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“Oh, please.” I folded my arms upon my drawn-up knees and dropped my head onto them. “Don't talk about that tonight. Talk about anything else but that. Please. I can't think about choices and changes tonight.”

“Very well.” His voice was gentle. “What do you want to talk about?”

“Anything. Something about you. How did you get here, after we left you behind at Buckkeep Town?”

“I told you. I flew.”

I lifted my head from my arms to regard him sourly. He was smiling a small challenge at me. It was the Fool's old smile, the one that promised he was telling the truth when he was obviously lying. “No. You did not.” I spoke firmly.

“Very well. If you say so.”

“Kettricken must have helped you find passage, against Chade's advice. And you came here on a ship with a bird's name.” I was guessing wildly, knowing that there would be some small kernel of truth at the bottom of his wild tale.

“Actually, Kettricken counseled me to stay in Buckkeep, in our very brief meeting. I think it taxed her will to say no more to me than that. It was sheer good fortune for me that I encountered Burrich arriving at Buckkeep Castle as I left it. But, as I have agreed to tell this tale, let me tell it in order. Let us go back to the moment at which I last saw you. When I thought that you were hastening to my aid.”

I winced, but he went on evenly. “The Harbormaster summoned the City Guard, who were very efficient at removing Lord Golden and his belongings. As you probably have suspected, they detained me until after the ships had sailed. Then I was dismissed, with many apologies and assurances that it had all been a terrible error. But word of the incident spread. By the time Lord Golden returned to his lodgings with his baggage, his creditors had descended, convinced that he had intended to flee the city without paying them. As, indeed, he had. They were happy to confiscate most of his baggage and gear, all save one pack, containing the absolute minimum essentials for his survival, which he'd had the forethought to leave in his Buckkeep chambers.”

The little copper kettle was puffing steam. He lifted it from the small flame and poured water into a gaily decorated teapot.

I had to smile. I gestured about the tent. “The bare essentials.”

He arched one golden brow. “For civilized adventuring, yes.” He put the lid on the teapot. It was shaped like a rose. “And why should one attempt to get by with less? Now. Where was I? Ah, yes. Lord Golden, stripped of his possessions and glamour, was no longer Lord Golden, but only a fleeing debtor. Those who thought they knew him best were astonished at the way he lithely spidered down the outside of his lodgings, to land lightly on his feet and run off into the alleys. I vanished.”

He made me wait. He rubbed one eye and smiled at me thoughtfully. I bit the inside of my cheek until he finally gave in and went on.

“I went to Kettricken, by ways and means that I shall leave to your imagination. I think she was quite astounded to encounter me waiting for her in her bedchamber. As I have told you, she urged me to stay at Buckkeep, within the castle, under her wing, until you had completed her mission. I had to decline, of course. And . . .” Here he hesitated for a time. “I had words with Burrich. I think you know that already, or suspect it. It shocked me that he recognized me immediately, much as you had. He asked me questions, not because he needed answers, but to confirm what he had already ciphered out for himself, from an earlier interview with Kettricken.”

He paused so long that I feared he would not go on. Then he said, softly, “At one point he was so furious at what I told him, I thought he would strike me dead. Then, abruptly, he began to weep.” And again he halted. I sat there, my tongue turned to ashes in my mouth. Almost I hoped he would not go on. When he did, I knew he left much unsaid.

“Bereft of any support from the castle, I foolishly thought to return to my inn to see what rags of my fortunes my creditors might have left me to aid me in my flight. My stripped apartments looked as if a horde of locusts had despoiled them. Yet worse was to come. The landlord had seen me enter, and he had taken bribes from my creditors to contact them immediately if he heard or saw me. And he earned his greasy coins well. For a second wave of furious former friends appeared. You would have thought that they had honestly earned the money that they had won in wagers from me, so righteously outraged were they!

“So. Once more I fled. This time, I fled the entire city, not so much in fear of my creditors as in fury at my ‘friends.' You had betrayed me, Fitz. And yet, perhaps, it was your turn to betray me, given that I had so badly failed you.”

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