"I was present when you endorsed King-in-Waiting Verity's proposal to seek the Elderlings," I pointed out. King Shrewd seemed to have gone off into another waking dream. He stared into the fire.
"And why that was so, I have no idea," Regal rejoined smoothly. "As I observed, you have come to have large ideas of yourself. You eat at the high table, and are clothed by the King's largesse, and somehow you have come to believe this gives you privileges rather than duties. Let me tell you who you really are, Fitz." Regal paused. To me it seemed he looked at the King, as if gauging how safe it was for him to speak.
"You," he continued in a lowered voice, tone as sweet as a minstrel's. "You are the misbegotten bastard of a princeling who had not even the courage to continue as King-in-Waiting. You are the grandson of a dead Queen whose common breeding showed in the common woman her eldest son bedded to conceive you. You who take the name to yourself of FitzChivalry Farseer need do no more than scratch yourself to find Nameless the dog boy. Be grateful I do not send you back to the stables, but suffer to let you abide in the Keep."
I do not know what I felt. Nighteyes was snarling to the venom in Regal's words, while Verity was capable of fratricide at that moment. I glanced at King Shrewd. He cupped his mug of sweet tea in both hands and dreamed into the fire. From the corner of my eyes, I had a glimpse of the Fool. There was fear in his colorless eyes, fear as I had never seen there before. And he was looking, not at Regal, but at me.
I abruptly realized that I had arisen and was standing over Regal. He was looking up at me. Waiting. There was a glint of fear in his eyes, but also the shine of triumph. All I would have to do was strike at him, and he could call the guards. It would be treason. He would hang me for it. I felt how the fabric of my shirt was binding on my shoulders and chest, so swollen with rage was I. I tried to exhale, willed the balled fists of my hands to loosen. It took a moment. Hush, I told them. Hush, or you'll get me killed. When I had my voice under control, I spoke.
"Many things have been made clear to me this night," I said quietly. I turned to King Shrewd. "My lord king, I bid you good evening, and ask to be excused from your presence."
"Eh? So you … had an anxious day, lad?"
"I did, my lord king," I said softly. His deep eyes looked up into mine as I stood before him, waiting to be released. I looked deep into their depths. He was not there. Not as he once had been. He looked at me puzzledly, blinked a few times
"Well. Perhaps you had best get some rest, then. As should I. Fool? Fool, is my bed prepared? Warm it with the warming pan. I grow so cold at night these days. Ha! At night these days! There's a bit of nonsense for you, Fool. How would you say it, to get it aright?"
The Fool sprang to his feet, bowed deeply before the King. "I would say there's the chill of death about the days these nights as well, Your Majesty. A cold fair to curl the bones, it is. A man could take his death of it. 'T would warm me more to hide in your shade than to stand before your sun's heat."
King Shrewd chuckled. "You don't make a bit of sense, Fool. But then you never did. Good night to all, and off to bed, lads, both of you. Good night, good night."
I slipped out while Regal was saying a more formal good night to his father. It was all I could do to walk past Wallace's simpering smile without smashing it from his face. Once in the hall outside, I swiftly sought my own room. I would take the Fool's advice, I thought, and hide myself in Chade rather than stand before the heat of the King's son.
I spent the rest of that evening in my room alone. I knew that as night deepened, Molly would wonder when I did not come tapping at her door. But I had no heart for it tonight. I could not summon the energy to slip out of my room and go creeping up the stairs and slinking down the corridors, always worrying that someone might step out abruptly and find me where I had no right to be. At one time I would have sought out Molly's warmth and affection and found a measure of peace there. That was no longer the case. Now I dreaded the stealth and anxiety of our meetings, and a guardedness that did not even end when her door closed behind me. For Verity rode within me, and ever I must guard that what I felt and thought with Molly did not spill over into the link I shared with Verity.
I gave up on the scroll I had been trying to read. What use now to learn of Elderlings, anyway? Verity would find whatever Verity found. I flung myself back on my bed and stared up at the ceiling. Even still and silent, there was no peace in me. My link to Verity was like a hook in my flesh; so must a snagged fish feel when it fights the line. My ties to Nighteyes were on a deeper, more subtle level, but ever he was there as well, green eyes lambent in a dark corner of myself. These parts of me never slept, never rested, were never quiescent at all. And that constant strain was beginning to tell on me.