Golden fool, p.21
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       Golden Fool, p.21

         Part #2 of Tawny Man series by Robin Hobb

  I intended to leave the scrolls in Chade’s tower room. They did not belong in Tom Badgerlock’s chamber. But before I went there, I made a brief detour through the hidden corridors until I reached an irregular crack in the wall. I approached it silently and peeped through it. Civil Bresinga’s chamber was empty. This confirmed what Chade had told me last night, that young Civil would ride out with a party accompanying the Prince and his intended. Good. Perhaps I’d have the opportunity for a quick tour of his rooms, not that I expected it would yield much. Other than his clothes and the small daily possessions of a man, he kept nothing there. In the evenings, his chamber was either empty or he was alone in it. When he was there, his most common diversion was playing a small pipe, badly, or indulging in Smoke and staring out the window afterward. In all the spying I’d ever done, Civil was the most boring subject I’d ever had.

  I headed up to Chade’s tower room, but paused before triggering the hidden catch, to listen and then peep into the room. I heard a soft-mouthed muttering, the thud of firewood being unloaded. I nearly turned aside, thinking I could leave the scrolls in the corridor until later. Then I decided there were too many laters in my life, and that I was leaving too much up to Chade. Only I could do this, really. I took a slow and calming breath, focused myself, and then eased my walls down.

  Please don’t be startled. I’m coming into the room.

  It didn’t help. Almost as soon as I got through the door, the wave hit me. Don’t see me, stinkdog! Don’t hurt me! Go away!

  But my walls were up and I was braced.

  “Stop that, Thick. By now you should know that it doesn’t work on me, and that I have no intention of hurting you. Why are you so afraid of me?” I set the scrolls down on the worktable.

  Thick had stood to meet me. At his feet was a hod of firewood. Half had been loaded into the box by the hearth. He squinted his sleepy-looking eyes at me. “Not afraid. I just don’t like you. ”

  There was an oddness to his voice, not a lisp, but an unfinished edge to his words, as if a very young child spoke them. Afterward, he stood glaring at me, the end of his tongue resting on his lower lip. I decided that despite his short stature and childish voice and ways, he was not a child. I would not speak to him as one.

  “Really? I try to know people before I decide I don’t like them. I don’t think I’ve given you any reason to dislike me. ”

  He scowled at me, his brow furrowing. Then he gestured around the room. “Lots of reasons. You make more work. Water for baths. Bring up the food, take away the dishes. A lot more work than the old man only. ”

  “Well, I can’t deny that. ” I hesitated, then asked, “What would make it fair?”

  “Fair?” He squinted at me suspiciously. Very cautiously, I lowered my guard and tried to sense what he was feeling. I needn’t have bothered. It was obvious. All his life, he had been mocked and teased. He was sure this was more of it.

  “I could give you money for the things you do for me. ”


  “Coins. ” I had a few loose in my pouch. I lifted it and jingled it at him.

  “NO. No coins. I don’t want coins. He hit Thick, take the coins. Hit Thick, take the coins. ” As he repeated himself, he mimed the motion, swinging a meaty fist on his short arm.

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  “Who does?”

  He narrowed his eyes at me, then shook his head stubbornly. “Someone. You don’t know. I didn’t tell no one. Hit Thick, take the coins. ” He swung again, obviously caught up in remembered anger. His breath was beginning to come more quickly.

  I tried to cut through it. “Thick. Who hits you?”

  “Hit Thick, take the coins. ” He swung again, tongue and lower lip out now, eyes squinted nearly shut. I let the punch spend itself on the empty air, then stepped in. I set my hands on his shoulders, intending to calm him so I could speak to him. Instead he yelled loud, a wild wordless cry and sprang back from me. At the same moment, DON’T SEE ME! DON’T HURT ME!

  I winced from the impact and recoiled. “Thick. Don’t hurt me!” I retorted. Then, catching my breath, I added, “That doesn’t always work, does it? Some people don’t feel you push them away with that. But there are other ways, ways that I could stop them. ”

  So. Some of his fellow servants were either completely immune to his Skill touch, or sensed it only enough to be angered by it. Interesting. As strongly Skilled as he was, I would have thought he could impose his will on almost anyone. I should tell Chade about this. I set the thought aside for later. His blow atop the Skill headache from earlier made me feel as if blood were running down the backs of my eyes. I forced my words past a slamming red pain in my skull. “I can make them stop, Thick. I will make them stop. ”

  “What? Stop what?” he demanded suspiciously. “Stop Thick?”

  “No. The others. I will make them stop hitting Thick and taking his coins. ”

  “Humph. ” He blew out his breath in a disbelieving snort. “He said, ‘Get a sweet. ’ But then he took the coins. Hit Thick, take the coin. ”

  “Thick. ” It was hard to break in past his fixation. “Listen to me. If I make them stop hitting you, if I make them not take your sweets, will you stop hating me?”

  He stood, saying nothing, but scowling. I decided that the two ideas were not connecting. I made it simpler. “Thick. I can make them stop bothering you. ”

  He made his “humph” again. Then, “You don’t know. I didn’t tell you. ” He dumped the rest of the firewood from his hod willy-nilly into the box and stumped off. When he was gone, I sank down for a time, clutching my head. It was all I could do to stagger over to the abandoned scrolls and put them on the bedside table. I sat down on the edge of the bed, and then lay down just for a moment. My head sank into the cool pillow. I fell asleep.

  Chapter VIII


  Thus every magic has its space in the spectrum of magic, and together they make up the great circle of power. All magical lore is encompassed in the circle, from the skills of the humble hedge-wizard with his charms, the scryer with his bowl or crystal, the bestial magic of the Wit and the celestial magic of the Skill, and all the homely magics of hearth and heart. All can be placed as I have shown them, in a great spectrum, and it must be clear to any eye that a common thread runs through all of them.

  But that is not to say that any user can or should attempt to master the full circle of magic. Such a wide sweep of the art is not given to any mortal, and with good reason. No one is meant to be master of all powers. A Skill-user may expand his expertise to scrying, and there have been tales of beast-magickers who had mastered some of the fire magic and water-finding skills of the hedge-wizards. As illustrated by the chart, each of these lesser arcs of magic are adjacent to the greater magics, and thus a mage can expand his powers to include these minor skills as well. But to have larger ambitions than these is a great error. For one who augurs through a crystal to attempt to master the bringing of fire is a mistake. These magics are not neighboring magics, and the strains of supporting their differences may bring discord to his mind. For a Skill-user to demean himself with the Beast Magic of the Wit is to invite the decay and debasement of his higher magic. Such a vile ambition should be condemned.


  Looking back, I suspect that I learned more at Dutiful’s first Skill lesson than he did. Fear and respect were what I learned. I had dared to set myself up as a teacher of something that I barely grasped myself. And so my days and nights became fuller than I had ever expected, for I must be both student and teacher, yet could not surrender my other roles as Lord Golden’s servant or Hap’s father or the Farseers’ spy.

  As winter shortened the days, my lessons with Dutiful began in the black of the morning. Usually we left Verity’s tower before the true dawn lightened the sky. Both the boy and Chade were eager for us to pres
s on, but I was determined to err on the side of caution after our near disaster.

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  In the same spirit, I had procrastinated against Chade’s demands that I at least evaluate Thick’s Skill ability. I need not have bothered. Thick was as reluctant to have any contact with me as I was to teach him. Thrice, Chade had arranged times for Thick to meet me in his chambers. Each time, the half-wit had not been there at the appointed hour. Nor had I lingered, hoping my wayward student was merely late. I arrived, noted his absence, and left. Each time, Thick had told Chade that he had “forgotten” the appointment, but he could not hide his apprehension and distaste from Chade.

  “What did you do to him, to create such aversion?” Chade had demanded of me. To which I had been able to honestly reply that I had done nothing. I knew of no reason that the half-wit would dread me. I was only glad that he did.

  My lesson times with Dutiful were the exact opposite of that. The boy greeted me warmly and eagerly every time he arrived, and anticipated his lessons with eagerness. It amazed me. Sometimes I wondered wistfully what it would have been like if Prince Verity had been my first Skill instructor. Would I have responded as readily as his son did to me? My own memories of Skillmaster Galen’s lessons were painful in the extreme. I had seen no wisdom in emulating his set routines and mental exercises designed to prepare a student to Skill. In truth, Dutiful seemed not to need any of them. For the Prince, Skilling was an effortless spilling of his soul. I soon wondered if I had not benefited from my own early struggles to master the Skill. I had had to force my way out past my own walls; Dutiful could not seem to find any boundaries. He was as prone to share his upset stomach with me as he was to convey his thoughts. When he opened himself, it was as if he opened the floodgate to all of the scattered and wafting thought in the world. Standing witness and guard in his mind, I was nearly overwhelmed by it. It frightened and fascinated him, and both emotions kept him from achieving full concentration on what he was attempting. Worse, when he Skilled out to me, it was as if he tried to thread a needle with a rope. Verity had once told me that being Skilled to by my father, Chivalry, was like being trampled by a horse: he barged in, dropped his information, and fled. So it was with Dutiful.

  “If he can master his talent, he will swiftly exceed his teacher,” I complained to Chade one very late night when he chanced to visit his old chambers. I sat at our old compounding table, surrounded by a welter of Skill scrolls. “I felt almost relief when I started teaching him Kettle’s Stone game. He found it difficult to grasp at first, though he seems to be catching on to it now. I hope it will slow him down, and help him learn to look for deeper patterns in his magic. All else seems to come to him so easily. He Skills as a hound pup instinctively puts his nose to a trail. As if he is remembering how to do it, rather than being taught it. ”

  “And that is bad?” the old assassin asked genially. He began to rummage amongst the tea herbs on the high shelves. Those shelves had always been reserved for his most dangerous and potent concoctions. I smiled briefly as he clambered up on a stool, and wondered if he still supposed them safely out of my reach.

  “It could be dangerous. Once he surpasses me and begins to experiment with the Skill’s other powers, he will be venturing where I have no experience. I will not even be able to warn him of the dangers, let alone protect him. ” In disgust, I slid a Skill scroll aside and pushed my awkward translation after it. There too Dutiful excelled me. The lad had Chade’s gift for alphabets and languages. My translations were a plodding word-by-word puzzling out, while Dutiful read sentence by sentence and jotted the sense of them down in concise prose. Years of absence from such work had blunted my language abilities. I wondered if I envied my pupil’s quickness. Would that make me a bad teacher?

  “Perhaps he got it from you,” Chade observed thoughtfully.

  “Got what?”

  “The Skill. We know that you touched minds with him from the time he was very small. Yet you say the Wit is not a magic that allows that. Therefore, it must have been the Skill. Therefore, perhaps you taught him to Skill when he was a tiny boy, or at least prepared his mind to be ready for it. ”

  I didn’t like the trend of his thoughts. Nettle instantly sprang to my mind and a wave of guilt swept through me. Had I endangered her as well? “You’re just trying to make it my own fault. ” I tried to make my tone light, as if that would chase away my sudden dread. I sighed and reluctantly pulled my translation work back in front of me. If I was to have any hope of continuing as Dutiful’s teacher, I needed to learn more of the Skill myself. This was a scroll that suggested a series of exercises that a student should be given to improve his focus. I hoped it would be useful to me.

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  Chade came to look over my shoulder. “Hm. What did you think of the other scroll, the one on pain and the Skill?”

  I glanced up at him, puzzled. “What other scroll?”

  He looked annoyed. “You know the one. I left it out for you. ”

  I gave our littered table a meaningful glance. There were at least a dozen other scrolls and papers cluttering it. “Which one?”

  “It was one of these. I showed it to you, boy. I’m sure of it. ”

  I was equally certain he had not, but I held my tongue. Chade’s memory was failing him. I knew it. So did he, but he would not admit it. I had also discovered that even a mention of that possibility would throw him into a fury that was more unsettling to me than the notion that my old mentor was not as sharp as he had been. So I silently watched him poke through the jumble of writings until he came to a scroll with a decorative blue edge. “See. Here it is, right where I left it for you. You haven’t studied it at all. ”

  “No. I haven’t. ” I admitted it easily, hoping to avoid the whole topic of whether or not he’d shown me the scroll. “What did you say it’s about?”

  He gave me a disgusted glance. “It’s about pain related to Skilling. The sorts of headaches you have. It suggests some remedies, exercises as well as herbs, but it also says that in time you may simply stop having the headaches. But it’s the note toward the end that interested me. Treeknee says that some Skillmasters used a pain barrier to keep their students from experimenting on their own. He doesn’t say that it might be made strong enough to prevent a man from Skilling at all. It interested me for two reasons. I wondered if Galen had done it to you. And I wondered if it might be a way to control Thick. ” I noticed he did not suggest it as a safety barrier for the Prince.

  So we were back to Thick again. Well, the old man was right. Sooner or later, we’d have to deal with him. Still, “I’d be reluctant to use pain as a curb on any creature. Thick Skills out his music near constantly. Give him pain for doing that, block him from it . . . I don’t know what that would do to him. ”

  Chade made a dismissive noise. He had known I would not do it before he asked me. But I knew Galen would not have scrupled to hobble me in such a way. I wondered. Chade spread the scroll out before me, his gnarled fingers bracketing the passage in question. I read it over, but discovered little he had not already said. Then I leaned back in my chair. “I’m trying to remember when Skilling first started to hurt. It always left me wearied. The first time Verity drew strength from me, I fainted dead away. Any real effort with it left me almost sick with fatigue. But I don’t recall the Skill having an aftermath of pain until . . . ” I pondered a time, then shook my head. “I can’t draw a line. The first time I Skill-walked, by accident, I woke trembling with weakness. I used the elfbark for it, then and in the times that followed. And after a time, the weakness after I’d Skilled began to be pain as well. ” I sighed. “No. I don’t think the pain is a barrier anyone put in me. ”

  Chade had wandered back to his shelves. He turned with two corked bottles in his hands. “Could it be because you have the Wit? Much is said in the scrolls about the dangers of using both magics. ”

  Was the old man try
ing to remind me of everything I didn’t know? I hated his questions. They were stark warnings that I was guiding my prince through unknown territory. I shook my head wearily. “Again, Chade, I don’t know. Perhaps if the Prince begins to have pain after Skilling, we can assume that. ”

  “I thought you were going to separate his Wit from his Skill. ”

  “I would if I knew how. All I can do is try to make him use the Skill in ways that force him to use it independently of the Wit. I don’t know how to make him separate the two magics any more than I know how to remove the Skill command I set on him back when we were on the beach. ”

  He lifted one white eyebrow as he measured herbs into a teapot. “The command not to fight you?”

  I nodded.

  “Well, it seems that should be a simple thing to me. Simply reverse it. ”

  I clenched my teeth. I did not say, It only seems simple to you because you have neither magic and don’t know what you are talking about. I was weary, I told myself, and frustrated. I should not take it out on the old man. “I don’t quite know how I burned the command into him, and so I don’t quite know how to lift it. ‘Simply reverse it’ is not simple at all. What would I command him? ‘Fight me’? Remember that Chivalry did the same thing to Skillmaster Galen. In anger, he burned a command into him. And he and Verity never puzzled out how to remove it. ”

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  “But Dutiful is your prince and your student. Surely that puts you on a different footing. ”

  “I don’t see what that has to do with it,” I told him, and tried not to sound short-tempered.

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