Fool's Assassin / Page 101

Page 101


Dutiful, Elliania, the Princes, and Kettricken were in the Mountain Kingdom, so I was spared their presence. Chade never came to funerals, nor did I expect him to visit. Almost every evening I felt him at the edge of my mind, inviting but not intruding. It reminded me of how he would open the secret door to his tower and wait for me when I was a boy. I did not reach back to him, but he knew I was aware of him and grateful for his discretion.

But listing who came and who did not makes it seems as if I noticed or cared. I did not. I lived my grief; I slept mourning and ate sorrow and drank tears. I ignored all else. Nettle stepped into her mother’s place, managing it all with seeming effortlessness, as she consulted with Revel to assure that arriving folk had a place to sleep and coordinated meals and supplies with Cook Nutmeg. She undertook that everyone who should be notified of Molly’s death was told. Just became the man of the house, directing the stable hands and servants, giving greetings and making farewells. All that they did not command but needed doing, Revel and Riddle managed. I let them. I could not help them with their mourning. I could do nothing for anyone, not even myself.

Somehow, all needful things were done. I cut my hair for mourning, and someone must have cut the child’s. Bee looked like a brush for hoof oil when I saw her, a little stick all swathed in black with fuzzy pale stubble standing up on her little head. Her blank blue eyes were dead. Nettle and the boys insisted that their mother had wanted to be buried. Like Patience before her, she wished not to be burned, but to return as quickly as possible to the earth that nurtured all things that she had loved. Buried in the ground. It made me cold. I had not known. I had never spoken to her of such things, had never thought of or imagined a time when she would not be there. Wives always outlive their husbands. Everyone knows that. I had known that and counted on it. And fate had cheated me.

Burying her was hard for me. It would have been easier for me to watch her burn on a pyre, to know she was gone, gone completely and untouchable, than to think of her wrapped only in a shroud and put under the weight of damp soil. Day after day I went back to her grave, wishing that I had touched her cheek one more time before they put her into the dark earth. Nettle set the plants that would define her mother’s resting place. Daily, when I visited, I saw the prints of Bee’s small feet. Not a weed dared show itself.

I saw little more of Bee than her footprints. We avoided each other. At first I felt guilt that in the depths of my grief, I had deserted my child. I went seeking her. But as I entered a room, she would leave it. Or place herself as far from me as possible. Even when she sought me in my private den late at night, it was not me she sought, but the isolation that room granted us both. She entered that sanctuary like a tiny ghost in a scarlet nightgown. We did not speak. I did not bid her go back to her sleepless bed, nor offer her empty promises that all would eventually be well. In my den, we huddled as separately as scalded cubs. I knew I could no longer bear to be in Molly’s study. I suspect she felt the same. Her mother’s absence was stronger in that room than anywhere else in the house. Why did we avoid each other? The best explanation I can offer is a comparison. When you hold your burned hand near the fire, the pain flares anew. The closer I came to Bee, the more acute my pain became. I believe that in the crumpling of her little face and the trembling of her lower lip, I read that she felt the same.

Five days after we buried Molly most of the mourners packed up and left Withywoods. Hap had not come. He had a minstrel’s summer post far away in Farrow. I don’t know how he received word so quickly, but he sent me back a note by bird. It came to the Buckkeep cotes, and from there a runner brought it to me. It was good to hear from him, but I was just as glad that he had not come. There were other notes that came in various ways. One was from Kettricken in the Mountain Kingdom, a simple note on plain paper, written in her own hand. Dutiful had touched minds with me and knew there was nothing to say. From Lady Fisher, once Starling, came a letter elegantly written on fine paper, with heartfelt words. I had a rougher missive from Web. They said what such notes always say. Perhaps words are helpful to others when they mourn; to me they were only words.

Molly’s boys had farms and work and families and animals to tend. Summer does not allow anyone who makes a living from the land any time to stand still. There had been much weeping, but also fond recollections and the gentle laughter they brought with them. Nettle had quietly asked me to sort some keepsakes that each of her brothers could take. I asked her to do it, saying I was not up to such a task and that without the woman, her possessions meant little to me. Only later would I realize how selfish a decision that was, to put that weight on my elder daughter’s shoulders.

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