But it was not only gossip we shared. We talked of food, and music we enjoyed, and which old tales were our favorites. She told me stories of her childhood, mostly of the mischief she and her brothers had perpetrated. In turn, I spoke of my days as a boy in Buckkeep, and how different both castle and town had been then. Burrich figured much in all our tales.
On our last evening together, before we left the River Road to follow the narrower road that led to Withywoods, she asked me about Lord Golden. Had he truly once been a jester for King Shrewd? Yes, he had. And he and I had been … very close? “Nettle,” I said, as she rode looking straight ahead. I waited until she turned to look at me. Her tanned cheeks were a bit more flushed than usual. “I loved that man as I have loved no one else. I do not say I loved him more than I love your mother. But that the way I loved him was different. If you have heard there was anything improper in our bond, there was not. That was not what we were to each other. What we had went beyond that.”
She did not meet my eyes, but she nodded. “And what became of him?” she asked in a softer voice.
“I do not know. He left Buckkeep while I was still lost in the stones. I never heard from him again.”
I think my voice told her far more than my words did. “I am so sorry, Da,” she said quietly.
Did she know that it was the first time she had honored me with that title? I held a very careful silence, savoring the moment. And then we crested a slight rise, and the village of Withy was before us, cupped in a gentle valley beside a river. And I knew we would reach Withywoods before the afternoon was old. I found I suddenly regretted how soon our journey together must end. Even more, I dreaded what she would think of her mother and how far her delusions had carried her away from us.
And yet the visit began well. When we arrived, Molly hugged me warmly and then turned delightedly to her eldest child. She had not expected me to return so soon, and had not expected to see Nettle at all. We had arrived shortly after noon and were both ravenous. All three of us retired to the kitchen where we merrily dismayed the household staff by insisting on raiding the pantry for a simple feast of bread, cheese, sausage, and ale instead of waiting for them to prepare something more elaborate for us. When Cook Nutmeg put her foot down and chased us out of her kitchen, we picnicked at one end of the great dining table. We told Molly all about our journey, the simple but moving ceremonies that had preceded the King’s interment, and Kettricken’s decision to stay for a time in the Mountains. And as there is from any journey, no matter how solemn the destination, there were humorous stories to tell that set us all laughing.
Molly had stories of her own to share with us. Some goats had managed to get into the vineyards and had done damage to some of the oldest vines there. They would recover, but most of this year’s grapes from that section of the vineyard were lost. We’d had several major incursions of wild pigs into the hayfield; the major damage they did was trampling the hay to where it was almost impossible to harvest it. Lozum from the village had brought his dogs and gone after them. He’d killed one big boar, but one of his dogs had been badly ripped in the process. I sighed to myself. I was sure that would be one of the first problems I’d have to tackle. I’d never enjoyed boar hunts, but it would be necessary now. And Tallman would once again renew his plea for hounds of our own.
And somehow, while I was silently woolgathering on boars and dogs and hunting, the topic changed, and then Molly was tugging at my sleeve and asking me, “Don’t you want to see what we’ve done?”
“Of course,” I replied, and arose from the pitiful remains of our haphazard meal to follow my wife and my daughter.
My heart sank when I realized she was leading us to her nursery. Nettle glanced back at me over her shoulder, but I kept my expression bland. Nettle had not seen the room since Molly had taken it over. And when she opened the door, I realized I hadn’t, either.
The room had originally been a parlor intended for greeting important guests. In my absence it had become a carefully appointed nursery, rich with every luxury that a gravid woman could wish for her child to come.
The cradle in the center of it was of fine mellow oak, cunningly fashioned so that if one stepped on a lever, it would gently rock the child. A carved Farseer buck watched over the head of the cradle. I believe Lady Patience had had it built in her early days at Withywoods, when she still hoped to conceive a child. It had waited, empty, for decades. Now the cradle was heaped with soft bedding, and netted with lace so that no insect might sting the occupant. The low couch now boasted fat cushions where a mother might recline to feed her child, and there were thick rugs underfoot. The deep windows looked out onto a garden cloaked in the first fall of autumn leaves. The thick glass was curtained first with lace, and then translucent silk, and finally with a tightly woven curtain that would keep out both bright sunlight and cold. There was a painted glass enclosure Molly could put around the lamp to dim its light as well. Behind a fanciful screen of flowers and bees wrought in iron, the low fire danced for her in the large hearth.