“Did we try names of herbs?”
“No,” Dutiful admitted. “I’m too tired. I can’t think of what we have tried and what we haven’t.”
I set Chade’s hand down on his slowly rising and falling chest and moved to the table that now held the litter of items from his workbench. The half-spent candles showed me the Skill-scroll about imbuing stone with a message, a scroll about cheesemaking, and an old vellum about scrying the future in a bowl of water. In addition there was a block of memory stone with nothing stored in it, a broken knife blade, and a wineglass with some withered flowers in it. Dutiful drifted over to join me. “The broken blade?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Not significant. He was always getting in a hurry and trying to pry things open with a knife blade.” I nudged the block of memory stone. “Where did this come from? Aslevjal?”
Dutiful nodded. “He has made a few trips there over the last five years. He was intensely curious about all you had told him about Kebal Rawbread’s stronghold, and the Elderlings who created it and occupied it ages ago. None of us approved of his adventuring, but you know Chade. He needs no one’s approval except his own. Then, abruptly, he stopped going. I suspect something happened to frighten him into good sense, but he’s never spoken about it. Too proud, I suspect, and he didn’t want any of us to have the satisfaction of saying, We warned you. On one journey to the island he found a room with scattered blocks of memory stone and brought back a small bag of cubes of the stuff. Some held memories, mostly poetry and songs. Others were empty. “
“And he put something on one of them, and sent it to you recently.”
I stared at Dutiful. He straightened slowly, dismay vying with relief.
“Oh. It’s the key, isn’t it?”
“Do you remember what it said?”
“Absolutely.” He walked to Chade’s side, sat down, and took his hand to make the Skill-contact easier. He spoke aloud. “Where violets bloom in a lady’s lap, the wise old spider spun his trap.”
We were both smiling. But as the smile faded from Dutiful’s face, I asked him, “What’s wrong?”
“No response. He’s as invisible to my Skill as he has been all day.”
I crossed the room quickly, sat, and took Chade’s hand. I focused myself at him, and used both voice and Skill. “Where violets bloom in a lady’s lap, the wise old spider spun his trap.”
There was nothing. Only Chade’s hand lax in mine.
“Maybe he’s too weak to respond,” Dutiful suggested.
“Hush.” I leaned back, not speaking. Violets in a lady’s lap. Violets in a lady’s lap. There was something, something from long ago. Then I had it. A statue in the Women’s Garden. It was in the back corner of the garden, overhung by a plum thicket. There, where the shadows were deep and cool even in the height of summer, was a statue of Eda. She was seated with her hands loose in her lap. She had been there a long time. I recalled tiny ferns growing in the mossy folds of her gown. And yes, violets in her lap.
“I need a torch. I know where he hid the key. I have to go to the Women’s Garden and the statue of Eda.”
Chade took a sudden gasp of air. For an instant I feared it was his final breath. Then Dutiful said fiercely, “That was the key. The old spider is Chade. Eda, in the Women’s Garden.”
As he said the goddess’s name, it was as if heavy draperies were parted and Chade opened to the Skill. Dutiful sent out a Skill-summoning for Nettle, Thick, and Steady, but he did not wait for the rest of the King’s coterie to arrive.
“Does he have the strength for this?” I demanded, knowing well that a forced healing burns the reserves of a man’s body without mercy. The magic itself does not heal; it but forces the body to speed the process.
“We can let what remains of his strength be slowly consumed by his dying, or we can burn it up trying to heal him. If you were Chade, which would you prefer?”
I set my teeth against my reply. I did not know. I did know that Chade and Dutiful had once made that decision for me and that I still lived with the consequences: a body that aggressively repaired every ill done to it, whether I would or no. But surely I could keep that fate from befalling Chade; I would know when to stop the healing. I made that resolution and refused to wonder if that was the choice Chade would have made for himself.
I secured my Skill-link with Dutiful and together we sank into Chade. Dimly I was aware of Nettle coming to join us, and then Thick, bewildered with sleepiness but obedient to the call, and finally Steady surging in to add his strength to our melded effort.