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Chapter Eighteen

The Changer

Given that dragons have speech, as men have, and trade their thoughts with us, how can we even consider commerce in their body parts? Would you ask us to sell you babies fingers or the livers of slaves? The tongues of women or perhaps mens flesh? It is the considered decision of the Bingtown Traders Council that to traffic in the parts of dragons is an immoral trade, and one that we as Traders cannot countenance.

It seems unnecessary to add that it is a dangerous trade as well, one that only the foolish would seek to engage in. To slay a dragon for its body parts would be to invite the full wrath of all dragons upon any Trader so reckless as to do it. And doubtless that wrath would include any who indulged in secondhand commerce of such parts. In the course of defending Bingtown from the Chalcedean invaders, our fair city took extreme damage from a single dragon defender. This body refuses to consider what the concerted wrath of the Kelsingra dragons might do to our city.

Hence it is decided and declared that no Bingtown Trader may legally engage in any aspect of trade or commerce that involves the harvesting or marketing of goods sourced from dragons.

Resolution 7431, Bingtown Traders Council

He gave you dragons blood.

I had persuaded the others there that, while I had concerns over the medicine that Ash had administered to the Fool, there was little to be done save wait and see. I had not told them precisely what that potion was. There was nothing to be gained by involving the king in the knowledge of Chades illegal trade. I was already appalled on his behalf. When Ash had first spoken of it, I had felt astonished. And then almost immediately I had known that, yes, if Chade were curious about the properties of dragons blood, he would obtain it, however he could. I only wished that Chade were not incapacitated right now. I had no idea if the suggested dosage Ash had located in Chades scroll was correct, let alone what side effects we should beware. And unfortunately for me, my best course was to keep all those worries to myself.

Fortunately for me, Dutiful had a kingdom to rule. Nettle needed rest, and seeing that she got it would occupy Riddle. And Kettricken had excused herself from the Fools bedside to go to Chades. Id promised her that I would join her there soon, sent Ash off to fetch food for the Fool and me, and seated myself in the chair Kettricken had vacated. Then I had told him.

What will it do to me?

I shook my head. I dont know. Not for certain. Ill have Ash sort out the scrolls that relate to cures from dragon parts. Ill have him read through them, and set aside for me any that seem relevant. I didnt tell him that Chade regarded most of what was written in such scrolls as chicanery. We were in unknown territory, groping our way through the dark. Do you feel well enough to talk to me?

He smiled. At the moment, I feel I could walk to the Mountains with you. But a little while ago, my guts were burning inside me and I wept on Kettrickens shoulder as if I were a dying child. He blinked his golden eyes. I see more light than I could before. I slept for a long time after he gave it to me. Or so he says. I do not really believe I was fully awake when he poured it in my mouth. And such dreams I woke from! Not the dreams of a White Prophet, but dreams full of power and glory. I flew, Fitz. Not as when I rode on the back of Girl-on-a-Dragon. I flew. Me. For a time he sat, silently staring. Then he came back to me. My hands ache horribly, but I can move them. Every finger! My skin itches so badly I wish I could tear it off. And my foot, my bad foot? He lifted the hem of his nightrobe and displayed it to me. I can walk on it. There is pain, great pain in it all the time. But its not the pain that I had before.

I realized then that his smile was gritted teeth as well as amusement. I rose to see what herbs I might have to ease the deep ache of healing bones. I spoke over my shoulder as I moved about the room. I need to talk to you about the people who attacked Withywoods. They took my little girl, my Bee. And they took Chades daughter, a grown woman named Shun.

No.

What?

The panicky expression was back on his face. Chade does not have a daughter. She, too, would count as a Farseer heir. I would have seen her. Fitz, none of the things you tell me can be so. I would have known. It would have revealed other paths to me.

Fool. Please. Be calm. Listen to me. You and I, we changed the world, as you said we would. And when you. . .came back, I think we changed all the paths. Chade came out from behind the walls of Buckkeep Castle because of what we did. And he fathered not one, but two, offspring. Shun and Lant. And I had a daughter you had not foreseen. We changed things, Fool. As you said we would. Please, for now, accept that. Because you are the only one who may know why the Servants would take my daughter. And where they would take her and what they intend.

I turned back to him. I had selected a mixture of valerian, banwurt, willowbark, and some shaved ginger to make it a bit more palatable. I found a mortar and pestle on a different shelf and brought them to the table by his chair. As I ground them together, their fragrances mingled. I wrinkled my nose and went back for more ginger and a bit of dried lemon peel.

He spoke in a low voice. You left me here. Alone.

Arguing with him that he had not been alone would have been useless. I had to, I admitted. Have you heard what I found when I reached my home?

He was looking away from me. Some of it, he admitted in a thick voice.

Well. I put my thoughts in order. Sometimes to receive information, you must first share all you know. I did not want to think about it or relive any of it. Coward. It was other peoples agony I would speak of, and I wished to hide from my shame? I took a breath and began. Part of me spoke the toneless words, relating the facts. Another part of me carefully composed the herbal tea that might ease his pain. Fresh water in a small kettle, put it to boil, warm the teapot with boiling water so the heat would not be lost when I poured the water over the herbs. Let them steep. Set out the cup and pour in the amber liquid without too much sediment. I found honey and added a fine stream of it.

And here is a tea that might ease the pain in your foot. I finished my account.

He did not speak. I stirred the tea with a spoon, tapping it on the edge of the cup to give him its location. His trembling fingers walked to the cup, touched it, and were pulled back. It was them. The Servants. His voice was shaking. His blind eyes flickered a gold glance at me. Theyve found you. So theyve found me. He folded his arms and hugged himself tight. He was visibly shaking. It hurt me to see it. A cold cell, a distant fire that meant only pain, never warmth for you. Men that would smile and shout with joy as they hurt you. I remembered. I could barely breathe. He leaned his crossed arms on the table and put his face down on them. He collapsed into himself. I stood where I was. He was my last hope and if I leaned on him too heavily, he would break.

Wings flapped. Motley had been perched on a chair, dozing near the fires warmth. She skidded to a landing on the tabletop and walked over to the Fool. Fool. Fool! she said in her crows voice. She leaned forward and took a lock of his hair in her beak. She groomed it as if it were his plumage. He took in a small breath. She scissored the tip of her beak against his scalp, selected another lock, and groomed it. She made small concerned sounds as she did it. I know, he replied. He sighed. He sat up slowly. He held out his fingers and Motley went to him. With one ruined fingertip, he stroked the top of her head. She had calmed him. A bird had done what I could not.

Ill protect you, I lied to him. He knew it was a lie. I had not protected my people at Withywoods, not Lant or Shun or even my precious Bee. The thought of my failures soaked me and sank me.

Then fury. Red fury suddenly blazed up in me.

Fitz?

Its nothing, I lied to Dutiful. I bottled and corked my anger. Private. So private. Theyd hurt my Fool, possibly killed my friend Prilkop, and stolen my daughter. And I had done nothing to them, and could do nothing until I knew more. But when I knew more. . .Ill protect you and we will kill them all, I promised him savagely. I spoke my oath tightly, only to him. I leaned in close to whisper the words. They will bleed and die and we will take back our own from them. I heard him draw a trembling breath. Tears, tinged gold rather than yellow, were creeping down his scarred cheeks.

We will kill them all? he asked in a small and shaky voice.

I walked my hand across the table, tapping my nails so he heard it coming. I took his bony hand in mine. I claimed a silent moment to gather my courage and chill my anger to edged cold. Was this right? Was I exploiting his fears for my own ends? Making promises I could not fulfill? But what else could I do? It was for Bee. Fool. Beloved. You have to help me now. We will kill them all, but only if you can help me. Why did they come to Withywoods? Why did they take Bee and Shun? What do they intend? Why were Chalcedeans there? And most of all, where would they take them? Where? The other questions matter, but even if all you can tell me is where, it will be enough for me to find them and kill them and take back my child.

I saw him compose himself. I watched him think. I waited for him. He found the cup, lifted it, and took a cautious sip. Its my fault, he said. I wanted to contradict him, to interrupt him and assure him it was not his fault. But his words had begun to flow and I did not want to divert them.

Once they knew what you meant to me, they were bound to seek you out. To see if you held the secret that they had not been able to drag out of me. The Servants had your name; Ive told you how that came about. They knew of FitzChivalry and they knew of Buckkeep. But of Tom Badgerlock and Withywoods they could not know. The messengers I sent to youI did not tell them your name. I gave them pieces of information they could use as they traveled to find the next place and ask the next question that might bring them to you. Fitz, I did my best to protect you, even as I sent you my request and my warning. I can only suppose that they captured one of my messengers and tortured it out of him. He took a noisy sip of his tea, sucking in air with the scalding brew.

Or perhaps they just followed me. Perhaps they could see what I could not, that it was inevitable that I would make my way back to my Catalyst. Perhaps they even were counting on you to kill me. How sweet they must have found that!

But now I fear a thing even darker. If they knew I had asked you to find the Unexpected Son and keep him safe, they might have suspected you had already done so. And perhaps they descended on Withywoods hoping to find him. You heard that they were asking for him.

But here is the darkest thing of all. What if they know more than we can possibly know? What if they have generated new prophecies since you brought me back from the dead and rendered so much of the old future impossible? What if they knew that if you found me in the marketplace, you would kill me? Or what if they knew that if you nearly killed me, you would try to save me? That you would take me and leave your own home unguarded, so they might go in to rape and plunder and search for the Unexpected Son with nothing to fear?

His words filled me with uneasiness even before he said, What if we are still dancing to their tune? And we do not hear it, so we cannot change the step of how we prance and turn to their wills?

I was silent, trying to conceive of such an enemy. An enemy who would know what I would do before I decided to do it.

It is no use fearing that, he said sadly into my silence. If it is so, we are helpless against them. And the only logical response to that would be to stop struggling. And thus they would win. At least, if we fight, we can be a nuisance to them.

My anger, briefly banked, flared again. I intend to be more than a nuisance, Fool.

He had not withdrawn his hand from my grip. Now he turned it and grasped my hand firmly. I have no courage of my own left, Fitz. They beat and twisted and burned it out of me. So I shall have to borrow yours. Let me think, for just a moment longer, on all you have told me.

He released my hand and took another slow sip of his tea. His eyes stared past me. I had forgotten the crow, so still and silent had she been. Abruptly, she opened her wings and leapt from her perch to land on the small table, nearly oversetting the teapot. Food, she demanded raucously. Food, food, food!

There is food left on the tray beside my bed, I think, the Fool told me, and I fetched it for her. There was a bread roll, and the carcass of a small fowl with meat still clinging to its bones. I carried it to the worktable, and she followed me there. I tore the bread for her, poured water into a bowl, and left it for her. Once it was in the circle of our lamplight, she found it easily.

The Fool spoke before I had seated myself. There are things in your tale I do not understand. And only a few things on which I can enlighten you beyond what you already know. But let us take our bits of facts and see what we can build. First, the kindly woman with the round face. I know her. She is Dwalia, and she will have her luriks with her. She is a Lingstra, that is to say, one who has advanced solidly within the ranks of the Servants, but not so high that she remains in the school interpreting the prophecies. She is useful and clever enough that she has been given luriks to teach and to serve her, but not so precious that the Servants will not risk her out in the greater world. She seems kindly; it is a knack she has, and one she uses well. People assume that she likes them, and in turn they want to curry favor with her.

Did you know her, then? In Clerres?

I knew of her. He paused for a moment and for just that instant I wondered if he lied to me. She can so easily make others desire to please her, and make almost anyone feel important and cherished by her. He cleared his throat. Several other things you say puzzle me greatly. Chalcedean mercenaries. Are they just her hired tools or do they have an additional interest? The currency of the Servants is seldom gold. Will they trade a prophecy for what the mercenaries do? Give them a tipping point where they can seize power or glory? The Servants mission seems clear to us. They were seeking the Unexpected Son. But when they discover Bee, it is she they carry off, after garbing her as if she were a shaysim, an untrained prophet. But they take Shun as well! Shun! Such a dreadful name.

I gather she took it to herself. It is not what Chade named her. But Fool, are you saying they took Bee because she is a prophet? Uneasiness was a cold coiling of worms inside me.

Is she? he asked me quietly. Tell me about her, Fitz. And hide nothing.

When I was silent, gathering my thoughts, he spoke again. The most peculiar smile trembled on his lips, and tears glimmered in his eyes. But perhaps you have already told me as much as I needed to know, even if I did not put the sense in your words. She is small and blond and pale-eyed. And clever. Tell me. Was she long in the womb?

My mouth went dry. Where was this leading? Yes. So long that I thought Mollys mind had turned. For more than a year, almost two, she insisted she was pregnant. And when finally the child came, she was so tiny. And so very slow to grow. For years, we thought she would never do more than lie in her crib and stare. Then, slowly, she began to be able to do things. To roll over, and then to sit without support. Even after she could walk, however, she did not speak. Not for years. I despaired of her, Fool. I thought her mindless or very slow, and wondered what would become of her after Molly and I were dead. Then, when she first began to speak, it was only to Molly. She seemed. . .wary of me. It was only after Molly died that she talked freely to me. But even before that, she proved her cleverness. Molly taught her to read, and she taught herself to write and to paint. And, Fool, I suspect she will be able to Skill, eventually. For she was aware of me. Like a boiling pot, with your thoughts spilling over, she said. And that was why she avoided my touch and being close to me. But we were getting to know each other, she was starting to trust me as a child should trust her father. . . I suddenly choked and could not go on. It was sweet release to speak aloud of my child, to trust someone with the full truth of her, and sharpest pain that I described a child stolen from me.

Does she dream? he demanded suddenly.

And then it poured from me, the full story of her desire to have paper on which to write her dreams down, and how she had so frightened me by foretelling the death of the pale man and then the messenger in her butterfly cloak. I hated to tell him how the messenger had died, but by then the sharing of that barbed secret seemed a necessity.

She helped you burn the body? the Fool asked incredulously. Your little girl?

I nodded silently, then forced myself to admit it aloud. Yes. She did.

Oh, Fitz, he rebuked me. But I had more to confess to him, and I did, with the tale of our aborted holiday in Oaksbywater, and how I had killed the dog and longed to kill her master, and how I had carelessly allowed Bee to slip away from me. And then, I had to admit the worst. I told how I had come to stab him thinking he was a danger to her.

What? That was your child who came to me? The boy who touched me and opened me to all the futures? I didnt dream it, did I! He was there. The Unexpected Son!

No, Fool. There was no lad anywhere near you. Only my daughter, my little Bee.

Then it was her? It was Bee I held in my arms for that one moment? Oh, Fitz! Why did not you tell me instantly! He stood abruptly, swayed, and sank down. He grasped the arms of the chair and gripped them as if a storm blew around him. He stared at the fire as if he could see through the walls of the keep and into some other world. Of course, he whispered at last. It would have to be so. I understand it all now. Who elses could she be? In that moment, when she touched me, ah, it was no dream, no illusion or delusion. I saw with her. My mind was opened once again to all possible futures. Because, yes, she is Shaysa, even as I once was. And I did not see her in the futures I glimpsed for you because, without me, you would never have had her. She is my daughter, too, Fitz. Yours and mine and Mollys. As is the way of my kind. Ours. Our Bee.

I was torn between utter confusion and deepest insult. I had a faint memory of him telling me once that hed had two fathersbrothers or cousinsin a place where folk accepted that arrangement. Id assumed that it meant that in that place no one would care whose seed had actually ripened in the wife the husbands shared. I forced myself to calmness and looked at him carefully. His golden gaze seemed to meet mine. His eyes were more unnerving now than when they had been colorless. The metallic gleam in them seemed to shift and flow and swirl as if they were liquid while the black dots of his pupils seemed too small for the dim light. I drew a deep steadying breath. Dont be distracted. Stay on the trail. Fool. Bee is not your child. You were never with Molly.

He smiled at me. No, Beloved. Of course I was never with Molly. His fingertip tapped the table, once, twice, thrice. He smiled gently. Then he said, I was with you.

I opened my mouth and stood in gaping silence. It took a long time for coherent words to find their way out. No. I said it firmly. No, you were not! And even if. . . And then I ran out of words and logic.

He laughed aloud. Of all the reactions he could have had, that was the last I expected. He laughed as I had rarely heard him laugh, for while the jester makes others laugh, he seldom betrays his own amusement. But now he laughed unabashedly and without restraint, until he was breathless and had to wipe tears from his sightless eyes. I stared at him. Oh, Fitz, he gasped at last. Oh, my friend. What a thing for me to miss! Such a terrible time to be deprived of my sight. Still, all I could not see on your face, I heard in your voice. Oh, Fitz. Oh, my Fitz. He had to stop speaking to take in air.

Of all your jests upon me, that was the least funny. I tried not to sound as hurt as I felt. In the midst of my fears for Bee, he would do this?

No, Fitz. No. It was the best, for it was no jest. Oh, my friend. Youve no idea what youve just told me, even though I have done my best to explain it to you before. He drew breath again.

I found a bit of dignity. I should go see Chade. Id had my fill of the Fools peculiar humor for now.

Yes. You should. But not just yet. He reached out and unerringly seized my hand. Stay here, Fitz. For I think I know at least part of the answer to your most important question. And I have answers to the other questions that you do not even know to ask. That last one is the one I answer first. Fitz. You can deny it. But I have been with you, in every way that matters. As you have been with me. Weve shared our thoughts and our food, bound each others wounds, slept close when the warmth of our bodies was all we had left to share. Your tears have fallen on my face, and my blood has been on your hands. Youve carried me when I was dead, and I carried you when I did not even recognize you. Youve breathed my breath for me, sheltered me inside your own body. So, yes, Fitz, in every way that matters, Ive been with you. Weve shared the stuff of our beings. Just as a captain does with her liveship. Just as a dragon does with his Elderling. Weve been together in so many ways that we have mingled. So close have we been that when you made love to your Molly, she begat our child. Yours. Mine. Mollys. A little Buck girl with a wild streak of White in her.

Oh, gods. Such a jest and such a joy. A jest I played upon you? Hardly! A joy you have given me. Tell me. Does she look like me at all?

No. Yes. The twin peaks of her upper lip. Her long pale lashes against her cheeks. Her blond hair, curly as mine, wild as his had been. Her round chin, not the Fools as he was now but twin to him as a child.

Oh, how you lie! the Fool rejoiced. She does! I know it in your affronted silence. Bee looks like me! Yours and mine, and doubtless the most beautiful and clever child that ever existed!

She is that. Dont think of his ridiculous claim. Of all the people I could lie to, Id always been best at lying to myself. Bee was mine. Only mine. Her paleness came from my Mountain mother. I could believe that. It was easier to believe that than to agree that the Fool had shared in her making. Wasnt it?

And now the most important of your questions I answer. His voice went deadly solemn. He sat straighter at the table. His shoulders were squared and his peculiar gaze distant. At this instant, I do not know where they are. But I know where they must take her. Back to Clerres and the school. Back to the den of the Servants. She will be a precious prize to them. Not an Unexpected Son, no, but a trueborn shaysa, unseen and unpredicted. And not created by them. How astonished they will be by that. He paused and thought for a short time. And how determined to use her. Fitz, I do not think you need to fear for her life, yet. But all the same, we must fear for her and recover her as quickly as possible.

Can we intercept them? Hope flared in me at the first possibility of actually doing something rather than simply floundering and agonizing. I pushed all else he had said aside. All those thoughts could wait until I held Bee in my arms again.

Only if we are very clever. Exceedingly clever. It will be like that guessing game they play in the market, the one with the pea under one of three walnut shells. We must decide which route they will be smartest to take, and then that they will certainly not take the route as we will have deduced it. And then we must think of the route they would choose as the one we would think most unlikely, and discard that as well. We must thwart the future as they know it. Its a puzzle, Fitz, and they have far more information than we do. But there is one piece of information they may have but do not understand. They may know she is our child, but they have no idea to what lengths we will go to recover her.

He stopped speaking. Cradling his chin in one hand, he turned his face toward the firelight. He pulled at his lips as if his mouth pained him. I stared at him. The scars on his cheeks were fading but his silhouette looked wrong to me. He turned his face back to me. The shifting gold in his eyes was like molten metal seething in a pot. I will need to ponder this, Fitz. I must try to dredge from my memory every prophecy or dream about the Unexpected Son that I ever memorized. And I do not know if any of them will be useful. Do any of them truly apply to Bee? Or is she a chance find for them, a treasure discovered when they were seeking something very different? Will they split their group, and send some home with Bee while others continue to seek the Unexpected Son?

And since my Catalyst and I changed the world, have they harvested new prophecies from their stables of Whites and part-Whites? I think it likely. How can we outwit something like that? How do we outfox a fox who knows every path and den, when they seem able to fog every witness who might be able to help us?

A shadow of an idea flitted through my brain. Before I could grasp it, the Fool broke the flimsy thought. Go on! With the back of his fingers he shooed me away. Take some rest or visit Chade. I need to think alone.

I shook my head, marveling at him. In the space of a conversation, he had gone from a quivering, fearful wreck to dismissing me as if he were my king. I wondered if the dragon blood was affecting his mood as well as his body.

The Fool nodded a farewell, already lost in thought. I rose, stiff from sitting, and descended to my room. Ash had been there. It had been meticulously tidied with a precision I could never have achieved. A merry little fire on the hearth waited to be fed. I gave it a log and sat down in the chair before it. I stared into the flames.

The Fool was Bees father. The thought pushed itself into my mind. Ridiculous. A wild claim by a desperate man. She did look like him. Sometimes. Not that much. But more like him than she looked like me. No. It was impossible and I would not consider it. I knew I was Bees father. I knew that with complete certainty. A child could not have two fathers. Could she? Bitches could have split litters, with pups born that came from different males. But Bee was a lone child! No. A child could not have two fathers. An unwelcome memory intruded. Dutiful had been conceived by Veritys use of my body. Did Dutiful have two fathers? Was he as much my son as Veritys? I refused to think any longer about it tonight.

I considered my bed. I ached all over. My head was throbbing. My brow was puckered, and not with thought. I found the looking-glass in Lord Feldspars traveling trunk. The slash on my brow was a wrinkled seam in my skin. The healer had botched his stitches. Picking them out myself would be long and painful. Later. Think about something else. Something that didnt hurt.

I would, I thought, go and find some food. No. Prince FitzChivalry would not wander down to the kitchens looking for cold roast or a dollop of soup from the cauldron kept for the guardsmen. I sat down on the edge of the bed. Or would he? Who could predict what Prince FitzChivalry would do? I leaned back and stared up at the ceiling. Patience, I thought to myself, had not changed to suit Buckkeep Castle but had remained her adorable, eccentric self. A regretful smile bent my mouth. No wonder my father had loved her so. Id never considered how she had managed to remain herself despite the constraints of court life. Could I be as free as she had been? Set my own rules within the court? I closed my eyes to think about it.


Chapter Seventeen Blood | Fool's Quest | Chapter Nineteen The Strategy