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“Not by much,” Lacey observed contentedly. Her crooked fingers played on the edge of the table. I missed her endless tatting.

“Did Molly speak of me?” I asked, dreading the answer.

“Nothing you'd care for me to repeat to you. She knew you were alive; that was no doing of mine, though. I know how to keep a secret. Apparently far better than you do! She came here ready for a quarrel, I think, but when she found that I too had suffered all those years, thinking you dead, well, then we had much in common to talk about. And dear Burrich, of course. Dear, stubborn Burrich. We both had a bit of a weep over him. He was my first love, you know, and I don't think one ever gets back the bit of heart one gives to a first love. She didn't mind my saying that, that there was still a bit of me that loved that awful headstrong man. I told her, it doesn't matter how badly behaved your first love is, he always keeps a place in your heart. And she agreed that was true enough.”

I sat very still.

“That she did,” Lacey agreed, and her eyes flickered to me, as if measuring how stupid I could possibly be.

Patience chattered on of this and that, but I found it hard to keep my mind on her words. My heart was elsewhere, walking on windy clifftops with a girl in blowing red skirts. Eventually, I realized she was telling me I had to go; that she must begin to dress for the evening festivities, for it took her longer to do those things than it used to do. She asked if I would be there, and I told her, probably not, that it was still difficult for me to be seen at gatherings of the nobility where someone might dredge up an old memory of me. She nodded to that, but added, “You have changed more than you know, Fitz. If it had not been for Lacey, I might have walked right by you and not known you at all.”

I did not know whether to take comfort in that or not. Lacey walked me to the door, saying as we went, “Well, I suppose we've all changed a great deal. Molly, now, I'd have known her anywhere, but I'm not the woman that I used to be. Even for Molly, there are changes, though. She said to me, she said, ‘Fancy, Lacey, they've put me in the Violet Chamber, in the south wing. Me, as used to be a maid on the upper floors, housed in the Violet Chamber, where Lady and Lord Flicker used to live. Imagine such a thing!' ” Again, her old eyes flickered to mine.

I gave one slow nod.

Chapter 36

HARVEST FEST

As you have requested, I send a messenger to you, to inform you that the blue queen dragon Tintaglia and the black drake Icefyre have been seen. They seem to be in good health and appetite. We conveyed to them that you were concerned for their well-being and for the well-being of the young dragons left in your care. We could not be certain that they understood the gravity or the urgency of your desire for information about them, as perhaps you will understand. They seemed very intent on one another, and little disposed to desire or facilitate conversation with men.

— MISSIVE FROM QUEEN KETTRICKEN
TO THE BINGTOWN TRADERS COUNCIL

Evening found me at my old post behind the wall. For once, I was spying for my own curiosity rather than upon any mission for Chade. I had a bottle of wine, bread, apples, cheese, sausages, and a ferret in a basket beside me, and a cushion to perch on. I hunched with my eye to a crack and watched the swirl as Six Duchies and Out Islands met and mingled.

Tonight there was little formality. That would be tomorrow. Tonight there was food in abundance set out on tables, but the tables edged the walls to leave room for dancing. Tonight there would be opportunity for lesser and younger minstrels, jugglers, and puppeteers to show their skills. Tonight was casual chaos and rejoicing in the harvest prospects. Tonight, commoner and nobles mingled in all the halls and courtyards of the keep. I probably could have safely wandered amongst them, but I had no heart for it. So I hid and peered and took pleasure in the pleasure of others.

I was at my post early enough that I did get to hear Hap sing. He sang for the children, early gathered for they would be early sent to bed, and chose two silly songs, about the man who hunted the moon and the one about the woman who planted a cup to grow some wine and a fork to grow some meat and so on. He'd always laughed at those when Starling sang them to him, and so did his audience now. He seemed to take great and genuine pleasure in that, and his master seemed well pleased. I gave a small sigh. My boy gone off with the minstrels. I'd never imagined that.

I also saw Swift, his head cropped close for mourning, walking about with Web. The lad seemed older than when I last had seen him, not in looks but in bearing. He followed Web and I was glad he had such a man to mentor him. My eyes wandered, and amidst the dancers, I saw young Lord Civil. There was a girl in his arms and, to my shock, it was Nettle. I sat watching and chewing that until the end of the tune, when Prince Dutiful escorted Lady Sydel back to him and claimed the next dance with Nettle for himself. The Prince, I thought, looked a bit forlorn despite his formally pleasant mien. I doubted that it was his friend's lady or his cousin that he truly wished to be dancing with. As for Nettle, she danced well, but self-consciously, and I wondered if she was uncertain of the steps or made awkward by the rank of her partner. Her dress was simple, as simple as the Prince's Harvest Fest attire, and I saw Queen Kettricken's hand in that.

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