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Even after I landed on the floor, the blanket trailing after me and my body asserting that I was, indeed, one of those hated humans, I stared in confusion around the dark room. It felt as if it should be morning, but the floor beneath me was not the smooth oaken planks of my bedchamber, nor did the room smell as if it belonged to me. I came slowly to my feet, my eyes striving to adjust. My straining vision caught the blinking of tiny red eyes, and then translated them to the dying embers of a fire. In a fireplace.
As I felt my way across the chamber, the world fell into place around me. Chade’s old rooms at Buckkeep Castle emerged from the blackness when I poked at the embers and added a few sticks of wood. Numbly, I found fresh candles and kindled them, waking the room to its perpetual twilight. I looked around, letting my life catch up with me. I judged that the night had passed and that outside the thick and windowless walls, day had dawned. The dire events of the previous day—how I had nearly killed the Fool, left my child in the charge of folk I did not fully trust, and then dangerously drained Riddle of Skill-strength to bring the Fool to Buckkeep—rushed over me in a sweeping tide. They met the engulfing memories of all the evenings and nights I’d spent in this windowless chamber, learning the skills and secrets of being the king’s assassin. When finally the sticks caught flame, enriching the thin candlelight in the room, I felt as if I had made a long journey to return to myself. The wolf’s dream of his horrific captivity was fading. I wondered briefly why it had come back with such intensity, and then let it go. Nighteyes, my wolf, my brother, was long gone from this world. The echoes of him lived on in my mind, my heart, and my memories, but in what I faced now, he was no longer at my back. I stood alone.
Except for the Fool. My friend had returned to me. Battered, beaten, and possibly not in his right mind, but at my side again. I held a candle high and ventured back to the bed we had shared.
The Fool was still deeply asleep. He looked terrible. The marks of torture were written on his scarred face; hardship and starvation had chapped and chafed his skin and thinned his hair to broken straw. Even so, he looked better than when first I had seen him. He was clean and fed and warm. And his even breathing was that of a man given a fresh infusion of strength. I wished I could say I had given it to him. All unwitting, I had stolen strength from Riddle and passed it to my friend during our Skill-passage through the standing stones. I regretted how I had abused Riddle in my ignorance but I could not deny the relief I felt to hear the Fool’s steady breathing. Last night he had had the strength to talk with me and he had walked a bit, bathed himself, and eaten a meal. That was far more than I would have expected of the battered beggar I had first seen.
But borrowed strength is not true strength. The hasty Skill-healing I’d practiced had robbed him of his scanty physical reserves, and the vitality I had stolen from Riddle could not long sustain the Fool. I hoped the food and rest he had taken yesterday had begun to rebuild his body. I watched him sleeping so deeply and dared to hope he would live. Moving softly, I picked up the bedding I had dragged to the floor in my fall and arranged it warmly around him.
He was so changed. He had been a man who loved beauty in all its forms. His tailored garments, the ornaments in his chambers, the hangings for his bed and windows, even the tie that had held back his immaculately groomed hair had all been chosen with harmony and fashion in mind. But that man was gone. He had come back to me as a ragbag scarecrow. The flesh of his face had fallen to skin-coated bones. Battered, blinded, wearing the scars of torture, the Fool had been so transformed by hardship that I hadn’t recognized him. Gone was the lithe and limber jester with the mocking smile. Gone, too, elegant Lord Golden with his fine clothes and aristocratic ways. I was left with this cadaverous wretch.
His blind eyes were closed. His mouth was a finger’s width ajar. His breath hissed in and out. “Fool?” I said and jogged his shoulder cautiously. The only response was a slight hitch in his breathing. Then he sighed out, as if giving up on pain and fear, before resuming the even respiration of deep sleep.