I led. I was not the strongest of the Skilled there. That would be Thick, his natural talent disguised by the façade of his simple-mindedness. Steady was next, a well of strength for a Skill-user even if he seemed unable to reach within himself and use it on his own. Dutiful was better taught in the varied uses of the Skill than I was, and Nettle, my daughter, more intuitive in how she wielded it. But I led by virtue of my years and my hard-won knowledge of how a man’s body is put together. Chade himself had taught me those things—not as a healer, but as an assassin’s apprentice, to know where a pressed finger can choke a man, or a small blade make a gout of blood leap out with every beat of his heart.
Even so, I did not “see” within Chade’s body with my Skill. Rather, I listened to his body, and felt where it struggled to repair itself. I lent strength and purpose to that effort, and used my knowledge to apply it where the need was greatest. Pain is not always the best indicator of damage. The greater pain can confuse the mind into thinking that is the place of most damage. And so, Skill-linked as we were to Chade, we swam against the tide of his pain and fear to see the hidden damages behind the bone of his skull, a place of constriction where once blood had rushed freely, and a pocket of pooled blood that had gone toxic.
I had the collected strength of a trained coterie behind me, something I had never experienced before. It was a heady sensation. I drew their attention to what I wished repaired and they united their strength to persuade Chade’s body to focus its energy there. It was so easy. The tempting possibilities of what I could do unfurled before me in a lush tapestry. What I could do! I could remake the man, restore him to youth! But the coins of Chade’s flesh were not mine to spend. We had strength and to spare for our task, but Chade did not. And so, when I felt that we had lent his body as much of our strength as it could use and directed it effectively, I drew the coterie back, shepherding them out of Chade’s flesh as if they were a well-meaning flock of chickens trespassing in a garden.
I opened my eyes to the darkened room and a circle of anxious candlelit faces. Trickles of perspiration lined Steady’s face; the collar of his shirt was wet with it. He was breathing like a messenger who had just delivered his baton. Nettle’s chin was propped in both her hands, her fingers splayed across her face. Thick’s mouth hung ajar, and my King’s hair was sweated flat to his brow. I blinked and felt the distant drumbeat of a headache to come. I smiled at them. “We’ve done what we can. Now we must leave him alone and let his body take its time.” I stood slowly. “Go. Go rest now. Go on. There’s no more to do here just now.” I shooed them out of the room, ignoring their reluctance to leave.
Steady now leaned on his sister’s arm. “Feed him,” I whispered as they passed. My daughter nodded. “Yah,” Thick agreed heartily and followed them. Only Dutiful dared defy me, resuming his seat by Chade’s bed. His dog sighed and dropped to the floor at his feet. I shook my head at them, took my place, and ignored my own orders to them as I reached for Chade’s awareness.
What has happened? What happened to me? His mind touch was muzzy and confused.
You fell and struck your head. You were unconscious. And because you had sealed yourself to the Skill, we found it hard to reach you and heal you.
I felt his instant of panic. He reached out to his body like a man patting his pockets to be sure a cutpurse had not robbed him. I knew he found the tracks we had left and that they were extensive. I’m so weak. I nearly died, didn’t I? Give me water, please. Why did you let me sink so low?
At his rebuke, I felt a flash of anger. I counseled myself that now was not the time. I held the cup to his lips, propping his head as I did so. Eyes closed, he lipped feebly at the edge of the cup and sucked water in noisily. I refilled the cup and this time he drank more slowly. When he turned away from it as a sign he had had enough, I set it aside and asked him, “Why were you so obtuse? You didn’t even let any of us know that you’d sealed yourself against the Skill. And why do it at all?”
He was still too weak to speak. I took his hand again, and his thoughts touched mine.
Protect the King. I know too many of his secrets. Too many Farseer secrets. Cannot leave such a chink in armor. All coteries should be sealed.
Then how could we reach one another?
Shielded only when asleep. Awake, I would sense who was reaching for me.
You were not asleep. You were unconscious and you needed us.
Unlikely. Just … a bit of bad luck. And if it did … you came. You understood the riddle.