Assassins fate, p.40
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       Assassin's Fate, p.40

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

  dragons? Won’t they be rather small?’

  Amber smiled. ‘We cannot know yet. But small dragons grow. From what I understand, dragons continue to grow as long as they live. And few things can kill a dragon.’

  Wintrow drew a deep, considering breath. He looked away from Amber, to Brashen and Althea. ‘Are you financially solid?’ he asked gravely.

  Brashen wobbled his head in a way that was not yes nor no. ‘We have resources. The loot from Igrot’s hoard was substantial, and we were not wasteful of our share. But money alone is neither wealth nor a future for our son. We’ve no home save here on Paragon, no life or employment beyond plying our trade on the Rain Wild River and in Bingtown. So, yes, we have sufficient funds that we can eat and sleep inside a house for the rest of our days. Inside a house. There’s a future I never sought! But something to leave to Boy-O? A life for us to live … that’s harder for us to chart.’

  Wintrow was nodding slowly. A man, I thought, who seemed to think before he spoke. Just as he drew breath and opened his mouth to say something, we heard a shout from outside. ‘Permission to come aboard?’

  ‘Refuse it!’ Wintrow ordered.

  Brashen was at the door of the stateroom in two strides. ‘Refused!’ he shouted into the night and then spun on Wintrow, demanding, ‘Who is it?’

  But the voice outside shouted, ‘You can hardly deny me permission to board the ship whose name I bear!’

  ‘Paragon Kennitsson.’ Wintrow spoke in the brief gulch of silence before the ship bellowed out, ‘Permission granted! Paragon! Paragon, my son!’

  Althea went so pale she was more greenish than white. I’d heard a strange note in the ship’s voice, a difference in timbre.

  ‘Sweet Sa,’ Wintrow breathed into the quiet. ‘He sounded almost like Kennit.’

  Brashen looked back at his wife over his shoulder. His face was stone. Then his gaze found Wintrow. ‘I don’t want him talking to the ship,’ he said in a low voice.

  ‘I don’t want him on this ship,’ Wintrow agreed. He strode to the door and Brashen edged aside to let him pass. ‘Paragon!’ Wintrow shouted and there was command in his voice. ‘Here. And now.’

  The figure who answered Wintrow’s summons was no boy or youth but a man, dark-haired, with an aquiline nose and a finely sculpted mouth. His eyes were a shockingly intense blue. His clothing was as handsome as he was, and the emerald earrings he wore were large, diamonds glittering around the green jewels. I judged him to be older than Boy-O, but not by much. And he was softer. Physical work pounds a boy into a different sort of manhood. Boy-O had that physique. But the prince was a house cat in comparison. Kennit’s son smiled with even white teeth. ‘I present myself,’ he said to Wintrow with a mocking bow, and then leaned past him to peer into the cabin. ‘Trellvestrit? You are here, too? It seems you’ve convened a party and not invited me. Well, that’s cold of you, my young friend!’

  Boy-O spoke softly. ‘It’s not like that, Kennitsson. Not like that at all.’

  ‘You’ve come to know one another?’ Althea asked softly but received no response.

  Wintrow spoke in a low, controlled voice. ‘I want you off this ship. We both know that your mother does not approve of your coming here.’

  Kennitsson cocked his head and grinned. ‘I also know that my mother is not here.’

  Wintrow did not return his smile. ‘A queen does not have to be present to expect that her commands will be obeyed. Especially by her son.’

  ‘Ah, but this is not the will of a queen but the will of my mother who fears for me. And it is time for me to live beyond her fears.’

  ‘In this case, her fears are well-founded,’ Wintrow countered.

  ‘You are not welcome aboard this vessel,’ Brashen added in a flat voice. There was no anger in his tone but there was danger. For an instant, Kennitsson’s face went blank with astonishment. Then we all heard a roar of disagreement from Paragon the ship.

  ‘Send him forward! Send him forward to me!’

  Kennitsson recovered himself, and his features shifted from shock to royal arrogance. I had not been so vividly reminded of Regal in many a year. His words were clipped, his anger palpable. ‘I believe this was my father’s ship before it was yours. And I believe that even if I did not have an inherent right to be here, my authority as Prince of the Pirate Isles supersedes your captain’s powers. I go wherever I wish to go.’

  ‘On this deck, nothing overshadows the say of the captain,’ Brashen informed him.

  Paragon’s roar blasted us. ‘Except the will of the ship!’

  Kennitsson canted his head at Brashen and smiled. ‘I believe I am summoned,’ he said, and offered an elegant bow, complete with a sweep of his feathered hat, before turning and sauntering away. Brashen made a noise, but Wintrow stepped between Brashen and the door and blocked the captain from exiting.

  ‘Please,’ he said. ‘Let me talk with him. He has been consumed with curiosity about Paragon since he was eight years old.’ He turned his gaze to Althea. ‘Any boy raised with no glimpse of Kennit, surrounded by dozens of men telling him hero tales of his father, would be enamoured of this ship. He cannot resist.’

  ‘Coming aboard!’ someone roared, and in the next breath, ‘Kennitsson! Prince you may be, but you do not defy me or your mother without a reckoning!’

  ‘Sorcor,’ Wintrow said with a sigh. ‘Oh, lovely. Just perfect.’

  ‘Sometimes Kennitsson listens to him.’ Boy-O sounded hopeful.

  Beside me, Amber breathed, ‘Kennit’s first mate, in the old days.’

  ‘Sometimes,’ Wintrow agreed and then turned and went to meet Sorcor. I heard the hasty mutter of their conversation, Sorcor’s voice accusing and Wintrow’s defensive and reasonable. But my ears strained to hear a different set of voices. I heard the ship hail ‘young Paragon’ with joy and the young man’s more measured response.

  ‘How can he?’ Boy-O spoke into the quiet. ‘After what Kennit did to you, after all you and Brashen have done for him, how can he be so joyous to receive Kennit’s son?’ I wondered if I heard a twinge of jealousy beneath his outrage. His jaw was set and he suddenly looked a great deal more like his father.

  ‘He’s Paragon. He’s always been capable of things we can’t even imagine.’ Althea stood slowly. She moved as if she had suddenly aged, as if every joint in her body were stiff.

  ‘I’m not my father,’ Brashen said suddenly. ‘Neither is he.’

  ‘He looks like him,’ Althea said uncertainly.

  ‘Much as Boy-O looks like you. And me. But he isn’t either of us. And he’s not responsible for anything we’ve done in our lives.’ Brashen’s voice was low and calm. Rational.

  ‘Boy-O,’ the young man said softly. ‘Haven’t heard that name in a while. I’m almost used to being called Trellvestrit now.’

  ‘I’m not … I don’t think I hate him. Kennitsson I mean. And I don’t judge him for his father.’ Althea tried to find words for her thoughts and continued, as if her son had not spoken. ‘I think I’m a better person than that. His father is not his fault. Though I don’t find him the least bit charming.’ She looked sideways at Brashen, and stood straighter. Determination came back into her face and voice. ‘But I am concerned by what he might waken in Paragon. There is so much of my father in Vivacia. So much of my grandmother in the Vestrit family liveship.’ She shook her head slowly. ‘I always knew that Kennit must be a part of Paragon. He was a Ludluck, and the Ludluck family owned Paragon for generations. And we both know that Paragon absorbed all the abuse that Igrot heaped on Kennit, all the deep hurts and wrong. There was so much blood shed on his decks in Igrot’s day, so much cruelty, the pain and fear sank into him with the blood spilled on his planks. And then, when Kennit died, our ship took into himself all that Kennit had been since he’d abandoned Paragon. I thought Paragon had …nullified it. Outgrown it, as children outgrow selfish ways and learn to have empathy for others. I thought …’ Her voice faltered into silence.

  ‘W
e all bury things inside ourselves,’ Amber said, making me flinch. She was looking straight ahead, not at Althea, but I felt she had intruded into a private conversation. ‘We think we have mastered them. Until they burst out.’ Her hand was on the cuff of my shirt and I felt it tremble.

  ‘Well, what’s done is done,’ Althea said abruptly. ‘Time to face it.’ She took Brashen’s arm and a look passed between them that reminded me of two warriors standing back to back in battle. As they walked away, Boy-O and Clef fell in behind them as if it were some sort of formal procession.

  ‘Lead me,’ Amber demanded. We trailed after them with Lant and Spark and Per following us. The few members of her crew who had decided to stay aboard despite where Paragon might take them ghosted along after us.

  Lanterns illuminated the masts and bows of the anchored vessels in the harbour, and the moon had risen. The light was uneven, draping angled faces in veils of shadow. But the moonlight fell on Paragon’s features and his face was full of fondness. It was like approaching a puppet show in the middle of an act. Paragon’s figurehead was twisted to look down at Kennit’s son on his deck, and his profile showed me his smile. His namesake stood with his back to us, legs wide and hands clasped loosely behind his back. His stance spoke to me more of patience than awe.

  Behind him, Wintrow stood beside a heavy-set man with little hair left to his head but a generous grey beard. He wore loose trousers tucked into high boots and a wide belt that held a curved sword over his equally generous belly. His shirt was so white it seemed to gleam in the moonlight. The man was scowling, his arms crossed on his chest. I was abruptly reminded of Blade. Some old warriors are like good weapons. Their scars become the patina of experience and wisdom.

  Paragon was speaking. ‘Then you will go with me? Sail with me this last time that I shall sail, before I manifest as the dragons I have always been?’

  Kennitsson seemed amused by his question. ‘I will indeed! I can think of no better way to spend my time. I’m weary of lessons in geometry and navigation and languages. Why do they teach me the stars if I’m never allowed to sail under them? Yes, I’ll go with you. And you will tell me tales of my father, as he was when he was my age.’

  A tell-tale dragon gleam passed through the ship’s eyes. I thought he would refuse the boy, but he sounded judicious as he replied, ‘Perhaps. As I think you are ready to hear them.’

  Kennitsson laughed. ‘Ship, I am Prince Paragon of the Pirate Isles! Do you not realize who Kennit’s son is now? I am next in line for the throne.’ The light that touched his face followed the hard lines of his smile. ‘I command. I do not request.’

  Paragon turned away from him and spoke out over the water. ‘Not on my decks, Kennitsson. Never on my decks.’

  ‘And you are not voyaging off anywhere, Paragon Kennitsson,’ Wintrow added firmly. ‘Sorcor is here to take you back to your chambers. You should be dressing even now for an evening of cards with the dignitaries from the Spice Islands. Your mother, Queen Etta, expects both of us to be there, and if we do not depart now, we will both be late.’

  Kennitsson turned slowly to face Wintrow. ‘And I do pity you, Chief Minister, that you will face her wrath alone. But there it is. When I return to the palace tonight, I intend to pack for a sea voyage, not dress for a game of cards with a lady who laughs like a horse neighing.’

  A silence fell. Then Sorcor said to Wintrow, ‘I’m trying to remember the last time I thrashed him to howling. I think he might be due for another.’

  The prince crossed his arms on his chest and drew himself up straight. ‘Touch me, and I’ll have you in chains before morning.’ He gave a contemptuous snort. ‘I’d have thought you’d have tired of playing nursemaid years ago. I scarcely need a nanny following me about. I’m not a wilful child for you to bully. Not any more.’

  ‘Naw.’ The older man shook his head woefully. ‘You’re worse. You’re a spoiled boy dressed in a man’s fine clothes. If I thought your mother would ever agree to it, I’d tell her that the best thing for you would be to send you off with Trell. As a deckhand. To learn a bit of the trade that your father knew from the bones out when he was half your age.’

  Brashen Trell spoke. ‘He’s a bit too old to learn it, I fear. You missed your chance, both of you.’ A strange look crossed his face. ‘He reminds me of a spoiled merchant’s son who thought he was a Trader.’

  There is a way a boy stands when he does not wish to admit that words have struck him. Kennitsson stood that way—a bit too still, shoulders a bit too stiff. His speech was precise as he said, ‘I shall be returning to the palace now. But not to dress and play dice with the Spice Island monkeys. Ship! I will see you again in the morning.’ He swung his gaze to Brashen and Althea. ‘I trust you’ll have my quarters awaiting me when I return. The stateroom I saw when I first came on board would be adequate. And please take on appropriate food and drink for me.’

  He walked through us, but I saw he chose a path that did not require anyone to step aside for him and knew he doubted his ability to face any of us down. We listened to the sharp thuds of his boots on the deck, then he was over the railing and clambering down a rope ladder, shouting at some poor soul who had been left waiting in a small boat for him. The sound of the moving oars was a gentle shushing in the night.

  ‘Do you really think so?’ Sorcor had a deep voice and it was full of slow dismay. For a moment, I couldn’t understand what he was asking of Wintrow, but it was Brashen he was looking at in the darkness.

  The captain of the Paragon stared down at the deck. ‘No. Not really,’ he admitted. ‘Though I was younger when my father threw me out of the house and made my brother his heir. It was hard to find my own way. But I did. It’s not too late for Kennit’s son.’ He heaved a great sigh. ‘But it’s not a task I want.’

  Sorcor looked up toward the moon and the light fell on his face. His brow was wrinkled, his lips pursed in thought. Then he said in a gruff voice, ‘But the ship’s right. He should sail with you. It’s his last chance, his only chance to know this deck under his feet. To sail on the ship that shaped his father.’ He swung his gaze to meet Brashen’s startled gaze. ‘You should take him.’

  Wintrow started. ‘What?’

  But Sorcor flapped a knobby hand at him, silencing his objection. The older man cleared his throat. ‘I’ve failed the boy. When he was small, I was too glad to have any piece of his father that was left to us. I cherished him and kept him from all harm. I never let him feel the pain of his own mistakes.’ He shook his head. ‘And his mother still dotes on him and gives him what he desires. But it’s not just her. I wanted him to be a prince. I wanted him in fancy clothes with clean hands. I wanted to see him have what his father earned for him. To be what his father would have expected of him.’ He shook his head again. ‘But somehow, we didn’t get that other part of him.’

  ‘He hasn’t had to become a man,’ Brashen observed flatly. The words were harsh but his tone was not.

  ‘A voyage away from his mother might do it?’ Sorcor suggested.

  Althea stepped suddenly in front of Sorcor. Her gaze went from him to Wintrow. ‘I don’t want him. I’ve enough to deal with on this voyage. I’ve only a vague idea of where we’re going and I’ve no idea how we will be received there. Or how long Amber’s little errand will take, or when we’ll be back. Perhaps it hasn’t been revealed to you, Sorcor, but we go to deal death and vengeance. We very well may end up fleeing for our lives. Or be dead ourselves. I won’t be responsible for the well-being of the prince of the Pirate Islands, let alone his survival.’

  ‘But I will.’ It was Paragon that spoke.

  We all felt and heard that response. It thrummed through the ship’s bones, and it reached our ears not as a shout but as an assertion. I wanted no more additions to our company on this voyage, let alone a spoiled prince, so I drew breath to make my own objection and felt Amber’s sudden clutch on my wrist. In a low voice she said, ‘Hush. As they say in Chalced, you don’t have a dog in this fi
ght.’

  Since we had come aboard Paragon, I had felt control of my plans slipping ever farther from my grip. Not for the first time, I wished I’d come alone and unhampered.

  ‘Our stateroom,’ Brashen announced tightly. His eyes roved over us. ‘Follow me.’ He glanced at his crew and added, ‘About your duties. Please.’ The last was a concession, I felt, to those sailors who had stayed aboard the Paragon. Not many had. If we sailed, which I was beginning to doubt, we’d have a skeleton crew indeed.

  Paragon’s voice boomed out into the quiet harbour. ‘I will have what I want, Brashen. I will!’

  ‘Oh, I don’t doubt it,’ he replied bitterly. Althea had already turned away. Brashen spun and followed to lead us aft.

  The chamber was large for a ship, but never designed to be packed with so many people. I let Amber sit and stood behind her, my hands on the back of her chair. I had positioned her so that I could study every person in the room.

  Sorcor was a contrast. I judged him to be a man past his middle years, used hard by his early life but now in a safe harbour. He dressed as befitted a minor noble, but the scars on his face and the wear on his hands were that of a fighter and a sailor. The sword at his side was of excellent and deadly quality. There was something in the cut of his clothing and the selection of his jewellery that spoke of a man who’d known poverty suddenly given the chance to dress in fine fabric and gold. On another man, it might have looked laughable. On him, it looked earned.

  Brashen thudded two bottles down on the table. Brandy and rum. Althea followed it with a clatter of cups. ‘Your choice and pour for yourself,’ she announced wearily before dropping into a chair. For a moment, she lowered her face into her hands. Then, as Brashen came and set his hands on her shoulders, she lifted her head and straightened her back. Her eyes were resigned.

  Wintrow spoke. ‘Queen Etta isn’t going to like any of this. She was already alarmed when she got word that a liveship was being brought in for tariff violation. That simply doesn’t happen. The Traders understand taxes and tariffs well, and none of them want the delays and fines that violations bring. As soon as I knew it was Paragon, I went to her immediately. She feared …’ He stopped and abruptly chose another word. ‘She considered it best if the prince were located and his introduction to his father’s ship monitored. So to speak.’ He gave Sorcor a sideways glance.

  ‘He’s a young man!’ Sorcor objected. ‘Somehow he knew what my mission was and kept clear of me. I suspect he paid his guards to turn a blind eye. I’ll see to their stripes tomorrow. So here we are. What now?’

  ‘Coming aboard!’ A woman’s voice, imperious and angry.

  Wintrow and Sorcor exchanged a look. ‘Queen Etta is not … recalcitrant in acting on a situation.’

 
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