Since her birth, Bee had accompanied Molly everywhere, in a sling or riding on Molly’s hip or tottering along behind her. Sometimes I wondered if she feared to leave the child alone. When Molly went about her regular tasks at Withywoods, from supervising the servants to managing her own hives, honey, and candlemaking, tasks she still seemed to enjoy, Bee was with her, watching and listening. Now that the babe had discovered she could make sounds, Molly redoubled her efforts with her. She did not speak in the babyish singsong I’d hear the servants use on the rare occasions when they spoke to Bee. Instead Molly earnestly explained every aspect of her work as if Bee might one day need to know how to smoke a hive or strain hot wax for candles or polish silver or make a bed. And Bee, in her simple way, mirrored Molly’s earnestness, peering at what she was shown and earnestly gabbling back at her. My most unnerving experience was when I went to seek Molly one summer day and found her tending her hives. Over our years I’d become accustomed to Molly’s calm acceptance that her bees might blanket her arms in the course of her beekeeping. What I did not expect was to see small Bee standing beside her mother, holding a bucket and cloaked in bees. The child was smiling beatifically, her eyes almost closed. Every now and then she would giggle and give a tiny wiggle as if the fuzzy creatures had tickled her. “Molly,” I said in a soft warning voice, for my lady was so intent on her tasks that I was not sure she had seen what was happening to our child.
She turned slowly, ever mindful of her buzzing charges.
“The baby,” I said with quiet urgency. “The bees have her.”
Molly looked down and behind her. A slow smile appeared on her face. “Bee! Are you tending the hives with me?”
Our little daughter looked up and babbled something to her. Molly laughed. “She’s fine, dear. Not scared at all.”
But I was. “Bee. Come away. Come to Papa,” I coaxed her. She turned and looked past me. She never willingly met my eyes. She babbled at her mother again.
“She’s fine, dear. She says you are worried because you don’t know the bees like she and I do. Go along. We’ll be along presently.”
And so I’d left them, and spent an anxious hour in my study. I wondered if my child were Witted, and if were possible for a Witted child to bond to a hive of bees. Don’t be ridiculous, the wolf in me snorted. And insisted that if it were so, he would have sensed it. I could only hope so.
Another year passed and Bee slowly grew. Our lives changed, for Molly centered her days on our daughter and I circled the two of them, marveling at what they shared. By the time Bee was seven, she was a genuine help to her mother, in her simple way. I could see Molly was slowing and feeling the burden of her years. Bee could pick up what Molly had dropped, could harvest the herbs that Molly pointed out or bring her items from the lowest shelves in the sewing room.
She looked like a little pecksie as she followed her mother and assisted in her small ways. Molly had the softest wool dyed in the brightest colors she could create, as much to make Bee happy as to make her easy to see in the deep grass of the meadows. She was no taller than waist-high on Molly when she was seven. Her pale-blue eyes and blond brows lent her a perpetually startled expression, and her wildly curly hair added to it. Her hair flew into stubborn knots at the slightest breeze and grew so slowly that Molly despaired of her ever looking like a girl. Then, when it did reach her shoulders in a wild cloud of fine ringlets, it was so fine that Molly resorted to wetting it, combing it, and braiding it in a long tail down her back. They came to show me, with my little girl dressed in a simple yellow tunic and green leggings of the sort that Molly and I had worn as children. I smiled to see her and told Molly, “That’s the smallest warrior I’ve ever seen!”—for so the soldiers of Buck had always worn their hair tailed back. Bee surprised me by crowing with delight at my comment.
And so our days passed, and Molly took great pleasure in our peculiar child and I took satisfaction in her pleasure. Despite her years, Molly would romp like a child with our Bee, seizing her and tossing her high, or chasing her recklessly around and sometimes through the manicured flower and herb beds of Patience’s garden. Round and round they would go until Molly was wheezing and coughing for breath. Bee would halt as soon as Molly did and go to stand close to her mother and look up at her with fond concern. There were times when I longed to join in, to spring out and pounce on my cub and roll her on the grass to hear her laugh. But I knew that would not be the response I would get from her.
For despite Molly’s assurance that our child did not dislike me, Bee remained distant from me. She rarely came closer than arm’s length, and if I sat down near her to see her little bit of needlework, she would always hunch her shoulders and turn slightly away from me. She seldom met my eyes. On a few occasions, when she fell asleep beside Molly in her chair, I would pick her up and try to carry her off to her bed. But at my touch, awake or asleep, she would stiffen and then arch like a fighting fish, flinging herself away from me. It would be a struggle for me to set her safely down, and after a number of efforts I gave up trying to touch her. I think Molly was relieved when I surrendered to Bee’s will in this.