"Yes. Sometimes. He is another one who has a great understanding of aloneness, and what it can drive a man to do." He took a breath, and almost I thought he might say that he knew what I was, and did not condemn me for it. Instead, he continued, "I believe the Fool had words with you, a few days ago."
I followed him silently now, wondering how he knew so much about so many things. The Skilling, of course. We came to his study and I followed him in. Charim, as ever, was already waiting for us. Food was set out, and mulled wine. Verity set upon it with a great appetite. I sat across from him, mostly watching him eat. I was not very hungry, but it built my appetite to watch how much he enjoyed this simple, robust meal. In this he was still a soldier, I thought. He would take this small pleasure, this good, well-served food when he was hungry, and relish it while he could. It gave me much satisfaction to see him with this much life and appetite to him. I wondered how he would be next summer, when he would have to Skill for hours every day, keeping watch for Raiders off our coast, and using the tricks of his mind to set them astray while giving our own folk early warning. I thought of Verity as he had been last summer by harvest time: worn to thinness, face lined, without the energy to eat save that he drank the stimulants that Chade put in his tea. His life had become the hours he spent Skilling. Come summer, his hunger for the Skilling would replace every other hunger in his life. How would Kettricken react to that? I wondered.
After we had eaten, Verity went over his maps with me. There was no longer any mistaking the pattern that emerged. Regardless of what obstacles, forest or river or frozen plains, the Forged ones were moving toward Buckkeep. It made no sense to me. The ones I had encountered seemed all but bereft of their senses. I found it difficult to believe that any one of them would conceive of traveling overland, despite hardships, simply to come to Buckkeep. "And these records you've kept indicate that all of them have. All of the Forged ones that you've identified seem to be moving toward Buckkeep."
"Yet you have difficulty seeing it as a coordinated plan?" Verity asked quietly.
"I fail to see how they could have any plan at all. How have they contacted each other? And it doesn't seem a concerted effort. They aren't meeting up and traveling here in bands. It simply seems that each and every one sets out this way, and some of them fall in together."
"Like moths drawn to a candle flame," Verity observed
"Or flies to carrion," I added sourly.
"The ones to fascination, the others to feed," Verity mused. "I wish I knew which it is that draws the Forged ones to me. Perhaps another thing entirely."
"Why do you think you must know why they come? Do you think you are their target?"
"I do not know. But if I find out, I may understand my enemy. I do not think it chance that all the Forged ones make their way to Buckkeep. I think they move against me, Fitz. Perhaps not of their own will, but it is still a move against me. I need to understand why."
"To understand them, you must become them."
"Oh." He looked less than amused. "Now who sounds like the Fool?"
The question made me uneasy and I let it slip by me. "My prince, when the Fool mocked me the other day …" I hesitated, still stung by the memory. I had always believed the Fool to be my friend. I tried to push the emotion aside. "He put ideas in my mind. In his teasing way. He said, if I understand his riddles aright, that I should be seeking for others who are Skilled. Men and women from your father's generation, trained by Solicity before Galen became Skill Master. And he seemed also to say that I should be finding out more about the Elderlings. How are they summoned, what can they do? What are they?"
Verity leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers over his chest. "Either of those quests might be enough for a dozen men. And yet, neither is even sufficient for one, for the answers to either question are so scarce. To the first, yes, there should yet be Skilled ones amongst us, folk older than my father even, trained for the old wars against the Outislanders. It would not have been common folk knowledge as to who was trained. Training was done privately, and even those in a coterie might know of few outside their own circle. Still, there should have been records. I am sure there were, at one time. But what has become of them, no one can say. I imagine that they were passed from Solicity down to Galen. But they were not found in his room or among his things after he … died."
It was Verity's turn to pause. We both knew how Galen had died, in a sense had both been there, though we had never spoken much of it. Galen had died a traitor, in the act of trying to Skill-tap Verity's strength and drain it off and kill him. Instead, Verity had borrowed my strength to aid him in draining Galen. It was not a thing either of us enjoyed recalling. But I spoke boldly, trying to keep all emotion from my voice.