I pondered it as the flames ate her bones. The messenger’s words made little sense. If the Fool had fathered a child the last time he’d been in Buckkeep, his son would be a young man, not a little boy. It didn’t make sense. The messenger had called him a boy. I recalled how slowly the Fool had grown, how he had claimed to be decades older than I was. There was so much I didn’t know. But if it was the way of his kind to age slowly, perhaps the son he had left behind still appeared to be a child? Then it could not be Jofron’s son, who had fathered a boy of his own. Had he sent her a warning because he feared the hunters would pursue any child who might remotely be the Fool’s son? My mind ran in circles, trying to build a tower with too few blocks. Surely, if it was Jofron’s son, he could have told me, with dozens of clues that only I would recognize. Call him the Toymaker’s son, and I’d know him. But surely that was true of any son? The gardener’s boy, the huntswoman’s child … we’d known each other so well. Any child he’d left, surely he could have identified to me. If the Fool knew for sure where the child was … Was he sending me on a wild goose chase to find a child reputed to exist on the basis of some obscure White prophecies? He wouldn’t do that to me. No. Almost certainly he would. Because he could believe that I could find such a child. Was it even the Fool’s son? I sifted the messenger’s meager words again. An unexpected son. Once, he had told me, those words referred to me. And now? Was there another “unexpected son” somewhere? Could I be certain this boy was the Fool’s son? Her knowledge of my language had been less than perfect …
“Papa?” Bee’s voice was shaking, and when I turned to her, I saw that she had wrapped her arms around herself and was shivering with cold. “Have we finished?” Her nose was red at the tip.
I looked at our fire. The last load of branches I had put on it collapsed suddenly. How much would be left of the girl? The skull, the heavier thighbones, the column of spine. I stepped forward to peer into the heart of the fire. They were covered with ember and ash. Tomorrow I’d bring the bedding from the nurse’s bed in the room adjacent to Bee’s and burn it here. Tonight, it was enough. I hoped. I looked around us. There was a moon, but layers of clouds veiled it. An icy mist hung over the low and boggy pasturelands. What moonlight reached the ground there was claimed by the fog.
“Let’s go back in.”
I held out a hand to her. She looked at it, and then reached up to put her small fingers in mine. They were cold. Impulsively I scooped her up. She pushed against me. “I’m nine. Not three.”
I released her and she slid to the ground. “I know that,” I said apologetically. “You just looked so cold.”
“I am cold. Let’s get back inside.”
I didn’t try to touch her again, but contented myself that she walked along beside me. I thought of the morrow and felt heavy with dread. It would be complicated enough without dealing with Shun and Riddle also. I dreaded that I must falsely report an infestation, for I knew the scurrying and scrubbing that would follow. Revel would be beside himself; the entire staff would be chastised. The laundering would be endless. I thought of my own room and winced. I’d have to subject myself to an invasion of housekeepers, or my accusations would ring false. And I did not want even to imagine Shun’s outrage and disgust at the idea that her bedding might harbor vermin. Well, there was no help for it. My excuse for burning Bee’s bedding in the middle of the night must be convincing. No avoiding the lies I must tell.
Just as there had been no way to avoid exposing Bee to all this cascading debris from my old life. I shook my head at how poorly I had protected her. All I wanted to do right now was to be alone and try to think through what it all meant. The thought that the Fool had reached out to me after all these years was overwhelming. I tried to sort the emotions I was feeling and was startled to find that anger was one of them. All those years, with no word from him and no way for me to reach out to him. And then, when he needed something, this imperious and life-disrupting intrusion! Frustration vied with a terrible desire to see him after all these years. The message seemed to indicate that he was in danger, restrained from traveling or spied upon. Injured somehow? When last I had seen him, he had been so anxious to return to his old school, to share with them the end of the Pale Woman and all he had learned during his long travels. To Clerres. I knew no more of that place than its name. Had he come into conflict with the school? Why? What had become of the Black Man, his traveling companion and a fellow White Prophet? The messenger had made no mention of Prilkop at all.