Golden fool, p.49
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       Golden Fool, p.49

         Part #2 of Tawny Man series by Robin Hobb

  Thick looked at me as if I were stupid. “No. Not on the bread-making day. On the washing day. When the sheets hang to dry. Then I go, and I get my pennies. ”

  “On the washing day. Of course. That’s tomorrow. That’s good, then. Because I didn’t forget about the pink sugar cake. I wanted to give it to you today. Could you wait for me in Chade’s room for a while? I might not be fast, but I want to bring it to you. ”

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  “A pink sugar cake. ” I watched him search his mind. I don’t think he even recalled that I had promised him one. I tried to remember what else he had asked for. A scarf like Rowdy’s. A red one. Raisins. My mind raced. It was like one of Chade’s old games for me. What else? A knife. And a peacock feather. And pennies for sweets, or the sweets themselves. I’d have to get them all before tomorrow.

  “Yes. A pink sugar cake. Not a burned one. I know you like them. ” I prayed there would be such a thing in the kitchens.

  “Yes!” His little eyes lit with an expression I’d never seen on his face before. Joyful anticipation. “Yes. I’ll wait. You’ll bring it soon. ”

  “Well, not very soon. Not very fast. But today. You will wait for me there, and not go anywhere else?”

  He had frowned when I said “not fast,” but he nodded grudgingly.

  “That’s good, Thick. You’re a very good student. You go there now, and wait for me. ”

  As soon as the mantel door swung shut behind him, Dutiful opened his mouth to speak. I made a hand motion to silence him. I waited until I was sure that even Thick’s plodding pace would have carried him far out of hearing. Then I sank down onto a chair.

  “Laudwine,” Dutiful said in a shocked whisper.

  I nodded. I wasn’t ready to speak yet. Laudwine had called me “bastard. ” A bastard or the Bastard? I wondered.

  “What shall we do?”

  I lifted my eyes and looked at my prince. His dark eyes were large in his paled face. Chade’s walls and spies had failed us. I suddenly felt that I alone stood between him and the Piebalds. Perhaps I always had. I was selfishly glad that Laurel was gone, out of Laudwine’s reach. At least I didn’t have to worry about her. “You must do nothing. Nothing!” I emphasized the word as he opened his mouth to protest it. “You must not do anything out of the ordinary, anything that would let anyone know that we suspect a plot. Today must be like any other day. But you must stay within the walls of Buckkeep. ”

  He was silent for a breath. Then, “I promised Civil Bresinga that I’d go out riding with him. Just he and I. We were going to slip off on our own, to hunt with his cat this afternoon. He came to my room, very late last night, to ask me. ” He drew a breath and I watched him look at Civil’s invitation in a different light. His voice was lower as he said, “He seemed agitated. And he looked as if he had been weeping. When I asked him if he were feeling well, he assured me that the problem he had was one of his own making, and nothing a friend could help with. I assumed it had to do with a girl. ”

  I absorbed that information and then asked, “His cat is here?”

  The Prince nodded shamefacedly. “He pays an old woman for the use of a shed, at the edge of the woods down near the river landing. She feeds the cat, but lets it come and go as it wishes. And Civil visits with her as often as he can. ” He took a breath and admitted, “I’ve been there with him before. Once. Late at night. ”

  I bit back everything I wanted to say. It was no time for angry rebukes. Most of my anger was for myself. I’d failed there, too. “Well. You’re not going today. You’re developing a boil on your butt. That’s why you can’t go with him. Tell him why when you excuse yourself from it. ”

  “I don’t want . . . I won’t say that. That’s embarrassing. I’ll say I have a headache. Tom, I don’t think Civil is a traitor. I don’t think he’d betray me. ”

  “You will say that, and exactly that, because it is embarrassing. A headache sounds like a ploy. A boil on your ass doesn’t. ” I took a breath, and hedged around what I suspected. “Maybe Civil isn’t a traitor to you. But it could be that someone else is using him to get you out and away from Buckkeep’s walls. Or it could be that someone has threatened him, saying, oh, saying that they’ll expose his mother as Witted if he doesn’t deliver you. So. Whether or not you trust Civil is not the question. Buy me time. Go make your excuses. And take care to walk gingerly, and avoid anything that you would avoid if you really had a boil. ”

  He scowled but he nodded. It gave me a small measure of relief. But then he added, “It’s not going to be easy to beg off. He said he needed to ask a special favor of me today. ”

  “What was it?”

  “I’m not sure. Something to do with his cat, I think. ”

  “All the more reason to avoid being out with him. ” I tried to think of all the possible ramifications. Another thought intruded. “Has Civil brought you any other animals? Has he tried to offer you a Wit-partner?”

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  “Do you think I’d be stupid enough to trust him if he did?” The Prince was both flustered and angered by my question. “I’m not an idiot, Tom. No. In fact, Civil has told me that I must not bond with any creature until at least a year has passed. That is the Old Blood custom. There is a set time of mourning. It is to be sure that when the human next takes a partner, it is based on a true attraction between them, not as a replacement for one who has been lost. ”

  “It sounds to me as if Civil has been telling you a great deal about the Old Blood ways. ”

  For a moment, Prince Dutiful was silent. Then he said coldly, “You declined to teach me, Tom. Yet I knew, in my guts, that this was something I had to know. Not just to protect myself, but to master my own magic. I will not be ashamed of my Wit, Tom. Conceal it I must, because of the unjust hatred many bear for it. But I will not be ashamed nor walk away from it. ”

  There seemed very little I could do or say about that. A traitorous thought whispered that the boy was right. How much better would it have been for Nighteyes and me if I had been educated in my magic before I took up with him? Eventually, I replied stiffly, “I am sure that my prince will do as he thinks best then. ”

  “Yes. I will,” he agreed. And then, as if he had won some point, he shifted his tactic and asked me suddenly, “So I will pretend that I know nothing. And what will you do? For I fear you are in as great a danger as I am. No, greater. My name will protect me, to some extent. They would have to prove me Witted before they could move against me. But you, I fear, you could be bludgeoned in an alley in Buckkeep Town and folk might think it just another incident. You have no name to protect you, Tom. ”

  I nearly smiled. The very fact that my name was unknown was what protected me, and it was that shield I must strive to maintain. “I have to go seek Chade. Right away. If you wish to do anything to aid me today, you might let the kitchen know that you’ve a fancy for pink sugar cakes today. ”

  He nodded gravely. “Is there no other way I can help?”

  The offer was sincere, and that moved me. He was my prince, and yet he offered to serve me. I could have refused him. But I think he valued it more when I said, “Actually, yes, you can. Besides the pink sugar cake, I need a large bunch of nice raisins, a red neck scarf, a good sheath knife, and a peacock feather. ” As the Prince’s eyes grew round at this odd list, I impetuously added, “A bowl of nuts and some sweets would also be a good idea. If you can bring them here with no one noticing, that would be very helpful. From here, I can take them to Chade’s den. ”

  “They are all for Thick? You will buy his loyalty?” He sounded outraged.

  “Yes. They are for Thick. But not to buy him. At least, not exactly. I need to win him to us, Dutiful. We will start with gifts and attentions. I think that the attentions will be more important, eventually, than the gifts. You heard from him what his life has been like. Why should he feel any loyalty to anyone? Let me tell you something from
experience, my prince. Anyone, even a king, can begin to buy a man with gifts. And at first it may seem no more than that between them. But eventually, loyalty and even deep regard can spring up. For when we are cared for by someone, or when we care for someone, that is the beginning of the bond. ” My mind wandered for an instant, not just to King Shrewd and myself, but also to what Hap and I shared, and on to what had grown between Burrich and me, and then Chade and myself. “So. We begin with the simple gifts that might ease a simple heart. ”

  “A bath wouldn’t hurt him, either. And some whole clothes. ” The Prince spoke thoughtfully, not sarcastically.

  “You’re right,” I said quietly. I doubt that he knew how I meant my words. Let him be the one who puzzled out how to win Thick’s heart. For in the end, the bond I sought to forge must be between these two. I suddenly shared Chade’s conviction that the Prince must have a coterie. There might come a time when “Don’t see him, don’t see him” would keep a rope away from his neck.

  We parted to our separate tasks. I hurried through the labyrinth of corridors to emerge in my bedchamber. From thence, I went straight through the Fool’s rooms without even pausing to see if he was awake. A few moments later, I was striding up the stairs to the part of the castle where the Queen’s most favored councilor had his chambers. I wished there was a more subtle way for me to contact him, but I had resolved that if anyone stopped me, I would simply lie and say I was delivering a message from Lord Golden.

  Despite all that had happened, it was still early morning. Most of the folk moving quietly within Buckkeep were servants, busy with the tasks that would make their masters’ mornings go more smoothly. Some hauled buckets of wash water, and others carried breakfast trays. A healer carrying a tray of lint and pots of salve hastened past my long-legged stride. The little woman was trotting doggedly, her cheeks red, as if hurry were of the utmost importance. I surmised she might be going to Chade’s chambers to treat his burns. When she suddenly halted in front of me, I nearly stumbled over her. I caught my balance by clapping a hand to the wall, and then apologized.

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  “No need, no need. Just open this door for me, please. ”

  It wasn’t Chade’s door. I had long ago made certain that I knew where his chamber was. But my curiosity was piqued, so as I set my hand to the door, I earnestly exclaimed, “I do hope Lady Modesty is not badly injured. You carry many supplies. ”

  The healer shook her head irritably. “This is not Lady Modesty’s chamber. Lady Rosemary is the one who needs my services. A fall of soot in her chimney last night ignited right in her face, poor thing. She has burned both her hands, and quite scorched her beautiful hair. Open the door, man. ”

  I gawked as I did so, and then risked a hasty glance inside before I pulled it shut. Lady Rosemary’s cheeks and brow were as red as Chade’s had been. She was garbed in a yellow wrapper and sat in a chair near the window as a maid busily snipped the singed ends from her hair. She held her hands before her, draped in wet cloths, as if they pained her. Then the door closed, shutting off my peek.

  I swayed slightly where I stood as I put it together. I’d uncovered one too many secrets this morning. Lady Rosemary was Chade’s new apprentice. Well, and why not? Regal had given little Rosemary her basic assassin’s training years ago. Why waste a trained spy? Somehow the very practicality of it saddened me. Yet I had heard more than one Farseer say it: the weapon you discard today can be used against you tomorrow. Better to keep Lady Rosemary well in hand than to chance someone else might use her against us.

  I walked more slowly as I went on to Chade’s room. What I had discovered did not give my present mission any less urgency, yet I felt my mind was crowded with too many thoughts to clearly follow any of them. I knocked and a lad of about ten opened the door to me. I spoke in a loud and jovial tone. “Good morn, young sirruh! Tom Badgerlock, servant to Lord Golden I am, with a message to deliver to Councilor Chade. ”

  The boy blinked up at me. He had not been awake long. “My master is not well today,” he finally said. “He will see no one. ”

  I smiled at him affably. “Oh, I need not see him, young master. He only needs to hear me for me to pass the message. May I not speak to him?”

  “I’m afraid not. I can take the message from you if you wish. ”

  “Oh, he didn’t write it down, young master. He just trusted me to repeat his words. ” I boomed out the message, heedless of the quiet of the corridors behind me and the silence of the dim and shuttered chamber. The boy cast a glance toward a closed door behind him. That would be Chade’s bedroom then. My heart sank. The old man could well have gone back to bed after his injury. And if he slept behind a closed door, his hearing damped by his mishap, I had small chance of him hearing my voice and coming out.

  “And that message would be?” the young page asked me firmly. He smiled pleasantly but stood solidly in the doorway, barring my access. Obviously I was like many a man-at-arms around Buckkeep: not very bright to begin with, and not improved by a few blows to the head over the years.

  I cleared my throat, and bobbed a bow in his direction. “Lord Golden of Jamaillia invites Lord Chade of Buckkeep, Chief Councilor to Queen Kettricken of the Six Duchies, this morning for breakfast and to share a most amusing game of risk. It is a game he has only recently learned, and believes the councilor will find it most intriguing. ‘Laudwine’ they call it, in its place of origin. Each player receives a single hand of markers, and his entire fate depends on beating the other players at taking chances before the time runs out. There’s been some word of it being played down in Buckkeep Town, though my master has not heard exactly where. ”

  The little page’s jaw was beginning to hang open. He had been well schooled, I am sure, in exactly relaying verbal messages, but not ones of this length. I kept smiling and pitching my voice to carry through the closed doors. “But the most intriguing part of this game is that it was traditionally played only on wash days. Fancy that! Now it can be played on almost any day, but the stakes wagered are always the highest on wash day. ”

  “I’ll tell him,” the page interrupted. “That he is invited to play a game of Laudwine in Lord Golden’s chambers. But I fear he will decline. As I have told you, he is not feeling well today. ”

  “Well, that’s not up to you and me, now, is it? We’re only the ones who have to be sure the messages are passed on. Thank you now and good morning to you. ”

  I turned and went off down the hall humming to myself. I tried not to look as if I were in a hurry. I went to the kitchens and loaded a very ample meal onto a tray. To keep up the pretense that Lord Golden would be entertaining Councilor Chade in his chambers, I took extra plates and cups as well, and then carried it up to his chamber. I reached the door of the room just in time to intercept Chade’s page. The lad had come bringing Chade’s apologies that he could not attend, due to a terrible headache. I promised to pass his regrets on to my master. I had scarcely entered the room and latched the door behind me and set the tray down on the table before Chade stepped out of my bedroom. “What’s this about Laudwine?” he demanded.

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  He looked, if anything, worse. The reddened skin on his brow and cheeks was peeling now, giving him a leprous look. At least he was speaking in closer to normal tones. I tested him, asking, “Is your hearing coming back?” in a low voice.

  He scowled at me. “It’s somewhat better, but I’ll still need you to speak up for me to hear you clearly. Enough of that. What is this about Laudwine?”

  At that moment, Lord Golden emerged from his chamber, still tying the belt of his morning robe. “Ah. Good morning, Councilor Chade. This is an unexpected pleasure, but I see that my servant has greeted you and supplied breakfast for both of us. Please be seated. ”

  Chade glowered at him, and then transferred the scowl to me. “Enough! I don’t care what your grievances with one another are right now. T
his is a threat to the Farseer throne, and I won’t tolerate any nonsense. Fool, keep quiet. FitzChivalry, report. ”

  The Fool shrugged and dropped into the chair opposite Chade. Without any ceremony, he began dishing up food for my old mentor. It stung me that he would revert to being his old self for Chade, but not for me. I sat down at table with them. The Fool had left my plate empty. I served myself as I spoke. I reported the morning thoroughly. Chade’s expression grew more alarmed as I progressed, but he did not interrupt. To pay the Fool back in kind, I didn’t even glance at him as I spoke. When I was finally finished, I poured tea for Chade and myself and attacked my food. I discovered I was ravenous.

  After a long moment of silence, Chade asked me, “Have you planned an action?”

  I shrugged with a casualness I didn’t feel. “It seems obvious. Keep Thick close so he can’t give the game away. Keep the Prince safe within doors today and tomorrow. Find out from Thick where he’s been going to report. Investigate the place. Go in and kill as many as possible, making sure that Laudwine dies this time. ” I kept my voice steady, yet I felt a sudden revulsion for my own words. So it begins again, I thought. Not the killing in battle or under attack, but the quietly planned assassinations for the Farseers. Had I said I was not an assassin, would never be one again? I wondered if I had been a liar or an idiot to voice such words.

  “Stop showing off for the Fool. He isn’t impressed,” Chade responded gruffly.

  If he had not hit the mark so neatly, I would not have been so chagrined. Yes. I had been posturing. I didn’t even dare glance at the Fool to see how he had reacted to Chade’s remark. I shoveled another mouthful of food in to keep from having to say anything.

  Chade’s next remark shocked me. “No killing, Fitz. And you stay away from all of them. I don’t like their spying, and I’m ashamed at how neat a ruse they used against me. But we cannot risk killing any Witted ones just now without compromising our queen’s word. You are aware that Kettricken offered to entertain a delegation from the Old Blood community, to work on solving the issue of unjust persecution?” At my nod, he continued. “Well, she has received messages in the last two days taking her up on her proposal. I suspect Laurel has had a hand in these arrangements. Don’t you?”

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