Assassins fate, p.59
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       Assassin's Fate, p.59

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

  people for no reason! You had her beaten with whips, but it wasn’t for all the terrible things she did! Those things you four sent her to do! She made Vindeliar trick that horrid Duke Ellik into killing all my people. And she didn’t even care for her own! She gave him Oddessa for him and his men to rape! Then Dwalia abandoned Reppin in the stone, and she sold Alaria into slavery and she left the Chalcedean to be charged with murder. Did she tell you what she did? Do you even know how horrible she is?’ I dragged in a shaking breath. Oh, I’d said too much. I’d vomited out the truth to her, without a thought or plan.

  She stared at me, and her pale White’s face went even more bloodless. ‘Winterfest. The longest night.’ Then, as if my words had finally reached her ears, ‘Alaria went into slavery?’ she said faintly. ‘She was sold alive?’ As if that were the most dreadful of all Dwalia’s misdeeds.

  Could a slave be sold dead?

  Eat the food! Before she changes her mind and takes it away.

  I tried. I stabbed the skewer into a lump of something purple and put it into my mouth. It was so sour my eyes watered. I choked it down and drank. Another unfamiliar taste. I stabbed something else on my plate. It fell off the skewer thing.

  When I looked up Capra was gesturing to her guard. ‘A scribe, paper, ink, and set up a table here. Make this happen now.’ Her guard ran from the room. She turned back to me and her voice was intense. ‘Where did this happen? In what city was Alaria sold? What do you mean, Reppin was left in a stone?’

  I suddenly knew I had given away things that could have been bartered. I had a piece of food in my mouth. I chewed it for a very long time. When finally I cleared my mouth, I said softly, ‘I don’t remember the name of the city. I don’t think I ever knew it. Dwalia would know, or Vindeliar.’ I quickly put more food in my mouth. It was the fishy stuff again and I wanted to gag but chewing was my only way to gain time to think.

  She spoke gently. ‘A scribe is coming. You will sit with her, and tell her everything you can remember, from the very first time you saw Dwalia’s company to the day you arrived here.’

  I washed the mush in my mouth down with water then asked innocently, ‘And then you will send me home?’

  She stiffened. ‘Perhaps. Much will depend on your story. Perhaps you are very important to us and even you do not know it.’

  ‘I really want to go home.’

  ‘I know you do. Look. This little cake is my favourite kind. Do try it. It’s sweet and spicy.’ It had been on a dish in the centre of the table. She did not cut a piece but pushed the whole cake toward me. It was as big as my head and was surely intended to serve several people. ‘Try a bite,’ she urged me.

  I chose a utensil at random, gouged a piece from the cake and took it into my mouth. It was delicious, but I was starting to realize everything on the table had a price. Even so, I took another bite and watched her suppress her questions. What did I have left to bargain with? She probably didn’t know that others of Dwalia’s luriks were unaccounted for, captured or fleeing in Buck. Did she know of the serpent-spit potion? What would she think of Dwalia’s romps with her captain? I wondered if she knew anything of Vindeliar’s magic or if that was a secret, too? If I bargained with her, would she keep her word?

  ‘Do you promise to send me home if I tell the scribe everything?’ I tried to sound childish and not as wary as I felt.

  ‘You will tell the scribe everything, and then we will decide. I expect it may take more than a day, for after you are done we will have more questions for you. Now, while you chat with the scribe I will find a nice little cottage for you, and a Servant to tend you. What is your favourite colour? I want to be sure you will like your new little home.’

  I let my discouragement show. ‘I don’t think it matters. I just want to go home.’

  ‘Well. Blue, then. I’m glad you enjoyed your meal.’

  I had not, and I hadn’t finished eating. I made myself set down my utensil instead of trying for a big mouthful of the cake. Servants had entered and were speedily setting up a table, two chairs, inkpot, pen-stand and paper. Just as swiftly, they snatched the plates and dishes from the table in front of me. Capra stood, and so did I. In seconds, that table and the chairs were whisked away.

  ‘And here is our scribe. Pelia, I believe?’

  The scribe all but dropped to his knees. Her knees? ‘Nopet, if it please you, Highest One.’ His voice croaked as wetly as a frog’s.

  ‘Nopet, of course. This child has a long tale to tell you. Take care that you take it down exactly as she speaks it. Ask no questions now and dismiss not a word of what she tells you. This is of the utmost importance. Repeat my orders back to me.’

  This the scribe did, with his eyes bulging. Was he terrified? No. The more I looked at him, the more he reminded me of Oddessa. She’d had the same unfinished look, as if someone had begun to make a human and then got bits of it wrong. Nopet’s eyes bulged and I wondered if his eyelids could even close all the way. His teeth were like a baby’s teeth in an adult mouth. He was setting up his desk and gesturing for me to be seated. When he took up his pen, I tried not to stare at his short, skinny fingers. He drew a page of good paper from the stack at his elbow, centred it in front of him, studied his pen, trimmed it a bit, dipped it and hovered it over the page. ‘Please begin,’ he said to me in his froggy voice.

  It was the last thing I wanted to do. Capra was watching me. I walked across the room and sat down in the chair opposite the scribe. ‘What do I do?’ I asked him.

  He lifted his bulgy eyes to meet mine. ‘You talk. I write. Please begin.’

  I would not tell him of the day before in the town, where I had first glimpsed Vindeliar. I would say nothing of the dead dog and the beggar and my father going into the stone. Nothing of how my father had abandoned me to tend a stranger.

  But Beloved had not been a stranger to him. I pulled my thoughts away.

  ‘I was at my lessons in the schoolroom at Withywoods.’

  The scribe looked up at me with a frown. He glanced over at Capra, then the pen in his hand flowed ink effortlessly over the page, his tiny fingers manoeuvring it swiftly. But Capra had seen the pause. She came to stand over us.

  ‘Bee, you must begin with detail. Where is Withywoods? And tell of the lesson and the teacher. Who was with you? What was the day like? Every detail. Every moment.’

  I nodded slowly. ‘I will try.’

  ‘Try very hard,’ Capra warned me. Then she added, ‘I will be leaving you for a time. I wish to speak with Dwalia and Vindeliar. Be sure that if I find you are lying to me, there will be serious consequences. Work with the scribe until I return.’

  And so I talked. Carefully. Sometimes truthfully. The things I thought should shame them, I told in detail. How Revel had clutched his wound so carefully and how the blood had leaked between his fingers. I told of the women’s torn dresses. I knew now what that meant. I lied about some things. I said Perseverance had died. Even as I said it, I wanted to bite my tongue to keep it from being true. The scribe asked me no questions, so I meandered through my story, sometimes going back to an earlier event. Sometimes I wept, recalling how Per stepped over the bodies in the stable. I said that I’d hidden the children in a storeroom rather than telling of the secret passages. I so drew out my tale that the sunlight from the high windows had gone from white to yellow and still I was telling of how they had come to raid my home. My story, I knew, was the only thing I had that they wanted. I had to find a way to use it to my advantage.

  At one point, I was hoarse from both weeping and talking. The scribe motioned to the guard who had remained with us and asked that water be brought for me. And a damp cloth for my face and nose. I thought this kind of him.

  But if you get the chance to kill him and escape, you must not hesitate.

  I caught my breath a little. Shouldn’t I try to make them send me home before I began killing people and trying to escape?

  You can wait a very long time for them to give you your fr
eedom. Taking it might be faster.

  The water and the damp cloth arrived. I took advantage of both. And then I talked on. I had to talk about Vindeliar’s magic. If I didn’t, none of my story made sense. At Vindeliar’s name, Nopet’s upper lip curled briefly to show his tiny teeth. Then he wrote, and kept on recording every word I spoke. The sunlight still came in, but it felt to me as if it was weaker and I wondered how many hours had passed.

  When Capra came back Symphe was with her. And a moment later, Fellowdy and Coultrie came into the room. Coultrie’s white cosmetics looked almost real, as if he had freshened them recently. Symphe scowled and said, ‘You put a scribe to taking down her tale without asking us. Surely we should have been informed and allowed to listen in.’

  Capra turned to her slowly. She smiled. ‘As you informed me before you allowed Dwalia to arrange Beloved’s escape? As I recall, you did not include me in the planning of that.’

  ‘And I have apologized for that lapse. Repeatedly.’ Symphe bit each word off as if she wished to spit them at Capra.

  ‘Ah, yes. A nicety I should emulate. Dear Symphe, I apologize that I did not tell you that this girl is a veritable font of information about Dwalia’s misdeeds. Let me choose one, at random. Let me see … Ah. Do you recall Alaria? Alaria, trained by me in the interpretation of dreams? Alaria, as I recall, was a favourite of yours, Fellowdy. Did you know that Lingstra Dwalia sold her into slavery? In the city of Chalced, the capital of the country also named Chalced. She was sold to buy passage on a ship. For so little Bee told me. And I went straight away and I wrung confirmation of that from Vindeliar today. And I look forward to confirming more of her story with each passing session.’

  She gestured the scribe away, turned to the first page in his tidy stack and ran her eyes over it swiftly. She glanced at me. ‘And where was your father, Bee, on the day Dwalia came to your home?’

  No time to think, no time to weigh what Dwalia would have known and might have told her. ‘He went to the big city,’ I said.

  ‘Was that after he killed the man with the dog? And stabbed Beloved in the belly?’

  The fog-man had been in Oaksbywater that day. Standing between the shops, in an alley no one wanted to enter. The fog-man I came to know as Vindeliar. I could not speak.

  I watched them. They all looked at me. Then their eyes went to the scribe and his tidy stack of pages on the table between us. Then the men looked back at Capra, but Symphe stared at me. Her lips looked redder or perhaps the rest of her was paler. After a time, she realized I was staring back at her. She smiled at me in a nasty way and I dropped my eyes, wishing I hadn’t stared. She spoke. ‘And what else have you told our scribe, little Bee?’

  I glanced a Capra, wondering if I should answer.

  ‘I spoke to you!’ Symphe said sharply.

  I looked from one to another but found no help anywhere. Capra’s face was icy triumph. I gathered breath. ‘I told of the night Dwalia and Duke Ellik came to my home and ruined my life. I told how they killed people and burned the stable and kidnapped me.’

  ‘Indeed,’ Fellowdy said, as if he doubted every word I’d said.

  Symphe’s voice was sour as she said, ‘I shall want those pages tonight, scribe.’

  ‘No.’ Capra’s denial was flat. ‘I will read them first. I brought her here and organized the scribe. It is my right to read them first.’

  Symphe turned to the scribe. ‘Then make a copy for me. No, scribe, produce three copies, so that each of us may have one to read tonight.’

  Now it was the scribe’s turn to look from face to face, his jutting eyes bulging even more. His wavering hand indicated the stack of pages. ‘But …’ he began faintly.

  ‘Do not be ridiculous. You know very well he could not produce copies so swiftly. You shall have them tomorrow. I claim the pages for tonight.’ Capra spoke decisively. She smiled around at them. ‘And I shall be taking care of this dear child for the night, too.’

  ‘No.’ They spoke as one. Fellowdy was shaking his head. Coultrie looked vaguely alarmed and Symphe said, ‘She goes back into the cell, under the Lock of Four. We agreed. No one is to have access to her without the consent of all. This interrogation of her already violates the agreement.’

  ‘Child, did the scribe ask any questions of you?’

  Yes. Don’t say that. ‘You told him not to.’

  ‘There. You heard it from her. There was no interrogation. I simply gave her the opportunity to tell her tale.’ She turned to me, her mouth kind and her eyes cold. ‘Little child, I fear I must walk you back to a cell tonight, instead of to the lovely little cottage I promised you. I am so sorry. But as you see, these three have outvoted me, and we must give way to them.’ She turned the smile back on them and I saw Symphe’s upper lip lift in a cat’s snarl. Did she think I had just been won over to Capra’s side? Perhaps if I had not endured those months with Dwalia and been taught so thoroughly to distrust, I might have been.

  I stood up, taking my broken candle and then stooped to get the hated sandals as well

  ‘What do you have there?’ Coultrie demanded sharply.

  Capra said nothing.

  ‘Sandals,’ I said quietly. ‘They hurt my feet so I took them off.’

  ‘No. The other.’

  ‘A candle that my mother made.’ Without intending to, I lifted the two broken halves to my breast and held them protectively.

  ‘A candle,’ Capra added smugly. ‘The child arrives with a candle.’

  A silence fell. I wondered what that pause signified, for it was fraught with something. Respect? Dread?

  Fellowdy spoke. ‘One candle in two pieces. Not three, nor four?’

  ‘You are thinking of the Destroyer dreams?’ Coultrie was shocked.

  ‘Be silent!’ Symphe snapped at him.

  ‘It’s a bit too late for silence,’ Capra said. ‘It was probably too late by spring, when the dreams of the Destroyer began falling like late snowflakes. Right after Lingstra Dwalia disturbed a hornets’ nest by provoking a finished Catalyst. When she shifted the futures by putting his prophet into conjunction with him again. And stealing his child.’ Her eyes swept over them. ‘Why did he have the power to make such changes? Because you gave Beloved back to him. You drove him to FitzChivalry’s door. You reunited the Prophet with a powerful Catalyst. You restored the power of the Unexpected Son. Perhaps creating the Destroyer he will undoubtedly send to us.’

  ‘What are you talking about?’ Fellowdy demanded, his voice going high.

  ‘Why are you speaking of these things in front of this child?’ Symphe exploded.

  ‘Do you think I am saying things she doesn’t already know?’

  I did and I didn’t know what she was talking about. I kept my eyes low. Let them read nothing there.

  ‘You three triggered this.’ Capra spoke each separate word of her accusation coldly. ‘With your stupidity and greed and a thirst for vengeance! As if vengeance ever bore anything but bitter fruit. And now I think we had best put her back in her cell, as that is what you think will keep us safe. As for me, I think I shall be up all night with an army of scribes, reading what she has written and studying the dreams and trying to find a path that does not end in destruction for all of us!’ She smiled like a smug cat. ‘And reviewing my own dreams. In my personal records.’

  ‘This is highly inappropriate!’ Symphe insisted.

  ‘No. What you did was extremely dangerous, and as usual, I am the one who must spring to our defence.’ Capra reached into the bosom of her shirt and drew out a key. She pulled it free, snapping the fine silver chain that had held it, and almost threw it at her guard. ‘Confine the child and then return the key to me. I do not have time to waste on locking up the harbinger of the storm. I must prepare for the storm itself. One that I have long seen coming!’

  The guard looked stunned. He caught the key and stared at it as if she had thrown him a scorpion. ‘This breaks all traditions!’ Symphe shrieked. ‘None of the Four can surrender a
key to another’s use!’

  ‘It broke tradition when you lied to me and aided Dwalia in releasing Beloved. I warned all of you, for so many years, about how dangerous he was. Well, dead or alive, he threatens us again!’

  She turned, snatched up the scribe’s pages and raged away as if she were the storm she had warned them about. I kept my eyes lowered, watching them only through my eyelashes. Coultrie reached down. He had a pocket somewhere in those loose trousers for he drew out a key on a thick brass chain and unclipped it. He handed it to the twice-stunned guard. ‘I go to help Capra, for I fear she is right. I never should have listened to you two. This may be the end of us.’

  He did not storm off but went like a shamed dog, head down and shoulders hunched. Fellowdy and Symphe looked at one another. And then Symphe snapped at the guard, ‘Well, take charge of her! Do you imagine I will entrust you with my key? Let us lock her up and then I suppose I must go join Capra and Coultrie, to be sure I get the whole truth. Girl! Move.’

  And move I did, with the guard’s big hand on my shoulder, pushing me along. He was tall and long-legged, and more than once I stumbled as we left that room and went through yet more corridors and up a different flight of stairs. This time, we entered the hall of cells from the opposite end. I could get a glimpse of the man who owned the black hands and rich voice. He was sitting on his bed, his hands folded loosely between his knees. His cell was kinder than mine. It had a little table, a small rug, and a real bed, with blankets. As I passed, he lifted his head and smiled. His eyes were black, as gleaming a black as the rest of him. He caught my gaze as if he had been waiting for me to pass, but said not a word.

  They locked me in, the guard fumbling a bit with the two keys, and then they left me. I sat down on my bed and wondered what would next befall me.

  TWENTY-SIX

  * * *

 
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