I felt oddly chilled by the tale. Perhaps she was hiding when they were attacked. It could be nothing.
Or, it could be something. Chade’s considering tone invited me to speculate. A small bit of information. She wore yellow boots. As did your messenger.
Unease prickled my scalp. That Winterfest night flooded back into my mind. How had Revel described the messenger? Hands as white as ice. I had thought them bloodless with cold. What if she had been a White? But Chade’s news of a murder was four years old. My messenger had come three winters ago. And his spies had brought him news of another messenger, or perhaps two, only twenty days ago. So possibly a succession of messengers, possibly Whites. Possibly from the Fool? I wanted to think about it alone. I wanted none of it to be so. The thought of a missed message from him tore my heart. I denied it. And it could be something that has absolutely nothing to do with either of us.
Somehow, I doubt that. But I shall let you go back to your bed now. Lack of sleep always made you irritable.
You saw to that often enough, I retorted, and he annoyed me even further by laughing. He vanished from my mind.
One of the candles was guttering. I pinched it out. Morning was not far away now; might as well light another taper, for there would be no more sleep for me. Why had Chade Skilled to me? To ask me about writing, or to tease me with a bit of news about foreign travelers who might or might not be connected to the Fool? I didn’t have enough information to ponder it, only enough to keep me awake. Perhaps I should remain at my desk and resume that translation; I certainly wasn’t going to find peace again tonight, thanks to Chade. I stood slowly and looked around me. The room was untidy. There was an empty brandy cup on the desk, and the two quills I’d botched cutting the night before. I should tidy the place. I didn’t allow the servants in here; indeed I would have been surprised to find that any of the servants other than Revel were aware of how much I used this chamber. I seldom came here during daylight hours or in the long evenings that Molly and I shared. No. This place was my refuge from restless nights, from the times when sleep forsook me or nightmares relentlessly assaulted me. And always I came here alone. Chade had inculcated in me a habit of stealth that had never left me. I was the sole custodian of this chamber in a little-used wing of the house. I brought the firewood in, and took the ashes out. I swept and tidied … well, sometimes I swept and tidied. The room was in sore need of such attention now, but somehow I could not muster that sort of energy.
Instead I stretched where I stood, and then halted, my hands reached up over my head, my eyes fixed on Verity’s sword over the mantel. Hod had made it for him, and she had been the finest swordsmith that Buckkeep had ever known. She’d died defending King Verity. Then Verity had surrendered his human life for his people as he entered into his dragon. Now he slept in stone, beyond my reach forever. My sudden pang of loss was almost physical. Abruptly, I had to get out of the room. There was too much within those walls that connected me to the past. I allowed myself one more slow sweep of the space. Yes. Here was where I stored my past and all the confusing emotions it engendered in me. This was where I came to try to make sense of my history. And it was also where I could barricade it behind a latched door, and go back to my life with Molly.
And for the first time, it came to me to wonder why. Why had I gathered it here in mimicry of Chade’s old chambers in Buckkeep Castle, and why did I come here, alone and sleepless, to dwell on tragedies and disasters that could never be undone? Why didn’t I leave this room, close the door behind me, and never return? I felt a stab of guilt, and seized that dagger to study it. Why? Why was it my duty to recall those I had lost, and mourn them still? I had fought so hard to win a life of my own, and I had triumphed. It was mine now; it was in my hands. Here I stood, in a room littered with dusty scrolls, spoiled quills, and reminders of the past while upstairs a warm woman who loved me slumbered alone.
My gaze fell on the Fool’s last gift to me. The three-faced memory-stone carving rested on the mantel over the fireplace. Whenever I looked up from my work at the desk, the Fool’s gaze met mine. I challenged myself; slowly I picked it up. I had not handled it since that Winterfest night three winters ago when I had heard the scream. Now I cradled it in my hands and stared into his carved eyes. A tremor of dread went through me, but I set my thumb to his brow. I “heard” the words it always spoke to me. “I have never been wise.” That was all. Just those parting words, in his voice. Healing and tearing in the same moment. Carefully, I put the carving back on the mantel.
I walked to one of the two tall narrow windows, pushed aside the heavy drape, and looked down onto the kitchen garden of Withywoods. It was a humble view, fit for a scribe’s room, but lovely all the same. There was a moon, and the pearly light laced the leaves and buds of the growing herbs. White-pebbled paths ran between the beds and gathered the light to themselves. I lifted my eyes and looked beyond the gardens. Behind the grand manor that was Withywoods were rolling meadows and in the distance the forested flanks of mountains.