Thinking of the Queen made me look for her, and I found her on a high chair, overlooking the festivities. She looked tired but pleased. Chade was not beside her, and I thought that odd, until I saw that he too was dancing, with a fiery-haired woman who was probably a third of his age.
One by one, my eyes sought and found all the folk who had woven the most important parts of my life. Starling, Lady Fisher now, sat on a cushioned chair. Her lord stood solicitously close by, and fetched her drink and food from the tables himself as if servants could not be trusted with such an essential task. Lady Patience entered, wearing more lace than all the other women combined, with Lacey at her elbow. They found the end of a bench near a puppeteer's stage and sat nudging and pointing and whispering together as if they were two little girls. I spotted Lady Rosemary talking with two Outislander kaempras. I was sure that her charming smile and ample bosom were gathering plenty of information for Lord Chade to ponder on the morrow.
Arkon Bloodblade was there, in a mantle trimmed with red fox fur, discussing something earnestly with the Duchess of Bearns. She seemed to be listening courteously, but I wondered if any trade agreement could ever completely change her heart toward the Outislanders. I saw three others I recognized from the Hetgurd gathering over by the food tables, and several standing and staring perplexedly at a puppet show. My eyes snagged on Nettle again as she drifted alone through the festive throng. A stocky young man approached her. By his close-cropped curls, I deduced that it was Chivalry, Burrich's eldest son. They stood talking in the midst of the noise and laughter. As I watched, a woman in a simple dress of very dark blue approached them, leading a struggling small boy by the hand. I winced at Molly's shorn head, knowing with deep certainty that Burrich would never have approved of what she had done to her tresses. Her bared head made her look oddly young. She gripped Hearth by the hand and was pointing at another young boy, evidently entreating Chivalry to help her gather them up for the night. Instead, Nettle swept her youngest brother up in her arms and whirled him out onto the dance floor, where his squeals of glee at having eluded his mother made more than one couple smile. Chivalry held out a placating hand to Molly, nodding at something she said. Then a troupe of tumblers stacked themselves up in such a way as to precisely block my view. When they were finished with their tricks, I could not see Molly at all.
I sat back in the dimness. At my elbow, Gilly asked, Sausages?
I felt about in the basket but discovered only worried bits of meat. He'd taken them all to pieces in the act of killing them. I found one nub larger than the others and offered it to him and he snatched it happily from my hand.
And so my evening passed. On the dance floor, I saw those I cherished most turn and move to music that barely reached my ears through the thick walls. I leaned back from my peephole to ease my aching back. A tiny spot of light reached through it toward me. I caught it in my hand and sat staring at it for a time. A metaphor for my life, I thought. I pushed my self-pity aside and leaned forward again.
Thick was leaving the food table with a stack of tarts in his two hands. His music was loud and joyous and he moved to it, out of step from the tune that all the others heard. But at least he was out there, I thought to myself. At least he was out and amongst them all. I felt the impulse to throw caution to the wind and join him, but it died as swiftly as it had arisen. No.
Molly's children had found a juggler to their liking. They stood in a half-circle, watching him. Nettle held Hearth's and Steady's hands. Just was in Chivalry's arms. Nimble and Swift stood together. I noticed Web behind them, at a distance from them and yet present. My eyes wandered over the crowd, seeking and not finding. I stood. I left my basket and cushion to the ferret and went unencumbered through the narrow passages.
I knew there was a peephole to the Violet Chamber. I eschewed it. I left my secret warren, spent some small time in a closet slapping dust and cobwebs from myself, and then walked swiftly, eyes down, through the crowded halls of Buckkeep. No one remarked on me, no one called my name or stopped me to ask how I had been. I could have been invisible. As I climbed the stairs, the crowd thinned. By the time I had reached the residential chambers of Buckkeep Castle, the halls were deserted. Everyone was at the festivities below. Everyone but me, and perhaps Molly.
I walked three times past the door of the Violet Chamber. The fourth time, I commanded myself to knock and did, more forcefully than I had intended. My heart was hammering and I was literally shaking in my shoes. There was only silence. Then, when I thought this mustering of courage would be for naught, that no one would answer, I heard Molly ask quietly, “Who is it?”