“I don’t want to leave her here alone,” I said abruptly.
Molly stared at me. Then she shook her head. “Nor I,” she admitted. “But I didn’t want to take her with us to greet our guests. I want to choose when and how Queen Kettricken first sees her.”
“Lady Kettricken,” I reminded her. “Queen of the Six Duchies no more.”
“Only in name,” my mother harrumphed. “The Narcheska is in Buckkeep Castle only a few months of every year. And King Dutiful spends too much time away from the throne. She rules the Six Duchies, Fitz, and the Mountain Kingdom.”
“Well. Someone must hold the reins of power when King Dutiful is not there. Better Kettricken than Chade unchecked,” I replied. Could she hear the divided loyalties in my voice? Hear my unspoken thought that if Kettricken had not assumed those duties, they might have fallen on me? Certainly Chade had hoped to harness me for that role, and Kettricken and King Dutiful would have been happy to allow it. I had known Kettricken since I was a youth, and once we had been as close as only conspirators could be. But tonight she had brought a spy into my house, one that had come in stealth to my daughter’s cradle. Did she know of young FitzVigilant’s mission? Or had Chade and Lady Rosemary acted alone, out of concern for the Farseer throne and lineage? Well did I know that to Chade, the best interests of the throne came far ahead of the best interests of any individual Farseer. That I had learned at the old assassin’s knee.
Molly broke into my thoughts. “Nettle will be leading our guests into the dining room soon. We have to be there.”
I made a decision. “Let’s take her with us. Cradle and all.”
“Fitz, I don’t think …”
But I had already stooped and lifted the cradle. It was not large, but neither was it light. I tried to make it look easy as I edged out the door with it and started down the hall. Behind me, Molly followed with Bee clasped to her breast.
The dining hall was not often used. The ceilings were high, and the two large hearths at either end of the room struggled to warm such a large space. Molly and I had formed the habit of taking most of our meals in a much smaller room, but tonight the fires had been set and the chandeliers lit. The long table, prepared for fifteen, could easily have seated forty. The dark wooden table had an embroidered runner down the center, and silver candelabra holding graceful white tapers, the work of Molly’s own hands. Carved wooden bowls in the shape of Eda’s cupped hands held red and yellow apples, fat raisins in bunches, and gleaming brown nuts. The candles cast a warm glow over the table, but their light could not reach the distant ceiling or the far corners of the room.
We arrived simultaneously with the guests. Molly and I stood and greeted them as they filed past. I put more effort into making holding the cradle look effortless, and was grateful finally to follow them into the room. I made no comment as I set the cradle where the hearth would warm it but it would not be more than six paces from my chair. Molly swiftly settled Bee inside it and then draped the lace hanger above her that would keep away drafts and casual glances. We moved to the head of the table, once more acknowledged our guests, and took our places.
Lady Kettricken was to my right. Nettle occupied the other seat of honor at Molly’s left hand. If any thought the seating arrangement odd, no one spoke of it. I located the young spy seated on the left side of the table and as far from me as possible. He had changed his garments, which was not surprising, as I had not been excessively careful when I was slitting open seams and pockets. He appeared fascinated by the edge of the table. The captain of Kettricken’s guard had accompanied her on this visit and he was seated with us, attired in his purple and white. She had brought a healer with her, one of noble blood, Lady Solace, and her husband, Lord Diggery. Kettricken’s other followers were unknown to me except by name. Lord Stoutheart was a bluff and hearty man, white-haired and red-nosed. Lady Hope was plump and pleasant, a chatty woman who laughed frequently.
Kettricken lifted her hand and set it on mine. I turned to her with a smile, and as always I knew that brief moment of surprise. To me she was always a young woman, golden-haired and blue-eyed, with an open mien and a tranquil air about her. I saw a woman with silver hair, her brow lined with care. Her eyes were as blue as Bee’s. Her spine was straight, her head upright. She was like a graceful glass vessel that brimmed with power and certainty. She was no longer the foreign Mountain Princess struggling to negotiate the currents of power at a strange court. She had become the current of power that others must navigate. She spoke for Molly and me alone. “I am so glad for you.”