This is a true account of exactly what happened, penned by Scribe Simmer as told to me by the minstrel Drum, a man unlettered but sworn to speak only truth.
Kitney Moss, accused of the murder of his young wife, was dragged to the Witness Stones near Buckkeep Castle on the fifteenth day after Springfest. He did not go willingly. The brother of his wife, Hardy the tinker, had demanded that Kitney meet him there, to duel with staves and fists for the truth of the matter. Hardy judged Kitney had strangled Weaver in a drunken rage. Kitney admitted to his drunkenness that evening but insisted that he had found Weaver dead when he returned to their cottage, and had fainted from grief, only to wake to their son’s terrified screams when the boy found his dead mother.
Hardy accused Kitney of murder and demanded that he be given his sister’s son to raise.
The contest commenced, and Kitney was soon badly battered by Hardy. When Kitney’s staff broke, Hardy laughed aloud and promised him a swift death. Kitney exclaimed, “By Eda, I swear that I did not do this awful thing. To the goddess I turn for protection.”
He lifted his hands and ran. Some there said he only hoped to flee. But seven witnesses and Drum the minstrel said that he appeared to deliberately dash himself against the face of one standing stone. There he vanished, as if he had dived into deep water.
Summer has passed and still no one has seen Kitney Moss or heard word of him. But it has been discovered that Tag the miller had in his possession a silver chain and a ring that once belonged to Weaver. When his cot was searched, other stolen items were discovered, and it now appears that perhaps Weaver discovered him robbing her house and she was killed by him. Kitney Moss was apparently innocent.
It was past noon when we reached Buckkeep Castle.
We had ridden slowly for Nettle’s comfort. Riddle rode at her side, and any anger she had felt toward him had vanished, swept away by the even more terrible loss we shared. By way of the Skill, she had kept Dutiful and the others abreast of our tragedy. I was deaf to the Skill and numb to every sense except my loss.
We had camped for five days at the site. Nettle had summoned a fresh coterie from Buckkeep. They had joined us there and attempted to find Bee in the pillar from our location. Their efforts had exhausted them with no results. They had returned to us, frostbitten and hollow-eyed. Nettle had thanked them and the Killdeer Coterie for their heroic efforts. We’d struck camp and left the standing stone in the deeply shaded winter forest. I carried that cold within me as we left.
I had Perseverance’s horse as a mount, a beast so well trained he took absolutely no management. Bleak and silent, I dropped back to ride with my Rousters. Not thinking took my entire focus. Every time a blade of hope sprouted, I rooted it out. I refused to think of what I’d done wrong, of what else I might have done. I refused to think at all.
We rode by daylight, but all seemed dimness to me. Sometimes I felt thankful that Molly was dead and not here to witness how badly I had failed. Sometimes I wondered if I was being punished because I had not loved Bee enough when she was small and dumb and helpless. Then I would push my mind back into not thinking.
The Buckkeep Guard admitted us without pause and we rode to the courtyard. There was a flurry around Nettle’s horse as servants emerged to welcome her home and all but carry her inside. I was dully surprised to find my Rousters standing in a row, holding their horses and waiting to be dismissed. I sent them off to their barracks and told them to report to Foxglove on the morrow. Time for Foxglove to integrate them, to change their livery and teach them discipline. I could not care about any of it.
I wondered why I had come back here. I wondered what would happen if I got back on the horse and rode away. How long would it take me to get to Clerres? I would travel fastest alone. The horse was tired. No supplies. That was not the way to do this. But how I longed to be that reckless boy again. I stood silent for a long time, aware that Riddle had come to stand beside me, but I didn’t turn to look at him.
He spoke quietly. “King Dutiful has summoned all of us to his private audience chamber.”
There would be a royal rebuke for my disobedience. A report demanded. I did not care about any of it, but Riddle just stood there, a presence against my Wit-sense. I didn’t turn to him when I spoke. “I need to take care of the horse,” I said.
He was silent for a time and then said, “I’ll tell Nettle that you’ll be with us shortly.”
I led the horse into the old stables. I didn’t even know his name. I found the empty stall between Fleeter and Priss, removed harness, hauled water, and found grain where it had always been kept. The stable girl named Patience came, looked at me, and then went away silently. No one else approached me until Perseverance appeared. He looked over the stall wall at me. “I should be doing that.”
“Not this time.” He was quiet, watching me do meticulously every small task one does when a hard-used horse is returned to a stable. I knew how his hands must itch to watch someone else take care of his animal. But I needed to do this. I needed to do at least this small task correctly.
“She goes like the wind. That Fleeter. The horse you loaned me.”
“She does. She’s a good one.” She was watching me over her stall door. I was finished. There was nothing more to do here. No more excuses for delay. I closed the stall door behind myself and wondered where I would go.
“Prince FitzChivalry? Sir?” He spoke in a whisper. “What happened? Where is Bee?”
“Lost. Lost forever.” I said aloud the words that had been echoing endlessly in my mind. “They took her into a Skill-pillar, boy. And they got lost in the magic. They never came out on the other side.”
He stared at me. Then he lifted his hands to his head and seized two great handfuls of his own hair as if he would rip it out. He bowed his head to his chest. “Bee,” he said in a voice so tight it squeaked. “My little Bee. I was teaching her to ride.”
I set a hand to his shoulder and he suddenly butted into me, hiding his face against me. “I tried to save her, sir!” It was a strangled cry, choked against my shirt. “I did, sir. I tried.”
“I know, boy. I know you did.” My back was to the stall wall. When my knees gave out, I slid down, to sit in the straw. Perseverance collapsed beside me. He curled up and wept ferociously. I sat wearily and patted him and wished that I could let my sorrow out as tears or sobs or screams. But it was a black poison that filled me up.
His horse looked over the stall and down at Per. He stretched his neck and whiffled the boy’s hair, then lipped at it. Perseverance reached up a hand. “I’ll be all right,” he told the horse in a dulled voice. The boy lied well. Fleeter reached for me.
Not now, horse. I can’t. Nothing left to give or share. I felt her bafflement. Don’t bond. If you don’t bond, you can’t fail. Not with Fleeter, not with Perseverance. Cut them off now before it got any deeper. It was the responsible thing to do.
I hauled myself to my feet. “I have to go,” I told the stable boy.
He nodded and I walked away. I hadn’t eaten, I hadn’t slept, and I hurt all over. I didn’t care. I entered by the kitchen door, as if I were still Nameless the dog-boy. I walked stolidly until I reached the door of Dutiful’s private audience room. Once it had been King Shrewd’s. Here judgment was passed and justice delivered to those of the nobler bloodlines. In older times, princes had been sent into exile from this room, and princesses found guilty of adultery and banished to distant keeps. What fate would Dutiful decree for me? I wondered again why I had come back to Buckkeep. Perhaps because thinking of something else to do was too difficult. The doors were tall, lovely panels of mountain oak. They were ajar. I pushed them open and walked in.
For all its gravitas, it was a simple room. An elevated chair, a stark judgment throne for the king or queen, presided over it. A lower chair beside it for any counselor the ruler might wish. Other chairs, of oak with straight backs, lined the walls for possible witnesses to the misdeed or those bringing the grievance. And in the center, a short wooden railing enclosed a low wooden block where the accused would kneel while awaiting his ruler’s judgment. The floor was bare stone, as were the walls. The only decoration was a large tapestry of the Farseer Buck that graced the wall behind the judgment seat. At the other end of the room, a fire burned in a large hearth, but it was not enough to banish the chill or dismiss the smell of disuse in the chamber.
They were waiting for me. Dutiful and Elliania, and the princes Integrity and Prosper. Nettle and Riddle. Kettricken, clad in simple black, her head cowled against the chill, looked older than when I had last seen her. Chade was seated, and next to him, in a heavy woolen shawl as if she would never be warm again, hunched Shine. She leaned on her father as if she were a child. Her cheeks, nose, and brow were still scalded red from the cold she had endured. Lant sat straight at Chade’s other side. Chade looked at me but his gaze betrayed nothing. Thick was there also, I noted, seated and looking about with round eyes. King Dutiful had not yet assumed the judgment seat, but he was formally attired and crowned. His queen Elliania had a fine scarf embroidered with narwhals and bucks over her head, and her crown upon that. She looked grave and ethereal. Nettle had changed her clothes but still looked cold and weary. Riddle, dressed in Buck blue with black trim, stood beside her. His arm sheltered her as I never had. Her brother Steady was beside her, as if to offer his strength.
I squared my shoulders, stood straight, and waited. I was surprised to hear someone else enter. I turned to see Hap, my foster son, dragging a wool cap from his head, his cheeks still red with cold. Swift entered on his heels, and his twin, Nimble, behind him. Must they, too, witness my disgrace and failure? Chivalry, Burrich’s eldest son, came in behind them. The page who had guided them up bowed deeply and then withdrew, shutting the doors behind him. No one had spoken. Chivalry looked at me with deeply grieved eyes before joining his siblings. Swift and Nimble had gone to Nettle’s side, to flank their sister. They huddled together. Hap looked at me but I would not meet his gaze. He hesitated, and then went to stand with Nettle and her brothers.
I stood alone.
I turned to look at Dutiful but he was watching the door. Someone tapped cautiously and then pushed the door open slowly. Spark entered, clad in sedate Buckkeep blue, the guise of a serving girl. And walking slowly beside her, his pale hand on her shoulder, came the Fool. He was clad in a black tunic over a loose-sleeved white shirt, with black leggings and low shoes. A soft black hat covered his sparse hair. His sightless eyes roved the chamber but I knew that it was his hand on Spark’s shoulder that guided him. She took him to one of the chairs along the wall and helped him seat himself. Steady looked round at the gathering and then at King Dutiful. The king gave a short nod. Steady walked to the door and shut it firmly.
I waited. I’d only witnessed this once, when I was twelve, and then it had been through a spy-hole in the wall. I remembered it well. I knew that Dutiful would walk to the raised chair and take his place. The others would find chairs along the walls. And I would be commanded to take my place standing at the rail and explain what I had done. And what I had failed to do.
Dutiful drew a deep and ragged breath. I wondered how hard this would be for him, and suddenly I deeply regretted putting him through it. Not what I had done; no regrets there, save that I had not rescued my daughter. He did not speak loudly, but his voice carried. “I think we are all here. I am sorry we must gather like this. Under the circumstances, we must keep this private. Within the family, in a sense.”
The lack of formality shocked me. He turned, not to me, but toward Hap and Chivalry and Nimble. “We sent you word that Bee had been kidnapped. Today we give you worse tidings. She is lost to us.”
“No!” Chivalry’s voice shook as he uttered his low denial. “What happened? How was she taken, and how is it possible you could not track down her kidnappers?”
Hap looked around at us. His trained voice broke as he said, “She was so small. So delicate.”
Shine muffled a sob. Dutiful spoke. “Fitz, do you want to tell them? Or shall I?”
So. A public confession before judgment. It was fitting. Dutiful had not taken his proper place but I knew how things should proceed. I walked to the railing. I placed both hands on it. “It began two days before Winterfest. I wanted to give Bee a special day. She’d . . . things had been difficult in our household.” I hesitated. How much pain did I wish to cause? As little as possible. Chade, Lant, and Shine had tragedy enough. However they had failed me, I had failed them even more.
And so I took it all upon myself. I did not speak of Lant’s shortcomings as a teacher and I glossed over Shine’s greed and childishness. Of all I had done, I spoke true, from my interference in the dog’s death to how I had left my child to the care of others to try to save the Fool. I admitted that I had resisted the idea of having a Skilled one stationed in my home to relay information in my absence, and that I had never seen the need for a house guard.
Dispassionately, I recounted all that had happened in my absence. I did not stop for Shine’s gasping sobs. I spoke of the lives shattered at Withywoods and all my futile efforts to find Bee. I said only that the two Chalcedeans I’d questioned had confirmed all our Withywoods folk had told us. I did not say why they had spoken so freely. I confessed that I had taken elfbark and been unable to follow my daughter into the stone. And to those who had never used a Skill-portal, I explained that Bee was now lost. Not dead: no, nothing so simple as dead. Lost. Gone. Unraveled into the Skill-stream. All efforts to recover her failed.
Then in all ways, I was finished. I swayed. I looked down at the wooden block before me and realized I was kneeling. At some time during my account, my knees had folded and I had crumpled.
“Fitz?” Dutiful said, and there was only concern in his voice. “Fitz? Are you unwell?”
“Of course he’s unwell! We’re all unwell. None of this is right. Worst is that we have to gather here in secret to mourn the loss of a child. Fitz. Put your arm across my shoulders. Come. Stand up.”
It was Kettricken tugging at me, lifting my arm to put it across her shoulders. And then she stood, not effortlessly, for the years weighed more heavily on her than they did on me. I tottered as she escorted me to a chair near the hearth. I sat, feeling confused and older than I’d ever been. I did not understand what was happening until her cowl dropped and I saw that her head was shorn.
The others gathered round us. Dutiful spoke softly. “Oh, Mother, I told you we must be restrained.”
“Restrained?” This from Elliania. She snatched crown and scarf from her head, revealing only a short brush of what had always been her glossy black hair. “Restrained?” She lifted her crown as if she would dash it to the ground. Prosper caught her arm and she let him take it. She sank down to the floor, her royal robes puddling around her. She put her hands over her face and spoke through her fingers. “We have lost a child. A little girl! A Farseer daughter! Gone, just as my little sister was gone for years. Must we have this agony again? The not-knowing? The secrecy of the pain? Gone! And we must be restrained?”
She threw her head back, baring the long column of her throat, and keened as if she were a wolf mourning her cub. Prosper sank to his knees beside her and put his arm around his mother’s shoulders.
Chivalry lifted his voice. “Can we be sure she is gone forever? All know tales of folk who have emerged from the stones years later . . .”
Nettle replied. “She has no training, and she entered the stone as part of a company of untrained folk. She would be like a drop of wine splashing into a rushing river. I will hold no false hopes. We have to let her go.”
I found I was shaking. Kettricken took the chair beside me and put her arm protectively around me. “It’s all my fault,” I confessed to her.
“Oh, Fitz, always you are . . .” She bit back whatever it was she had started to say. More gently she added, “No one blames you.”
“I blame me.”
“Of course you do,” she said, as if I were a child insisting the moon was a cheese.
Elliania had overheard. “No! Blame them! The ones who took her. They all must be hunted down and killed! Killed like pigs screaming before the butcher!”
“Elliania. Fitz killed those he could. The stone took the rest.” Dutiful tried to comfort her. I lifted my head. Blind or not, the Fool’s gaze met mine. He stood, groping for Spark’s shoulder, and she slipped beneath his hand as if it was a well-practiced trick. I saw his mouth move and knew that he whispered to her. He would go to Elliania and that alliance would be as unpredictable and explosive as one of Chade’s fire-pots.
“Family,” Dutiful said. His voice had that indefinable ring of someone taking control of a situation. “Please. We gathered here to mourn little Bee. We must keep our sorrow private until we have determined how magic was used against us, and if there is any further danger of attack from invisible enemies. We will strike back once we have a tactic and a target. Until we then, we gather information and we plan. We should not alarm our duchies until we have a defense to offer them.” He shook his head, his teeth set in a grimace.
“We are threatened on more than one front. An immense green dragon has been raiding Farrow, not only taking livestock but destroying barns to get at the animals. Two other dragons have been menacing Bearns. The Dragon Traders simultaneously claim they have no control over them and threaten retaliation against any who attack them. The Pirate Isles have increased levies against our trading ships by thirty percent, and have begun to insist those levies can only be paid in gold or Sandsedge brandy. Tilth is reporting a pestilence that is killing their sheep and their dogs. And in the Mountains—”
“It was ever so,” Kettricken said, interrupting his listing of woes. “Tragedy does not mean that other problems cease. But you are right, Dutiful. We came here to mourn, and to give one another whatever small comfort we can.” She rose and extended a hand toward her son’s wife. Elliania took it and Kettricken helped her to rise. “Come.”
The two queens led and all followed them to the hearth. Chivalry, son of Burrich and Molly, came to me and offered me his arm. “Can you walk?” he asked me without pity.
“I can”—but I accepted his arm to stand, and he stayed beside me.
Spark had scissors in her apron pocket. Both Kettricken and Elliania had brought their shorn hair in silken bags. Into the flames they went, and the stench filled the room. The smell reminded me of how Bee and I had burned the messenger’s body. My little girl had been so brave that night. My gorge rose suddenly. Such a fond memory to cherish of my little child: how she had helped me conceal a murder. I could not speak as each person contributed a lock of hair to the flames and spoke a memory or a regret or bowed a head silently. Hap spoke of a dress he had given her, and how she had looked like a “little holiday cake, trimmed with sugar and spice” when she wore it for him. Kettricken spoke, with regret, of how she had misjudged her viability when she saw my infant. Nettle shared something I’d never known, that she had passed a room and seen Bee dancing, alone, as she watched snow fall through the window. But when it came my turn all I could do was shake my head.
Dutiful took Spark’s scissors. He cut a lock from the back of my neck, where it would scarcely show, and gave it to me to offer to the fire. He did the same for the others. There was no restoring Kettricken’s or Elliania’s hair, but we would give no others cause to wonder. When the Fool came forward to offer his lock of hair, he put his hand on my arm. “Later,” he said quietly.
And that was all. There was no little body to set on a pyre. All felt it. Our small farewell ceremony was unfinished and always would be. In the midst of my family, I had never felt more alone. Nettle embraced me. Kettricken took both my hands in hers, looked in my eyes, and simply shook her head. Spark came to take me over to Chade. He smiled at me and thanked me, very softly, for bringing his girl back to him. I could not tell if he even knew that Bee was lost to me forever.
Each of them came to me, with a word or a touch, and then quietly left the audience chamber. Nettle’s brothers bore her away and Riddle trailed after them. Chade’s children had taken him back to his room. Spark guided the Fool away, and Hap slipped out on their heels, probably to have quiet words with him. I made a grave farewell to Queen Elliania. Tears still streaked her cheeks as her sons escorted her away.
I was left alone in the stark room with Dutiful and Kettricken. Dutiful looked at me woefully. “I have to leave. Three of my dukes have traveled to discuss with me the depredations of the dragons and what can be done about them.”
He took a breath to say more, but I shook my head. “You must go and be the king. I know that.” And I did, but my desire to be alone made it so easy for me to urge him back to his own life. He left, walking sadly, and I turned to Queen Kettricken.
“No.” She spoke firmly.
“I beg your pardon?” Her single word startled me.
“You are going to escort me back to my sitting room. There will be food waiting there. Fitz, you will not leave. Nor will I allow you to waste away. I see every bone in your face, and your hands are skeletal. Come. Walk with me.”
I did not want to. I wanted to go to my room and sleep forever. Or get on a horse and ride off into the darkening winter night. Instead Kettricken took my arm and we paced through Buckkeep, up the stairs, and to the door of her sitting room, adjacent to her bedchamber. We entered, and she shooed away two ladies waiting for her.
A table of food and tea awaited us. The soup had been covered to stay warm, and the bread was soft and fresh. The tea had mint in it, and chamomile, and a rich spice I did not know. I ate without appetite, because it was easier than resisting her. I drank the warming tea and felt like a hard-ridden horse that had finally reached the stables. My sorrow had not eased, but it was giving way to weariness. Kettricken put another log on the fire. She came back to the table but did not sit down. Instead she walked behind me, set her hands to my shoulders, and kneaded them. I stiffened at her touch. She leaned down to speak by my ear. “There comes a time to stop thinking. For you that time is now. Drop your head forward.”
And I did. She rubbed my shoulders and my neck and spoke of other times. She made me remember the Mountains and how she had tried to poison me the first time we met. She spoke of our long trek in search of Verity, and recalled to me my wolf and how we had once moved as one. She spoke of the pain of finding Verity, and finding him so changed. And giving him up to his dragon.
The fire burned low, and outside the narrow window the winter day faded. “Get up. You need to sleep.” She led me to her bedchamber and drew back the rich purple coverlet to expose the clean white linens. “Rest here. No one will come to find you or ask you questions. Just sleep.”
“In the tea,” I said, and she nodded.
“For your own good,” she replied, “and fitting, after what you did to Riddle.”
I could not find an argument. I lay down on her clean sheets in the clothing I’d worn for days. She pulled the boots from my feet and covered me over as if I were a child.
In the dead of night I stirred. Wakefulness flowed back into me. I was a cup full of sorrow, but that sorrow was stilled, like a pain that abates as long as one does not move. Slowly it came to me that I was not in my own bed. Kettricken’s scent was all around me. There was warmth and pressure down my back. She slept beside me, against my back with her arms around me. So wrong. So right. I took both her hands in mine and held them against my chest. I felt no desire other than to be held, for someone to sleep beside me and guard my back. She drew a deeper breath and sighed it out on a word. “Verity.”
Sorrow and loss never die. We can put them away in a chest and lock it tight, but whenever it is opened, even a crack, the aroma of lost sweetness will rise to fill our lungs to heaviness. Verity, lost to the Skill just as Bee was. Sometimes, to share a loss is the closest to balm. I missed my king and wished I had his strength. “Verity,” I agreed softly. “And Bee,” I added. I closed my eyes and sleep pulled me under again.
Before dawn she woke me. She wore her thick winter nightrobe, and her short hair stood out in a gray halo around her pink scalp. “You should go by the secret door,” she said, and I nodded. There was enough troubling Dutiful without scandal between his mother and his cousin. My body ached and I did not put on my boots, but carried them. She followed me to the door of the garderobe. My concealed exit was in the wall of that small chamber. There she caught my arm, turned me, and embraced me again. I kissed her brow, and then her cheek. As I let her go, she leaned up to kiss my mouth. “Do not punish yourself, Fitz. Grieve, but do not punish yourself. And do not run away from us, please. We need you here, now more than ever.”
I nodded but did not answer. Did she know what a heavy harness she had just put upon me?
The passage I entered, like all things that touched Kettricken, was clean and bare. There were no mouse droppings, no cobwebs there, and I traversed the distance by touch to Chade’s old den. I entered it as softly as I could, hoping not to wake the Fool.
But he was in a chair before the fire. His hands were held up in front of him, and he moved his fingers against the dancing light of the flames. “There you are,” he greeted me. “I was worried about you when you didn’t come by.”
I stopped. “You thought I’d run away.” It was a bit daunting to realize how many of my friends believed I’d do that.
He wagged his head in a dismissive way. “There’s a pattern.”
“I did that once!”
He folded his lips and said nothing. His fingers continued their dance.
“Can you see your fingers?”
“I see darkness against a lighter background. And it limbers them. Even though it hurts.” He waggled them again. “Fitz. Words can’t express—”
“No. They can’t. So let us not try.”
“Very well.” Subdued.
Bee. Bee. Bee. Bee. Think of something else. “I was glad to see you up and out of this room yesterday.”
“It was frightening for me. I wanted to come to you. To speak to Elliania. But . . . well. Not yet. I know that I must push myself. I cannot be a rat in the walls. I need to become lithe and strong again. So we can go back to Clerres, and end that place. Avenge our child.” Like a suddenly billowing flame, his fury, hatred, and pain erupted in his voice.
I could not take him with me. I told him the truth in a way that seemed a lie. “I have no stomach for plotting just now, Fool. All I can feel right now is sorrow.” And shame. I knew this stillness. I recalled it from Regal’s torture chamber. One becomes motionless, assessing how badly one is hurt. One asks, Can I move without dying?
“I understand, Fitz. Mourn you must. Your mourning is the seed that will grow into fury. I will wait for you to be ready. Though it grieves me to think of those who suffer there, waiting for us.”
The eyes he turned toward me were blind but I still felt the rebuke in his gaze. I spoke flatly. “It’s no good, Fool. You are putting the spurs to a dead horse.”
“You have no hope, then?”
“None.” I did not want to talk about it.
“I thought that surely you would go after her.” He sounded as hurt as he was puzzled by my lack of fire.
“I would have if I could. I took the elfbark tea to be proof against their fogging magic. It has blanketed my Skill. I can no more go through a Skill-stone now than you can.”
His fingers paused in their dancing. He rubbed the scarred tips of those fingers together and said, “Ah, but once I could.”
“And now neither of us can.”
“But your limitation will pass. Your Skill will return.”
“I believe it will, though even that is not certain. Some of the older scrolls speak of quenching forever the Skill in those who used it for ill purposes. And they used elfbark to do it.”
“How much did you take?”
“Two doses. One of weak elfbark here. And one of delvenbark as I got closer. I believe it will pass. What I cannot predict is how long it will take.”
He was silent for a time. “I had intended that the first part of our journey to Clerres would be made through the stones, as when Prilkop and I traveled there.” He was subdued.
“It seems you have it all planned out.”
The firelight glinted oddly on his skin as he shook his head. “No. I have planned only the possible. The impossible I have yet to map out.”
“Yes. We will leave from the dungeons of Buckkeep. I have learned from Ash that several times he was ordered to await the return of Lord Chade in a certain corridor. Once he crept forward, peered around a corner, and saw his master emerge from a stone wall. A wall with a rune on it.”
“It goes to Aslevjal.”
The Fool made a sound of exasperation. “You might at least pretend to be surprised.”
It came to me like a curtain parting. He was trying to distract me from my mourning. Trying to lift me from a pain we shared. I tried to find something new to tell him. “It was part of Chade’s downfall. His curiosity. He traveled by the stones too often, creeping off to Aslevjal to prowl the corridors there in search of more Skill-knowledge. Nor did he follow the precaution of waiting at least three days between journeys. He would go and return in a single night, and sometimes do so for several nights in succession.”
“No amount of curiosity could lure me back to that place,” he said, and there was a shadow of old dread in his voice. The fire crackled and we both recalled our torments there.
“Yet you would go back there as the first part of your journey to Clerres?”
“I would. Such is my determination. Such is my need.”
I said nothing. The fire spoke in the silence, hissing and popping when it hit a pocket of sap.
“Very well, then,” he said at last. “If you will not plan this with me, then what will you do, Fitz? What are your plans for the rest of your life?” He made a small dismissive sound and asked, “What will you do tomorrow?”
His question was a dash of cold water in my face. What would I do? I had no woman to care for and protect, no child to raise. “I just woke up. I don’t even know what I’ll do today.”
He frowned. “It’s morning? Not late at night?”
“Morning. Dawn.” Another day of Bee being gone. Tonight would be another night of the same. And tomorrow would be another empty dawn. What would I do with my life now? I knew. But it was not a choice I intended to share with anyone.
I became aware of her an instant before the tapestry moved. I was looking at it as the corner lifted and Spark appeared in her tidy dress of Buckkeep blue. She wore a little white cap on her head today, edged with lace and decorated all round with horn buttons steeped blue. A pretty girl who would grow to be a lovely woman.
As Bee never would.
“Excuse me, sir. I went by your room with a breakfast tray and left it there for you. But . . .”
She hesitated and I knew her difficulty. I hadn’t been there and my bed hadn’t been slept in.
“I’m here. I’ll find my breakfast when I go down. Don’t be concerned, Spark.”
“Oh, it wasn’t the food, sir. I was given a message by the steward, to be given to you as soon as you were awake.”
“The king will be meeting with the Duke of Farrow this morning, in his private chambers. He desires you wait in the antechamber so he can speak with you afterward.”
“Very well. Thank you, Spark.”
“You’re very welcome, sir, I’m sure.” She hesitated. She was going to offer me her condolences. I didn’t want them. I didn’t want to hear anyone say again how sorry they were that Bee was gone. She saw my face and just nodded. To the Fool she said, “Sir, did you want your breakfast now, or in a while?”
The Fool made a sound between amusement and disgust. “Actually, I’m just off to bed. Perhaps later, Spark?”
“Certainly, sir.” She dropped an effortless curtsy, and I thought I glimpsed a brief smile, as if this were a new skill and one that pleased her. Then she whisked herself away.
“Well, Dutiful has saved you for today. But I warn you, Fitz: If you don’t decide what you will do with the rest of your life, someone else will decide it for you.”
“Scarcely a new situation for me,” I reminded him. “I’d best go and wait for Dutiful to see me.”
“You’d best head to the steams before you go to meet the king. I actually smelled you before I heard you.”
“Oh.” I scowled as I realized I was still wearing the clothes I’d had on when I left Ringhill Keep. And I’d slept in Kettricken’s bed in them.
“One thing still bothers me,” the Fool said suddenly. He had leaned back in his chair, and his fingers were once more dancing between him and the fire’s light. The pale fingers gleamed almost golden.
“Shine told you that Dwalia led them into the Skill-pillar. Not Vindeliar, who I suppose has some measure of Skill or a similar magic. But Dwalia. I knew her. She is a Servant, through and through. Not a drop of White in her, and certainly not Skilled. How did she do it?”
What did it matter? She’d done it. I cast my mind back for the details of Shine’s account. “Shine said that Dwalia made them all hold hands. Then she put on a glove before she touched the stone. A very thin glove with silver fingertips . . .”
We both understood in the same instant. I stared as he turned his scarred fingers toward himself as if he could see the sliced surfaces. “I wondered why they took them,” he observed. “Now we know.”
They had sliced the Skill from his fingertips, sewn it into a glove, and used it to take my child into the stone. I had to gasp to remember how to breathe. I felt a surge of revulsion and then, for a blink, fury cracked through my sorrow.
I had to look aside from him for a time. When I looked back, he was rubbing the tips of his scarred fingers together, as if recalling when they were silvered with magic.