I met Riddle’s inquiring look. “In truth, it’s entirely coincidence. I was looking for someone else, a much older offspring. Chade won’t believe that, so he won’t pay his bribe. A pity. Apricot Sandsedge brandy is hard to come by. It’s been years since I’ve tasted it.” I drew my thoughts back from following that memory. Too late. It had coupled with my Fool’s quest. Could FitzVigilant be the unexpected son he had bade me seek? Only if, unbeknownst to me or Chade, Lord Golden had returned to the Six Duchies, had an assignation with Huntswoman Laurel, and then abandoned her. And she had blamed the child on Lord Vigilant? No. There was no sense to be found there.
Riddle was still regarding me speculatively. Might as well make use of his curiosity. “That visitor we had, the one who left without saying farewell? She brought me a message from an old friend. Lord Golden, to be precise.”
One of his eyebrows lifted slightly. If he was surprised that she had been a messenger, he covered it well. “You and Lord Golden were very close, as I recall.”
He said it so neutrally, it meant nothing at all. Or perhaps everything. “We were close,” I agreed quietly.
The silence stretched longer. I was mindful of the small listener behind the wall. I cleared my throat. “There is more. The messenger said she was hunted. That her pursuers were close.”
“She would have been safer if she had stayed here.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps she didn’t think so. I know she feared that danger would follow her to my household. But she also told me that Lord Golden was trying to return, but that he, too, had to evade pursuers.” I weighed my risks. In for a copper, in for a gold. “Lord Golden may have fathered a child when he was in the Six Duchies. The messenger came to tell me that this son could be in great danger. That Lord Golden wished me to find him and protect him.”
Riddle was silent, organizing all I had told him. He spoke cautiously. “You think that FitzVigilant might be Lord Golden’s son?”
I shook my head. “He’s the wrong age. Huntswoman Laurel was one of the women I thought might be a possible mother.”
“More to the point, he has the wrong father. Laurel the huntswoman was his mother, Chade now says. But Vigilant claimed him as son. Unless the lad had two fathers …”
“Or was claimed by someone who didn’t father him,” I pointed out. Then I sighed. “He’s still too young. Unless Lord Golden had paid another visit to Buck.”
We both fell silent. Would he have returned to Buck and not contacted me? I didn’t think so. Why would he have returned?
“What do you know of Lord Vigilant?” I asked Riddle.
“Not a great deal. He’s a bit of a boor, and his estates were in disorder for some years. When I first heard of FitzVigilant, I was surprised that Lord Vigilant had been able to persuade any woman to lie down beside him, let alone that he, a single man, would recognize a bastard. But perhaps that does make sense, if he thought the boy his only chance for an heir. But he did take hold and hired a good man to help him in the running of his estates, and when he began to prosper, he married. I think that was when his troubles began. What lady would want a previous bastard to take precedent over her rightfully born sons? It wasn’t long after that when FitzVigilant was sent to Buckkeep, and wound up in Chade’s care.” He thought a moment longer. “I cannot see any connection between him and a possible child conceived by the same lady many years earlier.”
I shook my head. “No. Just a peculiar coincidence. I opened a poke expecting a piglet and found a cat. But it doesn’t end my search for this ‘son.’ I think I might be wise to make inquiries of Huntswoman Laurel herself.”
Riddle shook his head. “That would be difficult. She is many years gone, Fitz. I remember when she left Buckkeep Castle, much to Queen Kettricken’s disappointment. She had been instrumental, until then, in dealing with the Old Blood faction. She left so suddenly there was rumor that she had quarreled with someone in a high position, but if she did, it was well hushed. And before the year was out, we had word of her death.”
I pondered this. Had Laurel fled Buckkeep to keep a pregnancy private and bear a secret child? It was a mystery many years old, and far outside my concern. I was sad to know she was gone. She had been kind to me. I shook my head and let her go. “Riddle. As you are out and about, can you keep an ear open for any gossip about my messenger?”
“Of course. I’ve heard nothing of her pursuers. You know that. But I may do better at tracking her. You think she fled to … where?”