Golden fool, p.57
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       Golden Fool, p.57

         Part #2 of Tawny Man series by Robin Hobb
Page 211


  I awoke to low voices. “Then he is well enough to rise and eat?” Chade asked.

  “Barely,” Lord Golden replied. “Better to go slowly. He has no reserves of strength to call upon. Yet if you set tasks before him now, he will still—”

  “I’m awake,” I called out. It came out as a croak. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Chade, I’m awake. ”

  He came quickly to the door of the room and smiled in at me. His white hair gleamed in shining curls and he seemed vital and energetic. He looked down with disdain at Kettricken’s cushion beside my bed. “Let me get a chair, boy, and I’ll sit and we’ll chat a bit. You’re looking much better. ”

  “I can get up. ”

  “Can you? Ah. Well, take my hand and up you come. No, let me help you, don’t be stubborn. Shall we sit by the fire?”

  Thus he spoke to me, as if I were a trifle simple. I accepted it as his concern for me, and allowed him to support me as I walked. I lowered myself into one of the cushioned chairs before the hearth. He took the other with a sigh. I looked about for the Fool, but Lord Golden was busy at his desk again.

  Chade smiled at me and stretched his feet out toward the fire. “I’m so glad to see you doing so well, Fitz. You gave us quite a scare. It took everything we could muster to pull you back. ”

  “And that is something we need to talk about,” I told him gravely.

  “Yes, but not just now. For now, you are to take things slowly and not tax yourself. Sleep and food are what you chiefly need. ”

  “Real food,” I stipulated firmly. “Meat. I won’t gain any strength on that pap they sent up this morning. ”

  His eyebrows rose. “Feeling crotchety, are we? Well, that’s to be expected. I’ll see you get meat at noon. All you had to do was tell us you were ready for it. After all, up until a few moments ago, I hadn’t even heard you speak since we brought you home. ”

  It was unreasonable, but I felt my temper rise. Tears stung my eyes. I turned away from him, trying to master myself. What was wrong with me?

  Chade spoke as if in answer to my thought. “Fitz. Boy. Don’t expect too much of yourself just yet. I’ve seen you through a number of hard times, and this was the worst yet. Give your mind time to recover, as well as your body. ”

  I took a breath to tell him I was fine. Instead I said, “I expected to die down there. Alone. ” And my discordant memories of my jail cell rushed back to fill me. I recalled both my terror and my despair, and felt anger that I had to bear those memories. They had left me there. Chade, the Fool, Kettricken, Dutiful—all of them.

  “I feared the same,” Chade said quietly. “It was a hard time for all of us, but for you, worst of all. Still, if you had heeded me—”

  “Well, of course, it was all my own fault. It always is. ”

  Lord Golden spoke over his shoulder to Chade. “There’s no talking to him when he’s like this. You will only upset him more. Best just to let it go for now. ”

  “Be silent!” I roared at him, but my voice cracked to a squeak on the second word. Chade looked at me in wordless reproach and concern. I pulled my knees up to my chest so I was sitting in a ball in the chair. My breath was coming in shuddering gasps. I wiped my sleeve across my eyes. I would not weep. They expected me to fall apart, but I would not. I had been ill, and I’d had a bad scare. That was all. I dragged in a steadying breath. “Just talk to me,” I begged Chade. I unfolded my shaking legs and planted my feet on the floor again. I hated that such weakness had come over me like that. “Tell me what is happening, without making me ask all the stupid questions. Start with Civil. ”

  Chade heaved a sigh. “I don’t think this is wise. ” I began to protest but he held up his hand. “Nevertheless, I’ll let you have your way in this. Very well. Civil. He got to his horse and came back to Buckkeep Castle as swiftly as he could without drawing attention to himself. When he got to Dutiful, he could scarcely croak out a word for how he had been strangled. But he got it across that Lord Golden’s serving man had rescued him from murderers in Buckkeep Town. That was as much as he told Dutiful, then. It was enough for the Prince to bring to me, and for me to set other feet running. ”

  He cleared his throat, and then admitted, “It took us longer than it should have to find you. I had not expected you to kill nor had I thought you would let the City Guard take you alive. But when I knew you had been arrested and charged, I got a man into the cell with you as quickly as we could. Unfortunately, they had already had a healer see you, so I could not send in one of my own. The sergeant was very stubborn about releasing you. He was sure you’d killed those three men and some brawl you’d previously been involved in had marked you as a troublemaker in his eyes. Lord Golden had to complain of his missing jewels thrice before any of the guards thought to go search Laudwine’s cottage and find them there. I’d already provided a witness that you hadn’t started the fight. That was as far along as I could nudge it. By the time the sergeant put together that you’d been defending your master’s property from thieves and released you to us, it was damn near too late. ”

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  “As far as you could nudge them,” I said flatly. Alone and cold and dying. He’d “nudged” them.

  “The Queen wanted to do more. She wanted to simply march her own guard down there and remove you from the cell. I couldn’t allow it, Fitz. For, yes, there were other Piebalds. The day after you killed Laudwine, there were scrolls posted in several places, saying that Laudwine and Padget were Witted, and that agents of the Queen had killed both them and their Wit-beasts. And it mocked her avowed intent to end unjust persecution of the Witted. It warned any of Old Blood not to be stupid enough to trust her and come to her Old Blood convocation. And it ended by saying that she and her minions would kill anyone who tried to speak the truth: that her own son was Witted. ” He paused a moment. “So you see now. I had to leave you there. I didn’t want to, Fitz. And I shouldn’t have to tell you that. ”

  I put my face down in my hands. Yes. I should have heeded Chade. I had precipitated this. “I suppose I should have let them kill Civil. And then run and reported the murder. ”

  “That would have been one way,” Chade agreed. “But I think it would have damaged your relationship with Dutiful, even if you had concealed that you could have prevented his friend’s death. And now, I think that is enough for today. Back to bed with you. ”

  “No. Finish this, at least. What did you do about the scrolls accusing Dutiful?”

  “Do? Nothing, of course. We ignored them as ridiculous. And we took great care that there was no royal interest in Lord Golden’s serving man confined in a cell. The City Guard had their murderer. Let justice take its course. The posted accusations were ridiculous, a wild attempt by someone to smear the Prince’s good name. It was doubly ridiculous, in that the Prince still bore the deep scratches from his good friend’s hunting cat. Surely a coursing beast would not attack a Witted one. All know the power Witted have over animals. And so on. In time, it was shown that the dead men were no better than common thieves. There was nothing of the Wit in what had happened, and certainly no royal interference. Thieves had been killed by a good servant protecting his master’s property. ”

  “So. The Wit accusation was why you had to leave me there to rot. ” I tried to put acceptance into my words. Part of me understood. Part of me hated him.

  He winced at my choice of words, but nodded. “I’m sorry, Fitz. We had no choice. ”

  “I know. And my own actions had brought it upon me. ” I tried to keep bitterness out of my voice and nearly succeeded. I was suddenly horribly tired, but there was more I needed to know. “And Civil?”

  “Once I discovered who was dead, I knew I had to question him. I squeezed it all out of him. And what had triggered his action also. His mother killed herself, Fitz. She had sent the lad a message, begging his forgiveness, but saying she could not go on as things were.
That she could not live with what he must be doing to buy her safety, even when it was a false sanctuary where men assaulted her at will. ”

  The ugliness of what he implied sickened me. “Then Civil had meant to let them kill him. ”

  “His mother was dead. I think he meant to kill them, not caring if he died in the attempt, but he didn’t even know how to begin. He was full of lofty ideals of duels and fair challenges. Laudwine never even gave him a chance to demand his right of combat. ”

  “What now for Civil?”

  Chade took a breath. “It’s complicated. Dutiful insisted on being with him while I questioned him. Civil is Dutiful’s man now, heart and soul. His prince defended him to me. If he must have a Witted one serving him, we have at least pulled that one’s teeth. The Prince is fully convinced, and I almost am, that the Bresingas acted under duress. If the Piebalds ever held any of Civil’s loyalty, his mother’s suicide and their previous treatment of her have purged it from him. He hates them more than we ever could. Lady Bresinga was pressured into presenting the cat to the Prince, under threat that the Piebalds would betray her son and herself as Witted. But once she had done so, she was completely within their power. She was not only Witted; she had committed a treasonous act against the Prince. The Piebalds separated them, mother from son. Civil was sent to Buckkeep. They ordered him to maintain his friendship with the Prince, to draw him deeper into the Wit, and to spy for them. If he did so, they promised his mother would be safe. His mother’s home, Galekeep, became her prison. The Piebalds became greedy swiftly. First, it was her home, her wine cellar, and her wealth. If she did not accommodate them, then they threatened her son. Eventually, some of the men evidently availed themselves of the Lady herself. She could not live with that. I think they misjudged her strength of will, and that of her son. ” It was an ugly, sobering story. But I did not let my mind dwell on it. I had more immediate concerns.

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  “What of Henja? Did the Prince tell you that I saw her?”

  His face grew graver. “He did. But . . . is it possible you were mistaken? For my spies in town have heard not a whisper of her. ”

  I forced myself to consider the memory of that glimpse. “I was hurt and it was dark. But . . . I do not think I was mistaken. And I believe she was the woman who was there when Thick was. She offered gold to Padget and Laudwine for the Fool and me . . . I think. It was hard to decide what she was trying to buy from them. Laudwine didn’t like her. She seems to be involved in all of this somehow. ”

  Chade lifted a hand, palm up. “If she is, she has covered her tracks well. There is no sign of her in Buckkeep Town that I can discover. ”

  That was small comfort. His spies had not found Laudwine, either. I kept that complaint to myself.

  “We still have a Piebald spy here in Buckkeep. The man who led Thick to Laudwine. ”

  Chade’s voice was neutral. “Civil’s groom met with a most unfortunate accident. He was found dead in a stud horse’s stall, kicked to death. Why he would have gone into the stall at all is a mystery. ”

  I nodded. Another thread tied off. “And Civil’s mother and holdings?”

  Chade looked away from me. “The tragic news reached us the day after you were taken prisoner. Lady Bresinga died of food poisoning. A number of her guests and servants died with her. It was horribly sad, but not the least bit shameful or scandalous. Her body was discovered first, but over the next few days, others sickened and swiftly died. Tainted fish is what I heard. Lady Bresinga’s body was sent to her mother’s home for burial. Civil is attending to that sad duty. Prince Dutiful sent his own honor guard with him as a token of the high esteem he holds him in. Civil understands that when the details have been settled, he will return to Buckkeep, to remain at Buckkeep Castle until he reaches his majority. Galekeep will be shuttered, though our Lady Queen has lent Civil staff and a steward to maintain the place in his absence. ”

  I nodded slowly. The Prince might call Civil friend, but he would be Chade’s well-kept and pampered prisoner for the next few years. It was an apt solution. He could perceive it as protection or as a cage. All had been neatly managed. I wondered if Lady Rosemary had found a sudden reason to visit her friend at Galekeep, or if the spy that Chade had in place there had done the poisoning. It would have been difficult for Rosemary to travel, burned as she was. Then I suddenly turned to look at Chade. He met my scrutiny with a puzzled expression. I leaned forward suddenly and, before he could draw back, touched his cheek. No paint came off on my fingers. Sound, pink flesh. No trace of healing burns.

  “Oh, Chade,” I rebuked him, and my voice shook with shock. “Have a care, man! You charge in blindly and none of us know the cost. None of us. ”

  He allowed himself a smile. “I care little for the cost, when I know the benefit so well already. My burns are healed. For the first time in years, I walk with no pains in my knees and hips. I sleep free of pain at night. I even see more clearly. ”

  “You are not doing this alone. ”

  He looked at me, refusing to answer, and I knew the answer.

  “You’ve been tapping Thick’s strength,” I accused him in a low voice.

  “He doesn’t mind. ”

  “You don’t know the dangers. He doesn’t understand the risks. ”

  “And neither do you!” he replied sharply. “Fitz, there are times to be cautious and times to be bold. The time has come for us to take these risks. We need to discover all the Skill truly can do. When the Prince goes on his quest to slay Icefyre, you will go with him. And you must know the Skill’s powers by then, and must be capable of wielding them. This”—and he slapped his chest soundly—“this is a miracle and a wonder. If we had had this at our disposal when Shrewd was ill, he never would have died. Think what that would have meant!”

  “Yes, think,” I rejoined. “Think of Shrewd, alive still and ruling here. Then ask yourself, why isn’t that so? For he was not trained by Galen. Solicity was his Skillmistress. Can not we assume that he knew far more of the Skill than we do? Perhaps even how to prolong his life? So then, let us ask, why did he not do it? Why did not Solicity herself do it? Did they know that there was a price attached to that, a price too high to pay?”

  “Or did he merely lack a coterie to assist him in his efforts?” Chade countered.

  “He could have used Galen’s Coterie, if that was the case. ”

  “Pah! You don’t know that, and neither do I. Why must you be so pessimistic? Why must you always assume the worst?”

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  “Maybe I learned caution from a wise old man. One who is now behaving foolishly. ”

  Chade’s cheeks flushed pink. Anger lit his eyes. “You are not yourself. Or, perhaps it is even worse than that. You are yourself. Listen to me, you whelp. I watched my brother die. I watched King Shrewd dwindle, and I was beside him in the days when he did not know that his mind wandered, and I was beside him in the days when he was cognizant of the weakness of his body and his mind, and shamed to tears by it. I do not know which days were worse to witness. If he had had the Skill to change that, he would have done it, no matter the cost. This is Skill knowledge that was lost to us. I intend to regain it. And to use it. ”

  I think he expected me to roar back at him. I half-expected myself to, and perhaps I would have if I had not felt such a combination of weakness, despair, and fear. Chade had frightened me badly when his health and mind were failing and I feared we might lose his wealth of information and connections. Now, health-filled and bright-eyed, with ambition burning in him, he terrified me. I had known this side of Chade existed, known that he had always hungered to master the Skill. I had never known I’d have to confront that appetite. I took two deep breaths and spoke quietly. “Is that decision yours to make?”

  A frown furrowed his brows. “What do you mean? Who else should make it?”

  “The Skillmaster, perhaps, should say how th
e Skill is applied at Buckkeep. Especially among inexperienced students. ” I met his gaze sternly. In truth, he was the one who had pushed me into accepting the responsibility of the position. I wondered if he winced now at how his own stubbornness in this had turned to bite him.

  He was incredulous. “You’re saying you’d forbid me this? And expect me to obey you?” Hands on his knees, he leaned forward in his chair to confront me.

  I did not want to meet him head-on in a clash of wills. I had not the strength just now. I turned the question. “There was another Farseer who tried to use the Skill to his own ends. He himself was neither strong nor talented with the Skill, but he used the strength of his coterie to gain his ends. He used them ruthlessly, regardless of what it did to them, how it drained them or twisted their own wills. Will you become another Regal?”

  “I am nothing like Regal!” Chade spat at me. “For one thing, his interest was all for himself. You know that I have spent my entire life laboring tirelessly for the Farseer reign. And for another difference, I will develop my own Skill. I will not long be dependent on another’s strength. ”

  “Chade. ” My voice came out in a cracked whisper. I cleared my throat, but still spoke weakly. “Perhaps you will develop your own Skill. But not if you go on as you have, experimenting alone, taking chances with yourself, and now risking Thick, who has no concept of the danger you may represent. ” I wasn’t sure he was listening to me. He was staring past me, his green eyes going far. I spoke on anyway, hearing my own voice failing and starting to rasp. “You need to learn the dangers of the magic, Chade, before you wade into it and start using it for your own ends. The Skill is not a toy, nor is it something that any user should employ solely for his own benefit. ”

  “It wasn’t fair!” Chade protested suddenly. “They denied me the teaching, the teaching that I should have had. I was as much a Farseer as Shrewd. I should have been taught. ”

  I was tiring rapidly. I had to win this, or at least fight him to a draw before I collapsed back into my bed. “No. It wasn’t fair,” I agreed. “But using Thick as your crutch and tool is not fair, either. Nor will it replace the proper teaching you should have had. That you must get for yourself. Thick is strong with the Skill, and has no concept of what dangers that may present to him. Nor has he the will to resist your using his magic for your own purposes. He will not warn you when you are taking too much from him, and you will not know you have taken it until it is too late. It is wrong of you to tap his strength as if he were a bullock hitched to your cart. He may be simple, but in Skill at least, he is our equal. He’s a member of our coterie. As such you should be brothers, regardless of your varying abilities. ”

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