Golden fool, p.35
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       Golden Fool, p.35

         Part #2 of Tawny Man series by Robin Hobb
 
“Why can’t he just keep his daughter in at night? Then no one would have a problem. ”

  She narrowed her eyes at me. “No one would have a problem if you could just keep your son in at night, Tom Badgerlock. ”

  “I know, I know,” I admitted resignedly. And a moment later I added, “You really shouldn’t have to deal with any of this. ”

  A few moments later, the rest of that thought forced its way to the front of my mind. “When Svanja’s father decides to look for Hap, he’ll look for him here. ” I squeezed my brows together. “I never meant to bring all this trouble to your door, Jinna. I started out just wanting a friend. And now everything is a mess, and it’s all my fault. ” I considered the conclusion of that. “I suppose I’d best go face up to Rory Hartshorn. ”

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  “Wallow in it, Tom Badgerlock,” she said in disgust. “What on earth would you say to the man? Why must you take full credit for everything that goes wrong in the world? As I recall, I met Hap and befriended him long before I knew you. And Svanja has been trouble looking for a place to sprout since her family came to Buckkeep Town, if not before. And she has two parents of her own. Nor is Hap the blundering innocent in this. You’ve not been dallying with Hartshorn’s daughter, Hap has. So stop bemoaning what a mess you’ve made, and start demanding that Hap take responsibility for himself. ” She settled herself deeper into her chair. As if to herself, she added, “You’ve quite enough messes of your own to clean up, without claiming responsibility for everyone else’s. ”

  I stared at her in amazement.

  “It’s simple,” she said quietly. “Hap needs to discover consequences. As long as you claim that it’s all your fault for being a bad parent, Hap doesn’t have to admit that a good share of this is his own fault. Of course, he doesn’t think it’s a problem yet, but when he suddenly perceives that it is, he’s going to come running to you to see if you can fix it. And you’ll try, because you think it’s your fault. ”

  I sat still, soaking up the words and trying to find the sense in them. “So what should I do?” I demanded at last.

  She gave a helpless laugh. “I don’t know, Tom Badgerlock. But telling Hap this is all your fault is certainly something you should not do. ” She lifted up the cat and set him back on the floor. “However, there is something I should do as well. ” She went into her bedroom. A few moments later, she came back with a purse. She held it out to me. When I didn’t move to take it, she shook it at me. “Take it. This is the coin I haven’t spent on Hap’s keep. I’m giving it back to you. Tonight, when he comes back, I’m telling him that I’m turning him out of my house, because I don’t want trouble to come calling at my door. ” She laughed aloud at the look on my face. “It’s called a consequence, Tom. Hap should feel more of them. re of them. And when he comes moaning to you, I think you should let him deal with it on his own. ”

  I thought of the last conversation we’d had. “I doubt that he’ll come moaning to me,” I said somberly.

  “All the better,” she said tartly. “Let him handle it himself. He’s used to sleeping indoors. It won’t take him long to realize that he’d best settle himself in at the apprentices’ hall. And I think you might be wise enough to leave it up to him to have to ask Master Gindast to let him. ” The cat had reinstated himself on her lap. She shook out her knitting over him and tugged more yarn free. It slid through Fennel’s lazy clasp.

  I winced at the thought of how much pride Hap was going to have to swallow. A moment later, I felt an odd sense of relief. Hap could do that for himself. I didn’t have to humble myself on his behalf. I think she saw it on my face.

  “Not every problem in the world belongs to you alone, Badgerlock. Let others have their share. ”

  I thought about it for a time longer. Then I said gratefully, “Jinna, you’re a true friend. ”

  She gave me a sideways look. “So. You’ve figured that out, have you?”

  I winced at her tone, but nodded. “You’re a true friend. But you’re still angry at how I’ve behaved. ”

  She nodded as if to herself. “And some problems do belong to you, Tom Badgerlock. Entirely. ” She stared at me expectantly.

  I took a breath and steeled myself to it. I’d lie as little as possible, I comforted myself. It was thin comfort.

  “That woman, in the Stuck Pig that night. Well, we aren’t . . . that is, she is just a friend. I don’t bed with her. ” The words clattered awkwardly out of me like dropped crockery, and lay between us, all sharp shards.

  A long silence followed. Jinna looked at me, then into the fire, and then back at me. Tiny glints of anger and hurt still danced in her eyes, but a very tiny smile played around the corners of her lips as well. “I see. Well, that is good to know, I suppose. And now you have two friends that you don’t bed with. ”

  Her meaning was unmistakable. That comfort would not be offered to me tonight, and perhaps never again. I will not pretend I didn’t feel disappointment. But there was relief as well. Had it been offered, I would have had to refuse it. I’d already been through the consequences of refusing a woman once tonight. I nodded slowly to her words.

  “The water in the kettle is hot,” she pointed out. “If you wanted to stay, you could make tea for us. ” It was not forgiveness. It was a second chance to be friends. I was happy to accept it. I got up to find the pot and cups.

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  Chapter XIII

  CHALLENGES

  Now this is the way it must be for the ones who construct the maps and charts. A map of land must be made from the hide of a land beast, and it should show no more than can be helped of the sea. A chart can only be drawn on a sea creature’s hide, and though land must be marked on it, it is sin to show the features of that land on a chart that is devoted to the sea. To do otherwise is to offend the god who made the world as it is.

  Our islands are as the god made them. Thus he wrote on the seas of the world, long ago. They are his runes, and so when they are drawn within the chart of the great seas, they must be drawn in the blood of a land beast. And if you would make a mark for good harbor or plentiful fish or hidden shoals or any other feature that belongs to the seas, these marks must be made with the blood of a sea creature. For this is how the god made the world, and who is a man to try to draw it otherwise?

  Our islands are the runes of the god. Not all is made clear to us, for we are but men and it is not for us to know every rune that god can write, nor what it is he has spelled across the face of the sea. Some islands he cloaks in ice from us, and this we are to respect. Draw then the ice that cloaks the rune, and this must be drawn in the blood of a creature of that ice, but not one that flies. The blood of a seal is good for this, but the blood of a white bear best of all.

  If one wishes to draw the sky’s face, then is the time to use the blood of a bird for ink, and draw but lightly on the skin of a gull.

  These are very old laws. Every woman with a good mother knows them already. I write them down only because our sons’ sons and their offspring are grown foolish and unwary of the god’s will. They will bring disaster on us all if we do not remind them that we have been taught better, and that these laws are from the god’s own lips.

  — “THE MAKING OF GUIDES,” CHADE FALLSTAR’S TRANSLATION OF AN OUT ISLAND SCROLL

  I was relieved to be on better terms with Jinna again. We spent no time in her bed that night, nor did I kiss her good-bye. But both those things were a relief to my mind if not to my clamoring body. When I left her that night, I resolved to treat our patched friendship gently and to keep it within bounds I felt I could deal with. I think she still felt this was untrusting on my part, but, so I have ever been. At least, so Chade has often told me.

  There followed a trying three days for me. The rest of my life remained unsettled. I didn’t hear from Hap. I dreaded that my lad was sleeping out in the snow somewhere, even as I disgustedly told myself he w
as a sharper boy than that. The Queen and Chade were meeting daily with the leaders of the Six Duchies, in deep discussion about Bingtown’s offer of an alliance. They did not summon me to share their thoughts. The Bingtown delegation was very visible within Buckkeep Castle and they were assiduously courting the individual dukes and duchesses with gifts and attentions of every kind. On our part, the banquets and entertainment proceeded with an eye to soothing the ruffled feelings of the Outislanders and to being gracious to our Bingtown guests. The success of those evenings was mixed. Strangely enough, Arkon Bloodblade and his Out Island traders seemed fascinated with the Bingtown folk, and openly talked with them about expanding trade alliances based on the betrothal between Prince Dutiful and their Narcheska. Yet both Elliania and Peottre Blackwater were largely absent from the festivities. On the few occasions when Elliania did make an appearance, she was grave and quiet.

  Both the Narcheska and Peottre carefully avoided the Bingtown Traders in every way that they could. She exhibited a marked aversion to the scaled boy, Selden Vestrit of the Rain Wild Traders. Once I saw her physically recoil as he walked past her. But I was not certain that it was her choice, for afterward she sat very stiff in her chair while the beads of sweat broke out on her brow. It was not long after that both she and Peottre excused themselves from attending a puppet play on the grounds that the Narcheska was weary and Peottre must attend to their packing. This was a scarcely veiled reminder of the imminent departure of the Out Island contingent. The Bingtown Traders and their offer could hardly have arrived at a worse time for us.

  “A week later, and they would have been gone when the Bingtown folk arrived. Yes, and I don’t doubt that we could have mended the Prince’s little stumble with the Narcheska, and sent them off happy. Now it appears that we stack our refusal to break off talk with Bingtown atop the Prince’s slighting of the Narcheska. It throws everything into doubt. ”

  This was Chade’s curmudgeonly observation as we sat over wine one evening. He was out of sorts for a number of reasons. Starling had tried to give him a note to give me. She had done it privately, but even so, it was indiscreet in the extreme for her to acknowledge that she knew he and I were connected. Somehow, that was my fault. When he had refused, she had said, “Then just tell him that I’m sorry. I’d quarreled with my husband, and I wanted the comfort of his friendship. I’d been drinking at the keep before I started down to town to finish my drunk. I know I shouldn’t have said those things. ”

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  While I was still gaping, he’d delicately asked if Starling and I had any sort of “an arrangement” and when I angrily replied that it was no one else’s business if we did, but we didn’t, he had surprised me by saying that only a foolish man would deliberately provoke a minstrel to anger.

  “I didn’t provoke her to anger. All of this is because I’ve refused to have her in my bed since I discovered she was married. I think I have a right to decide with whom I’ll sleep. Don’t you?”

  I’d expected him to be shocked at this revelation. Almost, I hoped that it would be enough to embarrass him and make him resolve not to pry into my personal affairs anymore. He only slapped his forehead. “Of course. Well, she should have expected you to shake her out of your sheets once you discovered she was married, but . . . Fitz, do you understand what it means to her? Think. ”

  Had he not been so intent on teaching me something, I think I would have been offended. Yet his air was so familiar I could not accept his question as anything other than the opening to a lesson. Thus he had often spoken to me when trying to teach me to see all the possible motivations for a man to do something, rather than just the first ones that sprang to mind. “She is ashamed because my finding out she was married and yet still sleeping with me has lowered my opinion of her?”

  “No. Think, boy. Did it really lower your opinion of her?”

  Reluctantly, I shook my head. “I only felt stupid. Chade, in some way, I was not even surprised. Starling has always allowed herself to do such things. I’ve known that since I first met her. I didn’t expect her to change her minstrel ways. I simply didn’t want to be a party to it. ”

  He sighed. “Fitz, Fitz. Your biggest blind spot is that you cannot imagine anyone seeing you in a different way from how you see yourself. What are you, who are you, to Starling?”

  I shrugged a shoulder. “Fitz. The bastard. Someone she has known for fifteen years. ”

  A very small smile played across his face. He spoke softly. “No. You are FitzChivalry Farseer. The unacknowledged prince. She’d made a song about you before she’d even met you. Why? Because you’d captured her imagination. The bastard Farseer. Had Chivalry acknowledged you, you’d have had a chance at the throne. Denied and ignored by your father, you were still loyal, still the hero of the battle at Antler Island Tower. You died in ignominy in Regal’s dungeons, and rose as a vengeful ghost to plague Regal through his days as a pretender. She accompanied you on a quest to save your king, and though it did not come out as any of us intended, still there was triumph at the end. And she not only witnessed it, she was a part of it. ”

  “It seems a fine tale, to hear you tell it that way, with none of the dirt and pain and misfortune. ”

  “It is a fine tale, even with the dirt and pain and misfortune. A fine and glorious tale, one that would make any minstrel’s reputation for life, did she ever sing it. Yet it is one Starling can never sing. Because it has been forbidden to her. Her great adventure, her wonderful song, locked up as a secret. Still, at least, she knew she was a part of it, and she was a part of the royal bastard’s life. She became his lover, a party to his secrets. I think she expected that when you returned to Buckkeep, someday, you would again be at the center of intrigue and wondrous events. And she expected to be part of that also, to turn heads and bask in that shared glory. The Witted Bastard’s minstrel mistress. If she could not sing the song herself, at least she was guaranteed a place in that tale, if it should ever be told. And don’t doubt that she has composed it somewhere, as a song or a poem. She saw herself as a part of your tale, touched by your wild glory. Then, you took that from her. You not only walked away from her, you returned to Buckkeep as an ignominious servant. You not only are ending your tale on a disappointing note; you are making her of no consequence by doing it. She is a minstrel, Fitz. How did you think she’d react to that? Gracefully?”

  I saw her suddenly in a different light. Her cruelty to Hap, her offense at me. “I don’t think of myself like that, Chade. ”

  “I know you don’t,” he said more gently. “But do you see that she could? And that you crashed her dreams down around her?”

  I nodded slowly. “But there’s nothing I can do about it. I won’t take a married woman into my bed. And I can’t come back as FitzChivalry Farseer. I’d still face a noose around my neck if I did. ”

  “That’s most likely true. I agree that you cannot be known as FitzChivalry again. As to the other . . . well. Let me remind you that Starling knows a great many things. We are all vulnerable to her. I expect you to maintain her goodwill toward us. ”

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  Before I could think of a reply to that, he demanded to know why I had canceled all the Prince’s Skill lessons until after the Bingtown representatives had left. The Prince had already asked that question. I said to Chade what I’d told the Prince: that I feared that the scaled boy in the Bingtown party had some sensitivity to the Skill, and that until the Traders departed, we would limit our lessons to translating scrolls together. The Prince was not patient with these more mundane studies. My suspicion of the veiled Trader intrigued both him and Chade. Thrice Chade had chewed over Selden Vestrit’s conversation with me. Neither of us could find any meat in it. I was learning that sometimes it was easier to keep Chade uninformed than to give him bits of information he could not confirm. Such as telling him of the Narcheska’s tattoos.

  I know he spent some hours of his
own time at the spyhole without glimpsing her tattoos. As she had not made any complaint about her health, he could not send the healer to her rooms to confirm what I had seen. Elliania had pointedly refused several invitations to ride or game with the Prince, so Dutiful could make no observations on whether or not she seemed to be in pain. And the Queen dared not make too many pressing invitations lest it appear that the Six Duchies desired the betrothal to proceed more than the Out Islands did. In the end, all they had was my account of what I had seen. It baffled all of us, as did her handmaid, Henja.

  That woman remained a complete cipher to us. Her references to a Lady were unclear, unless she referred to an older female relative with authority over Elliania. Discreet inquiries in that area availed us nothing. Chade’s spies had failed us as well. Twice Henja had been followed down into Buckkeep Town. Each time she had vanished from their scrutiny, once in a market crowd, and once simply by turning a corner. We had no idea who she saw in town, or even if it was of any significance. The arcane punishment of the searing tattoos bespoke a magic that neither of us knew. Perhaps we should have felt glad of an unseen power urging the Narcheska to make strong her betrothal to the Prince. Instead, we both were dismayed by the dark cruelty of it. “Are you sure Lord Golden could not cast some light on this?” Chade demanded abruptly. “I recall him telling several people at a dinner that he had once made quite a hobby of studying the Out Islands’ history and culture. ”

  I shrugged eloquently.

  Chade snorted. “Have you asked him yet?”

  “No,” I replied shortly. Then, as he lowered his brows at me, I added, “I told you. He has taken to his bed and scarcely comes out. Even his meals are taken in to him. He has the curtains drawn, both across his windows and about his bed. ”

  “But you don’t think he is ill?”

  “He hasn’t said he is ill, but that is the impression he lets his serving boy chatter about the keep. Sometimes I think that was half his reason for taking Char on, so that the boy could be fed the rumors he wishes to spread. I think that the truth is that he wishes to avoid any public appearances until after the Bingtown folk have departed. He lived there for some time, and while he was there, he was certainly not known as the Fool, or as Lord Golden. I think he fears that if one of them recognized him, it could cause difficulties for him at court. ”

 
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