So I took the Fool to Lady Thyme’s old chambers. It was a lengthy process, cold and wet for both of us as he insisted on hobbling across the courtyard to the door on his own. He cloaked his shoulders in the blanket, and his feet were still bound in rags. Wind and snow swept past us as we made our limping way. Using the servants’ passageways meant that we had to take the long way round to everything. He took my arm for the climb up the narrow stairways and leaned on me more heavily with every step. The boy guiding us kept looking back at both of us in wonder and suspicion. At some point, I realized my garments were stained with the Fool’s blood. I offered him no explanation.
At the door to Lady Thyme’s old chambers, the page halted and offered me a large key on a heavy loop of blue cord. I took it and the small lantern he carried and told him to go. He went with alacrity. “Lady Thyme” had not existed for decades but the rumor that she haunted these chambers still had not faded. That masquerade suited Chade, and he maintained it still.
The room we entered was dim and fusty. A stand of candles on a dusty table gave off a poor light. The room smelled of disuse and ancient cloying perfume. And old woman. “I’m going to just sit down,” the Fool announced and nearly missed the chair I pulled out for him. He did not sit down so much as crumple into a heap. He sat still, breathing.
I opened the wardrobe and was confronted by a packed bank of ancient gowns and shifts. They smelled as if they had never been laundered. Muttering about Chade’s idiocy, I dropped to my hands and knees and crawled under the clothes to feel along the back panel. I rapped, pushed, and pried until suddenly the panel swung open. “We’ll have to crawl through,” I informed the Fool sourly. He didn’t reply.
He had fallen asleep where he was. It was difficult to rouse him, and then I all but dragged him through the low hatch in the wardrobe. I helped him to Chade’s old chair before the fire, and then crawled back to latch the door to Lady Thyme’s room from the inside and extinguish the candles. By the time I had closed the entrance and returned to the Fool’s side, he was nodding off again. I woke him again and asked him, “Bath or bed?”
The tub of water, still steaming slightly, was scenting the room with lavender and hyssop. A straight-backed chair was beside the tub. A low table held a towel, a pot of soft soap, a washrag, a cotton tunic and a blue wool robe in the old style of garb, and some thick stockings. They would serve. The Fool was unfolding himself like a battered jumping jack. “Bath,” he muttered and turned his blind face toward me.
“It’s this way.” I took his stick-arm in my hand and put my other arm around him. I walked him to the straight-backed chair. He dropped into it so heavily that he nearly overset it. He sat still, breathing. Without asking, I knelt and began to unwrap the long winding of rags that bound his feet. They smelled dreadful and stuck together so that I had to peel them away. I breathed through my mouth when I spoke.
“Beside you is a table with all you need to wash yourself. And clothing for afterward.”
“Clean clothing?” he asked, as if I had give him a stack of gold. He groped and his hand rose and fell like a butterfly as it touched the bounty there. He lifted the pot of soap, smelled it, and made a small heartbreaking sound. He set it down carefully. “Oh, Fitz. You cannot imagine,” he said brokenly. Then his bony arm lifted, and his crooked hand shooed me away.
“Call me if you need me,” I conceded. I took a candle and moved to the scroll racks at the far end of the room. He listened to my footfalls and did not look pleased when I halted at the end of the room, but that was as much privacy as I was granting him. I had no desire to discover him, drowned but modest, in the tub. I rummaged through the scrolls on the racks there and found one on the Rain Wilds, but when I took it to the table I found that Chade had already arranged reading material for me. Three scrolls on the proper way to prepare and use a King’s Man were set out for me. Well, and he was right. I’d best learn it. I carried them over to Chade’s old bed, lit a branch of candles there, kicked off my boots, propped the pillows, and settled to read.
I was a third of the way through the first one, tediously written and overly detailed, about selecting a candidate who could share strength before I heard the gentle splash of water as the Fool eased into the tub. For a time, all was silent. I read my scroll, and periodically looked up to be sure he had not fallen asleep and sunk in the tub to drown. After a long soak, he began the slow process of washing himself. He made small sounds of both pain and eased muscles. He took his time about it. I was on the third scroll, a more useful one that gave specific symptoms that a King’s Man might be exceeding his limits, including information on how to feed strength back into a man, should that be necessary, when I heard him heave a great sigh and then there followed the sounds of someone exiting a tub. I did not look toward him.