“If I thought they were a danger, I’d already have killed them,” I retorted. The words horrified me as they came out of my mouth, because I recognized they were absolutely true.
Any other woman might have been alarmed by what I had said. But I saw Molly relax, comforted. “Then you love her?” she asked quietly. “You aren’t ashamed of her? Appalled that I’ve given you such a peculiar child?”
“Of course I love her!” The question jolted me. How could she doubt me? “She’s my daughter, the child we hoped for all those years! How could you think I wouldn’t love her?”
“Because some men wouldn’t,” she said simply. She turned the child and held her on her knees for my inspection. It woke her, but she didn’t cry. She looked up at both of us with her wide blue eyes. She was nearly lost in the soft gown. Even the neck opening was too large for her, baring a small shoulder. Molly tugged it closed. “Fitz. Let’s say aloud what we both know. She’s a strange little thing. I was pregnant so long; I know, you doubt that, but trust me in this. I carried her inside me for over two years. Perhaps even longer than that. And yet she was born so tiny. Look at her now. She seldom cries, but she watches, just as Tavia said. Still too young to even hold her head up, but she looks so knowing. She watches, and her eyes go from you to me as we speak, as if she listens and already knows every word we say.”
“Maybe she does,” I said with a smile, but I didn’t give any credence to her words. Molly folded her close in her arms again and forced out words. She didn’t look at me as she spoke them. “Any other man would look at her and call me a whore. Hair pale as a spring lamb and such blue eyes. Any other man would doubt that this was your child.”
I laughed out loud. “Well, I don’t! She is mine. Mine and yours. Given to us as miraculously as any child bestowed by the pecksies in an old tale. Molly, you know I have the Wit. And I tell you plainly, from the first time I scented her, I knew her as mine. And yours. Ours. I have never doubted that.” I drew one of Molly’s hands free from the baby, unfolded her clenched fingers, and kissed her palm. “And I have never doubted you.”
Gently I pulled her closer to lean on me. I found a curl of her hair and twined it about my finger. It took a bit of waiting, but I felt her clenched muscles ease. She relaxed. For a short time there was peace. The fire muttered softly to itself, and outside the wind wound through the ancient willows that gave the place its name. We were a simple family for a few heartbeats. Then I girded up my courage and spoke again.
“But I’d like to keep her a secret awhile longer. Not because I doubt she is mine or fear her strangeness.”
Molly shook her head, a tiny movement. Her opinion of my utter stupidity radiated from her. I felt it but I did not release her from my embrace; nor did she pull away from me. She spoke with her brow resting on my chest, asking in a cheery voice, “How long, my dear? A year? Two? Perhaps we will reveal her to the world on her sixteenth birthday, like a princess in an old tale?”
“I know it sounds foolish but—”
“It is foolish. That’s why it sounds foolish. It’s too late to keep her a secret. The servants know we have a child, so the village knows, and doubtless all their cousins up and down the river know. Fitz, dear, you should have sent those letters. Now Nettle and the boys will wonder why they were delayed. Keeping this a secret will have old Lord Chade sniffing about like a hound with a fox in a tree. To say nothing of what the old Queen will wonder. And the longer we wait to announce her, the more questions folks will ask themselves about her. Is she truly ours? Is she the child of some poor girl who had to give her up? Did we find her in a hollow tree in the forest or is she some changeling child that the pecksies left on our doorstep?”
“That’s ridiculous! No one would believe such a thing!”
“They might find it easier to believe than the idea that a parent concealed a lawfully born child from even her brothers and sister. That’s already difficult for me to believe.”
“Very well.” I was beaten. “I’ll send the letters tomorrow.”
She didn’t let me get away with it. She leaned slightly away to look at me. “You should let Nettle know right away. Now. She is closer to her brothers and can send messengers more swiftly. Oh, Fitz.” She closed her eyes and shook her head at me.
Total defeat. “Very well.” I stood and retreated a little from her.
Once it had been a secret that Nettle shared the Skill-magic with me. But now she was the leader of the King’s Own Coterie, the Skill-users who were the Six Duchies’ magical line of defense against all dangers. All had to guess she was a bastard Farseer though most had the political sense not to utter those words aloud. Molly was not always comfortable with the magical bond that she shared with me, but had come to accept it. Just as she had accepted that Swift possessed the Wit. It had been even stranger when we discovered that Steady possessed an aptitude for Skill-magic as well. I did not speak what we both wondered now. Would the child she held inherit either of those magics from me?