Jofron. She lived in the Mountain Kingdom, and helped care for me when I was so badly injured. She’s a woodworker, a maker of fine cabinets and toys. I know she has a son, for I met her grandson, but I need to know who her son’s father was, and when he was born. I’d like a physical description of him.
I recall Jofron. Chade did not conceal that he was startled by my request. Well, that’s a few years back and quite a distance from here, but it’s not impossible to make queries. I have people in Jhaampe.
I’m sure you do. You have people everywhere, including here at Withywoods, I half-accused and half-complimented him.
That might be so. And well you know how useful a well-spread net of quick eyes and sharp ears can be. So. Jofron, Garetha, and Huntswoman Laurel. And you are looking for a child. Boy or girl?
A boy. But one who might be well past childhood by now. In the case of Jofron her son is at least thirty-six years old. I think. Could I be sure that the Fool had not visited her since then? Could I be sure of anything? Oh, any child, of any age, that any of them have borne. If you can get me that information, I will sort it myself and be in your debt.
You certainly will be, he promised me, and severed our Skill-connection before I could tell or ask him anything more.
I lingered in the Skill-stream, allowing myself to feel its allure. Youngsters training in the Skill are sternly warned against its addictive attraction. It’s a difficult sensation to describe. I felt complete in the Skill. Not lonely. Even in the midst of the deepest possible love, one feels apart from one’s partner—separated by skin even as we are joined in the act that makes two one. Only in the Skill does that sense of separation fade. Only in the Skill have I felt that sense of oneness with the whole world. Since Molly had died, I had felt more alone than I ever had. And so I tempted myself, letting that completeness wash against me, considering just letting go and becoming one with the greater whole. Not a part joining to other parts; no. In the Skill, all boundaries dissolve, all sense of self as an individual fades.
On the surface of the Skill, one can float and hear threads of the lives of others. Many folk have a moderate amount of Skill-talent, not enough for them to employ it actively, but enough that they unwittingly reach out to the world. I heard a mother thinking of her son, gone to sea and unheard from for six months. She hoped he was well and her heart reached after him in a seeking she was not aware she did. A young man was facing his wedding day, but was thinking of a girl he had known when he was barely a man. He’d thought she might be the love of his life but they had parted and now he had another woman he cherished. Tomorrow they would wed. But even as he contemplated the joy the next day might bring, his thoughts reached out to that first lost love. I floated in the stream, privy to the longing of dozens who reached after love. There were many sending out questing thought. Some dreamed of love and wholeness, but there were others, dreaming of vengeance and wishing ill on others as they dwelt on wrongdoings and slights.
No. I wanted nothing of that. I sank myself deeper into the stronger current where all such outreaching mingled into a vast joining. Sometimes I thought it the birthplace of dreams and intuitions. At other times I thought of it as a repository of all the folk who had gone before us, and perhaps even those to come after. It was a place where sorrows and joys were equal, where life and death were just the stitches on each side of a quilt. It was nepenthe.
I drifted there, not quite allowing it to tatter me away into threads. I could not allow myself to let go, but I could think about letting go and how wonderful it would feel. There would be no loss, no tasks to do, no loneliness, no pain. Those I left behind would pay those tolls but I would be beyond them and beyond feeling remorse or regret for them. I thought of Molly, felt that pain, and then, chiding myself as I did so, let a thread of it unravel into the Skill. It drew it out of me like a good poultice sucks foulness from a wound. The pressure lessened and—
I could ignore that.
That I could not ignore. Nettle, I responded. I felt ashamed to be caught in such a self-indulgent action. I was Skilling to Chade.
You were not! You were leaking yourself away. I might expect that of a first-year Skill-student. Not you. What is the matter with you?
She had summoned me with my daughter’s name for me, but this was not Nettle the Skill-dreamer but Nettle the Skillmistress. And she was angry with me.
The matter with me is that I ache for your mother. I tried to project that as a reason rather than an excuse for bad behavior. I had drifted too far, indulged too much. Pulled up short, I suddenly recognized how close I had been to letting go. And how inexcusable that would have been. I’d have been abandoning Bee, condemning any who still cared for me to caretake a living corpse as I foundered in drool, waste, and idiocy until my body died.