I only realized how deeply I had retreated into my memories when Chade’s thoughts jolted me back to awareness of him.
Well, we had some odd folk come through Buckkeep Town recently. About twenty days ago. I did not hear of them until after they had departed, or I would have found a way to learn more about them. The fellow who told me about them said they claimed to be traveling merchants, but the only wares they had were cheap gewgaws and very common bartering items, glass jewelry, brass bracelets, that sort of thing. Nothing of any real value, and though they claimed to have come a long way, my fellow said that it all looked to him as if it were the sort of common wares that a city merchant might take to a village fair, to be sure he had something for a lad or lass with only a half-copper to spend. No spices from a distant land or unique gemstones. Just tinker’s trash.
So your spy thought they were only pretending to be merchants. I tried not to be impatient. Chade believed in thorough reporting, for the truth could only be found in details. I knew he was right but wished he would jump to the heart of the matter and embroider it later.
He thought they were actually hoping to buy rather than to sell, or better yet to hear information for free. They were asking if anyone had encountered a friend of theirs, a very pale person. But the odd part was that there were several descriptions of the “pale friend.” Some said a young man, traveling alone. Another said she was a woman grown, pale of face and hair, traveling with a young man with red hair and freckles. Yet another was asking after two young men, one very blond and the other dark-haired but white-skinned. As if the only description they had was that they were seeking a traveler who was unnaturally pale, who might be traveling alone or with a companion.
Or they were looking for people who might be traveling in disguise. It sounds as if they were looking for a White Prophet. But why in Buckkeep?
They never used the word “White Prophet,” and they did not seem like devout pilgrims on a quest. He paused. My fellow seemed to think they were hirelings sent on a mission, or perhaps mercenary hunters, promised a reward for their prey. One of them got drunk one night, and when his fellows came to the tavern to haul him away, he cursed them. In Chalcedean.
Interesting. I did not think the White Prophecies had any followers in Chalced. In any case, the Fool has not lived in Buckkeep for decades. And when last he was there, he was more tawny than pale. He masqueraded as Lord Golden.
Well, of course! I know all that! He took my musings to be a prod to his aging memory and was irritated by it. But few others do. Even so, their questions provoked some old tales of King Shrewd’s pale jester. But the merchants were not interested in such old news. They sought news of someone who had passed through Buckkeep recently.
And so you thought perhaps the Fool had returned?
It occurred to me to wonder. And I thought that if he had, he would have sought you out first. But if you have not heard from him, well, then it’s a mystery with few clues.
Where did these merchants go?
I sensed his frustration. The report reached me late. My fellow had not realized how much it would interest me. The rumor is that they followed the River Road inland.
Toward Withy. You said twenty days ago. And there are no more tidings of them?
They seem to have vanished quite effectively.
Not merchants, then.
We both fell silent for a time, pondering the few bits of information we had. If their destination had been Withywoods, they should have arrived. Perhaps they had, and then passed through the town to a more distant destination. There were not enough facts to make even a puzzle, let alone a solution.
Here is another interesting bit for you. When my spies reported back to me that they had no news of either a pale traveler or those merchants, one asked if I had interest in tales of other strangely pale folk. When I replied that I did, he told me of a murder along the King’s Road four years ago. Two bodies were found, both in foreign garb. They were discovered by the King’s Guard during a routine patrol. One fellow had been bludgeoned to death. Beside him was found another body, described as a young girl, pale as a fish’s belly with hair the color of an icicle. She, too, was dead, but there was no sign of violence done to her. Instead she appeared to have been dying of some wasting disease. She was near-skeletal but had died after the man, for she had torn strips from her cloak to try to bandage his wound. Perhaps her companion had been tending her, and when he was slain she had died as well. She was found a short distance from his corpse, near a small campfire. If they had had supplies or mounts, they were stolen. No one ever came to ask after them. It seemed a strange murder to my spy. They killed the man, but left the sickly woman alive and untouched. What sort of highwaymen would do that?