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“Yet it isn't just the preparations for the journey. It's all the safeguards I must put in place to be sure Buckkeep runs smoothly while I am gone.” He sipped from his cup then added, “In twelve days we depart for Aslevjal. Twelve days, when six weeks would scarcely be enough time for all I must arrange so that things will run smoothly in my absence.”

I knew he was not speaking of things like Buckkeep's provisions and taxes and the training of the guard. There were others who routinely administered all such systems and reported directly to the Queen. Chade worried about his network of spies and informants. No one was certain how long our diplomatic mission to the Out Islands would take; let alone how much time would be consumed by the Prince's quest to Aslevjal. I still harbored a fading hope that his “slaying of the dragon” would be some strange Outislander ritual, but Chade was convinced there was an actual dragon carcass encased in glacial ice and that Dutiful would have to uncover it enough to sever the head and publicly present it to the Narcheska.

“Surely your apprentice can handle those matters in your absence.” I kept my voice level. I had never confronted Chade over his choice of apprentice. I was still not ready to trust Lady Rosemary as a member of the Queen's court, let alone as an apprentice assassin. As a child, she had been Regal's tool, and the Pretender had used her ruthlessly against us. But now would be a poor time to reveal to Chade that I had discovered who his new apprentice was. His spirits were already low.

He shook his head irritably. “Some of my contacts trust only me. They will report to no one else. And the truth is that half of my knack is that I know when to ask more questions and which rumors to follow. No, Fitz, I must resign myself that though my apprentice will attempt to handle my affairs, there will be gaps in my knowledge-gathering when I return.”

“You left Buckkeep Castle once before, during the Red Ship War. How did you manage then?”

“Ah, that was a very different situation. Then, I followed the threat, pursuing the intrigues to their hearts. This time, in truth, I will be present for a very critical negotiation. But there is still much happening here at Buckkeep that needs to be watched.”

“The Piebalds,” I filled in.

“Exactly. Among others. But they are still the ones I fear most, though they have been quiescent of late.”

I knew what he meant. The absence of Piebald activity was not reassuring. I had killed the head of their organization, but I feared another would rise to take Laudwine's place. We had gone far to gain the respect and cooperation of the Witted community. Perhaps that mellowing would leech away the anger and hatred that the extremist Piebalds throve on. Our strategy had been that by offering amnesty to the Witted, we might steal the force that drove the Piebalds. If the Witted were welcomed by the Farseer Queen into common society, welcomed and even encouraged to declare their magic openly, then they would have less interest in overthrowing the Farseer reign. So we had hoped, and so it seemed to be working. But if it did not, then they might still move against the Prince, and attempt to discredit him with his own nobles by showing that he was Witted. A royal proclamation that the Wit Magic was no longer to be considered a taint could not undo generations of prejudice and mistrust. That, we hoped, would fall before the benign presence of Witted ones in the Queen's own court. Not just boys such as Swift, but men such as Web the Witted.

Chade still gazed out over the water, his eyes troubled.

I winced as I said them, but could not keep the words back. “Is there anything I could do to help?”

He swung his gaze to meet mine. “Do you offer that sincerely?”

His tone warned me. “I think I do. Why? What would you ask of me?”

“Let me send for Nettle. You needn't acknowledge her as your daughter. Just let me approach Burrich again about bringing her to court, and teaching her the Skill. I think there is still enough of his old oath to the Farseers left in his heart that if I told him she was needed by her prince, he'd let her come. And surely it would be a comfort to Swift, to have his sister close by.”

“Oh, Chade.” I shook my head. “Ask me anything else. Only leave my child in peace.”

He shook his head and held his silence. For a time longer I stood by his side, but finally I accepted that silence as a dismissal. I left him standing there, staring out over the water, looking east and north, to the Out Islands.

Chapter 2

SONS

Taker was the first man to call himself a king at Buckkeep Castle. He came to these shores from the Out Islands, a raider and looter, as so many others had come before him. He saw in the timbered fort upon the cliffs that overlooked the river an ideal location to establish a permanent foothold in the land. So some say. Others tell it that he was a cold, wet, and queasy sailor, anxious to be off the ocean's heaving belly and onto shore again. Whatever his initial motivation might have been, he successfully attacked and seized the wooden castle on its ancient stone foundation and became the first Farseer king at Buckkeep. He burned his way in; henceforth, he built all his further fortifications of Buckkeep from the black stone so plentiful there. Thus, from the earliest days, the Six Duchies ruling family has roots that reach back to the Out Islands. They are not, of course, alone in this. Six Duchies and Outislander folk have mingled blood as often as they have shed one another's.

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