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It was a bitter time for the small folk of Buck. Abandoned by their king and defended only by a small force of poorly provisioned soldiers, the common folk were left rudderless on a stormy sea. What the Raiders did not steal or destroy, Lord Bright's men seized for taxes. The roads became plagued with robbers, for when an honest man cannot make a living, folk will do what they must. Small crofters gave up any hope of making a living and fled the coast, to become beggars, thieves, and whores in the inland cities. Trade died, for ships sent out seldom came back at all.

"I was fearful you would not understand it."

I squinted at him in the sunlight. "Really?"

Chade smiled crookedly at me. "The nose bothers you, does it? I think it gives your face more character."

It was as much as I could handle, just then. I tried to let the conversation die. But Burrich was relentless. "If you went back to Buckkeep, or Buckkeep Town, they would kill you. They'd hang you over water and burn your body. Or dismember it. But folk would be sure you stayed dead this time."

"Me, too," I said quietly.

"Like a dog after a bone."

The command of the ancient keep was foisted off on his eldest nephew, heir to the title Duke of Farrow. Lord Bright, at twenty-five, had grown restless waiting for his father to pass power to him. He was more than willing to assume authority over Buckkeep and Buck, but had little experience to draw on. Regal took himself inland to Tradeford Castle on the Vin River in Farrow, while young Lord Bright remained at Buckkeep with a picked guard of Farrow men. It is not reported that Regal left him any funds to operate from, so the young man endeavored to wring what he needed from the merchants of Buckkeep Town, and the already embattled farmers and shepherds of surrounding Buck Duchy. While there is no indication that he felt any malice toward the folk of Buck or the other Coastal Duchies, neither did he have any loyalty toward them.

Burrich looked away from me. "Probably she heard you died." After a time, he added, uncomfortably, "Someone had burned a candle on your grave., The snow had been pushed away, and the wax stump was there still when I came to dig you up."

Burrich looked away from me. "Probably she heard you died." After a time, he added, uncomfortably, "Someone had burned a candle on your grave., The snow had been pushed away, and the wax stump was there still when I came to dig you up."

"Me, too," I said quietly.

Even after his coronation, Regal remained jealous of his title. He sent messengers far and wide, seeking word of where Queen Kettricken and the unborn heir might be. His suspicions that she might have sought shelter with her father, King Eyod of the Mountain Kingdom, led him to demand her return of him. When Eyod replied that the whereabouts of the Queen of the Six Duchies was no concern for the Mountain folk, Regal angrily severed ties with the Mountain Kingdom, cutting off trade and attempting to block even common travelers from crossing the boundaries. At the same time, rumors that almost certainly began at Regal's behest began to circulate that the child Kettricken carried was not of Verity's getting and hence had no legitimate claim to the Six Duchies throne.

"Me, too," I said quietly.

Also in residence at Buckkeep at this time were a handful of minor Buck nobility. Most landholders of Buck were at their own lesser keeps, doing what little they could to protect their local folk. The most notable to remain at Buckkeep was Lady Patience, she who had been Queen-in-Waiting until her husband Prince Chivalry abdicated the throne to his younger brother Verity. Manning Buckkeep were the Buck soldiers, as well as Queen Kettricken's personal guard, and the few men who remained of King Shrewd's guard. Morale was poor among the soldiers, for wages were intermittent and the rations poor. Lord Bright had brought his own personal guard with him to Buckkeep, and obviously preferred them to the Buck men. The situation was further complicated by a muddled chain of command. Ostensibly the Buck troops were to report to Captain Keffel of the Farrow men, the commander of Lord Bright's guard. In reality, Foxglove of the Queen's Guard, Kerf of the Buckkeep Guard, and old Red of King Shrewd's guard banded together and kept their own counsel. If they reported regularly to anyone, it was Lady Patience. In time the Buck soldiers came to speak of her as the Lady of Buckkeep.

"I'm still surprised that Regal's guard didn't rob your body. I suppose the Wit has such an evil reputation they feared you dead as well as alive."

Also in residence at Buckkeep at this time were a handful of minor Buck nobility. Most landholders of Buck were at their own lesser keeps, doing what little they could to protect their local folk. The most notable to remain at Buckkeep was Lady Patience, she who had been Queen-in-Waiting until her husband Prince Chivalry abdicated the throne to his younger brother Verity. Manning Buckkeep were the Buck soldiers, as well as Queen Kettricken's personal guard, and the few men who remained of King Shrewd's guard. Morale was poor among the soldiers, for wages were intermittent and the rations poor. Lord Bright had brought his own personal guard with him to Buckkeep, and obviously preferred them to the Buck men. The situation was further complicated by a muddled chain of command. Ostensibly the Buck troops were to report to Captain Keffel of the Farrow men, the commander of Lord Bright's guard. In reality, Foxglove of the Queen's Guard, Kerf of the Buckkeep Guard, and old Red of King Shrewd's guard banded together and kept their own counsel. If they reported regularly to anyone, it was Lady Patience. In time the Buck soldiers came to speak of her as the Lady of Buckkeep.

I sat thinking for a moment. The sword Verity had given me. The silver ring King Eyod had given me, that had been Rurisk's. A pin from Lady Grace. Patience's sea-pipes had been in my room-I hoped she had got them back. My paints and papers. A little box I had carved to hold my poisons. Between Molly and me there had never been any tokens. She would never allow me to give her any gifts, and I had never thought to steal a ribbon from her hair. If I had ...

"Like a dog after a bone."

It was as much as I could handle, just then. I tried to let the conversation die. But Burrich was relentless. "If you went back to Buckkeep, or Buckkeep Town, they would kill you. They'd hang you over water and burn your body. Or dismember it. But folk would be sure you stayed dead this time."

AFTER CROWNING HIMSELF King of the Six Duchies, Prince Regal Farseer essentially abandoned the Coastal Duchies to their own devices. He had stripped Buckkeep itself and a good part of Buck Duchy of as much coin as he could wring from it. From Buckkeep, horses and stock had been sold off, with the very best taken inland to Regal's new residence at Tradeford. The furnishings and library of the traditional royal seat had been plundered as well, some to feather the new nest, some divvied out to his Inland dukes and nobles as favors or sold outright to them. Grain warehouses, wine cellars, the armories, all had been plundered and the loot carried off inland.

I squinted at him in the sunlight. "Really?"

Ten days later, Chade came up the path. The old assassin walked slowly, with a staff, and he carried his pack up high on his shoulders. The day was warm, and he had thrown back the hood of his cloak. His long gray hair blew in the wind and he had let his beard grow to cover more of his face. At first glance, he looked to be an itinerant tinker. A scarred old man, perhaps, but no longer the Pocked Man. Wind and sun had weathered his face. Burrich had gone fishing; a thing he preferred to do alone. Nighteyes had come to sun himself on our doorstep in Burrich's absence, but had melted back into the woods behind the hut at the first waft of Chade's scent on the air. I stood alone.

"Hate you? No. They liked you well enough, those that knew you. But if you came back, a man who had died and been buried, again walking among them, they'd fear you. It's not a thing you could explain away as a trick.. The Wit is not a magic that is well thought of. When a man is accused of it and then dies and is buried, well, in order for them to remember you fondly, you'd have to stay dead. If they saw you walking about, they'd take it as proof that Regal was right; that you were practicing Beast magic, and used it to kill the King. They'd have to kill you again. More thoroughly the second time." Burrich stood suddenly, and paced the room twice. "Damn me, but I could use a drink," he said.

For a time I watched him come. The winter had aged him, in the lines of his face and the gray of his hair. But he walked more strongly than I remembered, as if privation had toughened him. At last I went to meet him, feeling strangely shy and embarrassed. When he looked up and saw me, he halted and stood in the trail. I continued toward him. "Boy?" he asked cautiously when I was near. I managed a nod and a smile. The answering smile that broke forth on his face humbled me. He dropped his staff to hug me, and then pressed his cheek to mine as if I were a child. "Oh, Fitz, Fitz, my boy," he said in a voice full of relief. "I thought we had lost you. I thought we'd done something worse than let you die." His old arms were tight and strong about me.

"Hate you? No. They liked you well enough, those that knew you. But if you came back, a man who had died and been buried, again walking among them, they'd fear you. It's not a thing you could explain away as a trick.. The Wit is not a magic that is well thought of. When a man is accused of it and then dies and is buried, well, in order for them to remember you fondly, you'd have to stay dead. If they saw you walking about, they'd take it as proof that Regal was right; that you were practicing Beast magic, and used it to kill the King. They'd have to kill you again. More thoroughly the second time." Burrich stood suddenly, and paced the room twice. "Damn me, but I could use a drink," he said.

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