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Nettle's dream was rich with the smell of roasting meat and dripping fat. It almost made me hungry. I have never heard of the cattle of Chalced being exceptionally fat or large, I objected.

We were not conversing with you, Nettle pointed out severely. And what I know of Chalced, I know from my father's stories of that place. I think they would profit much from a visit from hungry dragons. And then she tumbled me out of her dream and I awoke on the floor by my bed.

Dutiful, Chade, Nettle, Thick, and I continued to meet in early mornings to study and expand our understanding of the Skill. Nettle was courteous, but spoke to me only as it was necessary. I did not push against that wall, either, but instructed Dutiful, Thick, and her as a group. Soon my paltry advantage over them was apparent, and we proceeded to learn as a coterie. What we learned from the recovered scrolls made us go more slowly rather than more quickly for it rapidly became apparent that we wielded our magic like a boy wields a sword, with little understanding of either the danger or the potential of it. Chade desperately wished to experiment with the Portal Stones, as we began to call them. The Elderling cities and their hints of both treasure and secrets enticed him. Only the extreme aversion that both Thick and I evinced toward them convinced him that he should wait until he had a better mastery of the magic before attempting such a thing. Perhaps the most positive outgrowth of it was that Chade agreed that in spring he would arrange a Calling after the old tradition, and that from among those who came, we would select Skill candidates who would be trained according to the careful procedures outlined in the scrolls.

Despite my duties, winter dragged for me. The day after the wedding, Molly and five of her sons had departed Buckkeep. She did not bid me farewell in any way. I bled inside for three days and then, lacking all other advisers in matters of the heart, took my sorry account of my foolishness to Patience and Lacey. They listened carefully, praised my courage and honesty, condemned my stupidity, and then revealed that Molly had already told them the whole story. After chiding me for rushing in just as they had warned me not to do, Patience announced that I had best return to Tradeford with her for the winter, to keep myself busy and to give Molly some time. I narrowly begged my way out of that. Yet bidding them farewell was difficult for me, and I promised I would come to visit before the year was out.

“If we're still alive,” Patience conceded cheerfully. They promised to send me a monthly missive along with the report of the holdings that they sent to the Queen, and I promised to do likewise. I watched them set forth, mounted on horses amidst the guard the Queen had insisted on sending with them, for despite their years they both disdained the comforts of a litter. I stood in the road, staring after them until a curve in the road took them out of sight.

Chapter 37

EVER AFTER

Let the Calling be announced well in advance, for people deserve a warning before the Skill Magic touches them for the first time. A Calling issued with no warning can induce great fear, for some who hold the potential for Skill will not know what it is, and fear that madness or worse has come upon them. So let riders be sent out well ahead of time. But do not tell when the exact day of the Calling will go forth. In the past, much time has been wasted trying to wake the Skill in some who came to Buckkeep, claiming to have heard the Call, when in fact all they wished to do was escape a life as farmers or bakers or rivermen.

Let the strongest coterie in the keep issue the Call, making it as far-reaching as possible. A Calling should be held no more often than every fifteen years.

— TREEKNEE'S “ON THE CALLING OF CANDIDATES”

I tried. But I could not help myself.

One month after Patience had departed, I gave in to an impulse. I sent a large pot of preserved wintergreen berries to Molly. I approached Riddle to act as my messenger. He seemed surprised that I even asked if he were busy, commenting that he had been told several weeks ago to consider himself at my disposal. Chade had undertaken a number of small changes on my behalf since I'd begun to take a more active role in Farseer matters. The pretense that I was an ordinary member of the Prince's Guard was fading, replaced with the unseen acceptance that I served the royal family in more confidential ways. Nominally, I was still Tom Badgerlock but I seldom wore the livery of a guard anymore, and the fox pin rode always on my breast.

Riddle seemed bemused by the errand I gave him but carried the gift and delivered it nonetheless.

“What did she say?” I asked him anxiously when he returned.

He looked at me blankly. “She said nothing to me. I gave it to the lad who came to the door. But I told him it was for his mum. Isn't that what you wanted me to do?”

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