We were riding back from our encounter with the Piebald’s, Dutiful rode ahead of me and the Fool taking comfort in riding alone. His wit partner had recently died and he was grieving. We were all grieving.
I grieved for Nighteyes. He was snatched away before I could say a proper goodbye to me, the only comfort I had was that in his last moments he dreamed of running away with a pack. He died happy.
The Fool also grieved for the loss of Nighteyes and the loss of my companionship. I hadn’t been good company for the Fool on our return journey, I barely offered up any conversation and when I did, my comments were sharp and bitter. Through our skill bond I felt that the Fool mourned for he could not comfort me.
In truth, thinking of the Fool is the one thing keeping me sane on this journey. He was someone I loved and trusted and Nighteyes had considered him pack, he was right. Initially he had left me and the Prince alone to mourn, but nearing the end of our journey he came closer, offering kind words and to share our burdens. Despite my pushing him away he continued to lift my spirits and often placed a comforting hand on my shoulder.
I slowed Myblack to a steady trot, hoping to gain some distance between myself, Prince Dutiful and the Fool. Without Nighteyes the world seemed a more silent place. I couldn’t smell or see the game around us, I couldn’t feel Nighteyes preparing for the hunt, I felt halved and alone. If only we were still a pack. Through my skill bond I felt a wrench of sadness, had the Fool somehow heard my thoughts? I felt guilty. I did have a pack left. The Fool is like family to me.
I looked up to see his slender figure riding next to the Prince. His skin gleamed golden in the sun, his cheeks were pink with the wind and a smile brightened his face. Seeing the Fool so free was truly beautiful. He turned in his saddle and caught my eyes, I smiled back embarrassed that I’d been caught staring. I decided to set up my skill walls in an effort to block him from noticing my feelings. Somehow, I think he already suspects I love him. Despite being from Buck I still had the ability to blush scarlet.
After another half a day’s journey we approached the entrance of Buckkeep. Dutiful lead the way to the stables with me and the Fool trailing behind. A crowd of people surrounded Dutiful and his horse to welcome their Prince home, the poor boy was ambushed with formalities.
‘Tom Badgerlock, may you help me from my horse?’ The Fool commanded me in the tone of Lord Golden.
‘Of course, M’lord.’ I offered the Fool my hand, not thinking of the tingles our clasps hands sent up my arm.
The Fool set one foot upon the floor but just as he was about to swing his other leg off the horse, his foot gave way and he fell upon the floor. All I could do was stand there gaping, the Fool had never fell so ungracefully before. ‘Well don’t just stand there and stare Badgerlock, help me up!’ I hauled the Fool up onto his feet and put a supportive arm around his waist and he used his arm on my shoulder to support his own weight. I put all of my concentration into walking to the Fools chambers rather than focusing on how close our bodies were.
By the time we arrived and the Fool had sunken into the nearest chair, I had a small blush on my face. I hoped he wouldn’t notice and would pass it off as exhaustion from the climb up the stairs. ‘Would you like some pain relief for your foot? Or maybe I could try to reduce the swelling?’ The Fool waved me off and gave a slight chuckle. ‘Oh don’t be so silly Fitz, it was an act so I could have a reason for you spending so much time with me. Whenever we go out I can lean on you for support and you can carry around a footstall for me.’
I nodded as a response. What reason does the Fool have for wanting to spend more time with me? Did he realise my feelings for him, could he possibly love me back? Of course I was thinking too deeply about this, I was the Fools friend, of course he’d like to see me more.
‘We’d have to be careful to maintain our guises of Lord Golden and his serving man.’ Oh. I’d be able to see the Fool more, but I wouldn’t be able to talk to him as a friend, just as Lord Golden the vain Jamallian noble. I looked away from the Fool hoping to avoid showing my disappointment. ‘I guess it’s a necessary sacrifice for being able to go out into the open with you and gather information.’
The Fool sighed in response, ‘You know Fitz, I miss being able to talk to you without having to treat you like a servant. You’re the closest person to me and I have to treat you as if you don’t even matter. It’s hard for me too.’
‘Fool, I don’t think you understand how much harder it is for me to maintain these roles. I miss you even when you’re in front of me, it’s a physical pain in my heart.’ Maybe I’d spoken a little too directly to my friend. A small part of me hoped he’d find out I loved him, the more rational side of me realised nothing would come from that confession. We were only friends. And sometimes just a Noble and his Serving man.
I spent the next day going about my daily duties, keeping Lord Golden’s clothes tidy, bringing up his Breakfast meal and even setting fresh flowers in each of his rooms. Spending more time with the Fool was a blessing but it also woke in me the constant pain of longing.
‘Fitz!’ I exited my room and entered into the Fools dining area to see him perched at a table with a letter in his hand. ‘I’ve had an invitation to join the welcoming feast for the Narcheska Elliania by Kettriken.’ She hopes I can attend despite the recent fall on my foot.’
‘Then we should both join the feast!’ I smiled enthusiastically and gained a quizzical look from the Fool. What could be better than an evening of fine food in the company of the Fool?
Lord Golden took me to a tailor in Buckkeep town so I could get a new suit to match his for the Feast. ‘Welcome Lord Golden and Mr Badgerlock, how can I help?’ The tailor was a short man in his mid 40’s, he wore a white shirt and fitting bronze suit which matched the colour of his unruly hair.
‘Tom Badgerlock would like a suit in the colours of purple and white accompanied with a striped shirt.’ The tailor nodded as if pleased with that simple description. ‘..and add some volume and decoration to the sleeves to make it more exotic.’ I scowled at the Fool, dressing me up like a Jamallian in their new fashions. He saw my scowl and gave a brief laugh. ‘Oh come on Tom, you deserve to be dressed in fine clothing.’
An array of fine fabrics with various colours and patterns were on display around the showroom, the Fool roamed the room inspecting the articles of clothing whilst I changed into a white shirt and deep purple dress slacks. I felt ridiculous but emerged from the changing rooms to stand in the centre of the room on a small platform.
The next 20 minutes I spent extremely uncomfortable as the man measured my body and attempted to fit the suit. The Fool stood nearby watching the man make small marks on the clothing where it needed to be fitted. The look the Fool gave me sent a shiver down my spine, I imagined that he was the one making measurements of my body. The thought of his intimate touch rose a blush to my ears and cheeks. I cast all thoughts away before I had a more noticeable reaction.
The whole process of fitting a suit took forever, but finally it was done and we came away with fitted clothing for the Prince’s betrothal.
‘And did you enjoy seeing me uncomfortable as that man examined my body?’ I directly questioned the Fool imagining how amused he must’ve seen me out of my comfort zone. ‘Oh not at all Fitzy, I was jealous of the intimacy.’ He glanced sideways at me and gave a lopsided grin. Was the Fool making another jest or did he feel jealousy? I selfishly hoped for the latter, I too wished the Fool had been the one measuring.
The evening of the betrothal advanced quickly and I soon donned the suit the Fool had bought me. Standing in front of the mirror I consciously tugged at the waist coat wishing it wasn’t so tight or elaborate. The Fool came up behind me and placed a hand on my shoulder. I smiled at his touch.
‘Who knew that such colours could suit you so perfectly, you look stunning Fitz, I’m sure many ladies will be admiring you tonight.’ I blushed at his compliment, my Fool called me stunning.
I turned around to meet his gaze, ‘and I could say the same and more to you Fool. Your attire brings out the colour in your eyes and marks you as a fine man worth loving.’ He pulled me into a tight hug and we set out to the great hall.
The Fool leaned on my arm and made a show of limping on his ‘hurt’ foot, I held a cushion and footstall in my right arm for his comfort. Queen Kettricken and the Prince were seated on a high dais surrounded by high nobles and a group of Outislanders from the Narwhal clan. On a lower dais further from the Queen were seated the lesser nobles which included the Fool and I under the pretence of Lord Golden and his serving man.
The formalities and introductions of the Narcheska Elliania and her clan seemed to last a lifetime, but very soon the feast began. The food was elaborate and rich, delicate yet full of flavour. Lord Golden expressed to many of his admirers how the food was similar to that which the Satrap and his companions dined on. He enjoyed the exotic wines yet expressed empathy and the birds hunted for this meal, he deeply regretting not collecting the feathers for his own collections.
I was seated next to the Fool and despite my polite exterior I deeply resented the flaunting and flirting many women directed to the Fool. Jealousy rose up inside me and I felt my face flush with anger. How dare they get so close to the Fool and how dare he let them?
As far as I was aware the Fool had never let a noble woman into his bed, hopefully tonight wouldn’t be the night.
I think the Fool noticed my disapproval as he looked towards me and raised his eyebrows. I gave a smile trying to convey that I was fine. I was fine. Why shouldn’t women flirt with a fine young noble? Why shouldn’t they flirt with my friend? My beloved.
A woman adorned in much jewellery walked up behind the Fool and tapped him on the shoulder. ‘My dearest Lord Golden, would you care to share the first dance with me?’ It was the Fool’s turn to blush. ‘I’m afraid I am already spoken for and have chosen who I’ll share this honour with.’
I don’t know who looked more surprised, me or the lady. The Fool had chosen a women to dance with? He was closer to someone else than me? I felt like someone had poured a bucket of cold water onto my face. Of course he didn’t share my feelings with me, I loved my best friend and he didn’t return the feelings. Loving another man isn’t all too common within Buckkeep, I’d set my hopes too high and now my heart is paying the price.
The rest of dinner went far too quickly for my liking. I lowered my eyes and focused on the food in front of me and tried desperately to get the other thoughts out of my head. The Fool noticed my misery and kept shooting worried glances in my direction.
After the meal we returned to the dais and sat comfortably watching Prince Dutiful and the Narcheska Elliania make a speech.
‘Fitz, what has upset you so much that you can’t even make eye contact with a friend?’ I looked up into his worried face, ‘If I were to tell you the truth you’d want to keep your distance from me.’ I sighed, maybe telling the truth was the only way to stop feeling this torment.
‘Nothing could keep me away from you Fitz, I love you just as you love me, surely that love has no bounds, nothing would make me distance myself from you.’ I glanced into his eyes ready to confront the truth.
‘Fool... I love you.’ I quickly adverted my eyes hoping to avoid the expression on his face, he probably hadn’t known before that I loved him as more than a friend. ‘Ah Fitzy, I was wondering when you were going to admit it’ There was a glint in his eye and he smiled towards me.
‘Does that mean you...’ I failed for words unsure about what I was going to say but certain it wouldn’t matter anyway.
‘How I’ve always hoped to hear those words from you! This is a conversation I’m going to remember for the rest of my days. I love you too Fitzy!’ He all but leaped out of his chair and crashed into my arms giving me a frantic hug. Smiling I put my arms around him and hugged him closer. ‘I was so scared you were going to reject me, at the table you said you’d found a young lady to share you first dance with and I was so.. jealous.’
He laughed into the nape of my neck. ‘I think you must’ve misheard me for I said, I’m afraid I am already spoken for and have chosen who I’ll share this honour with. I meant you Fitz, I wanted to share it with you.’
I blushed deeply overjoyed by his words, I’d been so blind to the Fools feelings for me, worrying about my own misplaced love and not realising it was reciprocated. We disengaged from our hug just in time to see a flock of noble ladies walking our way.
My eyes narrowed but the Fool beamed brightly at them and offered his greetings. ‘And how are you finding the Prince’s dance Lady Grace?’ She put a hand to his shoulder, ‘They move together so fluidly, like two jigsaw pieces fitting together.’ The Fool shifted slightly in his seat, probably not comfortable with how close Lady Grace was standing. ‘It’s true, they look like a perfect match of elegance.’ The Fool replied.
‘Lord Golden, I was hoping you’d do me the honours of a first dance?’ I narrowed my gaze and stiffened in my seat.
‘I’m sorry Lady Grace, I have already offered myself to my dearest Tom Badgerlock.’ My face burned to a deep scarlet and Lady Grace gaped at me. ‘But... what... he’s a man, your... serving man?’
The Fool chuckled, ‘and that he is, my elegant partner Tom Badgerlock. We’ve chosen tonight to announce our relationship to the other nobility at Buckkeep, we hope it to be a wonderful evening for all.’ I beamed at his white lie, we hadn’t planned an announcement, we were new to acknowledging our feelings.
The Fool stood up with a smile on his face and offered me his hand. I entwined our fingers and he gracefully led me to the dance floor. The first dance was of course a waltz. The Fool held my hand and placed his other on my back, I did likewise. Our movements were slow and elegant and I was enjoying the intimacy of the moment. Our bodies were close together and we swirled around as one. I rested my head on his chest and he put his head on top of mine.
I finally felt at peace to be held in the arms of the one I loved and had long desired. His body was lithe and fragile, he smelled of Apricots and looked beautiful. As the song came to an end we stopped our dance and stood entwined in each other’s arms. ‘I love you Fitz’ I raised my head and pulled him into a deep kiss.
Around us a small applause rose, it seemed our new found love had invited an audience. I caught snippets of conversations like, ‘look at how well they dance together,’ ‘a true couple wears matching clothing’ ‘I haven’t seen anything as endearing as the day of Kettricken and Verity’s wedding.’
I took the Fools hand and lead him back to our seats, from this vantage point we could view the gossip spreading and enjoy each other’s company to the fullest.
As the night began to end I felt a brief tugging of the skill coming from Dutiful. I looked up to see a smirk on his face and the amusement shown was also shared through our skill link. The gossip of our new relationship certainly had spread and we weren’t hiding the truth of it. Hands entwined I leaned down to give my beloved another kiss.