The Beaten Man
And in a time that no one expects, when hope is dead and White Prophets fled, in a place where he cannot be found, there will be discovered the Unexpected Son. He will not be known to his father, and motherless he will grow. He will be the pebble in the track that shifts the wheel from its course. Death will thirst for him, but time and again, that thirst will go unslaked. Buried and lifted, forgotten, unnamed, in isolation and disgrace, he will yet prevail in the hand of the White Prophet who wields him without compassion or mercy for the tool that must be dulled and chipped to shape a better world.
I set the scroll aside, wondering why I had bothered to take it out. I had brought it from my private den to Molly’s room where Bee lay sleeping. It was the only bit of writing I’d ever read that mentioned the prophecy of the Unexpected Son. And it was only a fragment. There were no new answers there to the question I wanted to ask him. Why, after all these years? Why such a message, and such a messenger?
I turned it over, studying it for the thousandth time. It was an old piece of something … not vellum, not paper. Neither Chade nor I knew what it was. The ink was very black, the edges of each letter sharp. The substance it was written on was pliable and the color of honey. If I held it up to the fire, I could see light through it. Neither Chade nor I could read it, but it came with a translation that Chade assured me was accurate. At the time, he had muttered something about, “At that price, it had better be accurate.”
The first time I had seen it, I was still a lad, and it was one of a number of scrolls and vellums that Chade was collecting on the topic of White Prophets and their predictions. I paid no more mind to this than I did to his fascination with elderberry propagation and creating a poison from rhubarb leaves. Chade had many obsessions during those years; I think his fixations were all that had kept him sane during his decades of isolated spying. I certainly didn’t connect his fascination with White Prophets to King Shrewd’s peculiar jester. In those days the Fool was merely the fool to me, a pasty-faced, skinny child with colorless eyes and a double-edged tongue. I avoided him, mostly. I had seen him frolic through the tumbler’s tricks that could make the court gasp. I hadn’t yet heard him slice a man’s pride to ribbons with his razor-sharp sarcasm and clever wordplay.
Even after fate introduced us, first as acquaintances and then as friends, I did not make the connection. Years would pass before the Fool confided to me that he thought the prophecies about the Unexpected Son were foretelling my birth. It was one of half a hundred bits of predictions that he had quilted together. And then he had come to find me, his Catalyst, the bastard son of an abdicated king in a distant northern land. And together, he had assured me, we would change the future of the world.
He believed I was the Unexpected Son. There had been times when he was so insistent on it that I almost believed it myself. Certainly death had thirsted for me, and often enough he had intervened to snatch me away from that fate at the last possible moment. Ultimately I had done the same for him. We had achieved his goal, the restoration of dragons to the world, and in doing so had ended his days as a White Prophet.
And he had left me, severing decades of friendship and departing to return whence he had come. Clerres. A town somewhere far to the south, or perhaps it was just the name of the school where he had been raised. For all the time that we’d spent together, he’d told me precious little of his life before I’d known him. And when he thought it was time for us to part, he’d left. He’d given me no choice in that matter, and steadfastly refused my offer to go with him. He had feared, he told me, that I would continue to act as a Catalyst, and that together we might unknowingly undo all we had wrought. And so he had gone, and I had never truly said farewell to him. The knowledge that he had left me with no intent ever to return had come to me in tiny droplets of realization spread over the years. And each droplet of comprehension brought its own small measure of hurt.
In the months that had followed my return to Buckkeep, I had discovered that finally, suddenly, I had my own life. That was a giddying experience. He had wished me well in finding my own fate to follow, and I never doubted his sincerity. But it had taken me years to accept that his absence in my life was a deliberate finality, an act he had chosen, a thing completed even as some part of my soul still dangled, waiting for his return. That, I think, is the shock of any relationship ending. It is realizing that what is still an ongoing relationship to someone is, for the other person, something finished and done with. For some years I waited, like a faithful dog told to sit and stay. I had had no reason to believe that the Fool had lost affection or regard for me. Yet the ringing silence and constant absence began, over time, to feel like dislike or, worse, indifference.