Assassins fate, p.100
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       Assassin's Fate, p.100
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         Part #3 of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy series by Robin Hobb

  Beloved.

  He could not say the word, but I knew it.

  So did his Fool.

  He rose, the blanket that had draped his shoulders falling to the earth. He pulled the glove from his hand and let it fall. He walked uncertainly, like a puppet with his strings pulled by an apprentice puppeteer. He reached my father. So tenderly, he set his hand into my father’s. Then he leaned down until he lay upon the wolf, his face turned to my father’s face. He put his arm across my father’s bony back. He drew him close and then set his silver fingers to the wolf.

  For a moment, all was still. Then I saw Beloved’s fingers stir the soft fur of the wolf’s back. The firelit bodies of my father and Beloved softened and merged. I felt something I could not describe. Like the whoosh of air when a door opens, and then closes again, but it was in the Skill-current, and so strong that I saw Nettle flinch at it, too. Briefer than an instant, I saw light striate out from them. A nexus, a node on the path of fate. Then it was finished. Something finally complete, as it should have been.

  Their colours dimmed and the wolf’s eyes gleamed. It was slow and it was sudden, that they were gone and only the wolf remained. The snarl faded. The wolf’s ears pricked and swivelled. His broad head turned slowly. He lifted his muzzle and snuffed the night air. Such eyes he had! They were a darkness full of the brilliance of life. For one brief instant, light caught in them and glowed green. We were all as motionless as if a huge predator faced us. Then, like a wet dog, the wolf shook himself and tiny fragments of stone flew in all directions, as if he had rolled in them.

  His slow look roved over us, pausing at each in turn. His gaze lingered on me the last. His eyes were both hard and amused. Those were astounding lies, cub. And the very last one the most inspired of all. You have your father’s talent for it. He gave a final shake of his coat. I go to the hunt!

  His claws left deep scratches on the stone as he leapt, not only over the fire but over all of us. For a moment, he was motion in the darkness. Then gone.

  ‘He did it!’ Dutiful shouted. ‘He did it!’ He seized Nettle in his arms and whirled her round.

  Hap rose to his feet and in his minstrel’s voice, he declaimed to the half-roused camp, ‘And so the Wolf of the West rose from the stone! And so he will rise again if ever the folk of the Six Duchies call to him in need.’

  ‘Seven Duchies,’ Kettricken corrected him.

  FIFTY

  * * *

  The Mountains

  I think the Skill-road through the Mountains will remain long after humans, Elderlings and dragons are gone. Stone remembers. That is what the Elderlings learned, so long ago, and the lesson they have left us. Humans die and the memories of who they were and what they did fade. But stone remembers its task.

  From the writings of FitzChivalry Farseer

  ‘This is a bad idea,’ Nettle said again.

  ‘It is an excellent idea,’ Kettricken replied. ‘And Fitz gave her to me. Do not fear I will be too indulgent with her. You know I will not.’

  Less than a day had passed. All the tents had been struck. Dutiful had already surrendered to his mother’s wishes, taking Prosper, Lant and his coterie with him and hastening back to Queen Elliania’s side.

  Integrity and Hap remained. As did Per, Spark and I. Nettle’s coterie stood in a huddle, awaiting her. Everybody was anxious to return to Buckkeep, to share their versions of what they had seen. I had already felt a flurry of Skilling from them to other coteries.

  Dutiful had looked from his sons to me, and then at his mother. ‘I don’t fear you will be too indulgent with either of them. I have known you too many years to fear that. But I will speak plainly. Even with you using our horses, this will not be an easy journey for you.’

  Kettricken sat well on a grey mare. ‘My dear, the journey home is always easier than any other. For me, at least. Now, you must let us go. We have daylight still, and I would use it well.’

  My sister opened her mouth to speak. Kettricken nudged her horse. ‘Farewell, Nettle! Give our love to Riddle and Hope.’

  Spark, not too comfortable on her bay mount, fell in behind her. Integrity moved his horse up beside her. I heard him say, ‘You’ll get used to it.’

  Hap moved to flank her other side. ‘Don’t listen to him,’ he warned her. ‘Likely you will be horribly sore tonight. If we are not eaten by bears before then.’

  ‘Lying minstrel,’ Integrity observed, and they all laughed, Spark nervously. Motley had claimed a perch on Hap’s shoulder, and she chortled along with the others. The minstrel had been pleased that she had chosen him. I knew she was waiting for a chance to steal one of his gaudy earrings.

  Per stood nearby, holding the reins of both our horses.

  Nettle hugged me and I allowed it. Then I demanded better of myself and hugged her back. ‘I am going to try much harder,’ I told her.

  ‘I know you will. Now go, before you are left behind.’

  Per stepped forward, but it was my sister who boosted me onto my horse. ‘Behave!’ she admonished me sternly.

  ‘I will try,’ I replied.

  ‘Watch over her,’ she told Per and turned away from us. She was not crying. I don’t think any of us had any tears left. She walked toward her coterie. ‘We’re leaving,’ she told them.

  And so we parted.

  I rode side by side with Per. I had the smallest horse. He was brown with a black mane and tail, and a star on his brow. We had already discovered that he liked to bite. Per said he could teach him better. Per rode a gelding the colour of creek mud. The fox pin glittered on his breast.

  I was thinking about things like that: biting horses and fox pins. Thieving crows. How soon we could send for our own horses to be brought to the Mountains. What Spark and Lant felt for each other and what they might do about it. Hap was trying out lines and rhymes. ‘Nothing rhymes with wolf!’ we heard him exclaim in annoyance.

  ‘There must be something,’ Integrity insisted, and began to suggest nonsense words.

  As we left the quarry behind, I was astonished to find that we were on a smooth road, with little encroachment from the forest. The Skill-road. I lowered my walls slightly and heard whispers of the many travellers who had once come this way. It was annoying. I closed my walls again.

  ‘Did you hear something?’ Per asked us suddenly.

  That startled me. He had no magic. Of that we were now certain.

  ‘The crow isn’t worried,’ Hap observed and then ‘Ow!’ as she made her first try for the earring.

  Per was serious. ‘Stay close beside me,’ he warned me and urged his horse to a faster walk. He looked all about us as we moved through the dappling shade of the forest. When we were closer to Kettricken, he said worriedly, ‘There’s something stalking us. Off to the side of the road, moving through the forest.’

  Kettricken smiled.

 
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