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Chapter Nine

The Crown

As I have risked my life for this knowledge, I expect that for my next piece of information, I will be paid more handsomely! When you first approached me for these small tasks as you called them, there at Buckkeep Castle, I had no idea what sorts of missions you would be assigning me. As I have said in the past, I will continue to convey interesting information to you, but nothing that I feel undermines or exploits my friendships.

Kelsingra is indeed a city of wonders past imagining. Information is stored in almost every stone there. I have heard that there is even more to be found in the Elderling archives recently discovered in the city, but I am not invited to enter, and I wont risk my friends trust by attempting to go there. A great deal of information about Elderlings is available in the walls of the old market space and one cant help but be aware of it, even just strolling by on an evening. If you wish to advance me some coin and ask specific questions, I will answer the ones that I can. Had I not lost a hand to a windlass, I would not be in need of your funds. Nonetheless, I will remind you that I have my pride. A simple sailor you may think me, but I have my own code of honor.

But to your most pressing question. I have seen no silvery river or stream. And as I traveled there on the Rain Wild River and then up one of its tributaries, I assure you that I saw a great many rivers and streams feeding into that vast waterway. They were gray with silt. I suppose they might appear silvery in some lights.

However, I think I have had tidings of what it is that you seek. It is not a river, but a well. Silvery stuff rises within it, and the dragons seem to find it almost intoxicating. The location of this well and its very existence are supposed to be a great secret, but for one who can hear dragons, their clamor when the stuff rises close enough to the surface for them to drink betrays it. At other times, I imagine it must be drawn up in a bucket for them. I was obliged to keep my questions on this topic oblique. Two of the young keepers have little tolerance for brandy, and we had a lovely wandering conversation until their commander arrived and berated them and threatened me. This Rapskal seems a very unsettled sort of person, capable of carrying out his various threats against me if he found me encouraging his men to drunkenness. He demanded that I leave Kelsingra, and the next morning I was escorted from my accommodations to the next departing ship. He did not ban me from the city as I have heard other travelers and entrepreneurs have been banned, but I think I shall let some time pass before I attempt another visit.

I will anticipate your next letter of credit and your queries. I am still quartered at the Splintered Fid, and messages sent to that inn will reach me.

Jek

It was dawn when I fell facedown on my bed. I was exhausted. I had climbed the stairs, eager as a boy to tell the Fool all that had transpired, only to find him soundly asleep. For a time, I had sat by his bed, wishing he could have been there with me. When I dozed off in the chair, Id surrendered and tottered back down the stairs to my bed. I closed my eyes and slept. I sank into sweet oblivion, and then jerked awake as if someone had stuck a pin in me. I could not free myself from the sensation that something was wrong: terribly, terribly wrong.

I could not sleep. Danger, danger, danger thrummed through my nerves. I seldom felt such unease without a reason. Years ago, my wolf had always been at my back, using his keener sense to warn me of lurking intruders or unseen watches. He was gone these many years, but in this he remained. When something prickled against my senses, I had learned to pay attention.

I remained perfectly still on my bed. I heard only what I expected to hear, the winter wind outside my window, the soft sounds of the fire, my own breathing. I smelled nothing beyond my own smells. I opened my eyes to slits, feigning sleep still, and studied what I could of the room. Nothing. With Wit and Skill, I sensed all around me. There was nothing to alarm me. And yet I could not shake my anxiety. I closed my eyes. Sleep. Sleep.

I slept, but I did not rest. My heart was a wolf, hunting over snow hills, not for prey but for his lost pack. Hunting and hunting and hunting. Howling out my pain to the night, I ran and ran and ran. I woke sweaty and still in my clothes. I had a moment of stillness and then heard the tiny scratch at my door. My senses remained wolf-sharpened from my dream. I crossed the room and opened the door while Ash was still poking at the lock.

Without a trace of embarrassment, he removed the pick from the lock, stooped, picked up the breakfast tray, and carried it into my room. Moving efficiently, he set out my breakfast. Then he moved a small table that had been by my bed. He unslung a pouch from his shoulder, removed papers from it, and laid them out in orderly rows.

What are those? Are they from Chade?

He pointed to each category. Letters of congratulation. Invitations. Petitions for you to use your influence. I did not read them all, only the ones that looked useful. I expect you will have a host of them every day now.

My unwanted correspondence arranged, he looked around my chamber for his next task. I was still grasping that reading my private correspondence was part of what he considered his duty. I saw only a shadow of disapproval in his eyes as he took in my rumpled clothes before he offered, Have you any washing, my lord? I should be happy to take it to the laundry folk.

Yes, I suppose I do. But I dont think guests use the washerfolk that way. And I am not your lord.

Sir, I do believe all of that changed last night. Prince FitzChivalry, I should be greatly honored to convey your dirty smallclothes to the washerfolk. A grin twitched and then disappeared.

Are you being cheeky with me? I was incredulous.

He lowered his eyes and observed quietly, Not cheeky, sir. But one bastard may rejoice at another lowborns good fortune, and dream of better days for himself. He cocked his head at me. Chade has had me hard at learning the history of the Six Duchies. Did you know that one queen-in-waiting actually gave birth to a bastard, and that he rose to be King of the Six Duchies?

Not quite. You are thinking of the Piebald Prince. And that did not end well for him at all. His cousin had killed him for being Witted and had taken the throne.

Perhaps not. He glanced at my breakfast tray and tugged the napkin straight. But he had a moment, didnt he? Someday, Id like a moment. Does it seem fair to you that how we are born determines how we are seen for the rest of our lives? Must I always be the son of a whore, a bawdyhouse errand boy? A few promises and a ring, and you might have been the king. Did you never think of that?

No, I lied. It was one of the first lessons I had from Chade. Think of what is and dont let what might have been distract you.

He nodded to that. Well, being Lady Rosemarys apprentice is definitely a step up in my life. And if the opportunity presents itself, I will imagine a better status for myself. I respect Lord Chade, but if one only remains what one is today, well. . . He tipped his head at me with a speculative look.

That stung, a bit. Well. No offense taken, Ash, and if you continue with your lessons and your present master, then yes, I think you can rightly dream of better days.

Thank you, sir. Your clothes, then?

A moment. As I began to strip off my sweaty shirt and crumpled trousers, Ash went to Lord Feldspars traveling trunk and began to pull out garments. This wont do, I heard him mutter. Nor this. Not now. Whats this? Perhaps.

But when I turned back to him to accept the clothing he was offering me, his eyes were very wide. Whats wrong?

Sir, what happened to your back? Were you attacked? Should I request a private guard for you? One on your door?

I reached around to touch the sore spots on my back. I was startled that they were not completely healed. One was still oozing and two others were sore to the touch. And I could not think of a ready lie to explain what must look like a number of small puncture wounds on my back. A bizarre accident, not an attack. My shirt, please. I tried to sound as if I were accustomed to having some young man as my valet. Wordlessly, he shook it out and held it open for me. I turned and met his eyes. He glanced away. He knew I was lying about my back. But was I? It had been, after all, a bizarre accident. I said nothing as I accepted clean smallclothes, trousers, and stockings. I was pleased that he had chosen clothes far more sensible than those Lord Feldspar had been flaunting. There were still a multitude of buttons, but fewer that poked me. My boots, newly cleaned, were ready for me. I felt a measure of relief as I sat down to put them on. Thank you. Youre good at this.

I served my mother and the other women of the house for years.

I felt a little sinking of my heart. Did I want to know more about this apprentice of Chades? But that sort of an invitation could not be heartlessly ignored. So I heard.

Lord Chade was never my mothers patron, so you need not fear he is my father. But he was always kinder to me than most. I began running errands for him when I was about ten. So, when my mother was. . .killed, and I was forced to flee, he sent someone to find me. And he saved me.

Tumbling facts falling into place. Chade was a patron of the house where Ashs mother worked, just not his mothers patron. Some kindness, and probably the boy had begun spying for him without even knowing he was doing it. Some coins to run an errand, and a few casual questions, and Chade would learn things about the other patrons. Enough to put the boys life in danger when his mother died? A story there. Too many stories. Which noble son had taken his deviation too far? I didnt want to know. The more I knew, the more involved I would be. Last night, Id been netted as neatly as a fish. I already knew that the more I thrashed, the tighter the web would become. Im tired, I said, then amended it to a weary smile and, Im already tired and the day has only just begun. Id best check on my friend. Ash, count me among the friends you could run to, did you ever need that again.

He nodded gravely. Another noose of spiderweb wrapped around me. Ill take these to the washerfolk for you, and bring them back this afternoon. Do you require anything else of me?

Thank you. That will be all for now.

I heard a distant echo of Verity in my voice. Verity dismissing his man who always attended him. Charim. That had been his name. So long ago. I half-expected Ash to be offended at my dismissal, but he bobbed a bow and went out the door with my laundry over his arm. I sat down to the tray of food that he had brought and made a start on it. Was the food better today? Was FitzChivalry Farseer supplied a better breakfast than Lord Feldspar? And if he was, what did that say for the expectations folk would have, both low and high? Would nobles try to curry favor with me? Underlings seek employment with me? I sampled some of the missives Ash had left. Favor begged, fawning invitations, and overly kind congratulations on my return. I closed my eyes tight and opened them again. The stack of correspondence was still there. Eventually, Id have to deal with it. Or perhaps that was one of Ashs duties. Hed said hed read most of it, without apology.

Where would I fit into Dutifuls court now? And how could I leave it? What of my Bee? I still had not had a chance to tell Kettricken to send for her, but it seemed that I must, for it came to me suddenly that those who connected me with Tom Badgerlock would know there was a second, secret Farseer daughter. Did I control any aspect of my life any longer? The life I had led for the past forty years was suddenly shattered to fragments. Lies and deceptions had been swept aside. Well, some lies and deceptions. I needed to talk to Chade: A tale must be concocted about what I had been doing all those years. Would we admit my part in the freeing of Icefyre, the black dragon? Reveal that I had snatched Dutiful back from a misadventure with the Witted and preserved him for the throne? How did Tom Badgerlock intersect with FitzChivalry Farseer? It suddenly seemed to me that truth-telling was just as hazardous as lying. One little bit of truth might lead to requiring another revelation. Where would it end?

I concentrated on eating, not letting myself dwell on all the questions crowding into my brain. I had no intention of leaving my room today until someone Skilled to me or sent me a message. Too many juggling balls had been lofted for me to chance stepping into a seething current.

So when I heard the light tap at my door, I set down my cup and stood immediately. The tap came again. And not from the chamber door, but from the concealed door that led to Chades old lair. Fool? I queried softly, but no one replied. I triggered the door.

It was not the Fool who waited there, but the crow. She looked up at me, turning her head to regard me with one bright eye. Then, as if she were the queen herself, she hopped gravely down the remaining steps and into the center of the room.

It is common for folk who are not Witted to think that those of us with Old Blood can talk to any animal. We cant. The Wit is a mutual exchange, a sharing of thoughts. Some creatures are more open than others; some cats not only will talk to anyone, but will natter on or nag or pester with absolutely no restraint. Even folks with but the tiniest shred of the Wit will find themselves standing to open the door before the cat has scratched at it, or calling the cat from across the room to share the best morsel of fish. Having been bonded to a wolf for so many years set my thoughts in a pattern that, I believed, made all creatures of that family more open to me. Dogs, wolves, and even foxes have communicated with me from time to time. One hawk I have spoken with, at the bidding of her mistress. One small ferret, ever a hero in my heart. But no Witted one can simply arrow thoughts at a creature and expect to be understood. I considered trying, but the Wit swiftly becomes an intimate sharing. And I had little desire to develop such a bond with this bird. So I did not use the Wit, but only words, as I said to her, Well, you look much better than the last time I saw you. Would you like me to open the window for you?

Dark, she said, and I was astonished at the clarity of the word, and how appropriate it was. I had heard birds trained to speak, but usually the human words they uttered were simple repetitions bereft of sense or context. The crow walked rather than hopped across the room and studied the window before fluttering to the top of my clothing chest. I did not stare at her. Few wild creatures are comfortable with that. Instead, I stepped carefully past her and opened the window.

Wind and chill came in: The storms of the past few days had paused but clouds promised more snow tonight. For a moment I stood and stared out over the castle walls. It had been years since I had studied this view. The forest had retreated. I could see farm cottages where once there had been only sheep pastures, pastures where there had been forest, and stumplands beyond that. My heart sank; once we had hunted there, my wolf and I, where now sheep pastured. The world had to change and for some reason the prosperity of men always results in them taking ever more from wild creatures and places. Foolish, perhaps, to feel that pang of regret for what was gone, and perhaps it was only felt by those who straddled the worlds of humans and beasts.

The crow fluttered to the windowsill. I stepped back carefully to give her room. Farewell, I wished her and waited for her to go.

She cocked her head and looked at me. In that quick way birds have, she twisted her head again and looked out over the world. Then she opened her wings and with a flutter crossed the room and landed with a rattle of crockery on my breakfast tray. Wings spread wide, as if to remind me, she said, White! White! Then without hesitation she snatched up and swallowed a shred of bacon. She stabbed at a bit of leftover bread and with a shake scattered it over the floor. She eyed it for a moment, and then disregarded it as she clattered her bill in a dish that had held apple compote.

While she dismembered my breakfast, I went to Lord Feldspars trunk. Yes, Chade had supplied him well. I found the bottle of ink and a quill pen. I thought for a bit, then cleared the correspondence from the table. I reversed the quill, dipped the feathered end into the ink bottle, and studied it. It would do. Crow. Come here. Ill paint you black.

She dropped the piece of bacon shed been trying to shred. White! White!

No white, I told her. I focused my Wit. No white.

She cocked her head and pointed one bright eye at me. I waited. With a clatter that sent my spoon to the floor, she lifted from my tray and hopped to the table.

Open your wings. She stared. I slowly lifted my arms wide. Open. Show me the white.

To understand what someone wants is not the same as trusting. She tried. She opened her wings. I tried to dab black on, but she fluttered her wings and spattered ink all over us. I tried again. I talked to her as I worked. Ive no idea if this will stand up to rain. Or wind. Or if your feathers will stick together. Open them. No, leave them open. So the ink dries. Thats it!

By the time I began work on the second wing, she was more cooperative. My arms and my correspondence were freckled with ink. I finished her second wing and went over the first one again. Then I had to make her understand that I had to paint the undersides of her wings as well. Now dry! I warned her, and she stood, wings outstretched. She rattled her pinions to put them in order and I was glad to see little spatter of ink. And when she folded them, she looked to me like an ordinary black crow.

No white! I told her. She turned her head and preened her feathers to smoothness. She seemed satisfied with my work, for she hopped abruptly back into the middle of my plate.

Ill leave the window open for you, I told her, and left her there, making a mess of my unfinished breakfast.

I pulled the door shut behind me, for what Chade had told me once was true. That open window and this opened door together created a terrific draft in the apartments.

I climbed the steep steps wondering how I could convey to the Fool all that had happened in one night. A foolish grin took command of my face. For the first time, I allowed myself to admit that part of me rejoiced. So long, so long, I had stood at the edge of the forest, looking at the lit windows in the distance. Buckkeep Castle was my home, had always been my home. Despite all my misgivings and fears, I allowed myself to imagine, for one delicious moment, that I could stand to my kings left side during his judgments or be seated at the high table during a banquet. I imagined my small daughter dancing with me in the Great Hall. I would tell the Fool and he would understand my torn feelings. Then, with a rush of regret, I wished again that the Fool had been there last night, to see and hear Starling singing of my courage and brave and selfless deeds.

But he would have seen nothing of it. And like a hunted stag run off a cliff over a frozen lake, my mood plummeted into dark and cold. My exultation vanished and I almost dreaded telling him. Yesterday I had not mentioned Nettles pregnancy. Today I feared to tell him of King Dutifuls public recognition of me.

My steps had slowed and by the time I reached the top of the stairs, I was plodding. So I was not prepared to see the Fool seated at Chades table, six candles burning bright in a tight circle before him. I was even less prepared for the lopsided smile with which he greeted me. Fitz! he exclaimed, almost merrily, the scars on his face contorting his smile to a puppets grin. Ive news to share!

And I, I rejoined, my spirits daring to lift a bit.

Its good news, he told me, as if I could not have guessed that. I wondered if he was going to tell me my own tidings, and immediately resolved that if he wished to do so and take pleasure in it, then I would let him.

So I see, I told him, taking a seat at the table opposite him.

No, you dont! he rejoined, his laughter bubbling up at a jest I didnt share yet. But I do!

I sat for a long moment in silence, waiting for him to add words to that. Then, as often had happened in our youths, I suddenly grasped the meaning he intended. Fool! You can see?

I just told you that, he responded, and burst into hearty laughter.

Look at me! I commanded him, and he lifted his eyes but they did not meet my gaze. To my deep disappointment, they were still clouded and gray.

The smile on his face faded a little. I can see light, he admitted. I can tell light from darkness. Well, thats not it exactly. Being blind isnt darkness as you know darkness. Oh, it doesnt matter, so I wont try to explain it except to say, I know there are candles burning on the table before me. And when I turn my face away, I know there are not candles over there. Fitz, I think my eyesight is coming back. When you used the Skill on me that night. . .I knew that the sores on my back began to heal. But this is so much more than that.

I did nothing to your eyes that night. It may simply be that a natural healing process has begun. I bit back the warning that nearly burst from me. Dont hope too much. I knew how tenuous his health was. And yet, he could now perceive light. That had to mean he was starting to rally. Im glad for you. And we must keep you on the path. Have you eaten today?

Oh, yes. Ive eaten. Chades boy brought food, and seemed less fearful of me. Or perhaps more fascinated by the bird. And then Chade himself came by, with a parcel of things for you. Fitz! He told me all. And I am. . .befuddled. And happy for you. And frightened. How can such a time be, such a world where things happen that I never foresaw! And he told me that Starling played your story and sang it beautifully! Is it truly so? Did I dream it?

A lurch of disappointment. I had not known how much I wished to tell him myself until I found he already knew. But his smile at my good fortune was everything I could have wished for.

No. It was all true. It was wonderful. And with him, I shared the moments that few others would have understood. I told him how Celerity, the Duchess of Bearns, heir to her sister Lady Hope, had set her hands on my shoulders. I had stared into her clear eyes. There were lines at the corners of her eyes and framing her mouth, but still a determined girl met my gaze. I never doubted you. You should not have doubted me, she had said, and kissed my mouth softly before turning and walking quickly away, her husband shooting me a puzzled glare before he hastened after her. I recounted how Queen Elliania had cut a silver narwhal button from her cuff and given it to me, bidding me wear it always. He smiled to that, and then his face grew thoughtful when I told him that people I scarcely recalled had taken my hand and pressed it, or slapped my shoulder. Some had smiled incredulously, a few had wept. Very disconcerting were those who tipped me a wink or leaned in to whisper, Remember well that I kept your secret, and messages of that ilk. Worst of all was a young guardsman who strode boldly past the waiting nobility. Sparks of anger had danced in his eyes as he said, My grandfather died thinking he had sent you to your death. To the end of his days, Blade believed he had betrayed you. He, I think, you might have trusted. Then he had turned on his heel and was been engulfed by the crowd before I could speak a word to him.

I found myself speaking softly as if I were telling an old tale to a young child. And giving it a happy ending, when all know that tales never end, and the happy ending is but a moment to catch ones breath before the next disaster. But I didnt want to think about that. I didnt want to wonder what would happen next.

Did Chade say why he had done it? he asked me.

I gave a shrug he could not see. He said it was time. That both Shrewd and Verity would have wanted it to happen. Having emerged from the shadows himself, he said he could not leave me there. I rummaged on one of Chades shelves and then another before I found what I sought. Spirits of wine. I lit my own candle at the fire and found a rag. I dampened the rag and began to remove my ink freckles. They were hard to get off. Good for the crow, annoying for me. I moved to Chades mirror, scrubbing at the spots on my face.

What is that smell? What are you doing?

Getting ink off my face. I was painting the crows white feathers black so she could go out without being pecked and chased.

Painting a crow. Prince FitzChivalry amuses himself painting crows the day after his acknowledgment by the throne. He laughed. A very good sound.

Chade left a package for me?

At the end of the table, he said. He had fixed his gaze once more on the candles, reveling in whatever trace of their brilliance he could perceive. And so I did not take any of them, but moved the parcel to their vicinity and began to unfasten it. It smelled of earth. It was wrapped in leather, and tied with leather straps. The knots were green with disuse, and the white-edged stains on the leather were from damp. The ties had not been undone in a very long time, and I suspected that at some point it had been stored outdoors, perhaps for a winter. Possibly buried somewhere. As I worked on the knots, the Fool observed, He left you a note as well. What does it say?

I havent read it yet.

Shouldnt you read it before you open the parcel?

Did he say I should?

He seemed to take a very long time to think about it, and then he wrote only a few words. I heard the scratching of his pen, and many sighs.

I stopped working on the straps. I tried to decide which made me more curious, the letter or the parcel. I lifted one candle and saw the single sheet of paper on the table. Id missed it in the dimness. I reached, trapped it, and slid it toward me. Like most of Chades missives there was no date, no greeting, and no signature. Only a few lines of writing.

What does it say? the Fool demanded.

I did as he bade me. The conditions were never met. I trust you to understand. I think you should have it now.

Oh. Better and better, the Fool exclaimed. And added, I think you should just cut the straps. Youll never get those old knots out.

You already tried, didnt you?

He shrugged and tipped a grin at me. It would have saved you the trouble of struggling with them.

I tormented both of us by working at the stubborn knots for some little time. Leather that has been knotted, wet, and then left to dry can seem as hard as iron. In the end, I drew my belt-knife and sawed through the straps. I tugged them off the parcel and then struggled to unfold the leather that surrounded whatever it was. It was not soft leather, but heavy, the sort one would use for a saddle. It creaked as I pried it open and brought out something wrapped in a still-greasy cloth. I set it with a thunk on the table.

What is it? the Fool demanded, and reached to send his fingers dancing over the concealed item.

Lets find out. The greasy cloth proved to be a heavy canvas sack. I found the opening, reached in, and pulled out. . .

Its a crown, the Fool exclaimed, his fingers touching it almost as soon as my eyes saw it.

Not exactly. Crowns are not usually made of steel. And Hod had not been a maker of crowns but a maker of swords. She had been an excellent weaponsmaster. I turned the plain circlet of steel in my hands, knowing this was her work, though I could not have explained to anyone how I recognized it. And there, there was her makers mark, unobtrusive but proud inside the circlet.

Theres something else here. The Fools hands had gone questing like ferrets into the opened leather parcel, and now he held out a wooden tube to me. I took it silently. We both knew it would contain a scroll. The ends of the tube were plugged with red wax. I studied it in the candlelight.

Veritys seal, I told him softly. I hated to mar the imprint, but nonetheless I dug the wax out with my belt-knife, and then tipped the tube and shook it. The scroll was stubborn. It had been in there a long time. When it finally emerged I just looked at it. Water had not touched it.

Read it, the Fools whisper urged me.

I unrolled the vellum carefully. This was Veritys hand, the careful lettering of a man who loved to draw, to make maps and chart terrain, to sketch fortifications and draw battle plans. He had written large, dark, and plain. My kings hand. My throat tightened. It was a moment before I could speak. My voice was higher as I spoke past tightness.

Be it known by my seal on this document and by the testimony of the trusted bearer, Chade Fallstar, that this scroll is the true desire of King-in-Waiting Verity Farseer. In plain words let me say, I leave today on a quest from which I may not return. I leave my queen, Kettricken of the Mountains, with child. If in my absence my father, King Shrewd, should die, I commend my lady to the protection of my nephew FitzChivalry Farseer. If word of my death be returned, then I desire that he be recognized formally as protector of my heir. If my queen perish and my heir survive, then I stipulate that FitzChivalry Farseer is to reign as regent until such time as my heir is able to assume the throne. And if none survive me, neither father, nor queen, nor heir, then it is my will that FitzChivalry Farseer be recognized as my heir. It is not my wish that my younger brother, Regal Farseer, inherit my crown. I do most ardently urge that my dukes recognize and affirm my will in this matter. I paused to catch my breath. And his signature is below it.

And this would have been your crown. The Fools scarred fingertips traced the rim of the simple circlet. Not a jewel to be touched. And sword-steel, by the feel of it. Wait, wait! Not so plain, perhaps. Here. What is this?

I took the crown from him and tilted it to the candlelight. It was engraved into the plain circlet. A charging buck.

He gave you that emblem.

Verity did, I said quietly. My voice tightened up a notch as I observed, Its just the charging buck. There is no slash across it to mark me a bastard.

There was a very long silence. The candles burned and at the other end of the room a log slumped on the hearth. Do you wish it had come to pass? the Fool asked me.

No! Of course not! That would have been like wishing death on Shrewd and Kettricken and her then-unborn child. But. . .I do wish I had known. There were times when it would have meant a great deal to me. A tear tracked down my cheek. I let it fall.

And not now?

Oh, and still now. To know he thought me worthy to guard his queen, and his child. And to step up and claim the throne after him.

Then you never wished to be king?

No. Liar. But the lie was so old and so oft repeated that most of the time I believed it.

He gave a small sigh. When I realized it was of relief, not sadness for the smallness of my ambitions, I wondered why. He answered before I asked.

When Chade told me you had been formally acknowledged, and that most of the folk there were inclined to lionize you and welcome you home, I worried. And when my fingers touched your crown, I feared.

Feared what?

That you would want to stay here at Buckkeep Castle. That you would enjoy being seen as what you have always been, not the king-in-waiting but the king-in-the-shadows.

Such a title to give me. And that made you fear. . .what?

That you would be reluctant to leave the acclaim you had finally earned. That you would go without heart to my errand.

To deflect him from any thoughts of the murders hed assigned me, I hastily referenced his other errand. Fool, I will do all I can to find the son you suspect you have left somewhere. Doubtless it would make my task much easier if you could recall for me the women you have lain with who might have borne such a child, and when it might have happened.

He gave a snort of displeasure. Fitz! Have you listened not at all to what I told you? There is no such woman, nor a child conceived in that way. I told you that.

My mind reeled. No. No, you didnt. I am sure that if you had told me such a thing, I would have remembered it. And that I would have immediately asked, as I do now, then how have you made a son?

You dont listen, he said sadly. I explain things quite clearly, but if its not what you expect to hear, you set it aside. Fitz. This crown. Would it fit?

Its not a crown, not really. He had changed the subject again. I knew that he would not explain until he decided to. I tried to conceal my relief that hed let me get away with my deflection as I turned the cold steel in my hands. The last time Id worn a crown, it had been wooden and decorated with roosters. No. Dont summon that memory now. I lifted the circlet and set it on my head. It fits, I suppose. Im not sure how its supposed to fit.

Let me touch it. He rose and groped his way around the end of the table to where I sat. His hands felt for me, found a shoulder, the side of my face, and then fluttered up to my head and the crown there. He lifted it slightly, and then, with no self-consciousness at all, measured the length of my hair. He walked his fingers down my face, touching the break in my nose, the old scar, the scruff of beard on my chin. If anyone else had done it, it would have felt invasive. Insulting. But I knew he was comparing what I looked like now with what he recalled.

He cleared his throat then lifted the circlet in his hands. He spoke more gravely than I had ever heard him as he uttered the words, FitzChivalry Farseer. I crown you King-in-the-Shadows of the Six Duchies. He set the circlet on my head, settling it carefully. The steel was cold and heavy. It settled there as if it would never move again. He cleared his throat once more and after a pause he added, Youre a handsome man still, Fitz. Not as pretty as before Regal broke your face. But youve aged well, I judge.

That old Skill-healing. I shrugged. My body just keeps repairing itself, whether I wish it or not.

I took off the steel crown and set it on top of the oily canvas that had sheltered it. Light ran along the edge of it like blood on a sword blade.

I wish that were my situation, the Fool returned. His gaze went back to the candles. For a long time, we were both silent. Then he said softly, Fitz. My eyes. Being blind. . .they used that. To make me fearful and cowering. I need to see. I dread the thought of setting out on our quest still blinded. I will if I must. But. . .Could you. . .

So much for my deflection. I had told him I could not go on his quest, but he persisted in ignoring what Id said. Let it go. Tell me what they did to your eyes, I said as quietly.

He held up a helpless hand. I dont know. Perhaps they did not even intend to do it, but once it was done, they made full use of it. They. . .oh, Fitz. There was a beating. And another one. My eyes were swollen shut. And another beating. And

I stopped him. And when the swelling went down, you could no longer see.

He drew in a deep breath. I saw how he fought to tell me a tale of things he wanted only to forget. At first, I kept thinking it was night. Or that I was in a dark cell. They did that sometimes. If you are in the dark always, you cant tell how much time has passed. I think, I think that sometimes they brought me water and food at very long intervals, and sometimes they brought me food quickly. To confuse me about time passing. It was a long time before I realized I couldnt see. And a longer time before I knew it wasnt going away.

Thats enough. I just needed to know a bit, to help me.

Another silence. Then he whispered, Will you try now?

I was silent. To do so would risk my own vision. Could I tell him that while such hope burned in his face? He looked more like my old Fool than he had since Aslevjal. His vision was so important to him. Restoring it was key to his quest, and his ridiculous quest to assassinate all the Servants was the only purpose that he had left to him. Last night Id had the triumph of a dream Id never allowed myself to dream. Could I destroy his hopes today?

Id be careful. So careful. Surely Id be able to tell if I were endangering myself?

Was I more like Chade than I wished to be? Did I always want to find out how far I could push the magic, what I could do if no one restrained me? I pushed aside the itching question.

Now? Why not? I said. I pushed my chair back and walked around the table to him. Face me, I told him quietly. Obediently, he turned away from the candles. I pulled one of them closer and studied his face in its flickering light. He had scarring on the tops of his cheeks, right below the deep hollows under his eyes. It was the sort of puckering seen on the faces of men who have been in many fistfights. The skin splits easily where flesh is a thin layer over bone. I moved my chair, placing it so that I faced him. I sat down. Im going to touch you, I warned him and took his chin in my hand. I turned his face slowly from side to side, studying the scars that meticulous torture and crude battering had left there. I remembered suddenly how Burrich had studied my face after Galen had beaten me. I set two fingers to his face and pressed gently as I traced a circle around his left eye. He winced more than once. Then the right. It was the same. I guessed at bone that had fractured and healed unevenly. In one place, there was a definite dent in his facial bones near his temple. Touching that made me feel queasy. But could that have been what blinded him? I didnt know. I took a deep breath. I would be careful this time. I vowed I would not risk either of us. I set my hands to both sides of his face. I closed my eyes. Fool, I said softly. And just that easily, I found him.

And the Fool was there. The last time, he had been deeply unconscious, unaware of how I moved through him with his blood. Now I felt his hands come to rest on mine. That would help. I knew how his face had looked but he would recall how his face had felt. I started with my fingertips under his eyes. I called to mind the drawings in Chades old scrolls from the Flayer, and the human skull that probably still reposed in the cabinet in the corner. I whispered as our hands moved together. When adjacent bone breaks, sometimes it fuses incorrectly. Here. Feel that? We need to undo that.

And so we worked, not quickly. We moved bone, bit by tiny bit. Where his face had broken, it had healed with ridges and seams. Some reminded me of the cracks one makes when one taps a hard-boiled egg before shelling it. It was not something to be hurried, the painstaking exploration of the bones of his face. As we worked, touch and Skill combined, and we followed one fine crack down from the lower rim of his left eye to his upper jaw. The tops of his cheekbones were a maze of tiny cracks. At the outer corner of his right eye, a hard blow had crushed bone, leaving an indentation that pressed on the tissue beneath it. We worked for some time, moving tiny bits of bone to both ease pressure and fill the hollow.

To describe it makes it seem a simple thing. It wasnt. The tiny movements of minuscule motes of bone were still a breaking away and a re-forming. I clenched my jaws against the Fools pain until my own head pounded with it. We did no more than the lower expanses below both his eyes. My strength was flagging and my determination failing me when the Fool lifted his hands from the backs of mine.

Stop. Stop, Fitz. I am so tired now. It hurts. And the pain wakes all the memories.

Very well, I agreed hoarsely, but it took some time for me to separate my awareness from his body. I felt as if I returned to my own flesh from a long and vivid nightmare. The last step of that withdrawal was my lifting of my hands from his face. When I opened my eyes to regard him, the room swam before me. I felt a moment of terror. Id gone too far and damaged my sight! But it was only weariness. As I stared, the dim room yielded to my vision. I shuddered with relief. The candles had burned down to half their length. I did not know how much time had passed, but my shirt was sweated to my back and my mouth as dry as if I had run to Buckkeep Town and back. As soon as I released the Fool from my touch, he dropped his face into his hands and cradled it, his elbows on the table.

Fool. Sit up. Open your eyes. Tell me if we accomplished anything.

He obeyed me but he shook his head as he did so. I did not close my eyes. I kept them open. Hoping. But nothing changed.

Im sorry. And I was. I was sorry he was blind and fiercely glad I had not lost my own sight trying to heal his. I had to ask myself how hard I had truly tried. Had I been holding back? I didnt want to think I had, but I could not find an honest answer. I thought of telling the Fool my fear. What would he ask of me? That I help him regain sight in one eye by giving up one of mine? Would he demand that much of me? Would I agree or deny him? I measured myself and found I was less courageous than Id believed. And more selfish. I leaned back in my own chair and closed my eyes for a time.

I jolted awake when the Fool touched my arm.

So you were asleep. You suddenly became very quiet. Fitz. Will you be all right? There was apology in his voice.

I will. Im just very tired. Last nights. . .revelation exhausted me. And I didnt sleep well. I reached up to rub my eyes, and flinched at my own touch. My face was swollen and warm to the touch, as if Id been in a fight.

Oh.

I gingerly prodded the tops of my cheekbones and the outer sockets of my eyes. Even if I had not given him his vision back, I would pay a toll for what I had done.

Why?

None of the other Skill-healings Id assisted with had affected me this way. Thick had done a prodigious amount of healing on Aslevjal Island and shown no ill effects at all. The only difference that came to my mind was my connection to the Fool. It was far more than a Skill-connection: When I had called him back from the other side of death, we had had a moment of profound joining. Perhaps we had never truly parted.

I blinked and measured my vision again. I noticed no difference, no hazing. I was almost certain that while we had repaired bone, we hadnt done anything that would benefit his eyesight. I wondered if I would have the courage to attempt any further healing. I thought of all I had glimpsed that was broken inside him, all the lingering infections and badly healed damage. How much of that must I take on if I continued my attempts to heal him? Could anyone fault me for refusing to make such a sacrifice? I cleared my throat.

Are you certain there is no difference in your vision?

I cant really tell. Perhaps I perceive more light. My face is sore, but in a different way. The soreness of healing, perhaps. Did you find anything when you were. . .inside my body? Could you tell what stole my sight?

Its not like that, Fool. I could tell that there were breaks in your facial bones that hadnt healed properly. And I put them on the path to healing, and tried to undo some of the places where the bones were not aligned as they should be.

He lifted questioning hands to his face. Bones? I thought the skull was one bone, mostly.

Its not. If you wish, later I can show you a human skull.

No. Thank you. Ill take your word for it. Fitz, I can tell by your voice that you found something else. Is more wrong with me than you wish to tell me?

I chose my words carefully. No lies this time. Fool, we may have to go more slowly with your healing. The process is demanding for me. We must employ good food and rest as much as we can, and save magical efforts for the more difficult injuries. I knew those words were true. I tried not to follow that thought to its logical conclusion.

But he began and then halted. I watched the brief struggle in his expression. He so desperately needed to be well and on his quest and yet, as a true friend, he would not ask me to exert myself past my strength. Hed seen me exhausted from Skill-efforts, and knew what the physical demands could be. I did not need to tell him that the healings might do actual injuries to me. He did not need to bear the guilt for what Id already done to myself. That was my own doing. He turned his clouded gaze back to the candles. Where did Motley go?

Motley?

The crow, he seemed embarrassed to reply. Before she went down to you, we were talking, well, not really, though she knows quite a few words and almost seems to make sense sometimes. I asked her, Whats your name? Because, well, because it was so quiet up here. At first she said random things in reply. Stop that! and Its dark and Wheres my food? And finally she said back to me, Whats your name? It rattled me for a moment, until I realized she was just mimicking me. A tentative smile dawned on his face.

So you named her Motley?

I just started calling her Motley. And shared my food with her. You said she came down to you and you painted her. Where is she now?

I hated to tell him. She came down the stairs and tapped at the secret door. I let her into my room, where she ate half my breakfast. I left the window open for her; I suspect shes gone by now.

Oh. The depth of disappointment in his tone surprised me.

Im sorry. He said nothing. Shes a wild creature, Fool. Its for the best.

He sighed. I am not certain you are correct about that. Eventually, the ink will fade, and then what? Her own kind attacks her, Fitz. And crows are flock birds, unaccustomed to being solitary. What will become of her?

I knew he was right. I dont know, I said quietly. But I also dont know what else I can do for her.

Keep her, he suggested. Give her a place to be and food. Shelter from storms and her enemies. He cleared his throat. The same things that King Shrewd offered to a misfit creature.

Fool, I scarcely think thats a valid comparison. Shes a crow, not a youngster alone in the world.

A youngster. In appearance. Young in terms of my kind, yes. Na"ive and unlearned in the wider world in which I found myself. But almost as different from King Shrewd as a crow is from a man. Fitz, you know me. Youve been me. You know that you and I are as much unlike as we are alike. As like and unlike as you and Nighteyes were. Motley, I think, is as like me as Nighteyes was like you.

I pinched my lips shut for a moment and then relented. Ill go and see if I can find her for you. And if I can find her, and if she will come, Ill bring her up here to you. And set out water and food for her.

Would you? His scarred smile was beatific.

I will. And I rose in that moment, and went down the steps and opened the door to my room. Where I found Motley waiting.

Dark, she informed me gravely. She hopped up a step, then the next one, and on the third one she turned to look back at me. Whats your name? she demanded of me.

Tom, I said reflexively.

FitzChivalry! she squawked derisively, and continued her hopping ascent.

FitzChivalry, I agreed, and found myself smiling. I followed her to make her comfortable.


Chapter Eight Farseers | Fool's Quest | Chapter Ten Tidings