“Of course we tried.” I forgave Dutiful for the irritation in his voice. It was an obvious question, and he gave me the obvious answer. “We tried to reach into him, to no avail.”
I set the cloth aside and sat down on the edge of the bed. Chade’s hand in mine was warm. I closed my eyes. With my fingers, I sensed the bones and the muscles and the flesh. I tried to push past my physical awareness of him to Skill-sensations I had not felt in years. I tried to enter his body with my thoughts, to be aware of what was right in the flow of his blood and the rush of his breath. I could not. I pushed, but the barriers did not yield.
Barriers. I drew back from them and opened my eyes. I spoke aloud my consternation.
“He’s walled off. Deliberately sealed against the Skill. Like Chivalry did to Burrich.”
Thick was rocking in the corner. I looked at him, and he hunched his blunt head closer between his shoulders. His small eyes met mine. “Yah. Yah. Closed like a box. Can’t get in.” He shook his head solemnly, the tip of his tongue curled over his upper lip.
I looked around the room. The King stood quietly by Chade’s bed, his young wolfhound leaning comfortingly against his knee. Of the King’s coterie only Nettle and Steady were there. That told me that his formal Skill-assemblage had already joined their strength and attempted to batter a way into Chade. And failed. That Nettle had resorted to calling on me and bringing Thick spoke volumes. As Skillmistress, she had decided that all conventional uses of the magic had been ineffective. Those of us gathered now were those who would, if commanded, venture into dangerous and unknown applications of Skill.
Thick, our beloved half-wit, was prodigiously strong with the magic, though not creative with it. The King himself possessed a goodly amount of ability for it, while Nettle’s strongest talent was the Skill-manipulation of dreams. Her half-brother, Steady, was a reservoir of strength for her, one who could be completely trusted with any secret. But they were all looking at me, the Solo, the bastard Farseer with a wild and erratic talent, as if I were the one who would know what to do.
But I didn’t. I didn’t know any more about it than the last time we had attempted to use Skill to heal a sealed man. We hadn’t succeeded. Burrich had died. In Burrich’s youth he had been Chivalry’s right-hand man and a source of strength for the King-in-Waiting. And so Burrich had been sealed by his king, lest enemies of the Farseers use him as a conduit to discover Chivalry’s secrets. Instead that wall had kept out the magic that might have saved him.
“Who did this?” I tried and failed to keep accusation from my voice. “Who sealed him from the Skill like this?” Treachery from within the coterie was the most likely explanation. It chilled me to think of it. Already my assassin’s mind had linked the sealing with his fall. Double treachery to kill the old man. Cut him off from his magic so he could not cry for help, and then see that he was badly injured. If Chade had been the target of such treachery, was the King the next mark?
King Dutiful puffed his lips out in an exclamation of surprise and dismay. “It’s the first I’ve heard of it, if you are right. But you can’t be right. Just a few days ago, he and I conducted a small experiment with the Skill. I reached him without effort. He certainly wasn’t sealed then! Even with all his practice, he’s never become exceptionally strong with the Skill, though he’s very competent with what talent he has. But strong enough to wall us all out? I doubt that he …” I saw my own suspicions take root in his mind. Dutiful drew up a chair on the other side of Chade’s bed. He sat down and looked across the bed at me. “Someone did this to him?”
“What was the ‘small experiment’?” I demanded. All eyes were on our king.
“Nothing dark! He had a small block of the black stone, the memory stone, brought from the ancient Elderling stronghold on Aslevjal Island. He pressed a thought into it, and then gave it to a messenger who brought it to me. I was able to retrieve his message. It was just a simple little rhyme, something about where to find violets in Buckkeep Castle. I used the Skill to confirm with him that I was correct. He was certainly able to Skill well enough to impress it into memory stone, and receive my response to it. So he wasn’t sealed on that day.”
A tiny motion caught my eye. It wasn’t much. Steady had opened his mouth and then shut it again. It was not much of a trail but I’d pursue it. I looked at him suddenly, pointed my finger, and demanded, “What did Chade tell you not to tell anyone?”
Again his mouth opened for just that betraying moment, then snapped shut again. He shook his head mutely and set his jaw. He was Burrich’s son. He couldn’t lie. I drew breath to press him but his half-sister was swifter. Nettle crossed the room in two strides, reached up to grab her younger brother’s shoulders, and tried to shake him. It was like watching a kitten attack a bull. Steady didn’t move under her onslaught; he only sank his head down between his broad shoulders. “Tell the secret!” she demanded. “I know that look. You tell, right now, Steady!” He bowed his head and closed his eyes.