I have Lord Golden. He is grievously injured and I will need the help of the coterie to keep him alive. I’m bringing him to Buckkeep Castle through the Judgment Stone. Riddle says he will try to help me.
A long silence. Had she not sensed me? Then she responded, Are you Skill-linked to Lord Golden, then?
We were, once. And I have to try this, no matter how foolish.
Not foolish. Dangerous. How can you bring someone through a pillar if he has no Skill or link to you? You’ll be risking Riddle as well as yourself!
I have a bond with him, Nettle. I don’t understand it completely. I was able to reach into him and heal him. I think I have a strong enough connection to be able to bring him through a pillar. Riddle has no Skill, but he is able to travel with you or Chade. I would not ask this if his life were not at stake. So please, summon the others and have them ready?
Today? Tonight? But there is an important dinner this evening, with delegates from Bingtown, Jamaillia, and Kelsingra. It is to celebrate the approach of Winterfest, but also to negotiate new trading terms and …
Nettle. I don’t want this. I need this. Please.
There was a pause that lasted an eternity. Then she said, I will gather as many Skilled ones as can help with a healing, then.
Thank you. Thank you. I am in your debt. We’re coming now. Meet us at the Witness Stones. Send a wagon or sled.
What about Bee? Who will look after her?
Who would look after her? A downward lurch in my heart. I would have to depend on the two people I had just proclaimed unsuitable to be near her. Two people who were insulted, offended, and, in Shun’s case, without the morality to realize none of that was Bee’s fault. I knew less of FitzVigilant. Chade seemed to set great store by him, as did Riddle. And Nettle. I’d have to give their judgment more weight than my own and hope he was a big enough man not to take out his grudge against me on my child.
FitzVigilant will take her back to Withywoods. Don’t worry, it will be all right. Please. Oh, how I hoped it would be all right. Fence that thought well with a tight Skill-wall! Send a cart and team to meet us at the Witness Stones, I repeated. Tell them my life depends on it. An exaggeration, but not much of one. Chade, at least, would understand. And Dutiful. I pulled my mind free of hers and put up my walls. I didn’t want to Skill right now. I wanted no distractions at all from keeping the Fool alive. I looked down at Bee and felt disloyal. This was supposed to have been our day together; well, it had been doomed from the start. She leaned on me, and I moved her shawl, tucking it more closely around her. We hadn’t bought half the things I’d intended to get for her. When I got back, I’d make it up to her. I’d make a raid on the markets at Buckkeep Town and bring her back an armful of pretty things to make up for it. The Fool and I would return together, and it would be a Winterfest to remember for all of us.
The Fool groaned again and I turned back to him. I leaned down and spoke softly. “We’re going through Skill-pillars, Fool. I’m taking you back to Buckkeep Castle for the coterie to heal. But it will be easier for me to take you through if we are Skill-linked. So …”
I took his hand in mine. Years ago, in the course of tending King Verity, the Fool had accidentally brushed his fingers against Verity’s Skill-laden hands. The silver Skill had burned and soaked into his fingertips. His touch on my wrist had once left marks, silvery fingerprints, and a link between us. He had taken them back, right before I made my fateful trip through the Skill-pillars and back to Buckkeep. I intended to renew that link now, press his fingers to my wrist once more and gain, I planned, enough of a Skill-link to take him through the standing stones with Riddle and me.
But when I turned his hand to look at his fingers, horror and sickness rose in me. Where once silver had outlined the delicate whorls of his fingertips, gnarled scar tissue now deadened the ends of his fingers. His nails remained as thick and yellowed nubs, but the soft pads of his fingers were gone, replaced with coarse, dead flesh. “Who did all this to you? And why? Where have you been, Fool, and how could you let this happen to yourself?” And then, the ultimate question that had haunted me for years and now sounded louder than ever in my heart. “Why didn’t you send for me, send me a message, reach out somehow? I would have come. No matter what, I would have come.”
I scarcely expected an answer. He might not be losing blood, but the poisons I had released into his body were spreading. I’d stolen strength from him to seal the cuts I’d made. Whatever reserves he had left, he had best marshal against the poisons within. But he stirred slightly and then spoke.