“Those who had loved me … tried to destroy me.” He moved his blind eyes as if he tried to look into mine. “And you succeeded where they had failed. But I understand, Fitz. I understand. I deserved it.”
He fell silent. His words made no sense to me. “I did not mean to hurt you. I would never hurt you. I mistook you … I thought you meant her harm! Fool, I am sorry. So sorry! But who tormented you, who broke you?” I pondered what little I knew. “The school that raised you … they did this to you?”
I watched the slight rise and fall of his chest, and rebuked myself for asking him a question. “You don’t have to answer. Not now. Wait until we’ve healed you.” If we could. My hand was on his ragged shirt. I felt ribs beneath it, ribs knotted with old breaks badly healed. How could he be alive? How could he have come so far, blind and alone and crippled? Seeking his son? I should have tried much, much harder to find the boy, if the Fool’s need for him was so great. If only I’d known, had some inkling of how desperate a state he was in. I’d failed him. For now. But I’d help him. I would.
“Shame.” The single word rode an exhaled breath.
I bowed my head, thinking he’d read my thoughts and rebuked me. He spoke again, very softly. “Why I didn’t call on you for help. At first. Ashamed. Too shamed to ask for help. After all I did. To you. How often I plunged you into pain?” His gray tongue tried to moisten his peeling lips. I opened my mouth to speak, but he tightened his grip on my hand. He was gathering strength. I kept silent.
“How often did I watch the trap close around you? Did it truly have to be so awful for you? Did I try hard enough to find another path through time? Or did I just use you?”
He ran out of breath. I was silent. He’d used me. He’d admitted it to me, more than once. Could he have changed the path of my life? I knew that often enough a word or two from him had made me reconsider my actions. I remembered well how he had cautioned me about Galen and even suggested that I turn aside from my Skill-training. What if I had? There would never have been that beating that near-blinded me and left me with years of pounding headaches. But when would I have learned the Skill? Did he know such things? Did he know where every untaken path in my life would have led?
He gave a little gasp. “When my turn for torture came, for pain? How could I call for you to save me from it when I had not rescued you or turned you aside from it?” That speech was shattered by a series of coughs as feeble as if a bird choked. I lifted my hand from his chest. I could not bear to feel how he struggled to get his breath.
“You … never need to feel that way, Fool. Never. I never saw it that way.”
On an indrawn gasp. “I did. In the end.” Another gasp. “When I learned for myself what I’d asked of you. How a minute of designed pain becomes an eternity.” He coughed again. I bent my face close to his and spoke very softly.
“It was long ago. And it’s far too late for you to apologize, for any forgiveness was given years ago. Not that I thought there was something I needed to forgive. Now stop talking. Conserve your strength. You’ll need it for our journey.”
Did he have enough stamina to survive a trip through a Skill-pillar? Could I take him through, unlinked to me by the Skill? But I had been able to reach into his body. Surely that meant something, that there was still some tie between us. Useless to wonder. I knew he would not survive unless I got him to Buckkeep that night. And so I would take the chance. We’d go through the pillars together, and if—
Bee spoke on my other side. Her voice was little more than a whisper. “You’re going away?”
“For a little while. To take my friend to a healer.” What if I didn’t come back? What if neither of us survived, what would happen to her then? I couldn’t think about that, and I couldn’t not think about it. I still knew I must try. I felt no compunction at risking my life for the Fool. But her future? I lifted my voice slightly. “Shun and FitzVigilant will take you back to Withywoods and look after you until I come home.”
Her silence was eloquent. I took her little hand in mine and said quietly, “I promise I will come back as soon as ever I can.” Liar. Liar. Liar. A promise I had no right to make when I did not know if I would survive the trip.
“It would be very useful for Lady Shun and me to know exactly what is going on. Who is this beggar, why did you attack him, where are we going now, and why are you leaving Bee in our care with absolutely no warning or preparation?” FitzVigilant didn’t try to suppress the edge of anger in his voice.