Assassins fate, p.31
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       Assassin's Fate, p.31

         Part #3 of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy series by Robin Hobb
 

  her strong hands. Brashen reached across the table and set his weathered hand on top of one of hers. For a time, silence held at that table. I felt shamed at the disaster we had brought upon them. I could not read the emotions behind Amber’s stiff expression. It came to me again that, despite my long bond with the Fool, I’d never be able to predict what Amber might or might not do.

  Brashen spoke measured words as he stroked his wife’s rough hair. ‘Althea. We go on, my dear. With or without Paragon’s deck beneath our feet, you and I go on.’ He swallowed. ‘Perhaps Boy-O stays on Vivacia’s deck. She is as much his family ship as Paragon is, and Sa knows that Kennit’s son has shown little interest in a life at sea …’

  I heard his voice falter and saw the slow realization steal across his face. If Paragon could become a dragon again, so could Vivacia. So could any or all of the liveships. It was not just them that Amber had destroyed. When she gave Paragon Silver, she had toppled the dynasties of the Bingtown Traders who owned liveships. Bingtown itself, that great trade centre, had always been dependent on the liveships to transport the treasures of the Rain Wilds. Now liveships would fade into history, and with them the fortunes of the old families that owned them.

  Althea lifted her head and stared at Amber. ‘Why?’ she asked brokenly. ‘Why not ask us first, why not tell us what you were going to do? Why not give us a small amount of time to plan how we might handle such an immense change? Did you think we would deny Paragon what he so earnestly desires? Did you not think the idea could have been introduced to him slowly in a safer place and way?’

  She spoke of her ship as if he were her child. A damaged child, but beloved all the same. A child she would now lose to his madness. It was painful to be witness to such a terrible loss, but Amber sat impassive.

  ‘I had to do it,’ she said at last. ‘And not just for Paragon’s sake.’ She looked at me. ‘It did begin with Paragon. I’m sorry, Fitz. I wanted to tell you what I’d planned. It was why I wanted the Silver. I did not intend to just give it to him. But when I was speaking to Paragon tonight he asked me if it pleased me to be back on the ship, even if I could no longer be a sailor as I was meant to be. I told him I did not think I was meant to be a sailor. And he said he had never been meant to be a ship, that he should have been dragons … Suddenly the bits of what he was saying intersected with something in Bee’s dream journal and I knew what her dream meant. She predicted her survival. I am certain that Bee is alive. And likely still in the hands of her kidnappers. They will take her to Clerres. We cannot know by what path, but we know where that path leads. We also know that she cannot remain in their hands for even a moment longer than we can prevent. We cannot travel in fits and starts, we cannot pause to find other ships and negotiate passage, going from one port to the next and hope we reach there in time. We must get to Clerres as swiftly as we can. And a liveship that knows the way is our best chance of saving her.’

  Hope, dashed too often, becomes the enemy. I heard her words and they did not make my heart leap with gladness. Instead, I felt hot anger. How dare she? How dare she say such a thing before strangers, how dare she taunt me with a foundationless fancy? Then, like a drenching wave that cannot be outrun, hope crashed over me. It seized me and dragged me over barnacles into its depths. I forgot all other events of the day as I demanded, ‘Bee, alive? How? Why do you believe such a thing?’

  She turned to me. Her hand quested over the table and found mine. She clasped it, the cool touch of her fingers enclosing mine. I could not read her pale, empty eyes. Her voice was careful. ‘It’s in her dream book, Fitz. Oh, not spelled out exactly, but there were dreams that she labelled as most likely to come true. Things she believed were more likely to happen than other things. She spoke of events to come in images rather than words. I spent a lifetime learning to read dreams. And her dreams fitted together as perfectly as pieces of broken crockery being nudged back into alignment.’

  ‘A dream book?’ Althea demanded. ‘Sa’s balls and tits! What is a dream book and why did it prompt you to destroy us?’

  Amber turned her face toward them. ‘It will take some time to explain …’

  ‘Time you should have taken days ago, I think. So start now.’ Althea’s anger was unconcealed.

  ‘Very well.’ Amber accepted the rebuke gravely and offered no defence. She squeezed my hand. There was regret in her voice when she said, ‘Fitz, I know you will resent my asking for this, but please fetch Bee’s dream book while I explain to Althea and Brashen what it is and why each of her dreams is so significant.’

  I have known the hot flush of anger, and the blinding red of fury. Now I felt as if ice formed in the pit of my belly and spread from there. A cold that nearly stilled my heart came over me. I stared at her, frozen motionless by her callousness. She stared toward me. What did she see? A shadow? A shape?

  ‘Fitz. Please.’ Brashen did not stare at me but looked at his hands. ‘If you can help us understand what this is about …’

  His words trailed off. Wordlessly, I rose, shoving my chair back with my thighs, and left the stateroom. I didn’t go to Amber’s room where my pack was kept. Instead I walked alone through the insect-singing darkness until I came to the foredeck.

  Paragon brooded in his place. His hunched shoulders were human but his neck was longer now and his reptilian head was tucked to his chest. It disturbed me as few things in my life had. I cleared my throat. He moved his head on his sinuous neck to look at me. His eyes were still blue. That was the only feature I could recognize.

  ‘What do you want?’ he demanded.

  ‘I don’t know,’ I admitted. I did not feel fearless, but nonetheless I walked over and leaned on the railing. Amber had wakened hope in me, and with hope, she had wakened doubt. While I had been certain Bee was lost to me, I had wanted vengeance. More than vengeance, I had wanted my own death. If I could go to Clerres and kill as many as I could and die in the attempt, that would be fine. I’d had time and to spare to work that vengeance thoroughly. But now I wanted Bee to be alive so that I could rescue her. If she wasn’t alive, I wanted to be dead, too, so that all my failures would finally be over. Didn’t I want vengeance any more? Not tonight, I decided. I was too tired of it all. If I could dash in, find Bee and run away and live quietly with my child somewhere, that would be enough. ‘Do you think my daughter is alive?’ I asked the ship.

  His blue eyes whirled, as if lanterns shone through spinning blue glass. ‘I don’t know. But that does not matter to the bargain that we struck, Amber and I. I will take you to Clerres, as swiftly as I can. I know the way. I was there when enslaved to Igrot. If your daughter is alive you will rescue her, and even if she is not you will destroy that nest of ugliness. Then we will come back here and sail up the river, and Amber will get Silver for me. Enough Silver for me to become the dragons I was meant to be.’

  I wanted to ask him what he would do if we died trying. I was sure he’d still go back to Kelsingra and demand Silver. So why didn’t he do that right now?

  Because your vengeance is dragon-vengeance as well. He paused. I waited, but he gave me no more than that. As dragons, I cannot bear you there. Only as a ship can I transport you that far. So we all go, together, to take the vengeance that is owed to us. And then we will be free, to become what we were always meant to be.

  Slowly, I became aware that Paragon’s lizard lips were not shaping those words. I heard him and I knew the sense of his words. He was replying as much to my thoughts as he was my words. It was like the Skill and it was like the Wit, but it was neither. I lifted my hands slowly from the railing.

  I know you now. There is no avoiding me if I wish to speak to you. But right now, I will say only this. Do not thwart her will in this, or mine. To Clerres we go, to make an end to those who tormented her and stole her child. And then we return to Kelsingra that I may become dragons. Go now. Fetch what she sent you for. Reassure Brashen and Althea as much as you can.

  That last he said as if he were asking me t
o be sure his cats were fed while he was away. How could he feel so little for them?

  Would you rather I hated the ones I have served as a slave?

  I slammed my walls up tight. Could he truly reach into my mind whenever he wished? What sort of vengeance did he imagine we would take? If we found Bee alive, and wished to take her and flee immediately, would he oppose us? I pushed such questions aside. Perhaps for now I needed to know only that he would take us to Clerres.

  I went to Amber’s small cabin. It was dark but I refused to go back for a lantern. My pack was wedged into a corner under the bunk. I found it by touch and dragged it out past the bundles of Amber’s and Spark’s clothing that had somehow expanded to fill every available space. I dug for the dream journal and as I did so my fingers brushed the fabric that had wrapped the Silver I’d been given by Rapskal. A small betrayal that she had gone through my pack and found it, but I was becoming accustomed to her small betrayals. Yet as I angrily pushed the fabric aside to remove the book, I felt the heavy glass tubes the general had given me. Slowly I withdrew the bundle, opened it and held up the tubes. Early starlight had begun to venture in the tiny window and the substance in the glass answered it with an unearthly gleam. The Silver within still did its slow dance. Both were full to the brim, stoppered and sealed as they had been when Rapskal put them in my hands. Liquid magic. The Skill in pure form, independent of human or dragon blood. I tipped the tubes again and watched the slow crawl within the glass. I wondered how much Amber had given Paragon. Was this enough to fulfil his transformation? If he became recalcitrant or dangerous, could this be the bribe I offered? Precious stuff. Dangerous stuff.

  I rewrapped the bundle and thrust it deep into the pack again. I’d misjudged Amber. Somehow she had obtained Silver and concealed it from me. Just as I concealed what I had from her. To think that perhaps I was as deceptive to her as she was to me only made me angry. I wished she would go away and that …

  And that the Fool would come back? The peculiarity of my thought suddenly spun me round and round. There was no avoiding the admission that my interactions with Amber were vastly different to what I thought and felt about the Fool. I wanted to rattle my head like a dog shaking off water, but knew it would be useless. I tucked Bee’s book securely under my arm, and shoved my pack well back in its place.

  ‘You took your time,’ Brashen observed as I re-entered the stateroom. I noticed that Clef had joined us. He wasn’t seated at the table, but hunched on a low stool in the corner, a mug of liquor in his hands. The look he gave me was not friendly. I didn’t feel particularly friendly either. Doubtless he had seen me speaking with Paragon and come to tell Brashen.

  ‘I stopped to talk to Paragon,’ I admitted.

  Brashen’s jaw muscles bunched and Althea straightened as if she would spring at me. I held up a cautioning hand. ‘He confirmed his bargain with Amber. And implied that he and other dragons might have reasons of their own for wishing us well on our quest.’ I looked at Amber. ‘I’d like to know what those are. And I’d like to know how you got Silver when Reyn and Malta specifically refused your request for some.’

  Althea made a small sound of shock. Brashen grew very still.

  ‘I didn’t steal it,’ she said in a low voice. I waited. She took a breath. ‘It was given to me, very privately, by someone who knew that it could bring down great trouble if other people knew about it. I’d rather not say exactly who that was.’ She folded her lips primly.

  ‘As if we’d care,’ Althea grumbled sarcastically. ‘Show us your “proof” that your child is alive. That you have not destroyed our lives for nothing.’ It was obvious that any sympathy she’d ever felt toward us had been burned away. I could scarcely blame her and yet I felt a rising fury to hear her speak so of Bee.

  I set the book carefully on the table and sat down with my arms to either side of it. No one was going to touch it but me. I forced my voice to an even tone and addressed Amber. ‘What, exactly, did you wish me to read from this book?’

  I think she knew how close I was to irrational fury. I was at her mercy, and the mercy of these strangers and their unreliable ship, and they were demanding that I ‘prove’ to them that my child was special enough to deserve to be rescued from people who delighted in torture. If there had been any sort of a ‘shore’ to the river, I would have immediately demanded to be put upon it and walked away from all of them.

  ‘Please read the dream where the two-headed person gives you a vial of ink to drink. And you shake off pieces of wood and become two dragons. I think that one will be the clearest to all of us here.’

  I was very still for a moment. More than once, I had accused the Fool of ‘interpreting’ his dream predictions with hindsight, tailoring them to fit what actually happened. But this, at least, did strike me as starkly clear. I paged through Bee’s dream journal until I found it. For a moment, I looked at the illustration she had created. A gloved hand held aloft a little glass vial. In the background, I reached for it with eager hands. There were glints of blue in the eyes she had given me. She had tinted the ‘ink’ within the vial yellow and grey. It was not silver but I understood it was meant to be. Slowly I read her words aloud and then turned the book and offered the illustration to Althea and Brashen. Althea scowled at it and Brashen leaned back and crossed his arms on his chest.

  ‘How do we know that you didn’t write that out last night?’ Brashen demanded.

  It was a stupid question and he knew it. But I answered it. ‘One of us is blind and therefore unable to write or draw. And if you suspect me, I have no brushes and inks of a quality to do this, nor the talent for illustration.’ I gently fanned the pages of Bee’s book. ‘And there are many pages of dreams and illustrations that follow this one.’

  He knew that. He simply didn’t want to admit that Bee had foreseen how Lady Amber would give a liveship with my face a vial of Silver so that it might become not just one but two dragons.

  ‘But—’ he began and Althea cut in quietly, ‘Let it be, Brashen. We both know there has always been a peculiar scent of magic around Amber. And this is more of it, I fear.’

  ‘It is,’ Amber confirmed. Her face was grave, her voice solemn.

  I didn’t want to ask my question in front of strangers but the desire to know was eating me like an infected wound. ‘Why do you think Bee is alive?’

  Her shoulders rose and fell with a deep breath taken and sighed out. ‘That will be less clear, I fear.’

  ‘I’m waiting.’

  ‘First, there is her dream of being a nut. And a second one, in which she calls herself an acorn. Do you recall that one? She is small and tight and tossed in a current. I think she is predicting her passage through a Skill-pillar.’

  ‘Passage through a what?’ Brashen asked.

  ‘I speak to Fitz, now. If you wish to know, I will explain it later.’

  He subsided, but not gracefully. He leaned back in his chair, his arms crossed on his chest and his face closed.

  ‘That’s one possible meaning,’ I conceded with as little grace as Trell.

  ‘Then there is the dream of the candles. Fitz, I know you carry some of Molly’s candles with you. The scents are plain to a blind man. I can even tell when you’ve taken them out and handled them. How many do you have?’

  ‘Only three. I began with four. One was lost when the bear attacked us. After you and Spark fled through the pillar, we gathered what we could of our supplies. But much was scattered and lost or spoiled. I could only find three …’

  ‘Do you remember her dream of the candles? Find it in the book, please.’

  I did. I read it aloud slowly. A gradual smile spread over his face. The wolf and the jester. It spoke so plainly that even I knew it meant the Fool and me.

  ‘Three candles, Fitz. “They do not know their child still lives.” Her dream showed her a place where her chances divided. When you lost a candle, it somehow created a change for her. A change that meant that she lived instead of dying.’

/>   I sat very still. It was too ridiculous to believe. A surge of something—not hope, not belief, but something I’d no name for—rushed through me. I felt as if my heart had begun to beat again, as if air filled my lungs after a long denial. I wanted so desperately to believe Bee might still be alive.

  Belief burst through any wall of rationality or caution I possessed. ‘Three candles,’ I said weakly. I wanted to weep and to laugh and shout.

  Three candles meant that my daughter still lived.

  FIFTEEN

  * * *

  Trader Akriel

  The puppet dances. He turns flips and he jigs. His painted red smile looks happy but he is screaming, for he performs on red-hot coals. His wooden feet begin to smoke. A man comes in with a shining axe. He swings it. I think he will cut off the puppet’s burning feet, but instead the axe cuts all his strings. But the man with the axe falls just as swiftly as the puppet leaps away, free.

  Bee Farseer’s dream journal

  ‘Why do you think I would help a ragamuffin like you?’ The woman took a sip of her tea and stared at me. ‘You are exactly the sort of trouble I’ve spent most of my life avoiding.’

  She wasn’t smiling. I couldn’t tell her that I chose her because she was a woman and I hoped she would have a softer heart. I thought that would offend her rather than sway her. My stomach was so empty it made me want to vomit bile. I tried not to tremble but I was at the end of my resources. All I had left was will. My body had no physical courage left in it. I tried to keep my voice level. ‘Earlier in the voyage, I saw you sell the old man who could read and write. He wrote his own bill of sale. I saw that you got a good price for him, even though he is old and probably does not have many years left in him.’

  She was nodding but with a small scowl.

  I drew myself up as straight as I could. ‘I may be small and I am young, but I am strong and healthy. And I can read and write. I can also copy illustrations or draw what you wish drawn. And I can work with numbers as well.’ My skill with those was not as strong as I would wish it to be but I deemed that was close enough to the truth. If I were selling myself to a slaver, I’d best present myself as a good bargain.

  She leaned her elbow on the galley table. It had been terribly difficult to find her alone. I had watched her for a full day, moving from hiding-spot to hiding-spot to track her, and seen how she lingered at the table after the other traders had finished stuffing their food down. I suspected she preferred to eat late and alone rather than endure their gulping and jostling. I had ventured
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