I awoke to half the morning gone. In the far corner of the yard, the chickens were scratching and gossiping among themselves. The rooster crowed once. I groaned. I should get up. I should check for eggs and scatter a handful of grain to keep the poultry tamed. The garden was just sprouting. It needed weeding already, and I should reseed the row of fesk that the slugs had eaten. I needed to gather some more of the purple flag while it was still in bloom; my last attempt at an ink from it had gone awry, but I wanted to try again. There was wood to split and stack. Porridge to cook, a hearth to sweep. And I should climb the ash tree over the chicken house and cut off that one cracked limb before a storm brought it down on the chicken house itself.
And we should go down to the river and see if the early fish runs have begun yet. Fresh fish would be good. Nighteyes added his own concerns to my mental list.
Last year you nearly died from eating rotten fish.
All the more reason to go now, while they are fresh and jumping. You could use the boy's spear.
And get soaked and chilled.
Better soaked and chilled than hungry.
I rolled over and went back to sleep. So I'd be lazy one morning. Who'd know or care? The chickens? It seemed but moments later that his thoughts nudged me.
My brother, awake. A strange horse comes.
I was instantly alert. The slant of light in my window told me that hours had passed. I rose, dragged a robe over my head, belted it, and thrust my feet into my summer shoes. They were little more than leather soles with a few straps to keep them on my feet. I pushed my hair back from my face. I rubbed my sandy eyes. "Go see who it is," I bade Nighteyes.
See for yourself. He's nearly to the door.
I was expecting no one. Starling came thrice or four times a year, to visit for a few days and bring me gossip and fine paper and good wine, but she and Hap would not be returning so soon. Other visitors to my door were rare. There was Baylor who had his cot and hogs in the next vale, but he did not own a horse. A tinker came by twice a year. He had found me first by accident in a thunderstorm when his horse had gone lame and my light through the trees had drawn him from the road. Since his visit, I'd had other visits from similar travelers. The tinker had carved a curled cat, the sign of a hospitable house, on a tree beside the trail that led to my cabin. I had found it, but left it intact, to beckon an occasional visitor to my door.
So this caller was probably a lost traveler, or a road-weary trader. I told myself a guest might be a pleasant distraction, but the thought was less than convincing.
I heard the horse halt outside and the small sounds of a man dismounting.
The Gray One, the wolf growled low.
My heart near stopped in my chest. I opened the door slowly as the old man was reaching to knock at it. He peered at me, and then his smile broke forth. "Fitz, my boy. Ah, Fitz!"
He reached to embrace me. For an instant, I stood frozen, unable to move. I did not know what I felt. That my old mentor had tracked me down after all these years was frightening. There would be a reason, something more than simply seeing me again. But I also felt that leap of kinship, that sudden stirring of interest that Chade had always roused in me. When I had been a boy at Buckkeep, his secret summons would come at night, bidding me climb the concealed stair to his lair in the tower above my room. There he mixed his poisons and taught me the assassin's trade and made me irrevocably his. Always my heart had beaten faster at the opening of that secret door. Despite all the years and the pain, he still affected me that way. Secrets and the promise of adventure clung to him.
So I found myself reaching out to grasp his stooping shoulders and pull him to me in a hug. Skinny, the old man was getting skinny again, as bony as he had been when I first met him. But now I was the recluse in the worn robe of gray wool. He was dressed in royal blue leggings and a doublet of the same with slashed insets of green that sparked off his eyes. His riding boots were black leather, as were the soft gloves he wore. His cloak of green matched the insets in his doublet and was lined with fur. White lace spilled from his collar and sleeves. The scattered scars that had once shamed him into hiding had faded to a pale speckling on his weathered face. His white hair hung loose to his shoulders and was curled above his brow. There were emeralds in his earrings, and another one set squarely in the center of the gold band at his throat.
Excerpted from Fool's Errand by Robin Hobb Copyright 2002 by Robin Hobb. Excerpted by permission of Spectra, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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