The wounds had come from some sort of missiles, I guessed. Not arrows, but something smaller that had penetrated deeply. Darts? He’d managed to pull them out, I judged. At least, nothing projected from any of the crusted, swollen wounds.
“Water.” She spoke in a strange accent, her voice so different from my Fool’s voice that I knew instantaneously that I had been completely mistaken. The breath caught in my throat. Disappointment drenched me, even as buoyant joy that this dying person was not my old friend welled. What a dizzying trick my mind had played on me, taking me back to my adolescence and convincing me this was indeed the Fool! Yet she appeared almost identical to my recollection of him as he had been in those days. Relief nearly unmanned me more than my previous panic. I held to the edge of the table as my knees bent. Oh, how the years had changed me. Where was my iron resolve, my forged nerves? Would I faint? I would not. Yet I let my knees touch the floor and lowered my head, pretending I stooped to look into her face.
She was not the Fool. Only her coloring was the same. She had no scent, just as the Fool had lacked, and to my Wit she was not there at all. But her nose was more pointed, her chin more rounded than the Fool’s had ever been. However had I looked at her and thought she was him?
“The water is coming,” I said hoarsely. “I’ll let you drink first. Then we need to clean up these wounds.”
“Are you a healer?”
“No. I’m not. But years ago I had a friend like you.” I halted. The Fool had always refused to go to healers. He’d resisted anyone touching his body for such a purpose. I realized that might not be true for every White. “I’ll send for a healer, right away.”
“No.” She spoke quickly. Her voice was breathy with weakness and pain. “They don’t understand. We’re not like your people.” She moved her head in a feeble denial.
“I’ll do what I can for you, then. Clean and bind your wounds, at least.”
She moved her head. I couldn’t tell if she was acceding or denying me permission. She tried to clear her throat but her voice went huskier. “What did you call your friend?”
I stood quietly. My heart went to a very still place inside me. “He was a jester at King Shrewd Farseer’s court. Everyone just called him the Fool.”
“Not everyone.” She gathered her strength. “What you called him?” She spoke in a learned tongue, without accent, only the dropped words betraying her.
I swallowed fear and regret. This was not a time to lie. “Beloved. I called him Beloved.”
Her lips pulled back in what was intended as a smile. Her breath was foul with sickness. “Then, I have not failed. Not yet. Late as I am, I have done as he bid. I bring a message for you. And a warning.”
I heard a voice in the corridor. “Let me carry them. You’re spilling them trying to hurry.”
“I don’t think you should be following me.” Bee’s retort to Riddle was both tart and indignant. He’d followed her to track me. He was still Chade’s man. Probably Nettle’s as well, when it came to spying. Useless to try to avoid what was coming. But I could spare my guest a bit of humiliation. I took off my shirt and spread it lightly over her. She still gasped at the touch and then, “Oh, warm. From your body.” She sounded pathetically grateful.
A moment later Bee opened the door and Riddle came in bearing the little buckets. He looked at me in my woolen undershirt and then at the table. “An injured traveler,” I said. “Would you run down to the village and bring back the healer?” That would get him out of my way until I had time to wash and bind her wounds.
Riddle stepped in for a closer look. “She’s so pale!” he exclaimed. He studied her face. She stayed perfectly still, eyes closed, but I didn’t think she was unconscious, only feigning it. “She reminds me of someone …”
I didn’t let myself smile. I recalled now that he’d never met the Fool when he was so obviously a White. By the time Riddle knew him, he was the aptly named Lord Golden, a tawny man indeed. But this girl was as the Fool had been in his childhood: pale with colorless eyes and fine white hair.
Riddle’s gaze shifted to Bee. “And? You’re talking now?”
Her gaze flashed to me and then shifted back to Riddle. She smiled artlessly up at him. “Papa said I should try not to be so shy around you.”
“How long have you been able to speak so clearly?” he pressed her. She glanced at me again, seeking rescue.
“She’s lost a lot of blood,” I said, to hurry him away. It worked. He set the little buckets on the table and turned for the door.