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Chapter Seventeen

Blood

There are seventy-seven known medicinal uses for dragon parts, and fifty-two unsubstantiated ones. The seventy-seven are listed in the scrolls called Trifton Dragon-killers Remedies. Of great antiquity, this scroll has been translated many times, to the extent that seventeen of the remedies make no sense. For instance, we are told that ground dragon scales applied to the apple with brighten coal a maidens eyes. Yet, mistranslated as these remedies may be, for each one the original scribe provided the name and apparently the attestation from someone who had used the remedy to good effect.

The fifty-two unsubstantiated remedies are those with no attestations, and ones that seem unlikely to be real. As they are at the end of the translation I have, I suspect they are a later addition by someone seeking to present the medical properties of dragon parts as having more wondrous uses. There are potions made from various bits of dragons that are said to render a man invisible, to give a woman the gift of flight, ones guaranteed to bring twins to term, healthy and strong, in three months, and one startling remedy that assures the user of being able to see anyone whose name he speaks aloud, regardless of the distance or if that person is still alive.

With the reappearance of dragons in our corner of the world, perhaps these remedies may again become available, but I hypothesize that they will remain exceedingly rare and expensive. Thus the opportunity to test the beneficial effects of Triftons remedies may evade us still.

Unfinished manuscript, Chade Fallstar

When one misses a stair in the dark and begins to fall, one feels that terrible lurch of wrongness combined with fear of the impact that will surely follow. I fell with the same horrid sensation of moving in the wrong direction, but my fear was that there would never be any impact. Only endless falling. The points of light were like dust. Bodiless, I flailed at them. Never before had I retained such a sense of self, such a sense of mortality inside a Skill-pillar.

And when I recognized that I had a self, I suddenly sensed I was not alone. He was beside me, streaking endlessly down like a comet as his being unraveled in brightness behind him. That was wrong. That was very wrong.

Between knowing it was wrong and wanting to do something about it, an indeterminate amount of time passed. Then I struggled to know what to do. Limit him. Define him. How? Name him. One of the oldest magics known to men. Chade. Chade. But I was tongueless, voiceless. I wrapped him in my self, containing him with all I knew of him. Chade. Chade Fallstar.

I held him. Not his body, but his awareness. We fell together. I held my awareness of my separate self and hoped without reason that there was an end, somewhere, sometime, to this endless falling. Despite my efforts, Chade was leaking away from me. Like a basket of meal in a high wind, he seemed to waft away, carried off by the Skill. Worse, I had no sense of him resisting it. I held him, gathered back what I could of him, but I also felt myself shredding in the constant blast of that place that was neither a place nor a time. The very timelessness of it was terrifying. The journey through the star-studded vastness of the stone passage seemed to slow. Please, I breathed, terrified that we might never emerge, that no one would ever know what became of us, that Bee would live or die believing that her father had never attempted to rescue her. But that agony was fleeting.

Merge, whispered something that was Chade but both more and less than he was. Let go. It doesnt matter. And he surrendered to that glittering attraction of the spaces between, to the darkness that was neither a distance nor a location. Like a seedhead that, at the whisper of the wind, launches itself into a thousand pieces, so was Chade. And I, I was not a sack to hold him, but a net. With the least part of the will that remained to me, I strove to hold him together within myself, even as the lure of the sparkling darkness sought to disperse us into bits of light.

Chade. Chade Fallstar.

His name was not enough to bind him. He had hidden himself from it for too long.

Chade Fallstar. Brother to Shrewd Farseer. Father to Lant Fallstar. Father to Shine Fallstar. Chade! Shaper of FitzChivalry Farseer. I settled loop after loop of identity around him as if I were wrapping line to tie up a storm-tugged ship. But I could not enclose him without opening myself to the pull of the current.

I have them!

I did not wish anyone to have me, but then I was clutching at Dutiful and felt myself drawn from the stone that sucked at me like thick mud. Chade came with me whether he would or not, and suddenly we were both shaking with cold on the snowy hillside above Buckkeep as dawn was breaking.

Dawn.

King Dutiful grasped me by the wrist, and Kettricken gazed at me, swathed from head to foot in a purple wool cloak edged in white fox fur. Six of her guards in purple and white stood by. Near them was a wagon, made comfortable with blankets and cushions. Steady was slouched on the seat, holding his face in his hands. Nettle sat in the wagon, swaddled in blankets like an old tinker. Riddle was beside her, haggard, his face red with cold. Lending her his strength with no thought of the cost. They both looked worn, as if aged by years.

Years?

I turned my head and looked at Dutiful. His beard was gray and his shoulders bowed.

How long? I asked, and then remembered that speech came from my mouth. How long? I asked again, croaking the words from my dry throat.

Every Skilled person there startled. Dutiful spoke. Easy, Fitz. Gently. Half a day and all the night. He lifted a hand and rubbed his cheek. Frost. His dark beard was hoared gray with frost. Days. Not years. But still, days.

He put his hand on my shoulder, waking me to him. Fitz. What happened? He added, You need not Skill so powerfully. We are right here to hear your words.

But you are all still here? I was astounded.

Where else would we be? Nettle demanded angrily. You Skilled to us that you were attacked and then we heard nothing. You both blocked us. Then you suddenly Skilled that youd be coming through the stone. But you didnt! What happened?

There was too much to explain. I moved my mouth but could not find words intricate enough to explain anything. I had told him we were attacked. How could that encompass the betrayal, the swords, the cuts, pain, gasping for breath, the many motions our bodies had made? My thoughts slid and slipped like cartwheels in mud. As Dutiful put an arm around Chade to lift him, two guardsmen joined him, carrying him drooping between them to the wagon. Kettricken took my arm. I felt her so strongly. Such a brave woman, so true and intelligent. Nighteyes had loved her so much.

Oh, Fitz, she said softly and her cold-reddened cheeks flushed hot. I leaned on her unabashedly. She would help me. Shed always helped me, never failed me. They all had. I simply opened my mind to Nettle and Dutiful and let my tale flow from my thoughts to theirs. I was too weary and it was all too complex to hold anything back. I gave it all to them, everything that had happened since I had left Buckkeep. Skilling was so much easier than talking. I finished with the most awful truth I knew. You were right, you and Riddle. Im a terrible father. I should have given her to you. This would never have happened if Id listened to you and given you Bee.

I saw Nettle recoil from me. She lifted her hands to cover her ears and then it was suddenly harder to reach her. I groped for her, but she tried to wall me out. She could not. I seeped through. I turned my slow glance to Dutiful. Another wall. Why?

Youre still bleeding. Kettricken shook out her handkerchief and pressed the silky thing to my brow.

It only happened a few moments ago, I told her, knowing she had not been a party to our shared thoughts.

A day, at least, she reminded me. I stared at her. Wit or Skill? What was the difference, I abruptly wondered. Were not we all animals in some sense of that foolish word?

I am not sure that time is the same for us, I said aloud, and then was glad of Riddles strong hand gripping my wrist and pulling me up into the wagon. He leaned close to me. Let go of Kettricken. Walls up, Fitz, he said quietly. Ive not the Skill, but even I can sense you spilling. Then he left me to help Dutiful arrange Chade. The old man lay on his side, clutching at his wound and groaning. The driver spoke, the horses started the wagon with a lurch, and I passed out.

I came back to awareness somewhat on the stairs inside Buckkeep Castle. A serving man was helping me walk up the stairs. I didnt know him. I felt alarm, and then a wash of Skill from Dutiful assured me that all was well. I should just keep climbing the stairs. Do not try to Skill back to me, please. Or to anyone. Please put up your walls and try not to spill. I could feel Dutifuls weariness. I seemed to recall that he had asked me to look to my walls several times. He was not with me. I wondered why.

In my room, a different serving man, one I had never seen before, offended me by insisting on helping me remove my bloody clothes and put on a clean nightshirt. I did not wish to be further bothered, but a healer came into my room and asserted that he must clean both the wound on my shoulder and the slash on my brow and then suture my brow closed with many a Beg your indulgence, Prince FitzChivalry, and If my prince would be pleased to turn his face toward the light, and It grieves me to ask you to endure this pain, Prince FitzChivalry, until I could scarcely stand the mans unctuousness. When all was done, he offered me tea. At the first sip, I knew it was too strong with valerian, but I had little will to resist his insistence that I drink it. And then I must have slept again.

I woke to the fire burned low and the room full of darkness. I yawned, stretched against the ache of my muscles, and gazed dully at the short flames that licked lazily across the surface of the last log in my hearth. Slowly, slowly, I found myself in place and time. And then my heart jumped in my chest and began to hammer. Chade, injured. Bee, stolen. The Fool, possibly dying. The disasters vied to dominate my fear as being the most terrifying. I groped out with the Skill and touched Nettle and Dutiful simultaneously. Chade?

Softly, Fitz. Softly. Hold yourself in. It isnt good, Dutiful responded glumly. The stays of his girdle deflected the sword but it still penetrated his side. He lost a great deal of blood and seems disoriented from his experience within the Skill-pillar. The only sense we have had from him is that he is angry with you for divulging that he, too, has a daughter who has been stolen. I am still trying to settle that bit of news in my mind!

I pushed my weary thoughts back. Had I divulged Chades secret? Probably when I had spilled myself, it had cascaded out. I was appalled that I had been so careless, but could not dwell on that. It had been when I had given Nettle and Dutiful access to my mind to explain the situation. Even now, I felt too weary for detailed conversation. Is Nettle all right? She looked so worn.

I am better, now that you and Chade are here. I am coming to your room. Now. Try to be very still until I get there.

I had forgotten that our minds were touching. Am I that addled still? I asked myself, and felt my question echo off into the Skill-current.

I am coming also. And, yes, you are that addled, so please, if you can, put up your walls. Be still. You are alarming the other coteries. You seem to have gained strength and lost control of your thoughts during your passage. You are battering our apprentices. And you seem to not be entirely within yourself, if you can conceive what I mean. As if you are still caught in the Skill-current.

Barricading my thoughts back into my own mind was like building a drystone wall. Fit each piece into place. Hold back the cascading thoughts, stop the chaining thoughts of worry, fear, desperation, and guilt. Stop them, hold them, guard them.

When I thought I was safe once more behind my walls, I became aware of my bodys complaints.

Several of my stitches were too tight. The slightest change in my facial expression made them pull. The rest of my body ached, and I was suddenly, horribly hungry in a way I could not control.

There was a tap on my door but before I could rise from my bed, Nettle entered. Youre still spilling, she whispered. Half of Buckkeep Castle will be having nightmares tonight. And eating like ravenous dogs. Oh, Da. Sudden tears stood in her eyes. Out there by the stones. I could not even speak to you afterward. . .our poor folk at Withywoods. That fight! And how much agony you feel about Bee. How hurt you were that I asked for her, and how guilty. . .How you love her! And how you torment yourself. Here. Let me help you.

She sat down on the edge of my bed and took my hand. As if I were a child being taught to wield a spoon, or an old man leaning on a youngsters shoulder, her Skill flowed into me, mingled with mine, and she set my walls. It was good to be contained again, as if someone had buttoned a warm coat securely around me. But even after I found that the clamor of the lesser Skill-stream of strangers had been sealed out of me and my own thoughts fenced in, Nettle kept hold of my hand. I turned my head slowly to look at her.

For a time, she just looked at me silently. Then she said, Ive never really known you, have I? All these years. The things you kept hidden from me, lest I think less of Burrich or my mother. The reserve you held because you felt you did not deserve to intrude into my life. . .Has anyone ever really known you? Known what you felt and thought?

Your mother did, I think, I said, and then I had to wonder. The Fool, I nearly said, and then Nighteyes. That last answer, I knew, would have been the truest truth. But I did not say it.

She sighed a small sigh. A wolf, she said. A wolf best knew your heart. I was certain I had not shared that thought with her. I wondered if, after I had been so vulnerable to her, she now could tell when I held things back. I was trying to summon words to say to her when there was a second tap on the door and Riddle entered, bearing a tray. King Dutiful, looking less than regal, was behind him.

I brought food, Riddle announced even as the scent of it dizzied me with longing.

Just let him eat first, Dutiful advised as if I were an ill-mannered dog or perhaps a very small child. Hes sharing his hunger with the whole castle. And again, I could think of no words. Thoughts were too fast for words and too complex. There was too much to say, more than anyone could ever say in a lifetime about even the simplest things. But before I could despair about that, Riddle put the food in front of me. I recognized it as having come from the guards mess, the simple hearty food one could find there at any hour of the day or night. A thick brown soup, lumpy with vegetables and chunks of meat, good brown bread with a chewy crust. Riddle had not skimped when he had buttered two slabs of that, nor on the wedges of orange cheese beside them. The flagon of ale on the tray had spilled over a bit, wetting the edge of the bread. I didnt care.

Hes going to choke, someone said, but I didnt.

Fitz? said Dutiful.

I turned to look at him. It was strange to remember that there were people in the room. Devouring the meal had been such a consuming experience, it was startling to discover the world could hold more sensory information than that. My eyes wandered over his face, finding my features in his, and then Kettrickens.

Are you feeling a bit more yourself? he asked. I wondered how much time had passed. I found I was breathing hard. Eating that fast was hard work. No one else had spoken since his last words. Was that how time was truly measured? In how many people spoke, in how much information was shared? Perhaps it was measured in how much food one ate. I tried to pare my thoughts down to something that might fit in words.

I think I feel better, I said. No. That wasnt true. I thought nothing of the kind. Better than what? My thoughts raced away from me again. Someone was touching me. Nettle. She had moved behind me and set her hands on my shoulders. She was making my walls stronger. Making me one thing, one separate person instead of the taste of the bread and the sound of the fire crackling. Separating me out from everything else.

Im going to talk, Dutiful said. And Im going to hope you are listening, and that you can find the sense of my words better than Chade can. Fitz. Fitz, look at me. You were almost a day in the stones. You told us you were coming, and we waited for you, and you didnt emerge. Nettle reached out to try and find you, and with Steadys strength and Riddle helping her she found you and held you together until I could reach into the stone and draw you out. Eda and El, that was strange! I felt I found your hand and pulled you out of the earth itself!

Chade was still bleeding, and so were you, but not as badly. If you are concerned for the bodies you left behind, well, that has been tended to. Chades emissary was still at Withy, and we gave him the mission of conveying to the rest of the Rousters that unknown persons had attacked you, and that their fellows had given their lives to win you safe passage to the stones. For now, they need hear nothing of treachery, though Ill wager that some of them will know or suspect there were traitors in their band. I required them all to take an oath of silence on the topic of what happened at Withywoods, witnessed by FitzVigilant in my stead. There is no sense panicking folk over the idea that invisible raiders may attack anywhere. And after brief thought, I have directed Lady Rosemary to undertake whatever quiet work she feels is needed to bring justice to Shuns stepfather. Shun! Such a name!

I have put out a notice to all our patrols to be looking for sleighs bearing a small girl and a young woman, and folk on white horses, and also to ask at every ferry crossing and ice bridge if anyone like that has been seen. They cannot simply vanish, and I think it unlikely they can have passed our borders yet. We will find and recover both Bee and Lady Shun.

The words he spoke made pictures in my mind. I looked at all of them carefully. They were things we wished to be so, and perhaps might never be. Nonetheless, they were pictures that pleased me greatly. Thank you, I said at last. The words were thin, insubstantial as wind. They didnt convey what I felt. I took a breath. Thank you.

Riddle slapped his hand over his heart and gawked at me. Nettle lowered her face and breathed deeply for several breaths. Dutiful sank down slowly to sit on the floor.

Is that what it feels like? The Skill? Riddle spoke.

Nettle shook her head. No. I dont know what to call that. Well, yes, it is the Skill, but it is the Skill as a hammers blow rather than as a finger tap. Dutiful, what can we do? Hes more dangerous than Thick. If he goes on like this, he may damage some of the newer Skill-apprentices who cannot wall him out.

Even with my walls raised, I sensed their agitation. Its coming clearer, I offered them. Im coming back to myself. I will be better by morning, I think. I used only the words, sliced thin as paper. They all looked relieved.

I attempted a question. How is Chade?

Nettle shook her head. He is caught in fascination. With everything. The weave of the blanket. The shape of his spoon. His wound is bad. We would like to do a Skill-healing on him once he has rested a bit, but Thick is still at Withywoods, and we are reluctant to let anyone use the stones to travel now. We were hoping you would feel well enough to help, but. . .

Tomorrow, I said, and hoped it would be true. I was remembering how to do this. Package a tiny bit of thought in a word and let it out of my mouth. Strange. I had never known that when I spoke I Skilled a tiny bit with the words, to make the meaning more clear. But only the tiniest bit. Id opened my heart and let them feel the rush of gratitude I felt that they would try to help me. I should not do that. I could not recall when I had learned that. Had I ever learned it, or had it just always been so? They were all staring at me. Words. Use words.

I hope to have recovered more by tomorrow. And perhaps be able to tell you what I experienced inside the stones. And help to heal Chade.

An urgent thought bubbled up in me. How could I have forgotten him? The Fool. Does he live still?

A glance between Dutiful and Nettle. A secret fear. Whats happened? Hes dead, isnt he? It was a terrible thing for me to even imagine. A tremor of sorrow rose bubbling in me. I tried to catch it, to hold it in.

Dutiful paled. No, Fitz. Hes not dead. Please, dont feel that! Such sorrow. No, hes not dead. But hes. . .changed.

Hes weak? Dying? I thought of the secret Skill-healings Id practiced on him. Had they gone wrong, come undone somehow?

Dutiful spoke quickly, as if to stem my emotions by giving me information. Ash was tending to him. Lord Chade had told him to do whatever the Fool needed, to give the Fool whatever might do him good. Or so the lad took his command. You know that in his zeal to follow you, Lord Golden escaped his room and somehow managed to get as far as the stables. How, I cannot imagine. When he was found the next morning, he was nearly dead of the cold and his injuries.

I knew that, I affirmed.

Dutiful looked relieved at my swift response. You are coming back to us, arent you? You sound clearer in your words. More alert. Thank Eda you are better. I feared that neither one of you would completely return to us.

Yes. Better. It was a lie. I wasnt better. I was becoming duller. Slower. The complexities of the world that had danced and blossomed all around me but a few moments before were fading to dim simplicity. The chair was just a chair, all echoes of the tree and the forest that had produced it muted to insignificance. Nettle sat on the chair, and she was only Nettle, not a tributary of the rivers that Molly and I had been, or the quiet water where her unborn child turned and formed. I was not better. I was simpler, slower, duller. Human again. As to what I had been in the previous hours, I had no name for it.

I lifted my eyes to Dutiful. He was watching me expectantly. The Fool, I prompted him.

He was near dead. When first he was found, he was mistaken for a beggar or wandering madman. He was taken to the infirmary and given a clean bed to die in. But a young apprentice there recognized him from the night you brought him in. She raised quite a fuss before her master would listen to her, but finally a runner was sent to me.

By then, Ash had raised the alarm that Lord Golden was missing. We had servants searching the guest wings, but no one had expected him to have gotten as far as the stables. My mother and her personal healer reached the infirmary before I did. She collected him and had him brought to her private parlor. There, her healer attempted to tend to him. At the womans touch, he woke shrieking and found enough strength to object strenuously to her efforts. My mother acceded to his wishes and dismissed her healer. Before he lapsed into unconsciousness, he asked to be brought back to Chades old den. This was done. And my mother settled herself beside him to keep his death-watch. She left him only when she heard that you and Chade had been attacked, and then lost. She is back with him now.

I wish to go to him. I didnt need to hear any more. I tried to keep the despair from my voice. I was losing my friend, and possibly my last link to my Bee. If anyone had any clue as to why the Servants of the White Prophets would come to Withywoods and take my daughter, and what their intentions for her were, it was the Fool.

Not yet, Nettle asserted. You need to know what happened before you see him.

I had not thought my fear could deepen, but it did. What happened? I imagined treachery.

I went to see him, of course. Dutiful took up his tale. Whatever strength and life hed had left hed expended battling my mothers healer. He was unresponsive. I tried to reach him with the Skill, and could not. And to my Wit, he remains invisible. My mother was at his side, tending him. And Chades lad, Ash. And a crow?

There was the slightest inflection of a question on his last words. I ignored it. Later, perhaps, there would be time to explain the crow. For now she did not matter.

The lad was grieved beyond telling. Nearly prostrate with remorse, I thought. I tried to comfort him, telling him that no one blamed him and that I would intercede with Lord Chade to be sure he was not held responsible. But I was mistaken. It was not fear that he had failed in his duty but genuine mourning. My mother told him that we had done all that could be done, and that the Fool himself had decided to let go of this life. The lad kept saying that the Fool was a hero and should not die in such an ignoble way. He wept. We agreed with him but I could tell he was heartsick and our agreement brought him no comfort.

I knew they would keep a good watch on him, and that I would be summoned if needed. My mother told me that all we could do was comfort his body, and this she was doing, with cool damp cloths to ease the burning of his fever. There was nothing I could do for him. And so I left them there.

The Fool with a fever. Serious indeed for a man who was usually chill to the touch. Dutifuls words were an apology. I could not imagine why. He paused in his telling and exchanged a look with Nettle.

What? I demanded.

Riddle lifted his head and spoke. To make it short, Lady Kettricken left to come to the Skill-pillar. And while we were gone, Ash took it upon himself to give Lord Golden something. Evidently it was an elixir or potion or some rare healing draught. He wont reveal what it was, but only repeats that Lord Chade told him to give the man whatever he might need, and so he did. Whatever he gave him. . .it changed him.

Now they were all staring at me as if they expected me to understand something they did not. It revived him? It killed him? I was sick of useless words, such thin slices of meaning. Im going to him.

Dutiful opened his mouth, but Riddle was bold enough to shake his head at his king. Let him go. Words wont explain it. What a man doesnt understand, he cannot tell. Let him see.

I stood, staggered sideways a few steps, and was glad to catch myself before Dutiful could seize my arm. When a mans pride is all he has left, he holds it closely. I did not care that they watched as I went to the drapes and triggered the hidden door. I was sick of secrets. Let them all spill out into the daylight. But it wasnt daylight now. It was night. Let the secrets spill into the night? I shook my head. I had been doing something. Going to the Fool. I clutched my thoughts tightly.

I ascended the stairs. I knew they followed. The room above was yellow with candlelight and hearth fire. I smelled the resinous fragrance of the Mountain forests and suspected that Kettricken burned incense from her home. It cleared my mind and as I entered the chamber, it struck me that I had never seen it so warm and welcoming. My eyes swept over the changes. The crow perched on one of the chairbacks, dozing in the warmth from the fire. FitzChivalry! she greeted me. Ash sat on the floor by the hearth at Kettrickens feet. He gave me a doleful look and then turned his gaze back to the fire. My former queen was ensconced in Chades old chair. She had draped a colorful Mountain coverlet over it. On the table beside her, a fat blue teapot painted with leaping hares steamed. Her braided hair was pinned high on her head, and the cuffs of her simple blue gown were folded back as if she were ready to do the days scrubbing. She turned to me, a mug of aromatic tea in her hands. Her eyes were concerned but her mouth smiled. Fitz! I am so relieved you have returned to us, and so worried for little Bee! And for Chades daughter!

I made no answer to her greeting. My gaze was snagged on the man who sat beside her. He was slender and upright, but his posture was still uncertain. An invalid still, he was robed in soft gray wool; a loose hood covered his head. I could not tell if he could see me or not. The eyes he turned on me were no longer clouded and gray; they gleamed a faint gold as if the firelight reflected in them. He extended a hand toward me. The knuckles were still swollen and his hands were bone-gaunt, but his fingers moved with a shadow of their old grace. He turned his hand palm up and reached toward me. Fitz? he asked, and I knew then he could not see me. Yet I had the uncanny feeling he could sense me.

I crossed the room and seized his hand in both of mine. It was slightly cool, as the Fools flesh had ever been. You are better! I exclaimed, full of relief at the sight of him upright and moving. I had expected to see him gray and failing in the bed. I turned his hand over in mine; the flesh of the back of it was strangely puckered. It reminded me of an unfledged squab.

I am alive, he rejoined. And more vital. Better? I do not know. I feel so different that I cannot say if I am better or not.

I stared at him. Chade had an apothecary supply that would rival any shop in Buck, and possibly even Bingtown. I knew most of what he had, and Id had the use of some of it. Carryme. Elfbark. Nightshade. Cardomean. Valerian. Willowbark. Carris seed. Poppy. On more than one occasion, Id had recourse to those supplies. During my training Chade had occasionally deliberately exposed me to the effects of some of the lesser poisons, soporifics, and a wide array of stimulants. Yet I knew of nothing in his arcane array that could call a man back from deaths gate and put a golden glint in his blinded eyes.

Ashs gaze had been flickering between the two of us. His eyes were dog-dark, his shoulders hunched as if expecting the snap of a switch. I regarded him severely. Ash. What did you give him?

The lad believed he was following Chades orders. And it seems to have worked, Kettricken said mildly.

I did not speak aloud what I feared. Many treatments were temporary. Carris seed might lift a mans vigor to unusual heights for a day or even two, but it would be followed by a devastating drop to total exhaustion as the body demanded the debt be repaid. Elfbark gave energy, quickly followed by deep despair. I had to know if Ash had saved the Fools life or merely given him a false lease on it.

Chades apprentice had not answered my question. I put a growl of command into my voice. What did you give him, Ash? Answer me.

Sir. The boy rose awkwardly to his feet and bowed to me gravely. His gaze roved uneasily past Kettricken, glided over Nettle and Riddle, and then faltered before King Dutifuls severe expression. He looked back at me. May I speak to you alone?

Dutifuls voice was deceptively mild as he asked him, And what is it that you can tell Lord FitzChivalry but not your rightful king?

The boy looked down, abashed but determined. Sire, Lord Chade has made me his apprentice. When he asked if I wished to learn his skills, he warned me that in our trade, there might be times when my king would have to deny me. And times when my silence must protect the honor of the Farseer reign. He said that there are secrets that those who practice our trade do not inflict on the nobility.

I well recalled the same lecture. It had not come early in my training. Evidently the boy was deeper in Chades confidence than I had thought.

Dutiful pinned him with a stare. Yet Lord FitzChivalry can be a party to your secret?

Ash stood his ground though the blood flushed his cheeks. If it please my king, I have been told that he was one of my kind for many years before he was elevated to being one of yours. He gave me an apologetic look. I had to act on my own judgment. Lady Rosemary was called away. So I had to do as I thought Lord Chade would have wanted.

I did not hold the power here. I waited for Dutiful to free the boy from his dilemma. After a long pause, Dutiful sighed. I saw Lady Kettricken give a small nod of approval, while the crow made several courting bows and announced, Spark! Spark! That made no sense to me, but I had no time to pursue a birds thought. Dutiful spoke. I permit this. This once. My honor should not be preserved by those who serve me doing dishonorable things.

Ash started to speak. I put a hand on his shoulder to silence him. There would always be dishonorable things done to preserve the honor of any power. Silence now, as Dutiful never needed his nose rubbed in that dirt. Something like a shadow of a smile bent the Fools lips. Riddle and Nettle remained silent, acceding to Dutiful. The relief on the boys face was evident. It took courage for him to make a low bow to Dutiful and add, It is respect for the Farseer line that bids me take this course, my king.

Be it so. Dutiful was resigned.

I gestured to Ash and he followed me. We moved away from the light and warmth of the fire, to the dark and shadowy end of the room. Back to the shadows where assassins belonged, I thought. Back to where the old worktable still bore the scorches and scars of my own apprenticeship.

As I moved, I thought about the task Lady Rosemary had been dispatched to carry out. The man who had hired killers to assassinate the royal assassins would soon experience the kings quiet justice. Would it be subtle: a fall down the stairs, or poisoning from a bit of bad meat? Or would she choose to be sure he knew who was killing him and take her time about it? Would his body be left in such a way as to warn others, or would no corpse ever be found? I suspected the Bawdy Trout might catch fire. Or possibly experience a very destructive brawl. Cod oil in their wine casks? I reined my thoughts away. It was her task, and her assignment came from the king himself. Professional courtesy demanded that I not interfere or judge her decisions. As Ash would learn, some secrets we held back, even from those who shared our trade.

The boy was standing silent near the darkest end of the table. Well? I demanded.

I was waiting for you to be seated, sir.

I felt a moments exasperation. Then I sat, looked at him, and chose Chades tone as I ordered him quietly, Report.

He licked his lips. Lord Chade told me that I should do all in my power to keep your friend comfortable. Anything he might need, I was to furnish him. And I was told that he had Skilled that directive to me from Withywoods, as well. Any desire he expressed, I was to fulfill as best as I might. But, sir, it was not just my masters order that made me do as I did. I did it for that manI scarcely know what name to call him by! But he spoke me kind, even when I first frightened him. Even when I continued to fear and almost loathe his appearance, if I am honest!

And when he became accustomed to me, he talked to me. As if he were full of words and they must pour out! And the stories he told! At first I thought he was making up such things. Then I went to the scrolls you had written from those times and there I found the tales told again, almost exactly as he had said.

He paused expectantly, but his words had snatched the speech from my lips. Hed been reading the accounts Id written and entrusted to Chade, my reports on the hidden history of the Red-Ship Wars, and how Dutiful had been won back from the Old Blood faction and the dragon Icefyre released from the glacier on Aslevjal. The fall of the Pale Woman. It astonished me, even as I felt a bit foolish. Of course he was reading them. Why did I imagine that Chade had asked me to record them, if not to use in the education of his new apprentices? Had I not read scroll after scroll in Veritys hand, and King Shrewds, and even those from my fathers pen?

But, if you dont mind my saying, his tellings were more exciting than your writing. Hero tales, told by one of the heroes himself. Not that he didnt tell your part in all he did, but. . .

I nodded, wondering if the Fool had indulged in a bit of embroidery or if the true tales of our exploits had been enough to fire the boys imagination.

I took the best care of him that I knew how, preparing his food, keeping his linens clean, changing the dressings on his injuries, the few times he would allow it. I thought he was getting better. But when he received the news that you had gone off to Withywoods, he became a different creature. He ranted and wept. He said that he should have gone with you, that only you and he could protect each other. I could not calm him. He got up from his bed and stumbled about, demanding that I find garments and boots for him, that he must follow you however he could. And so I obeyed him, but very slowly, for I knew this was not what was best for him. And I am ashamed to say I brought him a tea, one of those that taste of sweet spices and milk but hide a sleeping draught. He drank it down and calmed somewhat. He asked for toasted cheese and bread and perhaps some pickles and a glass of white wine.

I was so relieved to see him calm and so sure of my tea that I promised to fetch it right away. I left him sitting on the edge of the bed. I took my time in preparing the food and putting it on a tray, and when I returned, my hopes were rewarded. I saw him well bundled in the bed and sleeping soundly. So I did not disturb him.

But he wasnt there at all.

The boy looked only mildly surprised that I had guessed the Fools ruse. No. He wasnt. But it was quite a time before I discovered that. When he did not wake when I thought he should, I thought to see if his fever had come back. But he was only bunched bedding and a pillow stuffed into the hooded cloak I had brought him.

I know the rest. What did you give him to revive him?

An unproven elixir. I knew that it was all my fault, that my sleeping tea had overcome him as he neared the stables. If he died from the cold and exposure, it would be my fault. Lord Chade had obtained the potion some time ago, at great expense. He did not say directly, but I believe it was stolen from a courier who was bearing it to the Duke of Chalced.

That would have been years ago! I objected.

Yes, sir. I took that into account. The potion was old and often things like that lose their potency. So I doubled the dosage in the scroll. I gave him two full spoons of it.

Two spoons full of what?

He left me then and went to Chades cupboard. When he came back, he bore the small glass vial I had seen there earlier. Half its contents were gone, but what remained of the dark-red potion had silvery threads that crawled and squirmed through it in a way that made me queasy.

What is it?

Ash looked astonished that I did not know at a glance. Dragons blood, sir. Its dragons blood.


Chapter Sixteen The Journey | Fool's Quest | Chapter Eighteen The Changer