Molly took Bee swiftly back from her, sheltering her in her arms as if Nettle’s words were an evil wish on the child. “She’s not blind,” my mother said. “Fitz thinks it likely his Mountain mother had blue eyes and that is where she gets them. And though she is tiny, she is perfect in every other way. Ten toes, ten fingers, she eats well and sleeps well, and almost never fusses. Her name is Bee.”
“Bee?” Nettle was puzzled but then smiled. “She is such a little thing. But I wonder what the old Queen will think of her.”
“Queen Kettricken?” My mother’s voice was between alarmed and confused.
“She comes, not far behind me. She arrived home at Buckkeep just as I was leaving. I gave her the news before I left, and she was full of joy for you both. She won’t be more than a day behind me. I was glad I won Dutiful’s permission to leave right away; she clearly wished me to wait for her.” She paused, and then her loyalty to her mother prevailed. “And I know that Fitz knew she was coming because I Skilled the knowledge to him myself! And he has said nothing to you! I can tell by the look on your face. Which means that the servants probably haven’t been put to airing the rooms or otherwise preparing for guests. Oh, Mother, that man of yours—”
“That man is your father,” she reminded Nettle, and as always Nettle looked aside and made no response. For if a child can inherit a trait from a fostering parent, then Nettle had inherited Burrich’s stubbornness. She swiftly changed the subject to a more immediate concern. “I’ll have the servants open the rooms right away, and freshen them and make sure that there is wood for the hearths. And I’ll let the kitchen staff know as well. Don’t worry!”
“I don’t worry,” my mother replied. “The Mountain Queen has never been a difficult guest for us, in that way.” But in other ways, she had, Molly’s unspoken words said. “Nettle.” Her tone stopped her daughter before she could escape. “Why does she come here? What does she want?”
Nettle met her mother’s gaze directly. “What you know she wants. She wishes to see FitzChivalry Farseer’s younger daughter. To witness her name sealed to her and make a claim to her. A minstrel will ride with her party. She will show him only what she wants him to see, but once he has seen, he will never deny the truth. He is a man that she trusts not to sing until he’s told to, and then to sing only the truth.”
It was Molly’s turn to cast her eyes aside and say nothing. My heart chilled to know that Nettle, too, had seen clearly the reason for Kettricken’s visit.
There remained between Molly and Kettricken a strange bond that was both affection and jealousy. Queen Kettricken had always treated Molly and Burrich and their children with impeccable fairness. But Molly had never forgotten nor forgiven that she had been left to believe that I was dead, first to mourn me and then to accept another man in my place, and all the while the Queen knew that the Farseer Bastard lived. It was as much my doing as Kettricken’s, but I believe Molly found it harder to forgive a woman. Especially a woman who knew what it was to live in the painful belief that her lover was dead.
And so the rift remained, acknowledged by both women as a gap that could never be closed. Kettricken was the sort of woman who would believe she deserved that bitter twist to her friendship with my wife.
Nettle gave a curt nod and left the room, already calling for Tavia to give her a hand to get some guest rooms into order for Lady Kettricken of the Mountains, who would be arriving perhaps before the day was out. Nettle set as little stock by formality with the servants as her mother did. She passed me in the hall and gave me a glance full of rebuke before shouting for Revel as well. I slipped past her and into the nursery. “She’ll be opening the windows and shaking out the comforters herself,” Molly said to me, and I knew she was proud of her pragmatic daughter.
“Sometimes she reminds me of Verity.” I smiled as I entered. “She doesn’t ask anyone to do anything that she’d hesitate to do herself. And if she thinks a task needs doing, she doesn’t wait.”
“You knew Kettricken was coming and you didn’t tell me,” Molly greeted me.
I had. I looked at her silently. I had told myself that not telling her something was different from lying to her. She didn’t agree. Her anger was frozen fire in her voice as she said quietly, “It doesn’t make it easier for me when I don’t have time to prepare.”
“I thought it through carefully. There is nothing we can do to prepare for this, except meet it head-on today. I saw no use in worrying you ahead of time. The servants are adept at quickly readying the rooms.”