And so it was that I found myself standing outside an elaborately carved and painted door, looking wistfully at the work of the Fool’s hands. Here was the house where he had lived when he thought he had failed to fulfill his fate as the White Prophet. On the night King Shrewd had died, Kettricken had fled Buckkeep and the Fool had gone with her. Together they had made the arduous journey to the Mountain Kingdom, where she believed she and her unborn child would be safe in her father’s home. But there fate dealt the Fool two blows. Kettricken’s child did not live, and news of my death in Regal’s dungeons reached him. He had failed in his quest to ensure there was an heir to the Farseer line. He had failed in his quest to bring about his prophecy. His life as a White Prophet was over.
When he believed me dead, he had stayed in the Mountains with Kettricken, lived in this small house, and tried to make a little life for himself as a wood carver and toy maker. Then he had found me, broken and dying, and brought me here to the dwelling he shared with Jofron. When he took me in, she had moved out. Once I was recovered, the Fool and I accompanied Kettricken on a hopeless quest to follow her husband’s cold trail into the mountains. He had left the little house and all his tools for Jofron. By the colorfully painted marionettes dangling in the window, I suspected she still lived there and still made toys.
I did not knock on the door but stood in the long summer evening and studied the carved imps and pecksies that frolicked on the trim of the shutters. Like many of the old-fashioned Mountain dwellings, this structure was painted with bright colors and details, as if it were a child’s treasure box. An emptied treasure box, my friend long gone from it.
The door opened and yellow lamplight spilled out. A tall, pale lad of about fifteen, fair hair falling to his shoulders, stood framed there. “Stranger, if you seek shelter, you need but knock and ask. You are in the Mountains now.” He smiled as he spoke and opened wide the door, stepping aside to gesture me in.
I walked slowly toward him. His features were vaguely familiar. “Does Jofron still live here?”
His smiled widened. “Lives and works. Grandmother, you have a visitor!”
I moved slowly into the room. She sat at a workbench by the window, a lamp at her elbow. She was painting something with a small brush, even strokes of goldenrod yellow. “A moment,” she begged without looking up from her task. “If I let this dry between strokes, the color will be uneven.”
I said nothing but stood and waited. Jofron’s long blond hair was streaked with silver now. Four braids trapped it away from her face. The cuffs of a brightly embroidered blouse were folded back to her elbows. Her arms were sinewy and flecked with paint, yellow, blue, and a pale green. It was much longer than a moment before she set down her brush and leaned back and turned to me. Her eyes were just as blue as I recalled them. She smiled easily at me. “Welcome, guest. A Buckman, by the look of you. Come to honor our King’s final rest, I take it.”
“That is true,” I said.
When I spoke, recognition flickered and then caught fire in her eyes. She sighed and shook her head slowly. “You. His Catalyst. He stole my heart and lifted my spirit to search for wisdom. Then you came and stole him from me. As was right.” She lifted a mottled cloth from her work desk and wiped vainly at her fingers. “I never thought to see you under this roof again.” There was no enmity in her voice, but there was loss. Old loss.
I spoke words that might comfort her. “When he thought our time together was over, he left me as well, Jofron. Close to fifteen years ago we parted company, and never a word or a visit have I had from him since.”
She cocked her head at that. Her grandson closed the door softly. He ventured to the edge of our conversation and cleared his throat. “Stranger, may we offer you tea? Bread? A chair to sit on or a bed for the night?” Plainly the lad longed to know what connection I had to his grandmother, and hoped to lure me to stay.
“Please bring him a chair and tea,” Jofron told him without consulting me. The lad scuttled off and returned with a straight-backed chair for me. When her blue eyes came back to me, they were full of sympathy. “Truly? Not a word, not a visit?”
I shook my head. I spoke to her, thinking here was one of the few people in my life who might understand my words. “He said he had lost his sight of the future. That our tasks together were done, and that if we stayed together, we might unwittingly undo some of what we had accomplished.”
She received the information without blinking. Then, very slowly, she nodded.
I stood, uncertain of myself. Old memories of Jofron’s voice as I lay on the floor before that hearth came to me. “I do not think I ever thanked you for helping me when the Fool first brought me here, all those years ago.”