Golden fool, p.6
Golden Fool, p.6Part #2 of Tawny Man series by Robin Hobb
There was some secret regret in his eyes as he nodded. “If that’s all you wish, that’s fine. For now,” he conceded. He looked at me critically, but his voice was very gentle as he added, “I know you still grieve. But you should let me even your hair out for you, or let someone else do it. It draws attention to you, as it is now. ”
“I’ll see to it myself. Today. Oh. And there is something else. ” Strange, how that first urgent concern had almost been driven from my mind by other fears. I took a breath. It seemed even more difficult to confess my carelessness to him now. “I’ve been foolish, Chade. When I left my cottage, I did so expecting to return to it soon. I left things there . . . dangerous things, perhaps. Scrolls where I have written down my own thoughts, as well as a history of our waking of the dragons that is, perhaps, too accurate to bear sharing. I need to go back there, soon, to either put those scrolls into a safer place or to destroy them. ”
His face had grown graver as I spoke. Now he blew out a long breath. “Some things are better left unwritten,” he observed quietly. Mild as the rebuke was, it still stung. He stared at the wall but seemed to see into a distance. “But I confess, I think it is valuable to have the truth recorded somewhere. Think what it would have saved Verity in his quest for the Elderlings if even one accurate scroll had been preserved. So gather your writings, boy, and bring them to safety here. I advise you to wait a day or so before you depart. The Piebalds may be expecting you to bolt. If you went now, likely you’d have some following you. Let me arrange a time and a way for you to go. Do you want me to send some trustworthy men with you? They’d not know who you were or what you went to retrieve, only that they were to aid you. ”
I considered it, then shook my head. “No. I’ve left too many edges of my secrets showing as it is. I’ll take care of this myself, Chade. But there is one other concern I have. I think the guards on the gates of Buckkeep are entirely too relaxed. With Piebalds about and the Prince’s betrothal and Outislanders visiting, I think they ought to be more vigilant. ”
“I suppose I should see to that as well. Odd. I had thought that persuading you to come here would have eased some of my work onto you and left me more time to be an old man. Instead, you seem intent on giving me ever more to think about and to do. No, do not look at me like that . . . I suppose it is for the best. Work, the old people say, keeps a man young. But perhaps that is something old folk say just because they know they must go on working. Be off with you, Fitz. And try not to discover any more crises for me before the day is out. ”
And so I left him sitting in his chair by his cold fireside, looking both thoughtful and somehow pleased with himself.
On the night that the dastardly Witted Bastard murdered King Shrewd in his room, King-in-Waiting Verity’s Mountain-born queen chose to flee the safety of Buckkeep Castle. Alone and gravid with child, she fled into the cold and inhospitable night. Some say that King Shrewd’s jester, fearing for his own life, begged her protection and accompanied her, but this may be but castle legend to account for his disappearance that night. With the clandestine aid of those sympathetic to her cause, Queen Kettricken crossed the Six Duchies and returned to her childhood home in the Mountain Kingdom. There, she made efforts of her own to discover what had become of her husband, King-in-Waiting Verity. For if he lived, she reasoned, he was now the rightful King of the Six Duchies and their last hope against the depredations of the Red Ships.
She reached the Mountain Kingdom, but her king was not there. She was told that he had left Jhaampe and pressed on in his quest. Nothing had been heard from him since then. Only a few of his men had returned, their wits scattered and some injured as from battle. Her heart knew despair. For a time, she sheltered amongst her native people. One of the tragedies of her arduous journey was the stillbirth of the heir to the Six Duchies throne. It is said that this blow hardened her heart to the necessity of finding her king, for if she did not, his line would die with him and the throne pass to Regal the Pretender. Possessed of a copy of the same map that King Verity had hoped would take him to the land of the Elderlings, Queen Kettricken set out to follow him. Accompanied by the faithful minstrel Starling Birdsong and several servants, the Queen led her band ever deeper into the Mountain fastness. Trolls, pecksies, and the mysterious magic of those forbidding lands were but a few of the obstacles she faced. Nevertheless, eventually she won through to the land of the Elderlings.
It was an arduous search, but eventually she came to the hidden castle of the Elderlings, a vast hall built all of black and silver stone. There she found that her king had persuaded the Dragon-King of the Elderlings to come to the aid of the Six Duchies. This same Dragon-King, recalling the ancient Elderling oath of alliance with the Six Duchies, bent his knee to Queen Kettricken and King Verity. On his back he carried home not only King Verity and Queen Kettricken but also the loyal minstrel Starling Birdsong. King Verity saw his queen and her minstrel safely delivered to Buckkeep. Before his loyal subjects could greet him, before his people even knew he had returned, he left them again. Sword blazing in the sun, he bestrode the Elderling Dragon-King as together they rose into the sky to do battle against the Red Ships.
For the rest of that long and triumphantly bloody season, King Verity led his Elderling allies against the Red Ships. Whenever his folk saw the jewel-bright wings of the dragons in the sky, they knew their king was with them. As the King’s forces struck the Red Ship strongholds and fleet, his loyal dukes rallied to his example. The few Red Ships that were not destroyed fled our shores to carry word of the Farseer wrath back to the Out Islands. When our shores were cleared of marauding invaders and peace restored to the Six Duchies, King Verity kept his pledge to the Elderlings. The price of their aid was that he would reside with them in their distant land, never to return to the Six Duchies. Some say that our king took a deadly injury in the last days of the Red Ship War, and that it was but his body the Elderlings bore away. It is said by those ones that the body of King Verity lies in a vault of ebony and gleaming gold in a vast cave in their mountain keep. There the Elderlings honor forever the valiant man who sacrificed all to seek aid for his people. But others say that King Verity lives still, well feasted and highly acclaimed in the Elderling kingdom, and that if ever again the Six Duchies is in need, he will return with his heroic allies to aid his people.
—“THE BRIEF REIGN OF VERITY FARSEER,” NOLUS THE SCRIBE
I returned to the stuffy darkness of my little cell. Once I had closed the access to the secret passage, I opened the door to the Fool’s chambers in the hopes of gaining at least some natural light. It didn’t help much, but there was little I needed to do. I tidied my bedding and looked around my austere room. Safely anonymous. Anyone might live here. Or no one, I thought sarcastically. I buckled on my ugly sword, and made sure of the knife at my belt before I left the room.
The Fool had left a generous share of the food for me. Cold, it was not especially appetizing, but my hunger made up for it. I finished his breakfast, and then, recalling his instructions to Tom Badgerlock, took the dishes down to the kitchen. On my return trip, I hauled wood for the hearth and water for the pitchers. I dumped and wiped the washing basins and did the other small and necessary chores of the room. I opened the window shutters wide to air the chamber. The view from his window showed me that we would have a fine if chill day. I closed them again before I left.
I had the hours until our afternoon ride to myself, I decided. I thought of going down to Buckkeep Town but swiftly decided against it. I needed to put my thoughts about Jinna in order before I saw her again and I wished to ponder her worries about young Hap. Nor would I risk that Piebalds might be spying on me. The less interest I took in Jinna or my son, the safer they were.
So I took myself down to the practice courts. Weaponsmaster Cresswell greeted me by name and asked if Delleree had been sufficient challenge to my
Wim’s beard was shot with streaks of gray and his waist thickened with his years. I guessed his age at forty-five, a good ten years older than my true age, yet he proved a good match for me. Both his wind and endurance were better than mine were, but I knew a few tricks with a blade that made up for some of that. Even so, he was kind enough, after he had beaten me three times, to assure me that my proficiency and stamina would return with repeated practice. It was small solace. A man likes to think that he has kept his body in good trim, and in truth mine was hardened to the tasks of a small farm as well as to the skills of a frequent hunter. But the muscles and wind of a fighter are a different matter, and I would have to rebuild mine. I hoped I would not need those abilities, but sourly resigned myself to daily practice. Despite the chill day, my shirt was stuck to my back with sweat when I left the practice courts.
I knew they were the territory of the guards and stable hands, yet I made my way to the steams behind the guard barracks anyway. I reasoned that at this time of day, they would be little occupied, and that using them would be more in keeping with Tom Badgerlock’s character than hauling water for a midday bath. The castle steams were in an old building of rough stone, built low and long. I shed my sweaty clothes in the outer chamber that fronted the steam and washing rooms, folding them onto a bench. I lifted Jinna’s goodwill charm necklace from around my neck and tucked it under my shirt. Naked, I went through the heavy wooden door that led to the actual steams. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust. The room was lined with tiered benches surrounding the squat stone firebox. The only light came from the deep red glow of the fire leaking from its stone dungeon. It had been well stoked. As I had suspected, the steams were mostly deserted, but there were three Outislanders there, guards from the Narcheska’s contingent. They kept to themselves at one end of the clouded room, conversing low in their own hard-edged language. They gave me a single glance, and then dismissed me. I was more than willing to yield them their privacy.
I dippered water from the cask in the corner, and splashed it liberally onto the hot stones. A fresh curtain of mist went up, and I breathed it deeply. I stood as close to the steaming stones as I could tolerate until I felt my sweat break and run freely over my skin. It stung in the healing scratches on my neck and back. There was a box of coarse salt and some sea sponges, just as there had been when I was a boy. I scrubbed my body with the salt, wincing at the necessary pain, and then dashed it clean with the sponges. I was nearly finished when the door opened and a dozen guardsmen crowded in. The veterans in the group looked weary, while the younger men-at-arms were shouting and elbowing one another in good-natured horseplay, energized by returning home from the long patrol they had just finished. Two young men proceeded to stuff more wood into the firebox while another slopped more water on the stones. Steam rose in a wall, and the roar of competing conversations suddenly filled the room.
Two old men followed them into the room, moving more slowly, obviously not a part of the first group. Their scarred and gnarled bodies were testimony to their long years of service. They were deep in talk, some complaint about the beer in the guardroom. They greeted me and I grunted a reply before turning aside. I kept my head down and my face turned away from them. One of the older men had known me when I was just a lad. Blade was his name, and the old guardsman had been a true friend to me. I listened to his familiar oaths as he roundly cursed his stiff back. I would have given much to greet him honestly and share talk with him. Instead I smiled to myself to hear his abuse of the beer and wished him well with all my heart.
I watched surreptitiously, to see how our Buckkeep guards would mingle with the Outislanders. Oddly, it was the young men who avoided them and gave them suspicious glances. The guards old enough to have fought in the Red Ship War seemed more at ease. Perhaps when one is a man-at-arms for long enough, war becomes a job, and it is easier to recognize another man as a fellow warrior rather than a former enemy. Whatever the reason, it seemed to me that the Outislanders were more reluctant to socialize than the Buck guards. But perhaps that was only the natural caution of soldiers disarmed and surrounded by a group of strangers. Staying to watch longer would have been interesting, but also dangerous. Blade had always had a sharp eye. I would not invite his recognition by lingering in his company.
But as I rose to go, a young guardsman shouldered into me. It was not an accident, or even a well-feigned one. It was but his excuse to loudly exclaim, “Watch yourself, man! Who are you, anyway? What guard company?” He was a sandy-haired fellow, perhaps of Farrow stock, well muscled and belligerent with youth. He looked about sixteen to me, a boy aching to prove himself before his more experienced fellows.
I gave him the glare of tolerant disgust, veteran to green soldier. To be too passive would only invite attack. I simply wanted to leave as swiftly as possible, attracting no more attention than necessary. “Watch your own step, lad,” I warned him genially. I moved past him, only to have him shove me from behind on my left shoulder. I turned to confront him, loose but not yet aggressive. He had his fists up ready to defend himself. I shook my head tolerantly at that, and several of his companions snickered. “Let it be, lad,” I warned him.
“I asked you a question,” he snarled.
“So you did,” I agreed benignly. “If you’d cared to favor me with your name before you demanded mine, I might have answered. That used to be the custom at Buckkeep. ”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “Charl of Bright’s Guard. I’ve no need to be ashamed of my name or company. ”
“Nor I,” I assured him. “Tom Badgerlock, man to Lord Golden. Who expects me shortly. Good day. ”
“Lord Golden’s serving man. I might have known. ” He gave a snort of disgust and turned to his fellows to confirm his superiority. “You don’t belong in here. This place is for the guardsmen. Not pages and lackeys and ‘special servants. ’ ”
“Is it?” I let a smile crook the corner of my mouth as I ran my gaze over him insultingly. “No pages or lackeys. That surprises me. ” All eyes on us now. Hopeless to avoid notice. I’d have to establish myself as Tom Badgerlock. He reddened to my insult, and then swung.
I leaned aside to let his blow go past, then took a step forward. He was ready for my fists, but instead I kicked his feet out from under him. It was a move more befitting a brawler than a noble’s guardsman, and it obviously shocked him. I kicked him again as he went down, driving the air out of him. He fell gasping, to sprawl perilously near the firebox, and I stepped forward to place my foot on his bare chest, pinning him. I snarled down at him. “Let it go, lad. Before it gets ugly. ”
Two of his companions stepped forward, but “Hold!” shouted Blade, and they halted. The old guardsman stepped forward, one hand pressed to the small of his back. “Enough! I won’t have it in here. ” He glared at the man that was likely the guards’ commander. “Rufous, get that pup of yours under control. I came here to ease my back, not to be annoyed by an ill-trained braggart. Get that boy out of here. You, Badgerlock, take your foot off him. ”
Despite his years, or perhaps because of them, old Blade still commanded universal respect from the guardsmen. As I stepped back, the boy came to his feet. He had both murder and chagrin in his eyes, but his commander barked, “Out, Charl. We’ve all had enough of you today. And Fletch and Lowk, you can both go with
So the three of them went hulking past me, sauntering as if they didn’t care. There was a surge of muttering among the guardsmen, but most of it seemed to be agreement that the young man was more churl than Charl. I sat back down, deciding that I’d give them the time to get dressed and be clear of the steams before I left. To my dismay, Blade walked stiffly over and sat down beside me. He offered me his hand, and as I gripped it, it was still the callused hand of a swordsman. “Blade Havershawk,” he introduced himself gravely. “And I know the scars of a man-at-arms when I see one, even if that pup didn’t. You’re welcome to use the steams; ignore that boy’s wrangling. He’s new to his company and still trying to overcome the fact that Rufous took him on as a favor to his mother. ”
“Tom Badgerlock,” I replied. “And many thanks to you. I could see he was trying to curry favor with his fellows by it, but I’ve no idea why he chose me. I’d no wish to fight the boy. ”
“That much was plain, as plain as that it was lucky for him you did not. As for why, well, he’s young and listens too much to gossip. It’s no basis for judging a man. Do you hail from about here, Badgerlock?”
I gave a short laugh. “Buck in general is where I hail from, I suppose. ”
He gestured at the scratches on my throat and asked, “And how did you come by those marks?”
“A she-cat,” I heard myself say, and he took it for a bawdy jest and laughed. And so for a time, we chatted, the old guardsman and myself. I looked into his seamed face, nodded and smiled to his old man’s gossip, and saw no spark of recognition at all. I should have felt reassured, I suppose, that even an old friend like Blade did not recognize FitzChivalry Farseer. Instead, it unleashed a welling of gloom in me. Had I been that forgettable, that unremarkable, to him? I found it hard to keep my mind on his words, and when I finally excused myself from his company, it was almost a relief to leave him, before I could give in to the irrational impulse to betray myself, to drop a word or a phrase that would hint to him that he had once known me before. It was a boy’s impulse, a hunger to be recognized as significant, close kin to the impulse that had made young Charl attempt to spark a fight with me.
Golden Fool by Robin Hobb / Fantasy have rating 4.2 out of 5 / Based on46 votes