He was caught on a bridge with both ends torn free of shore. He could not lie and he could not break his promise. I calmed my voice and spoke slowly, more to Nettle than to him. “Steady won’t break his promise. Don’t ask him to. But let me make a guess. Steady’s talent is to lend strength to someone who can Skill. To serve as a King’s man if the King should need extra strength in a time of great need for Skill-magic.”
Steady bowed his head, a clear assent to what we already knew about him. Once, I had served in that capacity to King Verity. In his need and my inexperience, I had let him drain me, and he had been angry at how close he had come to doing me permanent harm. But Steady was not like me; he had been trained specifically for this task.
Laboriously I built my castle of logic from what I knew of Chade. “So Chade summoned you. And he borrowed your strength to … do what? Do something that burned his Skill out of him?”
Steady was very still. That wasn’t it. I suddenly knew. “Chade drew on your strength to put a block on himself?”
Steady was unaware of the tiny dip of his head that was assent. Dutiful broke in, outraged at my suggestion. “That makes no sense. Chade always wanted more of the Skill, not to be blocked from the use of it.”
I heaved a great sigh. “Chade loves his secrets. He lives his life in a castle of secrets. The Skill is a way into a man’s mind. If a strong Skill-user catches a man unaware, he can suggest anything to him and the man will believe it. Tell him his ship faces a great storm and he will turn back to safe harbor. Persuade a war leader that his army is outnumbered and he will change his tactics. Your father, King Verity, spent many of his days using the Skill exactly that way to turn back the Red Ships from our shores. Think of all the ways we have used the Skill over the years. We all know how to raise walls against other Skill-users, for privacy in our own lives. But if you know that others are stronger in the Skill than you are …” I let my words dwindle away.
Dutiful groaned. “Then you would seek help to raise a more powerful wall. One that could not be breached without your consent, one only you could lower at will.”
“If you were awake or aware enough to do so.” I spoke the last words softly. Tears were rolling down Steady’s cheeks. He looked so much like his father that my breath caught in my throat. Nettle had ceased trying to worry at her younger brother. Instead she rested her forehead on his chest. Thick’s Skill-magic music surged into a storm of despair. I battered my way through it, organized my thoughts, and asked Steady a question.
“We know what happened. You haven’t broken your promise not to tell. But this is a different question. If you helped a Skill-user block himself, do you know how to break through it?”
He folded his lips tightly and shook his head.
“The man who is strong enough to build a wall should be strong enough to break it,” Dutiful suggested sternly.
Steady shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was deep with pain. Now that we knew the secret, he felt he could speak the details. “Lord Chade read about it in one of the old scrolls. It was a defense suggested for the coterie closest to the King or Queen, so that the coterie could never be corrupted. It makes a wall that only the Skill-user himself can open. Or the King or Queen, or whoever knows the keyword.”
My gaze shot to Dutiful. He spoke immediately. “I don’t know it! Chade never spoke to me of such a thing!” He set his elbow to his knee and his forehead to his hand, looking suddenly very much like an anxious boy again. It wasn’t reassuring.
Nettle spoke. “If he didn’t tell Dutiful, then you have to know it, Fitz. You were always closest to him. It has to be one of you two. Who else would he entrust it to?”
“Not me,” I said brusquely. I didn’t add that we hadn’t spoken to each other in several months, not even via the Skill. It was a rift not of anger, but only of time. We’d slowly grown apart over the last few years. Oh, in times of extreme turmoil he would not hesitate to reach into my mind and demand my opinion or even my aid. But over the years he’d had to accept that I would not be drawn back into the intricate dance that was life at Buckkeep Castle. Now I regretted our distance.
I rubbed my brow and turned to Thick. “Did Lord Chade tell you a special word, Thick? One to remember?” I focused on him, trying to smile reassuringly. Behind me I heard the door to the room open, but I kept my attention on Thick.
He scratched one of his tiny ears. His tongue stuck out of his mouth as he pondered. I forced myself to be patient. Then he smiled and straightened up. He leaned forward and smiled at me. “Please. He told me to remember ‘please.’ And ‘thank you.’ Words to get what you want from people. You don’t just grab. Say ‘please’ before you take something.”