Golden fool, p.50
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       Golden Fool, p.50

         Part #2 of Tawny Man series by Robin Hobb

  The old man shot the question and his grim look at me simultaneously. But if he had hoped to surprise a secret out of me, he failed. After a moment’s consideration, I nodded. “It does seem possible to me. Then they do this . . . this is being arranged without your guidance?” It was the most tactful way I could think of to say it.

  Chade nodded, grimmer than ever. “Not only without my guidance but against my counsel. We scarcely need another diplomatic worry to deal with now. Nonetheless, I suppose we will have one. The Queen seems to be leaving all the details of the meeting’s time and place up to the Witted to determine. They have specified that to protect themselves, we must all maintain secrecy. There will be no announcement of this convocation until they tell us they are ready. I think they fear what our nobles would do if they knew this was planned. As do I!” He took a breath and recovered his aplomb. “An exact date has not been set, but they have promised us ‘soon. ’ It may very well be that Laudwine is an emissary for the Witted ones. To kill him in his lodgings before he can meet with the Queen would be . . . politically unwise. ”

  “Not to mention rude,” the Fool interjected between bites of bread. He wagged a remonstrating finger at Chade.

  “So I’m to do nothing?” I asked coldly.

  “Not exactly,” Chade said mildly. “You were wise to do what you have done. Keep Thick confined. Don’t let him report back to them. See what other information you can wangle out of him. And you were correct to tell Dutiful not to be alone with Civil Bresinga. It may have been an innocent invitation, but it might also have been a ploy to give them a hostage. I have still not been able to determine how deeply the Bresingas were involved in the last kidnapping. The reports I get back from Galekeep are odd. For a time, I suspected that Lady Bresinga herself was in danger or some sort of hostage. Her movements were so limited and her life so restrained. Then I came to wonder if it were not merely a financial difficulty. Reports are now that she drinks far more than she used to. She retires early to bed and rises late. So. ” He sighed. “I’ve made no decision there. And with the Queen’s efforts to befriend the Witted faction, I dared not take action against the Bresingas. I still don’t know if they are threat or ally. ” He fell silent, scowling, and then added, “It is damnable bad luck that I have done this to my face just when I most need to get out and about and speak to people. Yet I cannot afford to excite comment. Some might make unwarranted connections. ”

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  The Fool rose quietly from the table and went to his bedchamber. When he returned, he had a small pot of cosmetic. He set it on the table near Chade’s elbow. When the old assassin glanced curiously at it, he spoke quietly. “This is most efficacious for the skin peeling. There is a bit of color in it to lighten the skin, as well. If the color is too much, let me know. I can change it. ” I noticed that he did not ask Chade what had happened to him, nor did Chade volunteer anything. The Fool added cautiously, “If you wish, I can show you how to apply it. We might be able to restore some of your eyebrows as well. ”

  “Please,” Chade said after a moment. And so a place was cleared at the corner of the breakfast table, and the Fool brought out his paints and powders and went to work. It was, in a way, fascinating to watch him at his task. Chade appeared uncomfortable at first, but soon became involved in the task, studying himself in a looking glass as the Fool restored his appearance. When the Fool was finished, Chade nodded, well pleased, and observed, “Would that I had had paint and artifice of this quality when I was playing Lady Thyme. I would not have had to wear so many veils, nor smell so foul to make folk keep their distance. ”

  The memories that aroused made me grin. At the same time, I knew a moment’s unease. It was unlike Chade to speak so carelessly his secrets, no matter how old they were. Did he assume I had told the Fool all there was to know of us? Or did he trust the man that completely? He raised a hand to pat his cheek, but the Fool made a cautioning gesture. “Touch your face as little as possible. Take these pots with you, and make an excuse to be alone with a looking glass after meals. That will be when you will most likely need to make repairs to it. And if you need my aid, simply send me a note inviting me to visit you. I’ll come to your chambers. ”

  “Tell your page you have a question on how the game of Laudwine is played,” I interjected. Without looking at the Fool directly, I explained, “That was my pretext for visiting Chade’s chambers this morning. That you had invited him here for breakfast and to show him a new wagering game. ”

  “An invitation I declined, due to poor health,” Chade added. The Fool nodded gravely. “And now, I must go. Carry on as you have been, Fitz. Have Lord Golden pass me a message with the word ‘horse’ in it if you wish me to meet with you. If you can find out from Thick where Laudwine is staying, let me know quickly. I’ll send a man round to snuff about. ”

  “I think I could do that myself,” I said quietly.

  “No, Fitz. He knows your face. He may know from Thick that you are mine. Better you stay well away from him. ” He lifted his napkin to wipe his mouth. At a warning look from the Fool, he just patted his lips instead. He rose to leave, and then suddenly turned back to me. “The figurine from the Others’ beach, Fitz. You said the Prince believes it to be the Narcheska? Do you think such a thing is possible?”

  I opened my hands and shrugged. “That beach seemed a very odd place to me. When I think back on all that happened there, my memories seem vague and fogged. ”

  “That could have been from passing through the Skill pillars, you said. ”

  I took a breath. “Perhaps. And yet, I think there is more to it. Perhaps the Others or some other being maintain a bewitchment on that place. When I look back, Chade, my decisions make no sense to me. Why didn’t I attempt to follow the path toward the forest? I remember looking at it and thinking that someone must have made it. Yet I had no inclination to even go look at it. No, it was even stronger than that. The woods seemed threatening to me, as no forest has ever seemed unwelcoming before. ” I shook my head. “I think that place has its own magic, neither Wit nor Skill. And it is one I would not willingly experience again. The Skill seemed exceptionally enticing there as well. And . . . ” I let the thought trail away. I was still not ready to speak of whatever-it-was that had plucked both Dutiful and myself from the Skill current and reassembled us. The experience was both too large and too personal.

  “A magic that could present the Prince with a figurine of his bride-to-be, not as she is but as she will be?”

  I shrugged. “Once Dutiful said it, it did seem right to me. I know I’ve seen the Narcheska wear a blue ornament like the one the figurine has. But I’ve never seen her dressed that way, nor has she breasts yet. ”

  “I seem to recall reading that there is some Outislander ceremony, where a girl presents herself thus to demand recognition of her womanhood. ”

  It sounded barbaric to me. I said so, and then added, “There is a resemblance to the Narcheska, but perhaps it is merely the resemblance that all Outislander women have to one another. I don’t think we should give it much consideration right now. ”

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  Chade sighed. “There is too much of the Outislanders that we do not know. Well. I must hasten away. I have much to report to the Queen, and a number of questions that I must ask of other folk. Fitz, as soon as you know anything definite from Thick, get back to me. Send me a message from the Fool with the word ‘lavender’ in it. ”

  My heart jolted in my chest. “I thought you said the word to use was ‘horse,’ ” I said.

  Chade paused at the door of my room. I knew I had rattled him, yet he tried to cover it. “Did I? But that seems too common a word, you know. ‘Lavender’ suits me better. You’re far less likely to write that to me by accident. Farewell. ”

  And he was gone, shutting my bedroom door behind him. I turned back to see if the Fool was as dismayed as I was by the old man’s lapse, but
he was gone. He had ghosted out of the room, taking his paints and powders with him. I sighed to myself and went about the tasks of gathering up the breakfast things. The brief interlude with him this morning had made me more aware than ever of how much I missed him. It cut me deeply that he would be himself to humor Chade, but not me.

  If, I reminded myself sourly, the Fool was indeed who he truly was.

  Chapter XVIII


  Have the student lie on his back. He should not be on a comfortable bed or on a bare surface. Either is a distraction. A blanket folded on the floor suffices. Have the student remove or loosen any clothing that binds. Some students will perform the exercise best if naked and undistracted by clothing touching them. Others will be too distracted by the vulnerability of their nakedness. Let each student decide what is best for him, without comment.

  Emphasize that the only movement of the body should be steady breathing. The eyes should be closed. Then, without moving any part of his body, ask the student to be aware of his body. He may need to be guided in this at first. Tell him to seek awareness of his middle toes without touching or moving them. Then have him think of his knees, but not flexing them. Proceed with the skin of his breast, of his forehead, the backs of his hands, and continue as long as is necessary to name the boundaries of his flesh, until the student has been invited to truly consider the physical confines of the body he lives within. Thus prepared, ask him then to find the edges of his thoughts. Do they stop at the flesh of his brow? Can he feel them encased in his skull or trapped in his chest?

  All but the dullest students will swiftly realize that the body does not confine thoughts. They extend outside our flesh, even as our vision, hearing, touch, smelling, and even taste are senses that link us to the outside world while remaining functions of the physical body. So our thoughts reach out, unbound by distance or even time. Ask the student, “Cannot you smell the wine that is opened across the room? Hear the shouts of sailors at work across the water? Then do not refuse to believe you can hear the thoughts of the man in the field that waft toward you. ”


  I went first to Verity’s tower to see what luck the Prince had had in filling Thick’s list. I was surprised to find that, not only had Dutiful obtained every item, but that he himself was waiting for me.

  “Won’t your friends remark on your absence?” I asked as I surveyed the trove on the table.

  He shook his head. “I made excuses. Sometimes my reputation for being slightly odd serves me well. No one questions that I have sudden needs for solitude. ”

  I nodded to myself as I sorted the items. I folded the red scarf and set it aside. “I’ve seen you wearing this. If I remark it, then others will also. If Thick were seen wearing it, people would assume that he had stolen it. Or that he had some special connection to you. Either would be bad for us. The same for this knife. I appreciate your willingness to part with it, but such a well-crafted blade would only raise questions for him. ” I set the blade on the folded scarf.

  The little pink frosted cake was still slightly warm from the oven. A rich waft of almond rose from it. The peacock feather was long and nodded gracefully when I picked it up. There was an earthenware bowl full of plump raisins. Shelled nutmeats dipped in syrup and set aside to harden glistened among the raisins. “This is wonderful. Thank you. ”

  “Thank you, Tom Badgerlock. ” Dutiful took a deeper breath and then asked, “Do you think Laudwine has come to kill you?”

  “I think that is possible. But Chade seems to think he might be part of a Witted delegation sent to treat with the Queen. So I’ve been ordered to keep my hands off until I’m given further directions. ”

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  “So you’ll do nothing for now. ”

  “Oh, I’ll do a lot of things,” I muttered. “I just won’t go out and immediately kill Laudwine. ”

  The Prince laughed aloud, and I suddenly realized how carelessly I had spoken before him. I was fortunate that he had assumed that I was joking. I forced a smile to my face. “I’ll take these things up to Thick and see what else he has to tell me. And you must remember to go about your day as normally as possible. ”

  He did not look pleased at that, but he conceded the necessity of it. I departed by way of the mantel door. As I climbed the uneven stairs and negotiated the narrow passages, I tried to think through for myself the significance of Laudwine’s presence in Buckkeep Town. Kettricken had called for the Witted to negotiate with her. Since he was the head of the Piebald faction, it made sense that he would come forward to present their views. But as a man who had all but kidnapped the Prince, hoping to take over his life, I was amazed that he dared to stand before Kettricken. She might not hang him for being Witted, but he certainly deserved to die for how he had plotted against the Farseers. And yet, there was the rub. She could level no charges against him without revealing that her son was Witted. All the events around Dutiful’s disappearance had been hushed up or explained away. The nobles of his court believed he had simply gone apart from them for a time to meditate. I wondered if Laudwine intended to use all those circumstances as a club against the Farseers. I sighed, and hoped there would be other, more moderate Old Blood folk that would also step forward. Laudwine, I felt, represented the worst and most extreme of our kind. His sort had made us hated and feared. If he stepped forward alone, claiming to represent all the Witted, that reputation would live on.

  I pushed such thoughts aside as I reached Chade’s chamber. I entered to find Thick sitting disconsolately on the hearthstones before the dwindling fire. He stared into the flames, his tongue protruding from his mouth. “Did you think I’d forgotten?” I asked him as I came in.

  He turned to me, and as his eyes lifted and he beheld the items I carried, a terrible wave of gratitude rushed out from him and enveloped me. He stood up, literally trembling with excitement. “Let’s put these things on the table,” I suggested. He seemed struck dumb. He wiggled like an eager puppy as I pushed scrolls and inkpots carefully out of my way and set down the items one by one. “Prince Dutiful helped me get these things for you,” I told him. “See, here is the pink sugar cake. It’s still warm from the oven. Here is a bowl of raisins for you, and candied nuts. He thought you might like to try the nuts. And the peacock feather, the feather with the eye in it. All for you. ”

  He didn’t try to touch any of it. He stood, staring, his hands clasping one another on top of his rounded belly. His mouth worked as he thought through what I had said. “Prince Dutiful?” he said at last.

  I pulled out a chair for him. “Sit down, Thick. Your prince sends you these things for you to enjoy. ”

  He slowly sank into the chair. His hands crept onto the table, and finally one finger dared to touch the edge of the feather. “My prince. Prince Dutiful. ”

  “That’s right,” I said.

  I had expected him to immediately stuff his mouth with cake and raisins. Instead, he sat for a time with his one stubby finger just touching the shaft of the feather. Then he picked up the pink sugar cake and turned it all over, looking at it from every angle. He carefully set it back on the table. Carefully he drew the bowl of raisins toward him. He took one raisin, looked at it, sniffed it, and then put it in his mouth. He chewed it very slowly, and swallowed it before he took another. I could feel the focus he put into this activity. It was as if he Skilled each raisin, comprehending completely what it was before he ate it.

  I had plenty of time. Even so, the task of hauling water to the Fool’s chambers and then up into Chade’s room was laborious. Before I was finished, the scar on my back ached abominably, and I well understood Thick’s distaste for the task. I poured the last bucket into the copper and set it to heat while I set up the washtub. Thick paid no attention to me. He was still consuming the raisins one at a time. The pink sugar cake sat on the table in front of him, untouched. His con
centration was absolute. As I idly watched him eat, I realized that his teeth gave him problems. Chewing seemed difficult. When he began on the nuts, it became even more evident. I left him alone as he worked his slow way through them. When he was finished, I thought he would finally eat the sugar cake. Instead, he set it in front of himself and admired it. After some time had passed and the hot water began to steam, I asked him gently, “Aren’t you going to eat your cake, Thick?”

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  He frowned thoughtfully. “Eat it, and it’s gone. Like the raisins. ”

  I nodded slowly. “But you could get another one, perhaps. From the Prince. ”

  His gaze had reverted to a suspicious glare. “From the Prince?”

  “Of course. If you do good things that help your prince, he will probably give you good things in return. ” I let him ponder that for a time, and then asked, “Thick, do you have any other clothes?”

  “Other clothes?”

  “Different clothes from what you are wearing. Extra shirt and pants. ”

  He shook his head. “Just these. ”

  Even I had never been so poorly provided for. I hoped it wasn’t true. “What do you wear when those clothes are being washed?” I poured hot water into the tub.


  I gave it up. I really didn’t want to know any more. “Thick, I brought you water and heated it for a bath. ” I went to a shelf and took down Chade’s sewing supplies. At least I could stitch up some of the worst rents.

  “A bath? Like, wash in the river?”

  “Sort of. But with hot water. And soap. ”

  He thought about it for a moment. Then, “I don’t do that. ” He went back to his contemplation of the sugar cake.

  “You might like to try it. It feels nice to be clean. ” I splashed my hand invitingly in the tub.

  For a time he sat still, staring at me. Then he pushed back his chair and came over to the tub. He looked into the water. I splashed my hand in it again. Slowly he knelt down next to the tub. Holding tightly to the edge of the tub with one hand, he splashed with the other. He gave a grunt of amusement, and then said, “It’s warm. ”

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