Her voice was low. “I wasn’t speaking of readying the rooms. I was talking of preparing myself. My thoughts. My bearing.” She shook her head at me and then spoke more clearly. “Fitz, Fitz. All goes well between us, until your Farseer legacy intrudes. Then you return to the close-mouthed, deceitful ways that doomed us once before. Will you ever be free of that? Ever know a time when your first impulse is not to conceal what you know?”
Her words struck me like arrows, and I shuddered with their impact. “I’m sorry,” I said, and hated the words. Truly I regretted that I had hidden information from her and wondered, as she did, why I always fell prey to the drive to keep knowledge to myself. There echoed through me a warning I had received long ago, from Chade. The old man had cautioned me that I could wear out the words “I’m sorry,” could apologize so often that it meant nothing to anyone, not even myself. I wondered if I had reached that point with Molly. “Molly,” I began.
“Fitz,” she said firmly. “Just stop.”
I fell silent. She gathered our baby closer to her. “Listen to me. I share your worries. This is not a time for us to be at odds. Later, we will speak of it. After Kettricken has left. But not before then, and certainly not in front of Nettle. If the old queen comes to look at our child, then we must be ready to face that together. And insist to her that we will know what is best for Bee as she grows.”
I knew her anger was not vanquished but restrained. And I knew that I deserved it. “Thank you,” I said quietly, and that lit the sparks again in her eyes. Then, almost sadly, she shook her head and smiled at me. “They took that piece of you away from me, long before I even claimed you as my own. Not your fault, Fitz. Not your fault. Though sometimes I think that you could take it back, if you tried hard enough.” She settled our baby against her shoulder and then looked at me as if she had banished anger to the Out Islands.
The rest of that day, Nettle had the staff in an uproar. Only Revel seemed to delight in the challenge of entertaining royalty at a moment’s notice. No less than eight times he came to consult with me on menus and bedchambers. When he appeared at my door again, to ask if he might hire some musicians from Withy for evening entertainment, I heartlessly referred him to Nettle.
But the end result was that we had had one quiet evening as a family, a time for all three adults to share a meal and stay up late talking. Between Nettle and Revel, everything that could be arranged or planned had been done. When evening deepened, we gathered in the nursery and had our food brought to us there. We ate and talked, and ate and talked. Nettle held the baby and studied Bee’s face as she stared past her shoulder.
Nettle gave us news from Buckkeep, but Molly was most hungry to hear of her boys. Nettle gave us fresh news of her brothers. Steady had been not at Buckkeep but visiting Hearth. She had sent him word. Swift was traveling with Web; she’d sent a message but had no idea when it would find them. Chivalry was prospering. He’d built on the fine foundation of horseflesh that Burrich had left to him. Recently he had acquired the holding next to his, increasing his pasture and giving himself room to build a larger stable. And so on, naming each brother, all scattered across the Six Duchies now. Molly listened and rocked Bee as she held her close. I watched her and thought I guessed her heart: This was her last child, the one who would be at her side as she grew old. I watched Nettle’s gaze travel from me to her mother and then to Bee. Pity, I read in her face. Pity for all of us, for in her estimation, Bee would either die soon or live the life of a stunted thing, limited in both mind and body. She did not speak the thought aloud but Burrich had raised her well, to look at a young thing and judge its chances. Still, I thought to myself, I had the advantage of experience. Bee might well and truly be a runt but she had the spark to survive. She would live. What sort of a life, none could yet tell, but Bee would live.
In the morning a herald arrived to announce that Kettricken would soon be there. By the time the old Queen arrived that afternoon, the guest rooms were ready, a simple meal of good food was simmering and baking, and Bee was freshly attired in garments hastily taken in to fit her. Nettle came herself to tell Molly and me of the arrival of Kettricken and her guard. She found us in the nursery. Molly had dressed Bee twice, and changed her own garments three times. Each time, I had assured her that she looked lovely to me, but she had decided that the first dress was too youthful, and the second “made me look like a doddering granny.” The third try was something I had never seen her wear before. She wore long loose trousers, so full that they appeared at first to be a skirt. A garment like a knee-length vest was worn over a loose-sleeved white blouse; a wide belt sashed her waist. The vest, trousers, and sash were all in different shades of blue, and Molly netted her hair back into a sack made of blue ribbons. “How do I look?” she asked me when she returned to the nursery, and I was not sure what to reply.