But I quickly discovered that they were not the most interesting books in Withywoods. The most fascinating ones were the ones hidden and forgotten. In Patience’s disorderly old study, I found her bundled letters. The oldest, in a box with blossoms so old they had lost all color and fragrance, were tied up with a strand of leather. They were heartfelt missives from a young man of great passion and greater restraint, promising her that he would make something of himself and acquire a fortune and a reputation that might make up for his lack of noble birth. He begged her to wait until he could come to her father and claim honorably the right to court her. The last one was much crumpled and stained as if a girl had wept over it often. In it, he was chiding her for wanting to run off with him regardless of what it might do to her reputation or how it would break her father’s heart. I puzzled out that they had been seen sharing a kiss and young Lady Patience was being whisked off to visit Bingtown and Jamaillia with relatives, to benefit from exposure to art and culture and to separate her from ardent young stable hands. Lady Patience would be gone the better part of two years. The young man promised her that he would wait for her, that he would continue to think of her and work hard. He had heard there was a call for soldiers, hard work but much better pay. While she was away, he would seek his fortune and acquire what they needed for him to stand proudly before her father and beg to rightfully court her.
The next set of letters were dated some four years later and were from Prince Chivalry, begging her pardon for being so presumptuous as to send her such a personal gift on such a brief acquaintanceship but that he could not help himself, the tiny gold earrings were almost as delicate and graceful as she was. And would she allow him to call on her soon?
The next five letters were equally apologetic for his continuing gifts and missives, each with an invitation for her to travel to Buckkeep Castle and join him for a feast or a hunt or a special performance by Jamaillian acrobats. I did not possess her replies but judged that she had rebuffed him over and over.
I knew the day on which her heart warmed toward him. He wrote that he saw no reason why a young lady should not be fascinated by iron smithing and that he hoped the scrolls and small anvil and tools he was sending to her would aid her in following that interest. His next letter expressed undying gratitude for the spoon she had sent him as evidence of her new skill. He declared it his treasure and said he was sending her some excellent iron ingots from Forge to further experiment with.
Their letters after that became more frequent and eventually so romantic that my interest in them waned. It was intriguing to ponder that the first set of love letters was from Burrich, who raised my father and later wed my mother, raising my sister as if she were his own child and fathering six boys of his own with her. So his first love had been Lady Patience, wife to my grandfather? And later he had raised my father, before marrying my mother? The contorted branches of my family tree dizzied and fascinated me. And that fascination led to pilfering more scrolls from my father’s study.
I did not begin with the intention of spying upon him. It was my quest for good paper that led me to take a dozen sheets of the precious stuff from his supply. Only after I was safely in my hidey-hole with it did I discover that the top sheet alone was blank. Evidently my father had set a clean sheet down on a stack of written ones. I gathered them up to return them to his desk but my eyes snagged on his clean, firm penmanship and I soon found myself drawn into his tale.
It was a simple account of an incident in his childhood. At the time I recall that I wondered why he had written it down. He obviously recalled it clearly; why bother to record it on paper? Only later was I to learn from my own obsessive journaling of my dreams that sometimes the best way to understand something is to write it down. His account began with him musing on friendships, on how they begin and how they end, and also on friendships that never happened or perhaps never should have happened. Then he recounted his tale.
It was a simple incident that he recorded, but in his meticulous fashion he had noted that it happened at the hour when the dew had burned off the gardens at Buckkeep but the sun had not yet warmed them. My father and his dog named Nosy were sneaking away from the castle to follow the steep wooded path that went down to Buckkeep Town. He was shirking his chores to do so, and already felt guilty, but longing to see children of his own age and have some time to play had conquered his dread of the chastisement he’d get for absenting himself.
As he was leaving the gardens he happened to look back and saw another youngster sitting on top of the wall looking down on him. “Pale as an egg, and as fragile looking.” The boy sat cross-legged, his elbows on his knees and his cheeks in his long-fingered hands as he stared down at my father. My father had felt with great certainty that the boy longed to leap down and follow them. He suspected that if he had so much as smiled or tossed his head, he would have joined him.