Golden fool, p.13
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       Golden Fool, p.13

         Part #2 of Tawny Man series by Robin Hobb
 

  “What about?” I asked as I rose and followed him. We went back to the wine rack, and as we triggered the concealed door, I remarked, “Thick didn’t seem surprised to see me enter from here. ”

  Chade shrugged one shoulder. “I do not think he is bright enough to be surprised by something like that. I doubt that he even noticed it. ”

  I considered and decided that it might be true. To him, it might have no significance. “And the Queen wanted to see me because?”

  “Because she told me so,” he replied a bit testily. After that I kept silent and followed him. I suspected his head throbbed, as mine did. I knew he had an antidote to a night’s hard drinking, and knew also how difficult it was to compound. Sometimes it was easier to put up with the throbbing headache than to grind one’s way through creating a cure.

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  We entered the Queen’s private chambers as we had before. Chade paused to peek and listen to be sure there were no witnesses, then admitted us to a privy chamber, and from there to the Queen’s sitting room, where Kettricken awaited us. She looked up with a weary smile as we entered. She was alone.

  We both bowed formally. “Good morning, my queen,” Chade greeted her for us, and she held out her hands in welcome, gesturing us in. The last time I had been here, an anxious Kettricken had awaited us in an austere chamber, her thoughts centered solely on her missing son. This time, the room displayed her handiwork. In the center of a small table, six golden leaves had been arranged on a tray of gleaming river pebbles. Three tall candles burning there gave off the scent of violets. Several rugs of wool eased the floor against winter’s oncoming chill, and the chairs were softened with sheepskins. A day fire burned in the hearth, and a kettle puffed steam above it. It reminded me of her home in the Mountains. She had also arranged a small table of food. Hot tea exhaled from a fat pot. I noticed there were only two cups as Kettricken said, “Thank you for bringing FitzChivalry here, Lord Chade. ”

  It was a dismissal, smoothly done. Chade bowed again, perhaps a bit more stiffly than he had the first time, and retreated by way of the privy chamber. I was left standing alone before my queen, wondering what all this was about. When the door closed behind Chade, she gave a sudden great sigh. She sat down at the table and gestured at the other chair. “Please, Fitz,” and her words were an invitation to drop all formality as well as to be seated.

  As I took my place opposite her, I studied her. We were nearly of an age, but her years rode her far more graciously than mine did me. Where the passage of time had scarred me, it had brushed her, leaving a tracery of lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth. She wore a green gown today, and it set off the gold of her hair and awakened jade gleams in her eyes. Her dress was simple, as was the plaiting of her hair; she wore no jewelry or cosmetics.

  And she did not indulge in any kind of ceremony as she poured tea for me and set my cup before me. “There are cakes, too, if you wish,” she said, and I did, for I had not yet broken my fast that day. Yet something in her voice, an edge of hoarseness, made me set down the cup I’d started to lift. She was looking aside from me, avoiding my eyes. I saw the frantic fluttering of her eyelashes, and then a tear brimmed over and splashed down her cheek.

  “Kettricken?” I asked in alarm. What had gone awry that I did not know about? Had she discovered the Narcheska’s reluctance to wed her son? Had there been another Wit threat?

  She caught her breath raggedly and suddenly looked me full in the face. “Oh, Fitz, I did not call you here for this. I meant to keep this to myself. But . . . I am so sorry. For all of us. When first I heard, I already knew. I woke that dawn, feeling as if something had broken, something important. ” She tried to clear her throat and could not. She croaked out her words, tears coursing down her face. “I could not put my finger on the loss, but when Chade brought your tidings to me, I knew instantly. I felt him go, Fitz. I felt Nighteyes leave us. ” And then a sob wracked her, and she dropped her face into her hands and wept like a devastated child.

  I wanted to flee. I had almost succeeded in mastering my grief, and now she tore the wound afresh. For a time I sat woodenly, numbed by pain. Why couldn’t she just leave it alone?

  But she seemed not to notice my coldness. “The years pass, but you never forget a friend like him. ” She was speaking to herself, her head bowed into her hands. Her words came muffled and thick with tears. She rocked a little in her chair. “I’d never felt so close to an animal, before we traveled together. But in the long hours of walking, he was always there, ranging ahead and coming back and then checking behind us. He was like a shield for me, for when he came trotting back, I always knew that he had gone before us and was satisfied no danger awaited us. Without his assurance, I am sure my own poor courage would have failed a hundred times. When we began our journey, he seemed just a part of you. But then I got to know him for himself. His bravery and tenacity, even his humor. There were times, especially there at the quarry, when we went off to hunt and he alone seemed to understand my feelings. It was not just that I could hold tight to him and cry into his fur and know he would never betray my weakness. It was that he rejoiced in my strengths, too. When we hunted together and I made a kill, I could feel his approval like . . . like a fierceness that said I deserved to survive, that I had earned my place in this world. ” She drew breath raggedly. “I think I will always miss him. And I didn’t even get to see him again before . . . ”

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  My mind reeled. Truly, I had not known how close they had been. Nighteyes also had kept his secrets well. I had known that Queen Kettricken had a predilection for the Wit. I had sensed faint questing from her when she meditated. I had often suspected that her Mountain “connection” with the natural world would have a less kindly name in the Six Duchies. But she and my wolf?

  “He spoke to you? You heard Nighteyes in your mind?”

  She shook her head, not lifting her face from her hands. Her fingers muffled her reply. “No. But I felt him in my heart, when I was numb to all else. ”

  Slowly I rose. I walked around the small table. I had intended only to pat her bent shoulders, but when I touched her, she abruptly stood and stumbled into my embrace. I held her and let her weep against my shoulder. Whether I would or no, my own tears welled. Then her grief, not sympathy for me but true grief at Nighteyes’ death, gave permission to mine, and my mourning ripped free. All the anguish I had been trying to conceal from those who could not understand the depth of loss I felt suddenly demanded vent. I think I only realized that our roles had changed when she pushed me gently down into her chair. She offered me her tiny, useless handkerchief and then gently kissed my brow and both my cheeks. I could not stop crying. She stood by me, my head cradled against her breast, and stroked my hair and let me weep. She spoke brokenly of my wolf and all he had been to her, words I scarcely heard.

  She did not try to stop my tears or tell me that everything would be all right. She knew it would not. But when my weeping finally had run its course, she stooped and kissed me on my mouth, a healing kiss. Her lips were salt with her own tears. Then she stood straight again.

  Kettricken gave a sudden deep sigh as if setting aside a burden. “Your poor hair,” she murmured, and smoothed it to my head. “Oh, my dear Fitz. How hard we used you! Both of you. And I can never . . . ” She seemed to feel the uselessness of words. “But . . . well . . . drink your tea while it is still hot. ” She moved apart from me, and after a moment I felt I again had control of myself. As she took my chair, I lifted her cup and drank from it. The tea was still steaming hot. Only a short time had elapsed, yet I felt as if I had passed some important turning point. When I took a breath, it seemed to fill my lungs more deeply than it had in days. She took up my cup. When I looked up at the Queen, she gave me a small smile. Her tears had left her pale eyes outlined in red, and her nose was pink. She had never looked lovelier to me.

  So we shared some time. The te
a was a spice tea, friendly and enlivening. There were flaky rolls stuffed with sausage, and little cakes with tart fruit filling, and plain oatcakes, simple and hearty. I don’t think either of us trusted our voices to speak, and we didn’t have to. We ate in silence. I got up once to replenish the hot water in the teapot. After the herbs had steeped, I poured more tea for both of us. After a time of silence, she leaned back in her chair and said quietly, “So, you see, this supposed ‘taint’ in my son comes from me. ”

  She spoke it as if we were continuing a conversation. I had wondered if she would make the connection. Now that she did, I grieved for the guilt and chagrin I heard in her voice. “There have been Witted Farseers before Dutiful,” I pointed out. “Myself among them. ”

  “And you had a Mountain mother. For were not you given over to Verity at Moonseye? Who but a Mountain woman could have birthed you there? I see her, in the fineness of your hair, and I heard her, in how swiftly you recalled the language of your infancy when first you came to Jhaampe. As the Mountains left their mark on you in those ways, why not in another? It’s possible that she was the source of your Wit. Perhaps Mountain blood carries it. ”

  I walked perilously close to the edge of the truth as I said, “I consider it just as likely that Dutiful could have gotten the Wit from his father as his mother. ”

  “But—”

  “But it matters little where it came from,” I ruthlessly interrupted my queen. I wanted to divert this conversation. “The boy has it, and that is what we must deal with. When he first asked me to teach him about it, I was horrified. Now I think his instincts were true. Better he know as much as I can teach him about both his magics. ”

  Her face lit. “Then you have agreed to teach him!”

  Truly, I was out of practice at intrigue. Or perhaps, I reflected wryly, over the years my lady had learned that subtlety and gentleness could win her secrets that even Chade’s deviousness had not pried from me. The accuracy with which she read my face seemed to support the second theory.

  “I will say nothing of it to the Prince. If he wishes it to remain private between you, then so it shall be. When will you start?”

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  “At the Prince’s earliest convenience,” I replied evasively. I would not tattle that he had already missed his first lesson.

  She nodded at that, and seemed content to leave it to me. She cleared her throat. “FitzChivalry. The reason I summoned you here was my intent to . . . make things right for you. As much as we can. In so many ways, I cannot treat you as you deserve. But whatever we can do for your comfort or pleasure, I desire that we do. You masquerade as Lord Golden’s servant, and I understand all the reasons for this. Still, it chagrins me that a prince of your bloodlines should go unacknowledged amongst his own folk. So. What can we do? Would you like other chambers prepared for you, ones that you could reach privately and where you could have things arranged for your comfort?”

  “No,” I replied quickly, and hearing the brusqueness of my reply, I added, “I think things are best as they are now. I am as comfortable as I need to be. ” I would live here but I could not make it a home. It was useless to try. That private thought jolted me. Home, I reflected, was a place shared. The loft over the stable with Burrich, or the cottage with Nighteyes and Hap. And the chambers that I now shared with the Fool? No. For there was too much caution in both of us, too much privacy preserved, too much constraint imposed by the roles we played.

  “. . . arranged for a monthly allowance. After this, Chade will see you receive it, but I wanted you to have this today. ”

  And my queen was setting a purse before me, a little bag of cloth embroidered with stylized flowers. It clinked sturdily as she placed it on the table. I flushed in spite of myself, and could not hide it. I looked up to find her cheeks equally pink.

  “It does feel awkward, doesn’t it? Make no mistake in this, FitzChivalry. This is not pay for what you have done for me and mine. No coin could ever pay for that. But a man has expenses, and it is not fitting that you should have to ask for what you need. ”

  I understood her, but I could not forbear from saying, “You and yours are also mine, my queen. And you are right. No amount of coin could buy what I do for them. ”

  Another woman might have taken it as a rebuke. But my words brought a gleam of fierce pride to Kettricken’s eyes and she smiled at me. “I rejoice in the kinship we share, FitzChivalry. Rurisk was my only brother. No one can ever replace him. But you have come as close to that as it is possible for anyone to do. ”

  And at that, I thought we understood each other very well indeed. It warmed me that she claimed me through our kinship, through the bloodlines I shared with her husband and her son. Long ago, King Shrewd had first made me his with a bargain and a silver pin to seal it. Both pin and king were long gone now. Did our bargain still remain? King Shrewd had chosen to invoke his claim on me as the right of my king rather than as my grandfather. Now Kettricken, my queen, claimed me first as kin and second as brother. She struck no bargains. She would have scowled at the thought that any setting of terms to my loyalty was necessary.

  “I wish to tell my son who you truly are. ”

  That jolted me from my brief complacency. “Please, no, my queen. That knowledge is a danger and a burden. Why put it upon him?”

  “Why deny that knowledge to the Farseer heir?”

  A long moment of silence held between us. Then I said, “Perhaps in time. ”

  I was relieved when she nodded. Then she took that from me when she said, “I will know when the time is right. ”

  Then she reached across the table to take my hand. When I let her have it, she turned it palm up and set something in it. “Long ago, you wore a small ruby-and-silver pin that King Shrewd gave you. One that marked you as his, and said that his door was always open to you. I would have you wear this now, in the same spirit. ”

  It was a tiny thing. A little silver fox with a winking green eye. It sat alertly, its brush curled around its feet. The image was fastened to a long pin. I studied it carefully. It was perfect.

  “This is the work of your own hands. ”

  “I am flattered that you recall that I like working silver. Yes. It is. And the fox is that which you made my symbol here at Buckkeep. ”

  I unlaced my blue servant’s shirt and opened it. While she watched, I thrust the pin into the facing of the shirt. From the outside, nothing showed, but when I fastened my shirt again, I could feel the tiny fox against my breast.

  I cleared my throat. “You honor me. And as you have said you hold me as close as your brother, then I shall ask a question that I am sure Rurisk would have asked you. I shall be so bold as to demand why you keep amongst your ladies one who once attempted to take your life. Yes, and that of your unborn child. ”

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  Her glance was genuinely quizzical. Then, as if someone had poked her with a pin, she gave a small start, and, “Oh, you mean Lady Rosemary. ”

  “Yes, I do. ”

  “It has been so long . . . All of that was so very long ago, Fitz. You know, when I look at her, I do not even think of that. When Regal and his household returned here at the end of the Red Ship War, Rosemary was amongst the train. Her mother had died, and she had been . . . neglected. At first, I could not abide to have either her or Regal in my presence. But there were appearances to preserve, and his abject apologies and vows of loyalty to the unborn heir and me were . . . useful. It served to unite the Six Duchies, for with him he brought the nobility of Tilth and Farrow. And we needed that support, desperately. It would have been so easy for the Six Duchies to follow the Red Ship War with a civil strife. There are so many differences among the duchies. But Regal’s influence was enough to sway his nobles back to allegiance to me. Then Regal died, so strangely and so violently. It was unavoidable that there were mutterings that I had had him murdered in vengeance for old wrongs. Chade advised m
e strongly that I must make gestures amongst his nobles to bind them to me. So I did. I put Lady Patience in his place at Tradeford, for I felt I must have strong support there. But his other holdings I distributed judiciously amongst those that most needed quelling. ”

  “And Lord Bright’s reaction to that?” I asked. This was all news to me. Bright had been Regal’s heir, and was Duke of Farrow now. Much of what they had “distributed” was doubtless his hereditary wealth.

  “I recompensed him in other ways. After his dismal performance at defending Buck and Buckkeep, he was on shaky standing. He could not protest strongly, for he had not inherited Regal’s influence with the nobles. Yet I strove to make him not only content with his lot, but a better ruler than he otherwise would have been. I saw to his schooling, in things other than fine wine and dress. Most of his years as Duke of Farrow have been spent right here in Buckkeep. Patience manages his Tradeford holdings for him, probably far better than he would have himself, for she has the common sense to appoint people who know what they are doing. And she sends reports to him monthly, far more detailed than he relishes, but I insist he go over them with one of my treasury men, not only to be sure he understands them, but also that he must profess he is satisfied with how they fare. And I think that now he genuinely is. ”

  “I suspect his duchess has something to do with that,” I hazarded.

  Kettricken had the grace to flush slightly. “Chade thought he might be better content wedded. And it is time he got himself an heir. Left single, he was an invitation to discord at the court. ”

  “Who selected her?” I tried not to sound cold.

  “Lord Chade suggested several young women of good family who had the . . . requisite qualities. After that, I saw that they were introduced. And that the families knew I would be pleased at the prospect of the Duke selecting one of their daughters. The competition spread rapidly amongst the chosen women. But Lord Bright selected his own bride from amongst them. I but saw that he had the opportunity to choose—”

  “Someone who was tractable and not too ambitious. A daughter of someone loyal to the Queen. ” I filled in the rest.

 
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