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“Sorry. I left it in my tent . . . no, that's not quite true. I left it outside by the fire last night, and this morning it was gone.” I halted, feeling as if I'd just heard a key turn in a lock. “Or taken,” I amended. “Fool, the Outislanders left gifts for the Black Man. He didn't take any of them, but honey was one of the things offered. And yours was missing this morning.”

“You think he took mine? You think that he supposed it an offering left by you?”

The excitement he manifested was out of proportion, I thought, to my speculation. I took a sip of the tea he had made. The ginger was heat. I felt it spread comfortingly through my belly even as his words unnerved me. “More likely someone in our own camp took it. How could he creep amongst our very tents, unseen?”

“Unseen and unfelt,” he corrected me. “You said he is invisible to your Wit. Likely the same is true for the other Witted ones. So. I think he took the honey. And with it, bound his fate to ours. It connects us, you see, Fitz.” He drank from his cup, his eyes near closing in enjoyment of the warm liquid as he did so. When he set the cup down, he had nearly drained it. He reached for a bright yellow coverlet that looked as insubstantial as the stuff of his tent walls and draped it around his shoulders, then kicked off his loose boots and pulled his narrow feet up under him. “It connects him to both of us. I think it might be highly significant. Do you see that it could change the outcome of our mission here? Especially if I let it be known that the Black Man had accepted our offering.”

My mind raced through the possibilities. Would such an announcement win the Outislanders to his side? Turn the Narcheska and Peottre against him? Where did it leave me, not only in relation to them but in terms of how Chade saw me? The answers were not comforting. “It could create a greater division in our party than there is now.”

He lifted his cup and drank the rest of the tea before answering. “No. It would only expose the division that already exists.” He looked at me and his expression was almost pitying. “This is the culmination of my life's work, Fitz. You cannot expect me to refuse any weapon, any advantage, that fate gives me. If I must die on this cold and forsaken island, at least let me die knowing I've achieved my aim.”

I drank off the tea in the bowl and set it down beside his cup. I spoke firmly. “I'm not going to stay here and listen to this . . . nonsense. I don't believe any of it.”

But I did. And it tightened my guts more than any cold or danger I'd ever faced.

“And you think that if you refuse to believe it, it can't come to pass? That is nonsense, Fitz. Accept it, and let's make the best of what time we have left.” There was such terrible calm in his voice that I suddenly wanted to strike him. If death was truly lurking in wait for him, he should not be so placid and accepting of it. He should fight it, he should be made to fight it.

I drew a deep breath. “No. I won't believe it and I won't accept it.” A thought came to me and I tried to speak it jokingly, but it came out as a threat. “Remember what I am to you, White Prophet. I'm the Catalyst. I am Changer. And I can change things, even the things that you think are fixed.”

Halfway through my jest, I saw emotion transform his face. I would have halted my words, but once begun, they seemed to proceed of their own accord. The expression on his face was so stark, it was as if I stared at his bared skull bones. “What are you saying?” he demanded in a horrified whisper.

I looked away from him. I had to. “Only what you've been telling me for most of our lives. You may be the Prophet and foretell things. But I'm the Catalyst. I change things. Perhaps even what you've foretold.”

“Fitz. Please.”

The words drew my gaze back to him. “What?”

He was breathing through his mouth as if he'd run a race and lost. “Don't do this,” he begged me. “Don't try to stop me from doing what I must do. I thought I'd made you understand it, back there on the beach. I could have run away from this. I could have stayed in Buckkeep, or gone back to Bingtown, or even gone home. Or back to where home once was. But I didn't. I'm here. I'm facing it. I'm afraid and I don't deny that. And I know this will be hard for you. But it is what I've been aimed toward, all these years. You understand duty to family and king. You understand it all too well. Please see that this, now, is my duty to what I am. If you set out to defeat me, simply for the sake of keeping me alive, you will render all my life meaningless. All we have gone through up to now will be for nothing. You'll be condemning me to live out my years knowing that I failed. Would you do that to me?”

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