Or had they been the messenger’s pursuers? I weighed what she had told me of them, and decided not. Either they would be vicious enough to pursue her to my door, or they would have needed to be confident of her death. I could not imagine them standing at a distance, watching the place where she might have taken refuge, and then moving on. No. Coincidence. Nothing more. I suspected they might still be trying to find her. If they were about, Riddle would hear of them. He was good at that sort of listening.
But I would keep my guard up in case they were still tracking her. And I promised myself that I would undertake the search for this unexpected son as soon as I could. For now I would secure my home and my unexpected ward before I took on any other tasks. Better to make all clean and strong at home before I had to leave. I dreaded a trip to the Mountains in winter, but possibly I’d have to undertake one. I doubted Jofron would respond to any message from me. If that was where the trail led, I’d have to go there personally.
At night, before I slept, the strange mission would come into my mind. How could I leave Bee at home to undertake such a quest? I could not. Could I take her with me? Into danger? I could not. Send her to Nettle? Would the tutor be any sort of a bodyguard for her, as Chade had once suggested? How could Lant be? The beating he had taken was a poor recommendation for his ability to protect himself, let alone my child.
Shun as bodyguard for Bee was a bad jest. She disliked my daughter and was afraid of noises in the night. Not the sort of protector I would choose for Bee. I’d have to find someone I could trust. Until then, I could not go off on the Fool’s errand. Yet I could not ignore it. Anxiety vied with anger: I feared that my old friend was in grave danger, might indeed be dead already. And I was furious that he had sent me such a cryptic message. I knew that his presentiments for the future were vague now, but surely he could have told me something of his own situation! Perhaps if his messenger had lived longer, she would have been clearer. Some nights, I feared I had been hasty in granting her a merciful death. Useless to think of that now, I scolded myself. Then I would try to find a more comfortable position in my bed, close my eyes, and berate myself for what I had done to my daughters. Mostly I chided myself, over and over, for letting Chade send me his problems. But how could I have said no to him?
I steeled myself to the necessity of beginning my task at least. I will admit it was a bit petty of me to wait until the middle of the night was well past before Skilling to Chade. If I had hoped to wake him, I had wasted my effort. He was immediately open to me, and even expressed pleasure at the contact. It made me realize that I was not often the one to reach out. It made it harder to keep my secrets close.
I’ve an odd favor to ask you. And even odder, I must refuse, for now, to tell you why.
Oh, well, this is off to an intriguing start. Ask away, then. But don’t blame me if I manage to divine your intent before you share it with me. I could feel him settling back in the chair in his den, stretching his legs out to the fire.
He seemed to relish the possibility that he might outfox me and divine my goal. So. Let it become a game for him. He’d dig like a badger for my secret and perhaps uncover others in the process.
I’ll expect you to try. But for now, please, don’t press me for it. Here is what I need to know. I’m looking for a son born to one of these three women. The babe was possibly illegitimate. I had considered well how to ask about it. Many a woman wed in haste to cover a child’s true fatherhood.
Three women, eh. Well, who are they?
One you probably know, the second possibly, and the third it’s unlikely you’ve ever heard of.
Oh, this gets better by the moment. Well, no promises, but ask away.
You will recall Huntswoman Laurel who aided us in Dutiful’s difficulty with the Piebalds. Afterward, she was very helpful in our dealings with Old Blood.
There was a bit of a silence. Did he block me from something? Then he replied heartily, Of course I remember Laurel!
Do you know if she married? Had children?
Again a tiny gap, as if he hesitated. I can certainly find out. The next one?
Garetha. She was a gardener girl when I was growing up at Buckkeep. And was still employed in the gardens when I was living at Buckkeep as Lord Golden’s man.
Never heard that name, but it will be easy enough to find someone who has, and will know what’s become of her. And the last one?
He was like a squirrel gathering nuts, so eager for the next one that he was stuffing the facts into his mind without trying to digest them until he had every bit of information from me. He’d soon pick out the common thread, I knew. Well, it would be all the sweeter for him if he had to work for it. I hesitated over the third woman. Any offspring she had borne to the Fool would be a man grown by now. But I would consider all possibilities.