Golden fool, p.22
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       Golden Fool, p.22

         Part #2 of Tawny Man series by Robin Hobb

  “Well. Only that I think he might help you remove it. ” He shook a few drops of something into the teapot. He paused, then asked delicately, “Is the Prince aware of what you did to him? Does he know you commanded him not to fight you?”

  “No!” I did let my temper show on that word. Then I took a breath. “No, and I’m ashamed I did it, and ashamed to admit to you that I’m afraid to tell him. In so many ways, I’m still getting to know him, Chade. I don’t want to give him reason to distrust me. ” I rubbed my brow. “We did not meet one another under the best circumstances, you know. ”

  “I know, I know. ” He came to pat me on the shoulder. “So. What have you been doing with him?”

  “Mostly getting to know him. We’ve been translating scrolls together. And I ‘borrowed’ some practice blades from the weapons sheds, and we’ve tried one another that way. He’s a good swordsman. If the number of bruises he has given me are a fair indication, then I think I lightened my Skill command if not erased it. ”

  “But you aren’t sure?”

  “Not really. When we spar, we aren’t truly trying to hurt one another. It’s a game, just as it is when we wrestle. Still, I’ve never noticed that he holds back at all, or allows me to win more easily. ”

  “Well. You know, I think it’s very good that he has you for those sorts of things. As well as the Skill lessons. I think he was missing that sort of rough companionship in his life. ” Chade took the kettle from the hearth and poured hot water over his newest mixture of leaves. “I suppose only time will tell. So. Do you Skill at all with him?”

  I lifted a hand to my nose. The odor from the pot made my eyes water but Chade didn’t seem to notice. “Yes. We’ve been doing some exercises to help him focus his magic. ”

  “Focus?” Chade swirled the pot, then put the lid on it.

  “Right now, when he Skills, he shouts from the top of the tower, and anyone listening could hear him. We strive to narrow that shout, to make it a whisper only to me. And we work to have him convey only what he wishes to tell me, not all the information in his mind at that time. So we do set exercises. I have him try to reach my mind while he is at table and carrying on a conversation. Then we refine it; can he reach my mind, convey what he was eating, while keeping to himself who his companions are? After that, we set other goals. Could he wall me out of his mind? Could he set walls that I could not breach, even in the dead of night while he slept?”

  Chade frowned to himself as he found a cup, and wiped it clean with one end of his trailing sleeve. I tried not to smile. Sometimes, when we were alone like this, he reverted from the grand noble to the intent old man who had taught me my first trade. “Do you think that’s wise? Teaching him how to close you out of his mind. ”

  “Well, he has to learn to do it, in case he ever encounters someone who doesn’t have his best interest at heart. At the moment, I’m the only other Skill-user he can practice with. ”

  “There’s Thick,” Chade pointed out as he poured for himself. The hot liquid splashed, greenish-black, into his cup. He regarded it with distaste.

  “I think one student is all I can deal with right now,” I demurred. “Did you take any action on Thick’s problem?”

  “What problem?” Chade took his cup over in front of the fire.

  I felt a moment’s alarm. I tried to conceal it by speaking casually. “I thought I told you about it. He was having problems with the other servants hitting him and taking his money. ”

  “Oh. That. ” He leaned back in his chair as if it were of no consequence. I breathed a silent sigh of relief. He hadn’t forgotten our conversation. “I found a reason for the cook to give him separate quarters. Ostensibly, that’s where he works, you know. The kitchens. So now he has his own room near the pantries. It’s small, but I gather it’s the first time he’s ever had any place all to himself. I think he likes it. ”

  “Well. That’s good, then. ” I paused for a moment. “Did you ever consider sending him away from Buckkeep? Just until the Prince has a better grasp on the Skill? There are times when his wild Skilling is a bit distracting. It’s like trying to work a complicated sum while near you someone else is counting out loud. ”

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  Chade sipped from his revolting cup. He made a face, then swallowed determinedly. I winced sympathetically, and said nothing as he reached a long arm to seize my wineglass and wash away the taste. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse. “As long as Thick remains the only other Skill candidate we have, I will not send him away. I want him where we can watch over him. And where you can try to win his regard. Have you made any efforts with him?”

  “I haven’t had the opportunity. ” I got up and brought another glass back to the table and poured more wine for both of us. Chade came back to the table. He set the teacup and the wineglass side by side and eyed them dolorously. “I don’t know if he’s avoiding me, or if his other duties for you simply have kept him out of my way. ”

  “He has had other tasks, of late. ”

  “Well, that explains his lack of care with his work here,” I observed sourly. “Some days he remembers to replace the candle stubs with fresh tapers, some days he doesn’t. Some days the hearth is cleared of ashes and wood laid for the fire, and sometimes the old ashes and coals remain. I think it’s because he dislikes me so. He does as little as he possibly can. ”

  “He can’t read, so I can’t give him a list of tasks. Sometimes he remembers to do all I tell him, sometimes he doesn’t. That only makes him a poor servant, not a lazy or spiteful one. ” Chade took another mouthful of his brew. This time, despite his efforts, he coughed, spraying the table. I snatched the scrolls out of harm’s way. He wiped his mouth with his kerchief and then blotted the table. “Beg pardon,” he said gravely, his eyes watering. He took a gulp of wine.

  “What’s in the tea?”

  “Sylvleaf. Witch’s butter. Seacrepe. And a few other herbs. ” He took another mouthful of it and chased it down with more wine.

  “What’s it for?” A memory tickled at the back of my mind.

  “Some problems I’ve been having,” he evaded, but I rose and began to shuffle through the scrolls on the table. I came up with the one I wanted almost immediately. The illustrations were still bright despite the years. I unrolled it and pointed to the sylvleaf drawing.

  “Those herbs are named here, as being helpful to open a candidate to the Skill. ”

  He gave me a flat look. “So?”

  “Chade. What are you doing, what are you trying?”

  For a moment, he just looked at me. Then he asked coldly, “Are you jealous? Do you also think my birthright should be forbidden me?”


  An odd sort of anger broke from him in a tumble of words. “I was never even given the chance to be tested for the Skill. Bastards are not taught it. Not until you, when Shrewd made an exception. Yet I am as much Farseer as you are. And I’ve some of the lesser magics, as well you should know by now. ”

  He was upset, and I didn’t know why. I nodded and said calmingly, “Such as your scrying in water. It was how you knew of the Red Ship attack on Neatbay, all those years ago. ”

  “Yes,” he said with satisfaction. He sat back in his chair, but his hands scuttled along the table’s edge like spiders. I wondered if the drugs in the tea were affecting him. “Yes, I have magics of my own. And perhaps, given the chance, I’d have the magic of my blood, the magic I’ve a right to. Don’t try to deny it to me, Fitz. For all those years, my own brother forbade me even being tested. I was good enough to watch his back, good enough to teach his sons and his grandson. But I was never good enough to be given my rightful magic. ”

  I wondered how long the resentment had festered in him. Then I recalled his excitement when Shrewd allowed me to be taught, and his frustration when I seemed to fail and would not even discuss my lessons with him. This was a very old anger, unveiled to me for the first time.

“Why now?” I asked him conversationally. “You’ve had the Skill scrolls for fifteen years. Why have you waited?” I thought I knew what the answer would be: that he had wanted me to be close by, to help him with it. Again, he surprised me.

  “What makes you think I waited? But, yes, I’ve applied more effort to it of late, because my need for this magic becomes so desperate. We’ve spoken of this before. I knew you would not wish to help me. ”

  It was true. Yet if he had asked me just then, I would not have been able to say why. I avoided the question. “What is your need now? The land is relatively peaceful. Why risk yourself?”

  “Fitz. Look at me. Look at me! I’m getting old. Time has played me a treacherous trick. When I was young and able, I was locked up in these chambers, forced to remain hidden and powerless. Now, when I have a chance to set the Farseer throne on a firm foundation, when indeed my family needs me most, I am old and becoming feeble. My mind totters, my back aches, my memories cloud. Do you think I haven’t seen the dread on your face whenever I tell you I must look through my journals to find you a tidbit of information? Imagine, then, how I feel. Imagine how it is, Fitz, to not have your own memories at your beck and call anymore. To grope for a name, to suddenly lose the thread of a conversation in the midst of a jest. As a boy, when you thought your body had betrayed you with your fits, you plunged into despair. Yet you always had your mind. I think I’m losing mine. ”

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  It was a terrible revelation, as if I had discovered that the foundations of Buckkeep Castle itself were weakening and crumbling. Only recently had I begun to appreciate fully all that Chade juggled for Kettricken. The enmeshing net of social relationships that formed the politics of Buckkeep had snared me, and from within its folds, I struggled to comprehend it all. When I was a boy, Chade had interpreted for me all that went on in the castle, and I had been content to accept his word on it. Now I viewed things with a man’s eyes, and found the level of complication astonishing.

  And fascinating. It was like Kettle’s Stone game, played on a grand scale. Markers moved, and alliances changed, and power shifted, sometimes all within a passage of hours. It made Chade’s depth of knowledge all the more amazing, as he conducted Queen Kettricken’s balancing act on the shifting loyalties of the nobility. I could not possibly keep up with it all, and yet it all was interconnected.

  Since I had returned to Buckkeep, I had marveled that the old man could integrate it all, and dreaded the coming of a day when he could not. None of this was as easy for him as it once had been. The presence of his journals, massive volumes of pages bound flat in the Jamaillian style, were an indication that he did not trust his own memory anymore. There were six identical volumes, with covers of red, blue, green, yellow, purple, and goldenrod, one for each of the Six Duchies. How he determined what information belonged in each was beyond my understanding. A seventh volume, white with the Farseer Buck on the front, was where he penned his day-to-day minutiae. This he referred to most often, leafing through it for scraps of gossip or the text of a conversation or the summary of a spy’s report. Even within this secret volume hidden in the concealed chamber, he made his entries in his own cryptic words. He did not offer me access to his volumes and I did not ask it. I am sure there was much in them that I would not have wished to know. And it was safer so for the spies who toiled for the Six Duchies, for I could not accidentally betray the secrets I did not know. Yet knowing Chade feared the failing of his memory still did not explain to me what he did. “I know things have been difficult for you lately. I’ve worried about you. But why, then, would you tax yourself further with trying to learn the Skill?”

  His hands became knotty fists on the table edge. “Because of what I’ve read. Because of what you’ve told me you’ve done with it. The texts say a Skill-user can repair his own body, can extend his years. How old was that Kettle you journeyed with? Two hundred years, three hundred? And she was still spry enough to take on a Mountain winter. You yourself have told me that you reached into your wolf and with it made him whole again, at least for a time. If I could open myself to your Skill, could not you do that for me? Or, if you refused, as I think you might, could not I do it for myself?”

  As if he needed to show his strength of resolve, he snatched up the cup and drained it in a manful draught. Then he choked and sputtered. His lips were wet with the dark potion as he seized his wineglass and gulped the contents. “I notice you do not spring to offer me your aid,” he observed bitterly as he wiped his mouth.

  I sighed deeply. “Chade. I barely know the rudiments I strive to teach the Prince. How can I offer to teach you a magic I barely understand myself? What if I—”

  “That has been your greatest weakness, Fitz. All your life. Too much caution. Not enough ambition. Shrewd liked that in you. He never feared you, as he did me. ”

  As I gaped in pain at him, he spoke on, seeming unmindful of the blow he had just dealt me. “I did not expect you to approve. Not that your approval is necessary. I think it is best I explore the edges of this magic on my own. Once I have the door open, well, then we shall see what you think of your old mentor. I think I will surprise you, Fitz. I think I have it, that perhaps I’ve always had it. You yourself gave me the hint of that, when you spoke of Thick’s music. I’ve heard it. I think. On the edges of my mind, just as I start to fall asleep at night. I think I have the Skill. ”

  I could not think of a word to say to that. He was waiting for me to react to his claim to have the Skill. All I could think was that I did not feel I had ever lacked in ambition, only that my aspirations had not matched his goals for me. So the silence grew and became ever more awkward. And when he broke it, with a complete change of topic, it only made it worse.

  “Well. I see you’ve nothing to say to me. So. ” He forced a smile to his face and inquired, “How is your boy doing at his apprenticeship?”

  I stood up. “Poorly. I suppose that, like his would-be father, he lacks ambition. Good night, Chade. ”

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  And I left and went down to my servant’s chambers for the rest of the night. I did not sleep. I dared not. Of late, I avoided my bed, surrendering to it only when complete exhaustion demanded it. It was not just that I needed to spend those dark hours in my studies of the Skill scrolls, but because when I did close my eyes, I was besieged. Nightly I would set my Skill walls before retiring, and near nightly, Nettle assaulted those walls. Her strength and her single-mindedness unsettled me. I did not want my daughter to Skill. There was no way I could bring her to Buckkeep to instruct her, and I feared for her, attempting these explorations on her own. I reasoned that to let her through would only encourage her in her pursuit of this magic. As long as she did not know that she Skilled, as long as she thought she was just reaching out to some dream companion, some otherworldly being she had imagined, perhaps I could keep her safe. And frustrated. If I had reached back to her even once, even to push her away, I feared she might somehow grasp who and where I was. Better to leave her in ignorance. Perhaps, after a time of failing to reach me, she might give it up. Perhaps she would find something else to distract her, a handsome neighbor lad or an interest in a trade. So I hoped. But I arose each morning near as haggard as I had gone to bed.

  The rest of my personal life had become equally frustrating. My efforts to get time to speak to Hap alone were no more fruitful than Chade’s arranged meetings with Thick. He was completely besotted with Svanja. Over a period of three weeks, I spent most of my free nights sitting in the Stuck Pig, hoping for a chance to speak to Hap alone. The establishment’s drafty common room and watery beer did little to extend my patience with my son. Often I waited in vain. On the occasions when Hap actually met me there, he brought Svanja with him. She was a lovely young thing, all dark hair and huge eyes, slender and supple as a willow wand, yet conveying an air of toughness as well. And she loved to talk, giving me little opportunity to get a word in, let
alone address Hap privately. Hap sat beside her, basking in her approval and beauty, as she told me a very great deal about herself and her parents and her plans for her future, and what she thought of Hap, Buckkeep, and life in general. I gathered that her mother was worn down by her daughter’s willful ways and was glad that she was seeing a young man with some prospects. Her father’s opinion of Hap was not as charitable, but Svanja expected to bring him around to her way of thinking soon. Or not. If he could not accept that she would choose her own young man, then perhaps her father should stay out of her life. That seemed a fine sentiment for an independent young woman to fling boldly to the winds, save that I was a father, and I did not completely approve of this young woman that Hap had chosen. Svanja herself seemed to care little that I might not favor her attitude. I found myself liking her spirit, but disliking her disregard of my feelings.

  Eventually, there was an evening when Hap arrived alone, but my only opportunity for private conversation with him was less than satisfying. He was morose that Svanja was not with him, and complained bitterly that her father had become more stubborn about forcing her to stay in for the evenings. The man would not give him a chance. When I forcefully steered the conversation to his apprenticeship, he only repeated what he had already told me. He felt dissatisfied with how he was treated in his work. Gindast thought he was a dolt and mocked him before the journeymen. They assigned him the most boring tasks and gave him no opportunity to prove himself. Yet, when I pressed him for an example, those he gave made me see Gindast as a demanding but not unreasonable master.

  Hap’s complaints did not convince me he was ill-treated. I formed a different opinion from his talk. My boy was in love with Svanja, and she was the real focus of his thoughts. Many of his repeated mistakes and his late arrivals in the morning could be blamed on this feminine distraction. I felt certain that if Svanja did not exist, Hap would be more intent, and perhaps better satisfied with his lessons. A stricter father might have forbidden him to see the girl. I did not. Sometimes I thought it was because of how such restrictions had felt to me; at other times, I wondered if I feared that Hap would not obey such a command, and so I dared not give it.

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