Fool's Assassin / Page 255

Page 255



I could not think of anything to say to that. I had long ago learned that with both the Fool and Chade, the quickest way to provoke silence was to ask too many questions. Left alone, they always shared more with me than perhaps they intended. And so I ate a portion of the chicken and drank Chade’s brandy and wondered about the Servants and his unexpected son and even the messengers he had sent who had not reached me.

He finished the chicken in the pot, clattering his spoon about inside the dish to be sure that he’d had every bite. I refilled his brandy cup. “There is broth on the left side of your mouth,” I told him quietly. It had given me great pain to see him eat both so ravenously and so untidily. When I took his bowl away, I wiped the spatters and drips from the table. I had hoped not to shame him, but as he wiped his face he admitted, “I eat like a starved dog. A blind starved dog. I’m afraid I’ve learned to get as much food into me as quickly as I can. It’s hard to unlearn something so deliberately taught to me.” He sipped from his cup and leaned his head back on the chair. His eyes were closed, but it was only when his lax hand twitched and his cup nearly fell that I realized he was falling asleep where he sat.

“Back to bed,” I told him. “If you eat and rest for a few days, perhaps we can begin small healings to set you back on the path to health.”

He stirred and when I took his arm, he tottered to his feet. “As soon as we can, please begin. I must get stronger, Fitz. I must live and I must defeat them.”

“Well. Let’s begin by getting a night’s sleep,” I suggested to him.

I guided him back to the bed and saw him well covered. I tried to be quiet as I tidied the room and added wood to the fire. I refilled my brandy cup. It was blackberry brandy, and of a much better quality than I’d ever been able to afford when I was a youngster. Nonetheless, the lingering taste of berries and blossoms put me in mind of those days. I sank down into Chade’s chair with a sigh and stretched out my feet toward the fire.

“Fitz?”

“I’m here.”

“You haven’t asked me why I came back. Why I came seeking you.” His voice was drenched with weariness.

“The messenger said you were looking for your son. Your unexpected son.”

“Without much hope, I fear. I dreamed I had found him, there in that market town.” He shook his head. His voice sank low. I strained to hear his words. “He is what they want. The Servants. They thought I knew he existed. For quite a time they questioned me, trying to wring from me a secret I did not know. And when finally they told me, plainly, what they sought, I still knew nothing of him. They didn’t believe that, of course. Over and over, they demanded to know where he was and who had borne him. For years, I insisted it was impossible. I even asked them, ‘If such a child existed, would I leave him?’ But they were so certain, I came to believe they must be right.”

He fell silent. I wondered if he had fallen asleep. How could he, in the midst of such a harrowing tale? When he spoke again, his voice was thick. “They believed I lied to them. That is when they … took me.” He stopped speaking. I heard how he fought for a steady voice when he said, “When first we returned, they honored Prilkop and me. There were long evenings of feasting and they encouraged us, over and over, to tell every moment of what we had seen and done. Scribes took it all down. It … it went to my head, Fitz. To be so honored and praised. Prilkop was more reserved. Then one day, he was gone. They told me he had decided to visit the place of his birth. But as months passed, I began to suspect that something was wrong.” He coughed and cleared his throat. “I hope he escaped or is dead. It’s terrible to imagine they have him still. But that is when their endless questioning of me began. And then, after they revealed what they sought and I still had no answers for them, they took me one night from my apartments. And the torment began. At first, it was not so bad. They insisted I knew, and that if I fasted long enough or endured cold long enough, I would remember something, a dream or an event. So I began to believe them. I tried to remember. But that was when I first sent messengers out, to warn those who might know to hide such a child until I came for him.”

A mystery solved. The missive sent to Jofron and her wariness of me all made sense now.

“I thought I had been so discreet. But they found out.” He sniffed. “They took me back to where they had been holding me. And they brought me food and drink and asked me nothing. But I could hear what they did to those who had aided me. Oh, Fitz. They were scarcely more than children!” He choked suddenly and then wept harshly. I wanted to go to him but I had no comfort for him. And I knew that he wanted no sympathetic words or kindly touch just then. He wanted nothing of what he had not been able to give to those victims. So I wiped the tears silently from my own cheeks and waited.


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