“By four things, you will know I am a true messenger from him and trust me. Ratsy was on his scepter. Your mother’s name was never said. You served a man behind a wall. He took his fingerprints from your wrist.” She paused, breathing. We waited. I saw her swallow and she turned her face toward my father. “Satisfied?” she asked him faintly. “That I am a true messenger?” I was right. She could not see his face.
He jerked as if stuck with a pin. “Yes, yes, of course. I trust you. Are you hungry? Do you think you could drink some warmed milk or eat something?” He closed his eyes for a moment and went very still. “We would never have neglected you so if we had known you were still here. When we could not find you, we thought you had felt well enough to travel and left us.”
He did not mention that we had wondered if she was hiding somewhere in the house, hoping to kill us.
Her breath made a sound on every intake. “No. No food. Too late for food.” She tried to clear her throat, and the spill of blood on her lips went redder. “Not time to think of me. The message.”
“I can still send for a healer.”
“The message,” she insisted. “The message and then you can do whatever you wish.”
“The message, then,” my father capitulated. “I’m listening. Go on!”
She strangled for a moment and then pink slid over her lip and down her chin. My father wiped it tenderly away with the corner of my blanket. I decided I would sleep in his bed tonight. When she could, she took in air and said on a breath, “He told you. The old dream prophecies foretold the unexpected son. The one who sent me once interpreted them to mean you. But now he thinks perhaps not. He believes there could be another one. A son, unlooked for and unexpected. A boy left somewhere along the way. He does not know where, or when, or who mothered him. But he hopes you can find him. Before the hunters do.” She ran out of breath. She coughed, and spluttered out blood and spit. She closed her eyes and for a time, just tried to breathe.
“The Fool had a son?” My father was incredulous.
She gave a short, sharp nod. Then she shook her head. “His and yet not his. A half-blood White. But it’s possible he appears as a full White. Like me.” Her breathing steadied for a time and I thought she had finished. Then she took a deeper breath. “You must search for him. When you find the unexpected son, you must keep him safe. Tell no one you have him. Speak of your quest to no one. It’s the only way to keep him safe.”
“I’ll find him,” my father promised. She smiled faintly, her teeth showing pink. “I’ll send for a healer now,” my father said, but she moved her head in a feeble shake.
“No. There’s more. Water, please.”
He held the cup to her mouth. She didn’t drink, but sloshed the water in her mouth and let it run out over her chin. He wiped her face again.
“Hunters will come. Acting friendly, maybe. Or in disguise. Making you believe they are friends.” She spoke in short bursts, breathing in between. “Trust the unexpected son to no one. Even if they say they have come for him, to take him where he belongs. Wait for the one who sent me. He will come for him, if he can. So he said, when he sent me. So long ago … why did he not get here before me? I fear … no. I must believe that he’s still journeying. He escaped but they will hunt him. When he is able to, he will come. But slowly. He has to evade them. It will take him time. But he will get here. Until then, you must find him and keep him safe.” I was not certain she believed her own words.
“Where should I look?” my father asked her urgently.
She shook her head slightly. “I don’t know. If he knew, he gave me no hints. So if they captured me and tortured me, I could not betray him.” She moved her head on the pillow, her blind eyes seeking for him. “Will you find him?”
He took her hand and held it carefully. “I’ll find his son and keep him safe until he gets here.” I wondered if he lied to make her feel better.
Her eyes closed until only a pale-gray moon showed under the lids. “Yes. So valuable. They will want him badly. Enough to kill. If they take him …” Her brow wrinkled. “Like I was treated. A tool. No choices.” Her eyelids fluttered open and her queer, colorless stare seemed to meet his gaze. “I’ve borne three children. Never seen or held any. They take them. As they took me.”
“I don’t understand,” my father said, but at her desperate look, he amended it to, “I understand enough. I will find him and I will keep him safe. I promise. Now we will make you comfortable and you will rest.”