Web spoke without beating about the bush. “It’s not natural, Tom,” he chided me, heedless of who might overhear us. “You are so alone, you echo to my Wit. You should open yourself to the possibility of bonding again. For one of Old Blood to go so long unpartnered is not healthy.”
“I don’t feel the need,” I told him honestly. “I’ve a good life here, with Molly and Patience and the boys. There’s honest work to keep me busy, and my idle time is enjoyed with those I love. Web, I don’t doubt your wisdom and experience, but I also don’t doubt my own heart. I don’t need anything more than what I have right now.”
He looked into my eyes. I met his gaze. My last utterance was almost true. If I could have had my wolf back again, then, yes, life would have been much sweeter. If I could have opened my door, and found the Fool grinning on my doorstep, then my life would have been full indeed. But there was no point in sighing after what I could not have. It only distracted me from what I did have, and that was more than I’d ever had in my life. A home, my lady, youngsters growing to manhood under my roof, and the comforts of my own bed at night. Just enough consultations from Buckkeep Castle that I could feel I was still needed in the greater world, yet few enough that I knew, truly, they could get by without me and let me have a measure of peace. I had anniversaries I could be proud of. It was nearly eight years that Molly had been my wife. It was almost ten years since I’d killed anyone.
Almost ten years since I’d last seen the Fool.
And there it was, that stone-dropping-into-a-well plunge of my heart. I kept it from showing on my face or in my eyes. That gulf, after all, had nothing to do with how long I’d gone with no animal companion. That was a different sort of loneliness entirely. Wasn’t it?
Perhaps not. The loneliness that can never be filled by anyone except the one whose loss created the absence; well, then, perhaps it was the same.
Web was still watching me. I realized that I’d been staring past his shoulder at the dancers, but now the floor was empty. I shifted my gaze back to meet his. “I’m fine as I am, old friend. Content. Why should I tamper with that? Would you prefer I long for more when I have so much already?”
It was the perfect question to stop Web’s well-meaning pestering. I saw him think over my words, and then a deep smile rose onto his face, one that came from his heart. “No, Tom, I wouldn’t wish that on you, truly. I’m a man who can admit when he’s wrong, and perhaps I’ve been measuring your wheat with my bushel.”
The discussion suddenly tipped upside-down for me. The words burst from me. “Your gull, Risk, she is well, still?”
He smiled crookedly. “As well as might be expected. She’s old, Fitz. Twenty-three years with me, and she was probably two or three when we met.”
I was silent; I’d never stopped to wonder how long a gull might live, and I didn’t ask him now. All the questions that were too cruel to ask left me silent. He shook his head and looked away from me. “Eventually I’ll lose her, unless accident or disease takes me first. And I’ll mourn her. Or she will mourn me. But I also know that if I am left alone, eventually I’ll look about for another partner. Not because Risk and I do not have something wonderful together, but because I am Old Blood. And we are not meant to be solitary souls.”
“I’ll think well on what you have said to me,” I promised. Web deserved that courtesy from me. Time to leave this topic. “Did you ever manage to have words with our odd guests?”
He nodded slowly. “I did. But not many, and with the woman only. Tom, she made me uneasy. She rang oddly against my senses, as muted as muffled bells. She claimed that they were traveling jugglers and hoped to entertain us later. She was stingy in speaking of herself, but full of questions for me. She was looking for a friend of hers, who might also have come this way recently. Had I heard of any other travelers or visitors to the area? And when I told them that while I was a friend of the household, I had but arrived this night as well, then she asked me if I had met any other strangers on the road.”
“I wonder if a member of their party became separated from them.”
Web shook his head. “I think not.” He frowned slightly. “It was passing strange, Tom. When I asked who …”
And then Just touched my elbow. “Mother would like your help,” he said quietly. A simple request, yet something in the way he said it alarmed me.
“Where is she?”
“She and Nettle are in Lady Patience’s chambers.”