“Can you find the towels and robe?”
“I’ll manage,” he said shortly.
I’d finished reading the scroll and was struggling to stay awake when I heard him say, “I’ve lost my bearings. Where are you?”
“Over here. On Chade’s old bed.”
Even freshly bathed and attired in clean garments, he still looked terrible. He stood, the old blue robe hanging on him like slack canvas on a derelict ship as he clung to the back of the chair. What hair he had left was still weighted with water; it scarcely reached past his ears. His blind eyes were terrible dead things in his gaunt living face. His breathing sounded like leaking bellows. I rose and took his arm to guide him to the bed.
“Fed, clean, and warm. New garments. A soft bed. If I were not so weary, I’d weep with gratitude.”
“Go to sleep instead.” I opened the bedding for him. He sat down on the edge of it. His hands patted the clean linens, moved up to the plump pillow. It was an effort for him to swing his legs up onto the bed. When he lay back on the pillows, I did not wait, but covered him as if he were Bee. His hands gripped the top edge of the coverlet.
“Will you stay here for the night?” It was a question rather than a request.
“If you wish.”
“I do. If you don’t mind.”
I stared at him unabashedly. Freed of grime, the lines of inflicted scars on his face were perfectly etched. “I don’t mind,” I said quietly.
He closed his filmed-over eyes. “Do you remember … a time I asked you to stay beside me for the night?”
“In the Elderling tent. On Aslevjal.” I remembered. We were both quiet for a time, and then the silence stretched out longer. I thought he had fallen asleep. I was suddenly exhausted. I walked around to the other side of the bed, sat down on the edge of it and then stretched out beside him, as carefully as if he were infant Bee. My thoughts went to her. What a day I had given her! Would she sleep well tonight or battle nightmares? Would she stay in her bed or creep off to hide herself behind the wall of my study? Strange little mite of a girl. I had to do better by her. I meant to, with every drop of my heart’s blood I meant to, but it seemed things always got in the way. And here I was, days away from her, trusting her care to a man I scarcely knew. And had insulted.
“No questions?” the Fool asked of the dim room.
He was the one, I thought, who should have questions. Starting with, Why did you stab me? “I thought you were asleep.”
“Soon.” He sighed the weight of the world away. “You take me on such faith, Fitz. Years pass, I step back into your life, and you kill me. And then save me.”
I didn’t want to talk about how I had knifed him. “Your messenger reached me.”
“A pale girl.”
He was silent and then spoke in a voice full of sorrow. “I sent seven pairs of messengers to you. Over eight years, I sent them to you. And only one got through?”
Seven pairs. Of fourteen messengers, one had reached me. Perhaps two. A great wave of dread rose in me. What had he fled, and did it still pursue him? “She died soon after reaching me. Those who chased her had shot some sort of parasites into her, and they were eating her from the inside.”
He was silent for a long time. “They love that sort of thing. Slow pain that inevitably gets worse. They love it when those they torment hope and beg for death.”
“Who loves it?” I asked quietly.
“The Servants.” All life had gone from his voice.
“They used to be servants. When the Whites existed, their ancestors served the Whites. The prophet folk. My ancestors.”
“You’re a White.” There was little written of them, and what I knew, I had learned mostly from the Fool. Once, they had lived alongside and among humanity. Long-lived and gifted with prophecy and the ability to see all futures. As they had dwindled and interbred with humans, they had lost their unique characteristics, but every few generations one such as he was born. A true White, such as the Fool, was a rarity.
He made a small sound of skepticism in his throat. “So they would have you believe. And me. The truth is, Fitz, that I am a creature with enough White blood in me that it manifests almost completely.” He took a deep breath as if to say more and then sighed deeply instead.
I was confused. “That wasn’t what you told me years ago.”
He turned his head on the pillow, as if he could look at me. “That wasn’t what I believed, years ago. I didn’t lie to you, Fitz. I repeated to you the lie I had been told, the lie I believed all my life.”