“Please, Fitz. Not again! Done is done, and there is no need to stir up old pains.”
“How can I consider it ‘done’ while Nettle still moves through life alone?” The old outrage I had felt on my daughter’s behalf roared through me. I would never, never understand how she had accepted that secret edict from the throne, and still continued to serve them. I had very nearly come to sundering my ties with Buckkeep over it. Only Nettle’s request that I remain calm and allow her to “handle my own life decisions” had prevented me from doing so. Every time I thought of it—
“Oh, Fitz.” Molly sighed. She sensed my mood and her hand moved soothingly on the back of my neck. She kneaded at the tight muscles with her still-strong hands and spoke quietly. “Nettle has always been a private person. She appears to be alone, and to have resigned herself to the throne forbidding her marriage to Riddle. But appearances can be deceiving.”
I sat up straight and twisted to look up at her. “Nettle would defy the Farseer throne?”
She shook her head. “Defy? Probably not. Ignore? Yes. Just as we ignored what Lady Patience and King Shrewd decreed for us. Your daughter is very like you, Fitz. She keeps her own counsel and follows her own will. I am sure that if she still wants to be with Riddle, then she is.”
“Sweet Eda, what if she gets pregnant?” Anxiety twisted my voice tight.
Molly gave a brittle caw of laughter. “Fitz! Must you always leap from one imagined disaster to another? Listen to what I’m actually saying, which is that I don’t know what path Nettle chose for herself. But if she is alone now, it is because she chose to be alone, not because someone decreed it for her. Her life is hers to live, not yours to repair.”
“Then you do not think that she and Riddle are together?”
She sighed again. “I think nothing about that. Deliberately. But I will point out to you that Riddle left our employ to take work in Buckkeep Town, and that Nettle shows no sign of encouraging anyone to court her. In any case, she is a woman grown for many years now. It isn’t up to me to worry her worries for her, any more than it is your place to decide her decisions. My love, we have all we can deal with within these four walls. The other children have grown up and gone on with their lives. Even Hearth has a sweetheart now and an apprenticeship of his own to serve in Rivertown. Let Nettle and Riddle live their own lives, so that we can have a bit of peace. If you are so anxious to have a child to worry about, well, there is one right here. Here. Hold her for a bit.”
She leaned down and set the babe into my hands. As always, I received her with reluctance. It had nothing to do with how I felt about her and a great deal to do with my terror that I would somehow hold her wrong and damage her. Puppies and foals did not fill me with that fear, but she did. She was so tiny and so naked, so weak compared with any other infant creature I’d ever tended. A foal could stand within the day of its birth. Pups could whine and shuffle their way to their mother’s teats. My infant could not even hold her head up. Yet as I settled her into my lap, the spark of life in her burned incredibly bright to my Wit. And to my Skill? I touched her little hand, skin-to-skin, and felt something there.
Molly rose, groaning a little as she straightened her back. “I’ve been sitting still too long. I’m going to go get more hot tea. I’ll take the pot and just be a moment.”
“Shall I ring for a servant?”
“Oh, no. I could do with a stroll to the kitchen and back. I’ll be but a moment.” She was at the door as she spoke.
“Very well,” I responded distractedly. I gazed into my child’s face, but she stared past my shoulder. I heard Molly’s slippers scuff softly away. I was alone with my daughter. No reason to be nervous. How many young things had I cared for in my days in the Buckkeep stables? A baby could not be so different. I’d won over spooky foals and wary pups.
“Hey. Baby. Look at me. Look at Da.” I moved my face into her view. She shifted her eyes, and her hand flailed away from my touch. I tried again.
“So, baby, you’re going to live and stay with us awhile, are you?” I spoke not in the higher-pitched tone that so many would use when speaking to an infant, but in a low deliberate cadence. As one spoke to a puppy or a horse. Soothing. I clicked my tongue at her. “Hey. Over here. Look at me.”
She didn’t. I hadn’t really expected her to.
Patience. Just keep talking. “You are such a tiny thing. I hope you start growing soon. What are we going to call you? It’s time we gave you a name. A good name, one that is strong. Let’s think of a strong name for you. But a pretty one. Lacey? Do you like that name? Lacey?”