He coughed at last and said in a strained voice, “Still. There were those who stayed loyal to me. From time to time they would get a message to me, to let me know that another two had escaped and set out to warn my friends. I wanted to tell them to stop, but I had no way to respond to their messages. The Servants began on me in earnest in those years. Times of pain followed by periods of isolation. Starvation, cold, the relentless light and heat of the sun, and then such clever torture.”
He stopped talking. I knew his story was not finished, but I thought he had told me as much as he could bear to now. I stayed where I was, listening to the flames, to a log settling in the fire. There were no windows in this chamber but I heard the distant howl of wind past the chimney top and knew that the storm had risen again.
The Fool began whispering. It took a short time for my hearing to sort his words from the storm wind. “… believed them. He existed, somewhere. They stopped asking me questions about him, but they kept on hurting me. When they stopped that … I suspected the Servants had found him. I didn’t know if they would keep him to use, or destroy him to thwart him from changing the world. If they did or didn’t, they’d never tell me. Funny. So many years ago, I sent to you to find my son for me. And one of those messengers was the one to get through. Too late to save my son. Years too late.” His voice was running down, draining off into sleep.
I spoke softly, not wanting to wake him if he was asleep but too curious to contain my question. “Years ago, you gave up? The messenger took years to reach me?”
“Years,” he said wearily. “Years ago, when I still had hope. When I still believed the Servants could be shown a better way. If I could get to the boy first.” His voice fell silent. I stared into the flames, and Bee came into my thoughts. She’d be asleep in her bed by now. Sometime tomorrow afternoon, if the pigeons flew swiftly, Revel would let her know that a bird had arrived and that I was safe at Buckkeep. I should take paper tonight and write her a letter and send it by messenger. I needed to explain to her why I’d left her so suddenly and that I might be gone longer than I’d first expected. I toyed with the idea of sending for her. Every child should experience a Winterfest at Buckkeep Castle! But then I realized she could not possibly arrive in time for that. I also could not think of anyone I’d trust enough to take her on the long winter journey from Withywoods to Buckkeep. Next year, I promised myself. Next year, we’d leave Withywoods in plenty of time and ride to Buckkeep Castle, just her and me.
The plan gave me such pleasure until I suddenly thought of the Fool and his unexpected son in that context. He had never known his child. Did that mean he had never dreamed of sharing things with him? I spoke to the fire. “The messenger couldn’t tell me where to look for the child. And I had no idea of how old the boy might be.”
“Nor did I. Nor where. Only that there were so many, many prophecies that seemed to speak of such a child. The Servants seemed so sure that such a child must exist. They asked me in every way they could imagine. They would not believe I did not know of such a child. They would not believe I could no longer see where or who such a child might be.” He groaned suddenly and moved abruptly in the bed. “It has been so long … my belly. Oh.” He coiled briefly and then rolled to the edge of the bed. “Is there a garderobe in this chamber?” he asked desperately.
His stomach made terrible noises as I guided him to the narrow door. He remained inside for so long that I began to be concerned for him. Then the door opened and he groped his way out. I took his arm and guided him back to the bed. He crawled weakly onto the bed and I covered him. For a time, he simply breathed. Then he said, “Maybe there never was such a son. That is my desperate hope. That he never existed, so they never found him, never destroyed him, never took him as their gamepiece.” He groaned again and shifted restlessly on the bed. “Fitz?”
“I’m right here. Do you want anything? Brandy? Water?”
“No. Thank you.”
“Go to sleep. You need rest. Tomorrow, we will both be more intelligent about what you eat. I have to build you up before the coterie can attempt a healing.”
“I’m stronger than I look. Stronger now than when you found me.”
“Perhaps. But I no longer take risks unless I must.”
A long silence. The brandy and the food were affecting me. The weariness of the day suddenly wrapped me. I walked to the other side of the bed and kicked off my boots. I shed my outer garments and burrowed into the big bed beside the Fool. The featherbed was deep and soft. I shouldered deeper into it and closed my eyes.