I think she would have thrown me out if she'd had the chance. Hearth stood up on the bed and made a spring for his brother, who evaded him by rolling away. I took two swift steps and caught the six-year-old before he hit the floor. He wriggled away from me immediately, charging back into battle with his brother. They suddenly reminded me of a litter of puppies, and I smiled as I said, “I promised Burrich that I would look after his sons. I can't do that if I don't know them. I've come to introduce myself.”
Swift stood up slowly to face me. The question in his eyes was plain. I took a breath. I found my answer. Yes. “My name is FitzChivalry Farseer. I grew up in the stables of Buckkeep. Your father taught me all things he thought a man should know. I would pass that on to his sons.”
Chivalry had caught Nettle's uneasiness, and the name unsettled him even more. He moved to put his body between the smaller children and me. It was so instinctive of him that I had to smile, even when he said, “I think I can pass my father's teachings on to my brothers, sir.”
“I expect that you will. But you will have other things to think of, as well. Who cares for your stock and stables right now, when you are all away?”
“Oxworthy. A man from our village who used to come to help out with the heavy work from time to time. He can manage it well enough, for a few days, though I will have to return to our holdings right after the Prince's wedding.”
“It's not his business!” Nettle interjected indignantly.
I knew I had to face her down or let her drive me off. “I made a promise, Nettle. Swift witnessed it. I do not think your father would have asked that of me unless he wished the raising of his small sons to be my business. That sets it out of your hands.”
“But not out of mine,” Molly interjected firmly. “And for many reasons, I think this unwise.”
I took a breath and steeled my will. I turned to look at Chivalry. “I love your mother. I have for years, for years before she chose your father. Yet I promise you, I will not try to take his place with any of you. Only to do what he asked of me. To look after you all.” I looked back at Molly. Her face was so white I thought she would faint. “No secrets,” I told her. “No secrets among us.”
Molly sat down heavily on the bed. Her two youngest boys immediately came to her, Hearth climbing into her lap. She put her arms around him reflexively. “I think you had better go,” she said faintly. Steady came to his mother and put a protective arm around her.
Swift stood suddenly. “No secrets? Will you tell them you are Witted, then?” It was a challenge.
I smiled at him. “I believe you just did that for me.” I took a breath and looked at Nettle. “I will also be instructing your sister in the Skill.” At Chivalry's blank look, I said, “The King's magic, the old magic. She has it. She talks with dragons. You should chat with her about it sometime. It was why she was first brought here to Buckkeep, to serve her prince. I believe your father had some ability in the Skill for he served as King's Man to King-in-Waiting Chivalry. The man for whom your eldest brother is named.”
Swift was staring at me uncertainly. “Web said we were not to speak of who you really were. That there were still some who'd like to see you dead. That your life was in our hands.”
I bowed to him. “Yes. I put my life in your hands.” I looked at Nettle and added, “If you'd truly like to be rid of me, it would be fairly simple for you.”
“Please, Fitz.” Molly sounded desperate. “Go. I need to speak to my children privately. I wish you had not given such a heavy secret to my younger ones. I scarcely trust them to wash their necks each day, let alone to preserve such a confidence.”
I felt a bit foolish then, and I bowed, saying only, “As you will, Molly,” and left. I got five steps past the closing of the door before my knees began to shake so badly that I had to lean up against the wall for a moment. A passing servant asked me if I was ill, but I assured her I would be fine. Yet as I found my strength and walked away down the corridor, I wondered if I would be.
Then Nettle's sudden Skilling hit me with the force of a mallet. The dragons are coming! Tintaglia bids us have live meat waiting for them, in the “customary” place!
It was good fortune that brought us dragons on the Prince's wedding day, but Nettle's inspiration that the tribute Tintaglia had demanded so imperiously be referred to as the Dragon's Feast. Hapless steers, beribboned with blue streamers, were penned not far from the Witness Stones, awaiting their fate. Tintaglia and Icefyre were not present for the ceremony itself, which was just as well. The well-wishers who came to witness the Prince and Elliania make their vows in the center of the Witness Stones crowded both hillsides. The couple was splendid in blue and white. They stood in the center of the stones under a serendipitously blue sky and spoke their promises loudly and clearly.