At the end of four months, satisfied that all had remained quiet at home, I invented an excuse to visit Brushbanks. My tale was that I wished to look at a stud horse I’d heard was there. I promised Molly to return as soon as I possibly could, packed warmly for a chilly journey, and chose an unremarkable chestnut mare named Sally from the stable. She was a rangy mount with an easy gait that ate up the miles and no ambition to challenge her rider. I thought her the perfect mount for my journey to Buckkeep Town.
I could have used the standing stones to make the journey, but I would have had to stable the horse somewhere. I told myself I did not wish to invite curiosity, and while my business with Chade was urgent, it was not an emergency. And I could admit to myself that I was afraid to do so. Since I had used the stones to travel to Chade’s sickbed, I had felt drawn to repeat the experiment. Had I been younger and less experienced with the Skill, I would have put it down to curiosity and a desire for knowledge. But I had felt that yearning before: it was the Skill-hunger, an urge to use the magic simply for the sake of feeling it thrill through me. No. I would not risk a Skill-pillar journey again. Especially since I suspected Chade now monitored them and would be aware of my coming.
I intended to surprise the old spider. Let him recall how it felt to discover that someone had penetrated his defenses.
I rode from early morning to late at night, eating dried meat or oatcakes as I rode, and sleeping well off the side of the road. I had not traveled so rough in years, and my aching back each morning reminded me that even when I was a young man, it had been uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I did not stop at any inns nor pause in any of the small towns I passed. A day away from Withywoods, I had donned the humbler garb of a tradesman. I did all I could to keep anyone from remarking on the passage of a lone traveler, let alone recognizing me as Tom Badgerlock.
I timed my journey so that I arrived at Buckkeep late in the evening. I found a tidy little inn among the outskirts of Buckkeep Town and bought myself a room for the night and stabling for my horse. I ate a fine meal of roast pork, stewed dried apples, and dark bread, and went up to my room.
When night was full and dark, I left the inn quietly and took a long walk up to Buckkeep Castle. I did not go to any of the gates, but to a very secret entrance that I had discovered as Chade’s apprentice. What had been a fault in the wall had been “repaired” to allow a covert route in and out of the keep. The masking thorn bushes around it were as thick as ever, and both my skin and my jerkin were torn before I reached the actual stone of the wall and squeezed though the deceptively narrow gap there, gaining entrance to Buckkeep.
But penetrating the outer wall was just the first step. I was inside the walls of the keep but not in the castle itself. This section of the keep’s grounds was reserved for protecting stock should we ever be besieged. During the Red-Ship Wars some animals had always been kept here, but I doubted it had seen much use in recent times. In the darkness behind some empty sheep pens I shed my homespun blouse and loose trousers, and concealed the garments in an unused wooden trough. Beneath them I was dressed in Buckkeep blue, in my old blue Buck guardsman’s uniform. It was a bit snugger about the middle than I recalled it being, and smelled of fleabane and cedar from the chest where I had stored it, but I trusted it would get me past any casual glance.
Head down and walking slowly as if I were weary or perhaps a bit drunk, I wandered across the yards and in through the kitchen door that led to the guardsmen’s dining area. I felt a strange mixture of emotions at this secretive homecoming. Buckkeep Castle would always be home to me, and the kitchens especially so. So many boyhood memories surged back on the wave of aromas that welcomed me. Ale and smoked meats and fat cheeses, bread baking and hot soup bubbling and beckoning. I nearly yielded to the temptation to go in and sit down and eat. Not for hunger’s sake, but just to taste again the flavors of home.
Instead I wandered down the stone-flagged corridor, past two storage rooms; just short of the steps to the cellar I entered a certain pantry. There I let my self-discipline slip and helped myself to a short rope of linked sausage before triggering the panel of shelves that accessed the castle’s spy-ways. I pulled it closed behind me and stood for a moment in the utter darkness of those passages.
I ate a link of the sausage and idly wished there had been time for a tankard of Buckkeep ale to go with it. Then with a sigh I let my feet lead the way through the twisting corridors and narrow stairs that threaded the interior walls of Buckkeep Castle. This was a labyrinth I had known since my childhood. The only surprises I encountered were the few spiderwebs that were a familiar hazard of this maze.