"You want a love song, don't you? Something timeless, something older than the fallen mountains and newer than a seed unfurling in rich soil. Such is love."
-- Robin Hobb, Fool's Fate
I sat on the squat, upturned log in the clearing that was to be our meeting place, shivering a little in the autumn chill, waiting for her. Presently, she came, pulling down the hood of her grey woolen cloak as she approached, a basket under one arm and a welcoming smile on her face. I slipped my hand into the pocket of my coat and turned over the stone I kept there, to remind me of my decision, lest I be tempted to stay. I looked up at her, and something of the light in her eyes dimmed, replaced with a knowing resignation.
"Molly," I began, cursing myself for the way my voice faltered. She shook her head.
"I knew," she said with a soft sigh, "That I'd not be enough for you for long." I opened my mouth, started to apologise, but she laid a gloved hand on my arm. "Fitz, don't. I knew."
She opened the cover of her basket, then, and the smell of freshly baked seed cakes filled my nose. We sat, companionably, and ate them. We could have lain down in the dewy grass and made love, despite the bite in the air, as we had done before, giggling like truant schoolchildren, but we did not. Our time had already passed, and we both knew it. She kissed me once more on the lips before she bade me goodbye and I pretended not to see the tears in her eyes as she had pretended not to see the distance in mine these last years.
Saying goodbye to Nettle was harder, still. And yet there was a sense of bittersweet satisfaction in knowing that she needed me no more.
I had told others of a wish to see the world. Some believed me, others did not, and I've no doubt there were rumours of intrigues in foreign courts, of magical threats and secret adventures. Molly was the only one who truly seemed to understand the reason for my parting. Only a lover can grasp that their lover's heart is not their own, that it pines for another, for the other side of itself.
It took many months to cross the seas. At times I thought myself lost, at other times mad. In the
wild tumults of the oceans, among harsh-tongued seamen, I wondered whether I had lost my senses; was this Skill-sickness? Had I only imagined the fey creature who had died and lived for me?
Love is a kind of madness, after all.
The sailors with whom I worked my passage and the other foreign peoples among whom I enquired, saw nothing amiss in my searching - beyond the usual curiosity people have for those different to themselves. And I supposed I was different; royal blood, dragon blood, mastery of the Wit and the Skill – although I hid these qualities from my travelling companions, knowing sailors to be a suspicious breed.
And eventually I came among people both more different and oddly more familiar - scaled, proud, unaging - in the strange horizons of the Rain Wilds. Here I felt that I was closer to my goal, that while I had despaired many times along the journey of ever reaching it, some unnamed force drew me nearer, a thread of destiny.
I did not know whether I sought a man with pale skin or dark, or even a man at all. At last I heard tell of a visitor, an old friend, a woman who made jewellery: Amber. I knew, from the name, that this was him.
I knocked on the oaken door of the small hut. My feet itched as I waited for an answer; it was almost too hard to comprehend that my journey might now be at an end. I hardly allowed myself to think what would happen if I were turned away. There was nowhere else for me, now. I had turned my back on Buckkeep and Molly for good.
At long last the door creaked open. I did not recognise the person who opened it, tan and thin-lipped and swathed in foreign cloth. And then, a whispered word fell like a charm,
And before me the stranger melted away and was only my own Fool once more. He started back, shocked, almost frightened. I had often wondered, during the course of my pilgrimage, whether he would know to expect me, would be waiting. He always had appeared to know more than most. But he seemed to be taken by surprise. It felt an age that we stood there, the threshold between us, the glow of light from inside the hut welcoming but just out of reach, still. I ran one hand across my brow, too weary to take delight in the reunion as I had imagined.
"Are you going to let me in?" I asked at last, as he stood, frozen, in the doorway. "I am too old to stand long in the rain, old friend."
Perhaps it was the 'old friend' which shook him from his stupor, but he stooped and held the door open for me to enter. It was a modest hut, filled with the odd accoutrements of this latest persona, beads and leather laces, dyed cloths and strange-shaped gourds, but I paid them hardly any mind as I took the offered seat at the table. He did not look me in the eye, and I began to feel horribly disheartened. Was this what I had come for? Had I been mistaken all this time in thinking that he longed for me as I had for him? He offered me leaf tea, thrumming with an awkward nervous energy as he set it down before me and took a seat opposite, the thick table between us, now, the inches seeming more a barrier than the leagues of ocean had been.
"Why are you here?" he asked at last, in a voice hoarse with either emotion or disuse, I could not discern which.
"I have lived my normal life," I told him. I was steadfast in my decision, determined not to be swayed by anything he might say to try to push me away. I was wise, now, to his attempts to leave me for my own good. "I have come for you."
"How are you here? The bond was broken. I broke it." The Fool's long fingers tapped restlessly on the table. I had rarely seen him so agitated. He did not like to be seen to be ruffled, to be caught unawares. But then, he had allowed me to see so much of himself that he showed to no-one else.
"There are more bonds than those created by the Skill," I told him. "Human bonds, of family, friendship. Of love." The word seemed to echo in the stillness of the hut. The Fool shook his head once more. "There is still a bond between us," I insisted. "Stronger than Skill, thicker than blood."
"It cannot be." He looked up, then, seeming unnaturally pale in the low light. "How?"
"Because I set no limits on my love for you, either," I told him, giving his own words back to him. He uttered a small, sharp cry, then, and his shoulders convulsed. Although his eyes glittered golden, there was no trace of tears.
I pushed my chair aside, then, and went to him, taking him in my arms. His arms wound around my neck and he buried his head against my shoulder. We held each other so tightly I thought one or other of us might suffocate from the embrace.
"Beloved," I whispered, pressing a small soft kiss to the smooth skin behind his ear. My fingers tangled, rough and clumsy in his fine hair, and I cursed the vagaries of fate and the meanness of my own poor decisions that had denied us this until now. "Would that we could have had this when we were young, still," I sighed, but he only pressed one thin finger to my lips.
"You weren't ready."
"I am now." I nudged my lips against his cheek, "I have hungered for you," I confessed to him, kissing along the elongated slope of his throat, fumbling with the cloth at his waist, needing more, his skin on my own. But he pushed me away.
"Hold," he said, and I saw that he was shaking.
"You would not want me like that?" I said dully, rocking back onto my heels, unable to hide the sting of disappointment in my voice. "I thought..."
"And yet I haven't I told you before, love is more than bedding." His brow furrowed, annoyed, but his skin was flushed and I knew that it was not that he did not desire me. My hands fell to my sides, helpless. Did he think that I pretended, or that I would have my fun with him and leave? I felt the first prickles of outrage. Was it not he who had left me because I could not give him all of myself? How could he not see now that I was willing to give him everything he could want from me?
"Love is me crossing oceans to find you!" I retorted, growing angry. "Forsaking all else because I love you." But my anger could not last long, replaced instead by a gnawing disappointment. "It was you who cast me aside."
"I gave you up. Because you were not mine," he explained, so gently that it eased and expanded the ache in my chest all at once. He covered my hand with his own and I felt hope once more.
"I am yours, in every way that matters." I laid a hand on his cheek, meeting his gaze unflinchingly. "Yours, Beloved. Without limits." He blinked, then, and I saw acceptance and joy swirling in the piercing depths of his eyes as his lips curved into a smile. And then there was no more distance between us.
Our last kiss had been an unjoining, a severing of the skill-bond between us, bringing only sadness and a lingering sense of the unfinished. But as we surged towards one another now, our lips sealing our whispered words of love, I knew that this kiss would mark a beginning, a union of body and soul, a promise finally fulfilled.
It mattered not, time or age or man or woman, human or other, skilled or unskilled. Our joining was the culmination of years of possibility, breeding new possibilities still. With his hands on my skin, passion took root and bloomed. In him I found and lost myself, my home, my heart. It was now and it would be forever.
Such is love.