And indeed, there she was. I was almost annoyed at her for spoiling my perfectly good sulk. And that was when I realized that was what I had been doing. I’d been sulking because the Fool had sent letters to Jofron and not to me. And like a child, I’d been testing the people who loved me, pulling away from them almost for the sole reason of seeing if anyone would come after me.
And she had. I felt thwarted in my petulance, and as foolish as I knew that to be, it still stung when Nettle laughed at me. “I wish you could see the look on your face!” she exclaimed. “Come. Will it be so terrible that after all these years, you and I finally will have a few days and nights of being able to talk to each other, without disasters or small boys interrupting us?”
“It would be good,” I conceded, and just that simply my mood lifted. And our homeward journey together began.
I had never traveled in such indulgence. I had brought few supplies, thinking I would live rough on the way home. Nettle was likewise traveling light, save for a wallet full of silvers. The first time I proposed that if we were going to camp for the night, we should begin to look for a likely place, she stood up in her stirrups, looked all around, and then pointed to smoke rising. “That’s a house at the least, and more likely a village with an inn, however humble. And that is where I intend to stop tonight, and if there is a hot bath to be had, it will be mine. And a good meal!”
And she was right. There were all three of those things, in fact, and she put silver out for me as well as herself, saying, “Chade told me not to let you do anything to punish yourself for being sad.”
For a few quiet moments, I handled her words, trying to see if they truly applied to me. They didn’t, I was sure, but I could think of no defense. She cleared her throat. “Let’s talk about Hap, shall we? Did you know that there is rumor that despite being a minstrel, and a wandering one at that, he has a sweetheart at Daratkeep, and he is true to her? She is a weaver in the town there.”
I had not known that, or much of the other gossip she shared with me. That evening, although there were several other minor nobles occupying the same inn, Nettle kept company with me. And we remained long by the hearth fire in the central room after the others had sought their beds. From her, I learned that Buckkeep politics were as tangled and the intimate royal gossip as thorny as ever. She had quarreled with King Dutiful, for she feared for the safety of the adolescent Princes, too often off to the Out Islands with their mother. He had dared to tell her it was none of her business, and she had replied that if it was his business that she could not wed because he consistently exposed his heirs to danger, then she had a right to add her thoughts on it. Queen Elliania had recently suffered a miscarriage: It had been a girl child, the child she had dreamed of; it was a terrible loss as well as a bad omen to her mothershouse. When they had departed so hastily for Buckkeep, it was so that Elliania could take the Princes for yet another long visit to her homeland. Some of the dukes had begun to grumble about how often the lads were away. King Dutiful was caught between his dukes and his Queen, and seemed able to find no compromise.
When I asked after Riddle, Nettle said he was well the last time she had seen him and then decisively steered our conversation away from that. She seemed to have given up all hope of ever gaining King Dutiful’s permission to wed, and yet I had never seen her evince interest in another man. I longed to know what was in her heart, and wished she were more inclined to confide in me as she once had in her mother.
Instead she turned our talk to other problems brewing along our border.
Dragons were ranging over Chalced, preying where they pleased, and they had begun sometimes to cross the border and ravage the herds of Shoaks and even Farrow. The Six Duchies folk expected the Skill-coterie of the King to turn back the dragons or at least negotiate with them. But the concepts of diplomacy and compromise were laughable to dragons. If dragons laughed, which both Nettle and I doubted.
We pondered if one could negotiate with dragons, and what the repercussions would be of slaying a dragon, and if paying tribute to dragons with slaughter herds was cowardly or simply pragmatic.
Some of her news was not political but of family. Swift and Web had recently visited Buckkeep. Swift’s bird partner was healthy and strong. But Web’s gull was so poorly that Web had taken a room in Buckkeep Town that overlooked the water. The bird mostly lived on his windowsill; he fed her, for she flew little now. The end was coming and they were both awaiting it. While Nettle herself was not Witted, through me and her brother Swift she understood what is was to lose a Wit-partner.