Just as my daughter would be so different from all her playmates.
Not all children in Buck were dark-eyed and dark-haired and warm-skinned, but the preponderance of playmates she would find would be so. And if she did not grow quickly to match them in size, if she remained tiny and pale, what then? What sort of a childhood would she have?
Cold began in my belly and radiated up to my heart. I moved even closer to Molly and my child. They both slept now, but I did not. Vigilant as a watching wolf, I put my arm lightly across both of them. I would protect her, I promised myself and Molly. No one would mock her or torment her in any way. Even if I had to keep her secret from the entire outside world, I would keep her safe.
Once upon a time there was a good man and his wife. They had both worked hard all their lives, and slowly fortune had favored them with everything that they could desire save one. They had no child.
One day as the wife was walking in her garden and weeping that she had no child, a pecksie came out of the lavender bush and said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?”
“I weep that I have no babe of my own,” the woman said.
“Oh, as to that, how foolish you are,” said the pecksie. “If you but say the word, I can tell you how a babe can be in your arms before the year is out.”
“Tell me, then!” the woman implored.
The pecksie smiled. “As to that, it is easily done. Tonight, just as the sun kisses the horizon, set out on the ground a square of silk, taking care that it rests flat on the ground with never a wrinkle in it. And tomorrow, whatever is under the silk is yours.”
The woman hastened to do as she was bid. As the sun touched the horizon, she set the silk flat to the ground, with never a wrinkle. But as the garden darkened and she hurried back to her house, a curious mouse came to the silk, sniffed it, and scampered across it, leaving a tiny wrinkle at the edge.
In the earliest light of dawn, the woman hastened to the garden. She heard small sounds and saw the silk moving. And when she lifted the square of silk, she found a perfect child with bright black eyes. But the babe was no bigger than the palm of her hand …
Old Buckkeep tale
Ten days after our baby’s birth I finally resolved that I must make confession to Molly. I dreaded it, but there was no avoiding it, and delaying it any longer was not going to make it easier.
Since both Nettle and I had doubted Molly’s pregnancy, we had not shared the news with anyone outside our immediate family. Nettle had informed her brothers, but only in the context that their mother was aging and her mind had begun to wander. The lads all had busy lives of their own, and in Chivalry’s case that meant three youngsters as well as a wife and a holding to tend to. They were far too caught up in their own lives and wives and children to give more than a passing worry that their mother might be losing her mind. Nettle and Tom, they were sure, would handle any crisis in that area, and in any case what could any of them do about their mother’s increasing senility? It is the way of the young to accept the debilitations of old age very gracefully on behalf of their elderly parents. And now there was a baby to explain to them. And not just to them, but to the whole rest of the world.
I had confronted this difficulty by ignoring it. No one beyond Withywoods had been told. Not even to Nettle had I passed the news.
But now I had to admit that to Molly.
I armed myself for the task. I had requested from the kitchen a tray of the little sweet biscuits Molly loved, along with a dish of thick sweetened cream and raspberry preserves. A large pot of freshly brewed black tea joined it on my tray. I assured Tavia that I was perfectly capable of carrying a tray and set out for Molly’s nursery. On the way, I arrayed my reasons as if I were facing a battle and setting my weapons to hand. First, Molly had been weary and I had not wanted any guests to trouble her. Second, there was the baby herself, so tiny and possibly frail. Molly herself had told me she might not survive, and surely keeping her undisturbed had been for the best. Third, I never wanted anyone to put any obligations on our baby beyond her need to be herself … No. That was not a reason to share with Molly. Not right now, at least.
I managed to open the door of the room without dropping the tray. I set it down carefully on a low table and then managed to move the small table with the tray on it next to Molly’s seat without oversetting anything. She had the baby on her shoulder and was humming as she patted her back. The soft gown hung far past our daughter’s feet, and her arms and hands were lost in the sleeves.
Molly had a honeysuckle candle lit; it lent a sharp sweet scent to the room. There was an applewood fire burning in the small hearth, and no other light; it made the room as cozy as a cottage. She enjoyed the luxury of not worrying constantly about money, but she had never become completely comfortable with the life of a noble lady. “I like to do for myself,” she had told me more than once when I had suggested that a personal maid was entirely appropriate to her new station. The larger work of the manor, the scrubbing and dusting, cooking and laundering—that, the servants might do. But Molly was the one who dusted and swept our bedchamber, who spread fresh sun-dried linens on our bed or warmed the featherbed before the hearth on a cold night. In that chamber, at least, we remained Molly and Fitz.