I fetched water from the stream where once we had drunk. I gently washed his face, wiping the blood from his lips and smoothing the hair over his torn ear. When I could do so, I peeled the sacking away from his raw flesh. What I saw dizzied me at first. Yes. She was right. I did regret that I had turned away from her instead of dealing her the agonizing death she deserved. But as I straightened, as much as I could, his tormented and stiffened limbs and wiped away with green leaves and clean grass the filth and clotted blood, all hatred seeped away from me. Here was my Fool, and if I could not save him from death, I could send him from this life with dignity.
He had curled protectively around his last treasure. He gripped the Rooster Crown in his lifeless hands. I pried its dull gray wood carefully from his nailless fingers. His tormentors had broken the crown, probably in the course of beating him, but he had repaired it before he died. When I saw how he had done it, how he had used his own congealing blood as a binder to hold the pieces together, I choked for a time. Its circle had a gap in it. I wondered if that had grieved him as he died.
Slowly I took from my pouch the shard they had left on the floor of the throne room. It only lacked that one piece to make it complete. I dipped the edges of it into his thawing blood, and joined it to its fellows to complete the crown. Dampened with blood, the wood swelled and seized and held, almost as if it had never been broken. I did not know what this treasure was, exactly. Whatever it had meant to him, I would send him from this world wearing it.
I set it to one side as I gathered evergreen boughs and dry fallen limbs, dead twigs and dry grasses, for his funeral pyre. Evening was hovering before it was built. When it was ready, I spread my cloak over it. Overhead, a deep blue sky shimmered, and summer seemed to hold its breath around us, awaiting the first stars of evening. The sparks of his burning would join them. I lifted him and placed him on the cloak. Experience told me the evergreen boughs would burn well and consume him. With a heavy heart, I sat down on the stone beside his pyre, the Rooster Crown in my lap. It lacked but one thing to be complete.
From my pack I took a bundled packet. Gently I unrolled the fabric. One at a time, I set out the feathers from the Others beach. As I handled each one, I marveled anew at the intricate workmanship that had gone into their carving. Despite all the long way they had traveled with me, they were unharmed. Why someone had chosen such a lusterless wood for such fine work escaped me. It was as plain and dull as the arrow the Fool had given Swift.
It took some moments for me to fit each feather into its proper place. I noticed now what I never had before, that the end of each feather's shaft was notched. Each would slide only into its proper aperture in the crown. As I pushed the last one into place, it seemed to my weary eyes that a wave of colors washed over both crown and feathers. Perhaps it was only a rainbow caught for an instant in the sudden tears that brimmed my eyes. I dashed them away impatiently. Time to be done with all this.
The crown whispered uncomfortably against my fingers, like a trapped fly buzzing in a fist. I wondered what I held. What potent Elderling magic was trapped here, denied for all time by the Fool's death? For a moment, my eyes lingered on the softened carvings of roosters' heads that ringed the crown. Either the Fool had never got round to painting it as we recalled it, or it had refused to hold the paint. Chips of color still clung in the deeper corners of the carving. Tiny gems still winked in two of the carved eyes; the others were blank and empty. There were dark seams in the ring of the crown where it had been broken and then glued back into a whole with the Fool's blood. I tapped one of the seams cautiously, testing the strength of the bond. It held and suddenly he leaped into my mind, my memory of him so poignant and whole that I felt disemboweled with sorrow.
I sat down heavily on the pyre beside him. Rigor had kept his body in its defensive curl. I could do nothing about that. I wished that I could have smoothed the lines of terror and pain from his face before I sent him on his way. I pushed his golden hair back from his tawny forehead. “Oh, Beloved,” I said. I bent and kissed his brow in farewell. And then, grasping the rightness of that foreign tradition, I named him as myself. For when I burned him, I knew I would be ending myself, as well. The man I had been would not survive this loss. “Good-bye, FitzChivalry Farseer.” I took the crown in both hands to ease it onto his brow. I felt suddenly as if all my life had been funneling me toward this moment. It seemed cruel that the strongest current of my life would propel me toward this moment of absolute end and loss. But there were no other choices left for me. Some things could not be changed. It was time to crown the king's jester and send him on his way.