well, that would change now. I would know, without doubt, Lant’s true parentage, and I would demand to know exactly why Shun was worth a dedicated effort to kill her. And I’d ask why on earth he had ever thought either of them could possibly function as a bodyguard or a tutor for my child?
So I would be both to her, teacher and guardian. She could already read, and it seemed to me that most of my education had come from either reading or helping Chade in his odd experiments. There had been my physical training, of course, but I scarcely saw the need to teach Bee how to wield an axe or a sword. It made me smile to think of how earnestly she still pursued our evening lessons with her knife. A quick lesson in handling the blade had replaced a night story or song. She was quick; I had to give her that. After she had cut my knuckles twice, I had replaced her belt-knife with a wooden blade. A few nights ago she had startled me by evading my blade with a tumbling trick worthy of the Fool himself. If I could teach her to dance to a blade, surely I could teach her all else she needed to know. I could manage a sufficient education for her. And what I did not know, I would have her taught by those who knew it best. We had an excellent healer in Withy; she could build on the foundation of herbal knowledge that Molly had given her. And yes, my daughter would learn to play an instrument, and to dance, and the thousand other things that were a woman’s weapons in this world. And languages. The tongue of the Mountain Kingdom, certainly. And it came to me that there was little to anchor Bee and me at Withywoods. We could spend a year in the Mountains, for her to learn their generous ways as well as their language. And the same for the Out Islands. And for each of the Six Duchies. I suddenly resolved that, before she was sixteen, my daughter would have traveled to all of them. It was as if I had been following a narrow trail, and had suddenly realized that at any time I could leave it and strike out cross-country. I could choose what and how she was taught, and in the process shape who she became.