Nettle and I, caught in our secret worrying, sat dumbstruck. Nettle had no reply for her mother, and Molly turned and stalked from the room. We looked at each other, guilt-stricken. But neither of us went after her; we soon sought our beds. I had looked forward, on my ride home, to a sweet reunion with my wife and a shared night. Instead Molly had sought out the couch in her nursery. I went alone to our bedchamber, and it seemed a cold and empty place.
The very next day, Nettle left before noon to return to Buckkeep Castle. She said she had been long away from her Skill-apprentices and that there would be all sorts of neglected work awaiting her. I didn’t doubt her, but neither did I believe that was her prime reason for leaving. Molly hugged her farewell, and a stranger might have thought all was well between mother and daughter. But Molly had not mentioned the baby since she had left us the evening before, nor asked if Nettle would return for the birth.
And in the days that followed, she no longer spoke of her phantom child to me. We ate breakfast together; we spoke of the matters of the estate, and over dinner shared the events of our days. And each of us slept alone. Or, in my case, did not sleep. I did more translation work for Chade in the late-night hours than I had in the previous six months. Ten days after the incident, one late evening, I made bold to seek her in her nursery. The door was closed. I stood before it for several long moments before deciding that I should knock rather than walk in. I tapped, waited, and then knocked more loudly.
“Who is it?” Molly’s voice sounded surprised.
“It’s me.” I opened the door a crack. “May I come in?”
“I never said you couldn’t,” she replied tartly. The words stung, and yet a smile tugged at my face. I turned slightly away from her lest she see it. Now, there was the Molly Redskirts I knew.
“That’s true,” I said quietly. “But I know that I hurt your feelings, badly, and if you wanted to avoid me for a time, I thought I should not intrude.”
“‘Not intrude,’” she said quietly. “Fitz, are you certain you are not the one who has been avoiding me? For how many years have I wakened at night to find your side of the bed cool and empty? Slipping out of our bed in the dead of night to hide away in your dusty little scroll hole, scribbling until your fingers are all ink?”
I bowed my head to that. I had not realized she was aware of those times. I had been tempted to point out that she had left our bed for this nursery. I put that barb down. It was not time to begin a battle. I was inside her door now, and felt like the wolf the first time he had ventured inside a house. I wasn’t sure where I should stand or if I could sit. She sighed, and sat up on the divan where she had been reclining. She was in her nightrobe, but she moved a half-finished bit of embroidery to make room for me. “I suppose I do spend too many hours there,” I apologized. I sat down beside her. Her scent reached me and I suddenly said, “Whenever I smell you, I always want to kiss you.”
She stared at me in astonishment, laughed, and then said sadly, “Of late, I wondered if you even wanted to be near me at all anymore. Old and wrinkly, and now you think me mad …”
I gathered her close before she could say more. I kissed her, the top of her head, the side of her face, and then her mouth. “I will always want to kiss you,” I said into her hair.
“You don’t believe I’m pregnant.”
I didn’t let go of her. “You’ve been telling me for over two years that you are pregnant. What am I to think, Molly?”
“I don’t understand it myself,” she said. “But all I can tell you is that I must have somehow been mistaken at first. I must have thought I was pregnant before I was. Perhaps I knew, somehow, that I was going to be pregnant.” She leaned her brow on my shoulder. “It has been hard for me, to have you gone for days at a time. I know that the maidservants giggle about me behind their hands. They know so little of us. They think it scandalous for a man as young and hale as you to be married to an old woman like me. They gossip that you married me for my money and position! They make me feel an old fool. Who do I have who understands who we are and what we have been to each other? Only you. And when you abandon me, when you think me as foolish as they do, then … Oh, Fitz, I know it’s hard for you to believe it. But I have believed much harder things for your sake and with only your word to go on.”
I felt as if the whole world went still around me. Yes. She had. I’d never stopped to see it from that perspective. I bent my head and kissed her salt-teared cheek. “You have.” I took a breath. “I will believe you, Molly.”