Assassins fate, p.24
Assassin's Fate, p.24Part #3 of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy series by Robin Hobb
Silence followed my words. Then his voice came out of the dark, tinged with alarm. ‘You mean, afterwards? When we are homeward bound again?’
‘No. I mean tomorrow.’
His voice was lower when he said, ‘But I vowed my service to you, sir.’
‘I could release you from that vow. Help you set your feet on a brighter and cleaner way than the one I must follow.’
I heard him draw a long breath. ‘You could release me from your service, sir. Indeed, if you chose to turn me out, I could no longer claim to be yours. But only Bee could release me from the promise I made to avenge her. Turn me off if you wish, sir, but I will still have to follow this to the end.’
I heard Lant turn over in his bunk. I had thought him asleep and his voice was so thick that perhaps he had been. ‘Don’t even bring it up to me,’ he warned me. ‘It’s as the boy said. I gave a promise to my father, and you can’t ask me to break it. We follow you, Fitz, to the end. No matter how bitter.’
I said nothing, but my mind went to work immediately. What would constitute ‘the end’ for Lant? Could I convince him that he had done his duty and could honourably return to Buckkeep without me? I did not judge it safe to put Spark and Per on a ship home without a protector. I could claim I’d had an urgent Skill-summons from Dutiful for Lant to return home to Chade. By the time he found out it was false, he’d be home. Yes. I pulled up my knees to fit better in the small bunk and closed my eyes. That part, at least, was settled. A small but convincing lie in Bingtown and I could get him onto a ship home. Now I just had to find a way to pry Perseverance loose from me. And Spark.
The next day went as Leftrin had predicted it would. The crew began to say their goodbyes to us at breakfast. ‘Oh, I shall so miss having you aboard,’ Alise exclaimed to Amber.
Bellin had left shell earrings next to Spark’s plate. The dour deckhand had grown fond of the girl. Per made the rounds of the various crewmen, making his own farewells.
We spent our last hours on the roof of the deckhouse, for the day was almost calm not chill at all, as long as one’s coat was closed. The weather had broken and there was a stripe of blue sky over the river. We passed the dragon’s hatching beach, as Skelly pointed it out to us, and then the treetop city of Cassarick. We did not pause nor did Leftrin return any of the greetings shouted down to us. In the stretch of river between Cassarick and Trehaug the little hanging dwellings were as thick as apples on a tended tree, and I did not know how he could tell where one settlement ended and the next began. But at some point, the captain began to return the friendly waves of folk from their treetop homes. We began to see floating docks tied up to the tree trunks, and small vessels moored to them. There were people out fishing, sitting straddled on the tree trunks that overhung the water and letting their lines drop straight down into the river. Tarman swung wide of them to avoid the dangling lines. I was fascinated by the hanging walkways and the well-travelled branches that functioned as footpaths. Spark sat beside Amber and me, pointing up at the trees and exclaiming over how some children ran heedlessly along a branch she would have thought too narrow to traverse with care.
‘Trehaug docks are just around the next bend!’ Skelly shouted up at us as she passed by the deckhouse. Big Eider was guiding Tarman in closer to the thickly banked trees. The water ran quieter and shallower, and soon the crew unshipped their poles and began to slow the Tarman and then to guide him. It struck me that something felt odd, as if more was at work than merely the crew with their poles. The ship seemed too responsive. When I commented on it, Spark said, ‘But Tarman is a liveship. That means he helps the crew get him to where they need him to be.’
‘How?’ I was intrigued.
She grinned. ‘Study his wake the next time we dock for the night.’ At my puzzled look she added, ‘And think of a frog’s legs, kicking.’
We rounded the bend and my first glimpse of Trehaug put Tarman’s ‘legs’ out of my mind. It was the oldest of the Rain Wild cities. The immense trees that over hung the wide, grey river were festooned with bridges, walkways and homes of all sizes. The swampy, flood-prone land beneath the branches of the ancient forest allowed no permanent dwellings. The city of Trehaug was built almost entirely in the branches of the trees that lined the river.
Dwellings as big as manor houses were built in the lower, thicker branches. They put me somewhat in mind of the houses of the Mountain Kingdom, where the trees were integral parts of the structures. But these were not as integrated into their jungle setting. I could as easily believe that some storm had blown a grand home from Farrow and deposited it here. They were all built of rich wood with glass windows and looked impossibly grand and massive. I was admiring one that seemed to have been built entirely around the trunk of one immense tree when Skelly said, ‘That’s the Khuprus home. Reyn’s family.’ I stared up at the looming structure. Oh. Wealth and importance personified. His family had been of the ruling class long before he became a ‘king’ in Kelsingra. Old wealth, shown by the weathering of the ancient support timbers. I stored that bit of insight. So much useful information that I intended to relay to Buckkeep. When I reached Bingtown, I’d send several messenger birds to Dutiful. What I wished to share would not fit into one message capsule.
‘Oh, look! Have you ever seen such a thing! He’s magnificent!’ Perseverance’s shout drew my eyes from the tree and down to the long dock ahead of us. A liveship was moored alongside it. Sails furled, it rode placidly at the moorage. The silvery wood of his hull proclaimed this was no ordinary ship. Unlike Tarman, this liveship had a fully carved figurehead. His dark head was bowed over his muscular chest as if he were drowsing over his crossed arms. A strange posture for a figurehead. Then the hair on my scalp and arms prickled as he slowly lifted his head.
‘He’s looking at us!’ Spark exclaimed. ‘Oh, Lady Amber, if only you could see this! It’s truly alive! The figurehead has turned and is looking at us!’
I stared at the ship, my mouth hanging open. Spark and Perseverance looked from the ship to me. I was speechless, but Lant spoke the words aloud. ‘Sweet Eda. Fitz, he has your face. Right down to the break in your nose.’
Amber cleared her throat. She spoke breathlessly into our shocked silence. ‘Fitz. Please. I can explain everything.’
* * *
This is my most frightening dream. I dream it as a vine that splits into two branches. On one branch there are four candles growing. One by one they are kindled to flame, but their light does not illuminate. Instead, a crow says, ‘Here are four candles to light you to bed. Four candles lit means their child is dead. Four candles burn for the end of their ways. The Wolf and the jester have wasted their days.’
Then, on the other branch of the vine, three candles are suddenly kindled. Their light is almost blinding. And the same crow says, ‘Three flames burn brighter than the sun. Their blaze engulfs an evil done. Their angry mourning purpose gives. They do not know their child still lives.’
Then the crow suddenly has a broken candle. She drops it and I catch it. In a slow and frightening voice she says, ‘Child, light the fire. Burn the future and the past. It’s what you were born to do.’
I woke up shaking all over and I got out of bed and ran to my parents’ chamber. I wanted to sleep with them, but instead my mother brought me back to my bed and lay down beside me. She sang me a song until I could fall asleep again. I was very young when I dreamed this; I had only recently learned how to climb out of my bed. But I have never forgotten the dream or the crow’s rhyme. I draw the candle as he held it, broken and the pieces held together only by the wick in the middle.
Bee Farseer’s dream journal
The very best part of our sea voyage was how sick Dwalia was. We had a tiny room for all four of us. There were two narrow bunks in it. Dwalia took one and for days she stayed in it. Her vomit bucket and her sweaty bedding stank. In the windowless cabin, the smells in the still air were a soup that rose around us, t
The first two days of our journey, I was wretchedly seasick. Then Dwalia screeched at us that our noise and motion were making her worse and ordered us out. I tottered after Vindeliar and Kerf. We passed through a dark space between the deck and the cargo hold where oil lanterns swung gently from the beams. Bunks lined the curved walls, and in the centre hammocks hung, some full and some empty. It smelled of tar, lamp oil, sweat and bad food. I trailed behind Kerf to a ladder and followed him up and out of a square hatch. Out in the air, with the wind blowing chill in my face, I immediately felt better.
Once my stomach accepted that the world would surge and tilt around me, I felt fine. Dwalia knew I could not escape while the ship was at sea, and was too ill to think beyond that. We had brought some food with us, but sometimes we would join the other travellers at the evening meal. There was a kitchen called a galley, and a room called a mess where the long table had a little fence around the edge to corral any sliding plates or mugs. The food was neither good nor bad, and after my privation, I was glad of anything to eat on a regular basis.
I spoke little, obeyed the few commands Dwalia gave, and fiercely observed every detail of the ship and my two companions. I wished them to believe that I had given up defiance, to lull their vigilance. I hoped to discover a way to escape at the next port. The breeze that filled our sails bore me ever farther from my home. Moment by moment, day by day, my former life receded from me. No one could rescue me; no one knew where I was. If I were to escape this fate, I would have to do it myself. I doubted I could win my way back to the Six Duchies, but I could hope for a free life for myself, even if it was in a strange port half a world away from my home.
Dwalia ordered Vindeliar to make us ‘uninteresting’ to the crew and the other passengers and he kept a loose spell around us. No one spoke to us or watched us as we wandered the ship. Most of the passengers were Chalcedean merchants, accompanying cargo to other destinations. A few were from Bingtown or the Rain Wilds and some were from Jamaillia. The wealthy stayed in cabins; the younger ones filled the canvas hammocks. There were slaves, too, some valuable. I saw a beautiful woman who strode with the pride of a stud horse, despite her slave collar and the pale tattoo beside her nose. I wondered if she had ever been free. I watched an elderly man with a bent back sold for a stack of gold coins. He was a scholar who could speak six languages, and read and write in all of them. He sat stoically as a woman drove a hard bargain for him. Then he bent to ink and paper to write out the bill of sale for himself, his nose very close to the paper. I wondered how much scribe work was left in his knobby fingers and what would become of him as he aged further.
Time passes differently on a ship. Day and night there were always sailors running from task to task. A bell ringing broke time into watches, and I could not seem to sleep through it. When it awoke me at night on the splintery cabin floor, breathing the sour fog of Dwalia’s sickness, I longed to escape onto the deck. But Kerf slept snoring across the narrow door. In the bunk above Dwalia’s, Vindeliar muttered in his sleep.
If I slept, I dreamed, sometimes the dreams that boiled and seethed in me. When I awoke from those, I traced an account of them onto the plank floor and tried desperately to set them out of my mind, for they were dark dreams of death and blood and smoke.
Several nights into our voyage, as I lay on the floor surrounded by our sparse belongings, I heard Vindeliar moan a single word. ‘Brother,’ he said, and sighed, sinking deeper into his dreams. I ventured to let crumble the walls I held so firmly against him during the day and stilled my mind to sense his boundaries.
It wasn’t what I expected.
Even in his sleep, he kept a leash on Kerf. The Chalcedean had become passive as a milk cow, an attitude much at odds with his warrior’s harness and scars. He asked for the food he took and the female passengers were safe from his stare, even the line of female slaves who were picketed on the deck once a day to take the air. Tonight I could feel how Vindeliar draped him in boredom one step short of despair. All triumphant and pleasurable memories were hidden from him. He recalled only days of dull duty. Every day would be yet another one of following his commander’s orders. And his commander was Dwalia.
I tried to feel Vindeliar’s control of me, but if he tried, it was too subtle for me to find. I had not expected to find a foggy veil draping Dwalia.
Perhaps she had requested it of him? Did she wish to sleep? It was unlikely that she wished to feel so sick as to daily remain in her bed. She had betrayed to him how much she detested him. The day she flung insults at him he had cowered before her disdain. Had that been the first time she had revealed her loathing of him? I explored what he suggested to her: she could trust Vindeliar to manage us; he had repented his brief rebellion. He was her servant, totally loyal to her. He could control Kerf and conceal me for as long as she needed to rest. I tiptoed around the edges of that fog of suggestion. How deep did his careful defiance of her go? Would she guess it when she recovered from her seasickness?
If he allowed her to recover from being seasick! I considered that thought. Was he keeping her queasy? Dwalia ill in bed relieved us of her slaps, pinches and kicks. Was he starting to turn against her? If he no longer served Dwalia, if he wanted his freedom, could I feed that? Could I win him to my side? To escape, to go home?
The instant that seed came into my mind, I threw up my walls as stoutly as I could. He must not suspect what I knew, let alone what I hoped. How did I win his loyalty? What did he most desire?
‘Brother,’ I breathed, in little more than a whisper.
The rhythm of his stentorian breathing faltered, hitched and then went on. I challenged myself. Was it possible to make my situation worse?
‘Brother, I cannot sleep.’
His snoring stopped. After a long silence, he said in wonder, ‘You called me “brother”!’
‘As you call me,’ I responded. What did it mean to him? I must be careful in what I invoked.
‘As I dreamed I would call you. And that you would call me in return.’ His head shifted on the bundled clothing that served him for a pillow. Sadly he added, ‘But the rest of this has not matched my dream. My only dream.’
‘Yes,’ he admitted. With bashful pride he added, ‘No one else ever dreamed it. Only me.’
‘How could they? It was your dream.’
‘You are so ignorant of dreams. Many Whites share the same dreams. If many Whites have dreamed it, it is important to the Path! If a dream comes only once, it probably won’t happen. Unless a brave person works hard to make it happen. To find the other dreams that show the journey to it. As Dwalia did for me.’
Dwalia shifted in her bunk, a terrifying sound. So stupid of me! Of course, she would be wakeful. The old snake never truly slept. She had heard our whispered words and would thwart my plan before I even formed it!
And then I felt it. Deep and blessed sleep rolled over me like the softest of blankets, warm but not stifling, muscles eased, headache gentled away, free of the cabin’s foul stench. I almost sank into it despite my walls. I wondered how strong it was for Dwalia and if it drenched Kerf too. Should I tell Vindeliar that I knew what he was doing? Could I threaten to betray him to Dwalia if he did not help me?
‘You feel what I do, and you guard yourself from it.’
‘Yes,’ I admitted, as denying it seemed useless. I waited for him to say more but he didn’t. He had seemed so fatuous to me, but now, in his silence, I wondered if he considered his strategy. What ploy did I have to get him to speak? ‘Would you tell me of your dream?’
He rolled onto his side. I could tell from his voice that he faced me now. He sent his whisper across the small cabin. ‘Every morning, Samisal would call for paper and brush. He and I were twice brothers, our parents sister-and-brother, and their parents also. So sometimes I pretended that I had dreamed too, the same dream he had. But they always called me a liar. They knew. So Samisal had all the dreams and I had
Brother bred to sister? His parentage horrified me, but it had not been his doing. I held back my dismay, to say only, ‘But you had one dream?’
‘I did. I dreamed I found you. On a day white with snow I called you “brother” and you came with me.’
‘It came true, then.’
‘Dreams don’t “come true”,’ he corrected me. ‘If the dream is on the true Path, we journey toward it. The Four know the Path. They find the correct dreams and send forth Servants to make the Path for the world to follow. Finding the dream-moment is like finding a guidepost on the road. It confirms the Path is true.’
‘I see,’ I said, though I didn’t. ‘So your dream brought us together?’
‘No,’ he admitted sadly. ‘My dream was only a tiny dream. A little tiny part, not very important, Dwalia says. I should not think I was important. Many people had better dreams than mine, and those who sort the dreams and put them in order, the collators, knew where we should go and what we should do to make the true Path.’
‘Did all the dreams say I was a boy?’ That question was simple curiosity on my part.
‘I don’t know. Most called you a son, or didn’t say what you were. In my dream, you were my brother.’ I heard him scratch some part of himself. ‘So Dwalia is right. My dream was small and not very correct.’ He sounded like a disappointed child hoping someone would disagree with him.
‘But you saw me and you did call me “brother”. Did anyone else dream that part?’
I had never known that silence could be slow, but his was. Satisfaction and vindication vied in his voice as he said, ‘No. No one else dreamed it.’
‘So perhaps you were the only one who could have found me, brother. No one else could have fulfilled that dream?’
‘Yes-s-s.’ He savoured the word.
This silence seemed a necessary pause in the world. A time for Vindeliar to possess something he had not realized belonged to him. I held it for as long as I could. Then I asked, ‘So, for the dream to be true and confirm the Path, it had to be you. But why did it have to be me?’
Assassin's Fate by Robin Hobb / Fantasy have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on45 votes