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I heard a sob escape Thick. He alone, perhaps, had sensed what had transpired. A prickling shiver ran over my body. I could not see anything. Then I realized my eyes were tightly clenched shut, my body huddled in a ball. Knowing those things, it still took me a time to persuade myself I could change them. Just as I opened my eyes, the Fool's thought uncurled in my mind like a leaf opening to sunlight.

And I set no limits on that love.

“It's too much,” I said brokenly. “No one can give that much. No one.”

“Here's brandy,” Dutiful said close by me. It was Chade who hauled me into a sitting position and put the cup to my lips. I gulped it as if it were water, then wheezed with the shock. When I managed to turn my head, the Fool was the only one still sitting in his chair at the table. His hands were gloved again, and the look he gave me was opaque. Thick crouched in a corner of the room, hugging himself and shivering. His Skill-music was his mother's song, a desperate attempt to comfort himself.

“What happened?” Chade demanded in a fierce voice. I still leaned against his chest, and I could feel the anger emanating from him like heat. I knew he directed his accusatory glare at the Fool, but I answered anyway.

“It was too intense. We formed a Skill-link that was so complete, I couldn't find myself. As if we'd become one being.” I called it the Skill yet I was not sure that was a proper name for it. As well call a spark the sun. I took a deeper breath. “It scared me. So I broke free of it. I wasn't expecting anything like that.” And those words were spoken as much to the Fool as to the others. I saw him hear them, but I think he took a different message from them than what I had intended.

“And it affected you not at all?” Chade demanded of him.

Dutiful helped me to my feet. I needed his aid. I sank down into a chair almost immediately. Yet it was not weariness I felt, but a loose energy. I could have scaled Buckkeep's highest tower, if I could have recalled how to make my knees bend.

“It affected me,” the Fool said quietly. “But in a different way.” He met my eyes and said, “It didn't frighten me.”

“Shall we try it again?” Dutiful proposed innocently, and “No!” Chade, the Fool, and I all replied with varying degrees of emphasis.

“No,” the Fool repeated more quietly in the tiny silence that followed. “For myself, I've learned enough today.”

“Perhaps we all have,” Chade concurred gruffly. He cleared his throat and went on. “It's time we dispersed to our own tasks anyway.”

“We've still plenty of time,” Dutiful protested.

“Ordinarily, yes, that would be so,” Chade agreed. “But the days run away from us now. You've much to do to prepare for our journey, Dutiful. Rehearse your speech thanking the Outislanders for their welcome again. Remember, the ch is sounded toward the back of the throat.”

“I've read it a hundred times now,” Dutiful groaned.

“And when the time comes, the words must seem to come from your heart, not from a scroll.”

Dutiful nodded grudgingly to this. He gave one longing look at the bright and breezy day outside the window.

“Off you both go, then,” Chade told him, and it was suddenly clear he was dismissing both Thick and Dutiful.

Disappointment crossed the Prince's face. He turned to Lord Golden. “When we are at sea, and have more time and fewer tasks, I'd like to hear of your time with my father. If you wouldn't mind. I know that you cared for him when he . . . at the end of his days.”

“I did,” the Fool replied gently. “And I'd be glad to share my memories of those days with you.”

“Thank you,” Dutiful replied. He went to the corner, and gently chivied Thick along, asking him what on earth had frightened him, for no one had been hurt. I was grateful that Thick had no intelligible answer to that.

They were nearly at the door when I recalled my earlier resolution. “Prince Dutiful, would you come to my workroom this evening? I've something for you.”

He raised an eyebrow, but when I said no more, he replied, “I'll find time. I'll see you then.”

Dutiful left with Thick trudging at his heels. But at the door, Thick turned and gave the Fool an oddly appraising look before he transferred his gaze to me. I wondered uneasily how much he had sensed of what had passed between the Fool and me. Then Thick was gone, shutting the door rather too firmly behind himself.

For a moment, I feared that Chade would demand to know more of what had happened. But before he could speak, the Fool said, “Prince Dutiful must not kill Icefyre. That is the most important thing that I must tell you, Chade. At all costs, the dragon's life must be preserved.”

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