Bee stood next to me, but not touching me, and we watched the messenger burn. It takes a long time to burn a body. Most of it we spent in silence. Bee had little to say, other than, “What shall we tell the others?”
I sorted my thoughts. “To Shun, we say nothing of this. She believes the girl left. To Riddle I will say that I found her dead and feared a contagion so I burned her body. To the housekeeping staff I will say that you complained of itchy bites and I found vermin in your bed when I was putting you in it and decided to burn it immediately.” I gave a small sigh and admitted, “It won’t be fair to them. I must pretend to be very upset with them. I will demand that every bit of your clothing be washed fresh, and new bedding brought for you.”
She gave a single nod. She turned her eyes back to the fire. I gathered another armful of branches and threw them onto the blaze. The half-burned limbs gave way under this fresh weight, crumpling down on the embered remains. The featherbed whispered away as downy ash. Were those blackened bones or blackened branches? Even I could not tell. The faint smell of roasting meat sickened me.
“You are very good at this. You have thought of everything.”
Not a compliment I wanted to receive from my little daughter. “I used to have to do … special work. For the King. I learned to think of many things at once.”
“And to lie very well. And not let people see what you are thinking.”
“That, too. I’m not proud of it, Bee. But the secret that we heard tonight is not mine. It belongs to my very old friend. You heard what the messenger said. He has a son, and that son is in danger.” Could she hear in my voice how peculiar I found this news? The Fool had a son. I had never been absolutely certain of his masculinity. But if a child had been born, it must have come from a woman’s womb. That meant that somewhere, that son had a mother. A woman whom, presumably, the Fool had loved. I thought that I had known him better than any other person ever had. And yet this was something I never would have suspected.
The woman would be my beginning point. Who was she? I racked my brains. Garetha came to mind. She had been a gardener’s maid when the Fool and I were children. Even then she had been enamored of him. As a youngster he had been a lithe and playful fellow, turning handsprings and flips and doing the juggler’s tricks expected of a jester. He had been quick-tongued. Often his humor had been cruel to those he felt could be well served by being taken down a notch or two. With the very young or those not treated kindly by fate he had been gentler, often turning his jests back on himself.
Garetha had not been pretty, and he had been kind to her. For some women, that is all it takes. In later years she had recalled him, recognized him in his guise of Lord Golden. Had there been more than recognition? Had that been how he had persuaded her to keep his secret? If they had had a child, the boy would be in his mid-twenties now.
Was she the only possibility? Well, there were whores, and ladies of pleasure in plenty in Buckkeep Town, but I could not imagine the Fool frequenting them. It had to be Garetha … Then my thoughts stepped sideways, and I suddenly saw the Fool in a different light. He had always been a very private person. He might have had a hidden lover. Or a not-so-secret one. Laurel. The Witted huntswoman had made no secret of her attraction to him. He had spent years away from Buck, in Bingtown and possibly Jamaillia. I knew next to nothing of his life there, save that he had lived in the guise of a woman.
And then the obvious fell into place and I thought myself a great dunce. Jofron. Why had he written to her? Why had he warned her to guard her son? Perhaps because he was their son? I reorganized my memories of Jofron and the Fool. Close to thirty-five years ago, when the Fool found me dying in the Mountains, he had taken me to his little home. He’d had a little Mountain house that he shared with Jofron. He had moved her out when he took me in. And when he had left to go with me on my quest, he had left everything he owned there for her. I thought of how she had reacted to me the last time we met. Could I interpret her ways toward me as the reaction of a lover who had been spurned for a friend? She had seemed to enjoy showing me that he had written to her while sending me no word.
I reached back to those feverish days, remembering her voice, the adoring way she spoke of her White Prophet. I had deemed it a sort of religious fervor. Perhaps it had been a different passion. But if she had borne him a child, surely he would have known for a certainty. He had sent her messages. Had she ever replied to them? If he’d left a child there, the boy would be a year younger than Nettle. Surely not a child that needed my protection? And the grandson who had been there had looked nothing like the Fool. Surely if he were the Fool’s grandson, his White heritage would have shown somewhere. The Fool’s grandson. For a long moment, those words seemed impossible to fit together.