Golden fool, p.43
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       Golden Fool, p.43

         Part #2 of Tawny Man series by Robin Hobb

  “Then you have spoken to the Queen. She agreed to my terms. ”

  His green eyes hardened to the color of copper ore. “No. I haven’t. I had hoped you would reconsider. ”

  “Actually, I have,” I said, and tried not to enjoy the shock on his face. Then, before he could think I had capitulated completely, I added, “I’ve decided this is a thing I must discuss with her myself. ”

  “Well. ” He sought for words. “In that we concur. I will ask her to make time to speak with you today. ” And so we parted, having disagreed but not quarreled. He gave me a strange look as he left, as if I still puzzled him. It left me feeling pleased with myself, and wishing I had learned this lesson earlier.

  So when he notified me of my appointed rendezvous with the Queen, I again approached my encounter calmly. Kettricken had set out a small table of wine and cakes for us. I had schooled myself to equanimity before I entered. Perhaps that was what allowed me to see Kettricken’s wariness.

  My queen sat tall and poised as I entered, but I recognized her stillness as her armor. She too expected hot words and outrage from me. Her guarded attitude almost provoked me to express my injured feelings at her obvious opinion of my temperament. Instead, I took a deep breath and quelled that rising tide of affront. I forced myself to make my courtesy to her calmly, to wait until she had invited me to be seated at the table with her, and even then to exchange some small pleasantries about the weather and the state of her health before I approached my true concern. Even so, I marked the small narrowing at the corners of her eyes that plainly said she held herself in readiness for a tirade. When had all those who knew me best decided that I was such an unreasonable, ill-tempered man? And then I reined aside from even considering who might be at fault for that. Instead, I met my queen’s gaze and asked quietly, “What are we going to do about Nettle?”

  For an instant, I saw her blue-green eyes widen almost in shock. Then she recovered herself. She leaned back in her chair and for a moment she considered me. “What has Chade told you about this?” she countered.

  Despite myself, I grinned. For a moment, all my concerns for my daughter fled. I heard myself reply, “Chade has told me to beware of women who answer a question with a question. ”

  For a moment, I thought my sally had overstepped our bounds. Then an answering smile woke on her face. Sadly, with the dawning of that smile, she lowered her guard to me. I suddenly perceived that behind my queen’s placid façade of calm, she was weary and troubled. Too many concerns snapped at her like yapping feists. The Prince’s betrothal to the unpredictable Narcheska and his ridiculous “quest,” the problem of the Witted, the political unrest of the Piebalds, her contentious nobles, and even Bingtown with its war and dragons all vied for her attention. As an errant gust of wind may kindle a faded ember to a glow, so her beleaguered expression woke in me a distant echo of the love Verity had borne for this woman. The Skill link I had once shared with my king had occasionally made me privy to his feelings. Still, it was strange to feel that remote rippling of his love for her. For his sake, as well as for my own fondness for her, I felt a sudden and compelling concern for her. As she leaned back in her chair, obviously relieved that I did not intend to clash with her, I felt a moment of shame. In the welter of my own concerns, I too often forgot that other people had burdens just as heavy.

  She released a pent-up breath. “Fitz, I am glad that you have come yourself to discuss this with me. Chade is a wise councilor, tried and true to the Farseer throne. On his good days, he sees clearly in affairs of state. He is wise also in the ways of the hearts of my people. His advice is sage and solid. But when he speaks to me of Nettle, he speaks always as a councilor to the Farseer throne. ” She reached across the table and set her gracile hand atop my rough one. “I would rather speak to her father, as his friend. ”

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  It seemed a very good time to hold my silence.

  The Queen’s hand did not move from mine as she spoke simply. “Fitz, Nettle should be trained in the Skill. You know that, in your heart. Not only to protect her from the dangers of that magic in untrained hands—yes, I have read something of those scrolls, when deciding how to deal with Dutiful’s potential—but also because of who she is. The potential Farseer heir. ”

  Her words knocked the wind out of me. I had expected to debate the wisdom of teaching Nettle to Skill, not to come back to that older, graver threat to her. I could not find words to express my dismay, but it was just as well. My queen was not finished speaking.

  “We cannot change who we are. Ever, I am Verity’s queen. You are Chivalry’s son, illegitimate but a Farseer nonetheless. Yet you are also dead to our people, and Chade is both elderly and unacknowledged as a Farseer. August, as we both know, never fully recovered his wits after Verity reached through him to me. My king, I am sure, never intended to do the damage he did to his cousin, and yet, again, there it is. We cannot change who we are, and August, though his name makes him a Farseer, is a wandering old man before his time. He cannot seriously be considered a likely heir to the throne in the event that Verity’s line should fail. ”

  Her careful construction of logic drew me in. I found myself forced to nod in agreement with her, even as I saw where the chain of her thoughts inexorably led.

  “Yet there must be, there must always be, one who stands in reserve, ready to assume the throne should all else fail. ” She looked past me. “Your daughter, invisible as she is to her people, is nonetheless next in line. We cannot change who Nettle is. No amount of wishing on anyone’s part can make her any less a Farseer. Should the need arise, FitzChivalry Farseer, your daughter must serve. So we arranged it, all those years ago. I know you opposed it then, when we drew up those documents in Jhaampe. I know you oppose it still. But she is a Farseer acknowledged, by you her father, by me as Queen, and a minstrel to whom you had told the truth witnessed all this. The written document still exists, Fitz, as it must. Even should you and I and Chade and Starling Birdsong die all at once, still in the treasury will be found that document, with a codicil that spells out where she can be found. This must be, Fitz. We cannot change her bloodlines; we cannot undo her birth. Would you ever truly desire to? I think not. To even wish such a thing is an affront to the gods. ”

  And then it happened again. I suddenly saw with another’s eyes. It gutted my anger, this sudden insight into my queen’s reasoning. Kettricken saw as unchangeable that Nettle had a place in the line of heirs to the throne. To her, it was not a matter of what I wished or what she wished. It simply was, and we could not tamper with that. Nettle was not a bargaining point for her. She could not agree to release her from a duty she had been born to: that was how Kettricken saw it.

  I took a deep breath, but she lifted a finger, asking me to let her finish speaking her thoughts. “I know that you dread the thought of Nettle becoming Sacrifice. I too pray it will never come to pass. Think what it would mean for me: that my only son was dead, or somehow unfit to serve. As a mother, I put such a possibility furthest from my mind, even as you beseech fate that Nettle never be burdened with a crown. Yet even as we both hope such a thing never comes to pass, we must prepare that if it should happen, she would be ready to serve her people well. She should be trained, not only in the Skill, but educated in languages, in the history of her land and people, and in the courtesy and traditions that go with the throne. It is negligent of us both that she has gone uninstructed in such things, and unforgivably negligent of us that she remains unenlightened of her own bloodlines. If a time ever arrives when she must serve, do you think she will thank either of us for letting her remain ignorant?”

  And that was yet another blow to my conviction. The world twisted around me, and suddenly I questioned every decision I had made for Nettle. I felt sickened as the truth came to me. I spoke it aloud. “She would probably hate me for letting her remain ignorant. Yet, I do not see how I can change that at this late time, without doing even
more damage. ” I sagged back in my chair. “Kettricken, neglectful as it must seem to you, I still implore you. Let her continue as she is. If you will say yes to that, then I promise you that I will bend all my efforts, with a willing heart, to make certain that she must never serve as Sacrifice. ” I swallowed, and then bound myself anew. Yet again, I stood before a Farseer monarch and ceded my life. This time, I did it as a man. “Willingly will I try to craft a coterie for Dutiful. I will serve as Skillmaster. ”

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  The Queen regarded me steadily. After a moment she asked, “And how is this a new offer from you, FitzChivalry? Or a new request to me?”

  There was a rebuke in those questions. I bowed my head and accepted it. “Perhaps because now I will be honestly willing in my efforts. ”

  “And will you also accept your queen’s word, and not ask to have it reaffirmed to you again? I will speak it to you clearly. I will allow your daughter, Nettle Farseer, to remain where she is, fostered to Burrich, for as long as it is safe for us to do so. Will you accept that I will abide by my words to you?”

  Another rebuke. Had I injured her feelings with my repeated demand that Nettle be left in peace? Perhaps. “I will,” I said quietly.

  “Good,” she said, and the tension that had been between us eased. For a time longer we sat at the table, in silence, as if silence between us completed the affirmation. Then, without a word, she poured wine for me and set a little spiced cake before me. For a time, we ate and talked, but only of inconsequential things. I did not mention to her that Dutiful was snubbing me. That I would settle with the Prince himself. Somehow.

  When I rose to go, she looked up at me and smiled. “It seems a shame, FitzChivalry, that I am so seldom able to speak to you. I regret the shams we must make, for they keep us apart. I miss you, my friend. ”

  I departed from her, but when I went, I carried those words with me like a blessing.

  Chapter XVI


  If a merchant captain have sufficiently strong contacts in Jamaillia, it is entirely possible that he can fill his holds there with valuable goods from many a far and foreign port. He will get the advantage of having these exotic stuffs to sell without having to face the risks to both crew and vessel that a deep-sea voyage always presents. He will, of course, pay in coin for what he saves in worry, but that is ever the trade that a wise merchant must face.

  Jamaillia is not only the northernmost port that Spice Island traders regularly visit, it is the only port on our shores visited by the Great Sail fleet. These ships come as a fleet to visit Jamaillia (which they call, in their barbarous way, West Port) but one year out of three. The hazards of the crossing that they make can well be seen by their tattered canvas and weary sailors. The goods that they bring are both exotic and expensive. These ships are the only source for redspice and sedgum. As their entire stocks of these items are always bought by the Satrap’s palace, with very little released back to the market, we can safely dismiss them as out of the reach of ordinary merchants. But other items they bring may be available to the sagacious merchant who is both lucky and wise enough to time a Jamaillia visit to the arrival of the Great Sail fleet.


  Another handful of days came and went. Lord Golden emerged from his bedchamber, polished and sophisticated as ever, to announce to all and sundry that he once more enjoyed perfect health. His Jamaillian makeup, applied carefully every morning, had become even more extravagant. Sometimes he wore the scaling even by daylight. I suspected he did it to distract any attention from the darkening of his skin. It must have succeeded, for no one mentioned it. The court greeted his return to health with enthusiasm, and his popularity was undiminished.

  I once again took up my duties as his servant. Sometimes Lord Golden entertained in his rooms in the afternoon, with games of chance or hired minstrels. The young nobility, both youths and maidens, vied to be invited. On those occasions, I remained at his beck within my own little chamber, or was dismissed entirely. I still accompanied him on his pleasure rides with other members of the nobility, and I still stood behind his chair at elaborate dinners. Such events were more rare now. With the departure of both the Outislanders and the Bingtown Traders, the population of Buckkeep Castle had thinned and returned to a more normal routine as the Six Duchies nobility also returned to their holdings. There were fewer gaming sessions and puppet shows and other amusements. The evenings became longer and quieter. If I was given an hour to myself in the evening, I often spent it in the Great Hall. Once more, the children of the keep studied their lessons by the hearths, while weavers wove and fletchers shaped arrows. Gossip and tales were spun alongside yarn. Shadows draped the corners of the room, and if I tried, I could pretend this was my Buckkeep from the days of my boyhood.

  But of the Fool, I saw nothing at all. By no word or sign to me did Lord Golden ever indicate that we were anything other than what Buckkeep believed us to be: master and servant. At no time did he address any words to me that would have been out of character for Lord Golden to speak. And if I vouchsafed some pleasantry that strayed outside the limit of those roles, he ignored it.

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  The gulf that opened inside my soul at this isolation surprised me. Wider it yawned each day. When I returned one day from my weapons training session with Wim, I found a small packet on my bed. Within the fabric pouch, I found a red whistle threaded onto a green string. “For Thick,” read the note in the Fool’s plain hand. I had hoped it was some sort of peace offering, but when I dared thank Lord Golden, he looked up from the herbal he was perusing with a glance at once distracted and irritated. “I have no idea what you are thanking me for, Tom Badgerlock. I do not recall giving you any gift, let alone a red whistle. Preposterous. Find some other vagary to occupy yourself, man. I am reading. ”

  And I withdrew from his presence, recognizing that the whistle had not been created as a favor to me, but as a sincere gift to Thick, from someone who knew well what it was to be ignored or mocked. Truly, it had nothing to do with me. And with that thought, my heart sagged a notch lower in my chest.

  Worst was that there was no one I could confide my misery to, unless I wanted to share the full depth of my stupidity with Chade. So I bore it silently and did my best to conceal it from all.

  On the day the Fool gave me the whistle, I decided I was ready to take my errant students in hand. The Bingtown Traders were gone and Selden Vestrit with them. It was time to do as I had promised my queen.

  I visited first Chade’s tower and then clambered up to the Skill tower. When, as had become usual, Dutiful did not arrive, I opened the shutters wide to the chill and dark of the winter morn. I seated myself in Verity’s chair and bleakly stared out into that blackness. I knew that Chade had directed Dutiful to come to me, and had even arranged the Prince’s social schedule to allow him more time with me. It had made no difference. Since he had discovered the Skill command and broken it, he had not come to me once for a lesson. I had let Dutiful go much longer in his errant behavior than Verity would ever have tolerated in me. Left to himself, the Prince would not come back to me. I dismissed my doubts as to the wisdom of my actions. I took several deep, slow breaths of the cold sea air and closed my eyes. I narrowed my Skill to a fine and demanding point.

  Dutiful. Come to me now.

  I felt no response. Either he had not made one or he was ignoring me. I expanded my awareness of him. It was difficult to grasp him. I concluded he was deliberately blocking me, having set his Skill walls against me. I leaned on them, and became fairly certain that he was sleeping. I tested the strength of his walls. I knew that I could punch past them, if I chose to do so. I took a breath, summoning the strength to do just that. Then, abruptly, I shifted my strategy. Instead I leaned on his walls, an insidious pressure. Distantly, I felt a thin smile stretch my lips. The Nettle technique, I thought to mys
elf as I slipped through his wall and into his sleeping mind.

  If he was dreaming, I could not sense it. Only the stillness of his unaware mind spread around me like a quiet pool. I dropped into it like a pebble. Dutiful.

  He twitched into awareness of me. Outrage was his instant reaction. Get out! He tried to thrust me from his mind, but I was already inside his defenses. I offered a quiet resistance to him, displaying no aggression but simply refusing to be banished. Just as he had the first time we had wrestled, he threw himself against me in a fury without strategy. I maintained, accepting the mental pummeling as he wore himself out against me. When he was all but stunned with exhaustion, I spoke again.

  Dutiful. Please come to the tower.

  You lied to me. I hate you.

  I did not lie to you. Without intending to, I did you a wrong. I attempted to undo it; I believed I had undone it. Then, at the worst possible moment, we both discovered I had not.

  You’ve been restraining me. Forcing me to do your will, ever since we met. You probably forced me to like you.

  Search your memories, Dutiful. You will discover that is not so. But I will no longer discuss this matter in this manner. Come to the Skill tower. Please.

  I won’t.

  I’ll be waiting.

  And with that I withdrew from his mind.

  For a time, I sat still, gathering both my strength and my thoughts. A headache pressed against my skull, demanding attention. I pushed it to one side. I took a deep breath, and once more reached out.

  Finding Thick was easy. Music was spilling from his mind, a music uniquely his own, for it was music without sound. When I let it flow unimpeded into my mind, it became even stranger, for it was not composed of notes from a flute or harp. For a moment, I became caught in it. On one level, the “notes” of his song were bits of ordinary noises from everyday life. The clop of a hoof, the clack of a plate on a table, the sound of wind slipping past a chimney, the ring of a dropped coin on a cobblestone. It was a music made of the sounds of life. Then I slipped deeper into it, and discovered it was not music on this new level, but was instead a pattern. The sounds were separated from one another by different degrees of pitch, but there was a pattern to that as well as to how they were repeated. It was rather like approaching a tapestry. One sees first the whole picture that is formed, then a closer inspection reveals the material used to make up the images. A deeper study reveals the individual stitches, the different colors and textures of the threads.

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