And there, I’d successfully cut him off before he could importune me to stay awhile, or move back to Buckkeep Castle just for a season or a year or two. His litany was as familiar as Kettricken’s, but flavored more with guilt than duty. He was an old man, and still had so much to teach me. I had always been his most promising student. Dutiful still had need of an accomplished assassin, and I was a unique weapon in that the young King could converse silently with me via the Skill. And there was the Skill itself. There were still so many mysteries to unravel. So much translating left to do, so many secrets and techniques to be mined from the trove of scrolls we had retrieved from Aslevjal.
I knew all his arguments and persuasions. Over the years I had heard them all. And resisted them all. Repeatedly. Yet the game had to be played. It had become our farewell ritual. As had his assigning of tasks.
“Well, if you will not stay and do the work with me,” he said, just as if we had already discussed it all, “then will you at least take some of the burden with you?”
“As always,” I assured him.
He smiled. “Lady Rosemary has packed a selection of scrolls for you, and arranged a mule from the stables to bear them. She was going to put them in a pack but I told her you would be traveling by horseback.”
I nodded silently. Years ago Rosemary had taken my place as his apprentice. She had served him now for a score of years, doing the “quiet work” of an assassin and spy for the royal family. No. Longer than that. Idly I wondered if she had yet taken an apprentice of her own.
But Chade’s voice called me back to the present as he listed off some herbs and roots he wished me to obtain discreetly for him. He brought up again his idea that the crown should station an apprentice Skill-user at Withywoods to provide swift communication with Buckkeep Castle. I reminded him that as a Skill-user, I could facilitate that myself without welcoming another of his spies into my household. He smiled at that and diverted me to a discussion as to how often the stones could be used and how safely. As the only living person who had been lost in the stones and survived, I tended to be more conservative than Chade the experimenter. This time, at least, he did not challenge my opinion.
I cleared my throat. “The secret keyword is a bad idea, Chade. If you must have one, let it be written down and put into the King’s care.”
“Anything written can be read. Anything hidden can be found.”
“That’s true. Here is something else that is true. Dead is dead.”
“I’ve been loyal to the Farseers all my life, Fitz. My death is preferable to being used as a weapon against the King.”
Painful to realize that I agreed. Still, “Then by your logic, every member of his coterie should be Skill-locked. Each with a separate word that can only be discovered by answering a riddle.”
His hands, large and agile still, spidered bonily along the edge of his coverlet. “That would probably be best, yes. But until I can persuade the rest of the coterie that it’s needed, I will take steps to protect the most valuable member of the coterie from corruption.”
His opinion of himself had never been small. “And that would be you.”
I looked at him. He bridled. “What? Do you not agree with that assessment? Do you know how many secrets I hold in trust for our family? How much family history and lineage, how much knowledge of the Skill, now resides only in my mind and on a few moldering scrolls, most of them nearly unreadable? Imagine me falling into someone else’s control. Imagine someone plundering my thoughts of those secrets and using them against the Farseer reign.”
It chilled me to discover that he was absolutely correct. I hunched over my knees and thought. “Can you simply tell me the word you will use for your lock, and trust me to keep it secret?” I already accepted that he would find a way to do it again.
He leaned slightly forward. “Will you consent to Skill-locking your mind?”
I hesitated. I didn’t want to do it. I recalled too vividly how Burrich had died, sealed off from the help that could have saved him. And how Chade had nearly died. I had always believed that given a choice between a Skill-healing and death, I’d now choose death. His question made me confront the truth. No. I’d want the option available. And it would be more available if my mind wasn’t locked against those who could help me.
Chade cleared his throat. “Well, until you are ready, I’ll do as I think best. As you will, too, I’m sure.”
I nodded. “Chade, I—”
He waved a dismissive hand at me. His voice was gruff. “I already know that, boy. And I’ll be a bit more careful. Get to work on those scrolls as soon as you can, would you? The translations will be tricky, but not beyond your abilities. And now I need to rest. Or eat. I can’t decide if I’m hungrier or more tired. That Skill healing—” He shook his head.