Assassins fate, p.64
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       Assassin's Fate, p.64

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

  She occupied a space in the world. Then she didn’t. I felt the world close up around where she had been. The part of her that had been a living thing became a prelude to earth. Every future that might have sprung from Dwalia living suddenly shrivelled and vanished from the great tapestry of the future. Other gleaming threads writhed in to take their places. They were the futures made possible by her death at this moment. The moment she stopped living, her body began to collapse into something else. I stared at that sack of flesh, wondering how it had held her, and what exactly Dwalia had been. Not the thing that was left behind.

  So. That was death. I considered that as I gathered up the brass ring of keys and then Symphe’s knife.

  I looked at Vindeliar. Tremors were now running over him, jiggling his cheeks and making his eyeballs twitch. I thought of ending him quickly and decided I wouldn’t. I was still coming to an awareness of what I had done to Dwalia. And to Symphe? I had not felt her death that way. Was it because I’d had a small tie to Dwalia from attempting to manipulate her? Or was it the taint of serpent spit in my flesh? I feared what I might feel if I killed Vindeliar, for we had had a bond of sorts. I left him to die by himself.

  Symphe had never locked the cell door. I walked out of it, thought for a moment, and then tossed the brass ring of keys to the floor. I left that door closed but unlocked. Let them puzzle about that.

  My mind moved faster than the wind before a squall. I could flee. They would hunt me through the halls and rooms. And they would find me, for I did not know any way to escape from it. They would find me with Symphe’s knife and her keys, they would see the stains of oil and serpent slime on my clothes. They would know me for what I was. An assassin, like my father before me. The Destroyer from their dreams. They would find me and they would kill me.

  I didn’t want to die.

  Wolf Father spoke. For now, hide your true self. Be what they think you are.

  My true self? I handled that thought reluctantly.

  What they have made you. He sounded both sad and proud. The feather hammered into a blade.

  I hurried now for I could not tell how much time had passed. I left the cell and the ugly table and foul smell behind me. I closed the door. I went back the way we had come. When I reached the main floor I recalled carefully how Capra had led me through the stronghold. I returned to the washing courts and was pleased to find clean garments identical to the ones that I had soiled still hanging on the drying lines. I took what I needed and respaced the hanging garments on the laundry lines to cover up my theft. I splashed my hands and feet clean and dried them on my dirty clothes. I rolled my soiled garments up into as small a bundle as I could manage and buried them in one of the flowerbeds. Then I climbed the stairs to the cells where they had held me. I moved as softly as a ghost as I opened the door and entered the hall. The lamps were out and only the stars and moon looked down on me. The guard was nowhere in sight. Doubtless that was Symphe’s arrangement but now it worked to my advantage. I filled my thoughts with sleepiness and slipped past the few occupied cells. No one stirred. Fitting and turning each leashed key was more difficult than I had expected. I had not realized there would be a set order to them. Luck aided me on my third try. I entered and closed the door as quietly as I could manage. It was harder to lock it from inside and I was sweating before I discovered that the order of the keys to lock was the opposite of unlocking them.

  I had both a set of keys and a dagger to hide in my sparsely furnished cell. Inside the thin mattress was my only option. I cut the seam just enough to allow me to insert both. I lay down on the mattress and closed my eyes. I could not find the way to sleep. The serpent spit magic coiled strangely through my body and my mind. I could not calm myself.

  ‘So. No Symphe.’

  The black voice reached me quietly from the next cell. I held my breath. He would think I was asleep.

  ‘You killed then. I am so sorry.’

  I closed my eyes and was very still. The serpent magic twisted through me like a parasite in my belly. I felt it mingling with my Farseer magic. For a terrifying instant, I could feel Prilkop in the cell next to me. I knew there were six other prisoners on this level, and that one of them was pregnant. I felt my magic go reaching, reaching, reaching … I slammed my mind shut. If I reached out, who might reach in? I doubted Vindeliar would be the only one they had dosed with serpent spit. I would be small and hard as a nut. I would be still as a stone. I made all things still within me. To my surprise, tears still leaked through my lashes and trickled down the side of my face. I did not weep for Symphe or Dwalia.

  I wept for fear of what I had become.

  TWENTY-EIGHT

  * * *

  Unsafe Harbour

  This dream does not belong here. It isn’t an important dream, except to me. I only write it down here because I want to keep it forever, for myself.

  In the dream, I am working in the herb garden with my mother. The sky is blue and the sun is out, but it is early in the day, so it is pleasantly warm, not hot. We crawl along the rows on each side of her lavender beds. She has strong hands. When she grips a weed and pulls, it comes up with a long white root. I am trying to help her weed, but I am just pulling off the top leaves. She stops me and gives me a little trowel. ‘It is worse than useless to do things halfway, Bee. For then you think the work is done, but someone must come behind you later to do it all over again. Even if you must work much harder and get less done, it is better to do the whole task the first time.’ Then she showed me how to push the trowel into the earth and pop up the weed I was not strong enough to pull.

  I woke up with the sound of her voice in my ears. It was so real, but the peculiar part is that even though it was exactly something my mother would say to me, I have no memory of such a day. I have drawn here my mother’s hands, strong and brown, as she draws the weed from the earth, root and all.

  Bee Farseer’s dream journal

  My foolish choice, often made, is that I do not sleep well and long on the night before a momentous task. A harsh dream of a rabbit screaming in a trap stirred me to groggy awareness. The feel of the ship had changed. Sometime in the night we had anchored. I’d slept through that?

  I’d finally mastered the art of getting out of a hammock, and even in the dark I managed it well enough. I could hear Lant’s snoring and Per’s childish breathing. My head still felt heavy with sleep and I had no idea of how much time had passed. The belowdecks lantern did not cast light so much as destroy the total darkness. I groped for my boots, pulled them on, and found the ladder to the deck by touch. I yawned, trying to waken myself more fully. I felt dulled and deadened.

  On the horizon, there was a promise of light to come. I rubbed my eyes, my body still protesting at being awake. I drifted aft and avoided Althea and Brashen standing close together, looking out not at the city but at the sea outside the harbour. I found my own quiet place on the railing and stared at Clerres as light grew in the sky. The city was even prettier by dawn, a place of manicured greenery and tidy dwellings of pink and pale green and sky blue. I watched the city begin to awaken. I smelled the elusive fragrance of fresh baked bread, and watched several small fishing vessels leave the harbour. I saw the tiny figures of a man and donkey cart descend from the gentle hills to the awakening city. There was only one large ship in the harbour, her figurehead a carved bouquet. So peaceful. My body longed for more sleep. I blinked my eyes, feeling as if I had dozed off standing there.

  Our figurehead was as still as if he were truly made of wood. My youthful face stared toward the harbour city and the surrounding low hills. All so peaceful. But likely today I would bloody my hands. If I had my will, people would die. I would do whatever I must to regain my child. I ventured a tendril of Skill. Bee? Da’s here. I’m coming to find you and take you home.

  I felt no response from her, but I remained as I was, my mind open and waiting for her. But it was not Bee who reached me. Thin as a thread, I felt Dutiful’s touch. Even more faintly, Nettl
e’s. And then, like a hawser following a messenger line, Thick steadied them. He still had the power. Old and achy and grumpy at being awakened so early, he still reached across the distance and clasped minds with me.

  Hello Grandfather!

  For a moment, Dutiful’s greeting made no sense. Then it did. The child is born?

  Nettle’s Skilling was steady but her exhaustion leaked through. A girl. Queen Elliania is delighted. She has asked for the privilege of naming her. Riddle and I agreed. Hope. Her name is Hope.

  Hope. I said the name and felt its virtue rise within me. I did not need to Skill words to my daughter. All I felt for her and my new granddaughter flooded through our connection. I felt a rush of gooseflesh over my body. Hope, I said again, and felt it.

  And there is more news! This was Dutiful, as impatient as a child to share something. My queen has been keeping a secret until she felt it was safe to say it. She goes with child, Fitz. Against all odds, I will be a father again. And she has already chosen a name. Boy or girl, our child will be Promise.

  Tears stung my eyes and every hair on my body stood up. His joy surged through all the distance to lift my heart even higher.

  Yes. Babies. Babies everywhere. And we all must wake up so, so early to talk about them. There was no mistaking Thick’s opinion that all of this could have waited for later in the day. I pitied the little man for his aching bones.

  Waken the cooks! Command a joyful feast! Pink sugar-cakes, gingerbread, and those little spiced meat pies to celebrate! I suggested.

  Yes! I felt Thick’s spirits lift at the prospect. And the little balls of dough cooked in fat, with cherries inside! And brown ale!

  I cannot be there, Thick, old friend, so perhaps you will set the menu to celebrate my grandchild! And eat my share of it for me?

  I can do that. More cautiously, Can I try holding her?

  I held my breath. With Nettle’s ears, I heard Riddle’s reply. ‘Of course you can! Two hands, Thick, just like for a puppy. No, hold her close to your body. So she feels safe in your strong arms.’

  She is warm, like a puppy! And she smells like a new puppy! You are safe with me, baby. She’s looking at me. Look at her looking at me!

  Elliania’s voice, fainter to my senses. ‘She will grow up trusting you.’

  I wish I could be there. My heart rode with the thought.

  Do not worry, Fitz. I will be her grandfather until you get home.

  Thick’s offer was so sincere that all I could do was let him feel my gratitude. It came to me that perhaps my odd old friend would be a better grandfather than I could be.

  Where are you now? Dutiful asked.

  Anchored just outside the harbour of Clerres. Today I go after Bee.

  Emotions, too many to name, simmered in a stew of dread and hope. Be careful, Nettle breathed from far, far away.

  Be ruthless. Kill them all and bring their city down around their ears. Bring our Bee home to us! This from Dutiful. He looked down at Nettle’s little daughter, then over at the slight swell of Elliania’s belly. His father’s fury awoke. Destroy the Servants. Make them wish they had never heard the word Farseer!

  At his naming of me, something huge stirred and rose from the depths of the Skill-current. It felt like nothing I had ever experienced before. Nettle, Dutiful and Thick all recoiled. WALLS! I cautioned them all, but they were already gone. As Thick lost his focus, they had vanished like mist in the morning, leaving me alone in a rising mire of foreign magic—a magic that felt repugnant and wrong, tarnished and foul, as if a child hissed like a snake. Thick and slimy, it rose around me. But my careless moment of reaching out had opened a door into me. And that awareness flowed in and touched me.

  It was a sloppy outpouring of thoughts. I held myself still and small, tight and hard as a nut. I had been taught to use the Skill with purpose and discipline, targeting my thoughts as one might lunge with a sword to skewer an opponent. This was a formless push. There was great strength behind it but no intent. Like having a plough horse lean against you inside a stall. I held still and did not push back.

  Farseer. That name. He groped after me. I was breathlessly still. I feel you. You are close, aren’t you? And something is with you. What is that? Not a man. The flow of thick magic touched Paragon. The ship jolted to awareness and a shudder ran through the deck.

  Touch me not! The ship ordered it, and I felt the ship’s unease before Paragon put up a wall of his own, the same defence he used to keep his thoughts private from me.

  The awareness fumbled at him fruitlessly, then came back to me. His power wrapped me and I was tumbled and shaken as if by a random wave. I could raise no wall against him, for he was already within my mind. His power terrified me, but he seemed to have no idea how to use it. He bumbled blindly in darkness, unable to seize me. I held my stillness and was brusquely dropped as something else caught his attention. I heard the voice that distracted him.

  ‘Vindeliar, awake. I have questions for you.’ Then a horrified whisper. ‘What have you done? Symphe! Symphe, oh, no, she’s dead! What have you done, you wretch? Dwalia, too? Killed your mistress too?’

  Nothing! I did not kill them! No one listens to me. You come here, over and over, to hurt me, to make me say things that you won’t believe! You are here to hurt me again, aren’t you, Coultrie? You like to hurt me!’ Fear hit me a hammer blow that paralysed me. But it was followed by a surging fury, an outraged hatred, and underlying it in a sick wave a youngster’s hurt at being abandoned. He blasted it out. Dwalia is dead! Symphe is dead! You hurt me and hurt me, and I told you Bee was bad and had magic and would do terrible things, but you only said I was lying and hurt me more! Now they are dead, and you come to hurt me again! Well, I will hurt you now!

  He did not aim it at me. If he had, I would have screamed as loud as Coultrie. I still fell helplessly to Paragon’s deck as a sidewash of agony hit me. I knew them for what they were. Hot pincers, chains that held me off my feet, tiny blades that wandered over my flesh. I felt him realize his power.

  No screaming! He silenced his target. He was not a swift thinker, but with strength such as he had, it might not matter. He pondered as slowly as an ox-cart going up a steep hill. I felt his childish glee as he realized his power. Coultrie. Now you love me. You love me more than anything. You are so sad I was hurt. Unchain me! You will get me a healer and bring me food. Good food, like the little Whites in the cottages get! You will take me out of here, to a nice place with a soft bed. And you will tell Capra and Fellowdy that all I told them is true. Bee has magic and Bee did this. Bee killed Symphe and Dwalia.

  I felt a Skill-like surge of utter belief that he forced onto someone else. I had no doubt of the truth he told. He drenched me with certainty until I feared that it would be Skill-seared into me. For one terrible instant, I knew that Bee was dangerous, shared his total conviction that she must die.

  Make them believe me! I tried to warn you before but no one listened to me. Tell them a Farseer is near! He talks of killing all of us, of destroying all Clerres. And there are dragons in the harbour. I felt them! I almost saw them. Tell them that! But get me food first.

  Pulling free of that entity was like trying to wallow out of a bog. His awareness sucked at me the way mud drags off a man’s boots and holds him fast. I struggled against a strength that was easily the equal of Thick’s at his finest. His mind gripped mine in a disgusting embrace, and suddenly he was peering out of my eyes, smelling and touching and tasting all that I did. I could not raise my walls, and the more I retreated into myself, the more of my senses he claimed as territory. He was on the verge of seizing control of my body and will.

  I flung myself at him. He had not expected an attack. Had he no walls? He did not. He had widened the bridge between us; I charged over it. I claimed his vision and his other senses. I stared up at a fellow with his face disguised in white paint and powder, clad all in green the colour of swamp slime. I was lying on a cold stone floor, with the chill bite of a metal collar around
my neck. My hands were bloody with fresh small cuts. I was chilled through and aching, with swollen eyes and bruises all over my body. Trivial injuries but I cherished each one as a wrong done to me by my brother. All of this was my brother’s fault and now I hated my brother.

  In disdain, I peeled my awareness from his. He clutched at me, refusing to let me escape. I let him enjoy how I despised his weakness. None of his injuries would have disabled a warrior. The Fool had endured far worse. His sense of injured self-righteousness weakened him. He was soft and as full of self-pity as a boil is full of pus.

  ‘I have suffered!’ Somewhere he spoke the words aloud. He found my dismissal of his injuries insulting. So easy to distract him.

  ‘Vindeliar?’ I heard someone plead, ‘Speak to me. What happened here?’

  His wrists were raw from shackles. I chose that pain and focused on it. His hands had little cuts all over them. I brought their stinging to his consciousness. I found an aching, loosened tooth and drove that pain to the front of his mind. He began to make helpless noises. I felt him flapping his hands, and as he paid more attention to his little pains, he built them up for himself. I suddenly snapped his jaws shut on his tongue, hard enough to bloody it. He gave a shriek, as much at my power over him as at the pain. I wanted to do more. I wanted to kill him. I let him know that, and in his instant of panic, he pushed me away from him. I surged back into my own body and flung up my walls. Walls tight, body curled into a tight defensive ball. I was panting as if I’d done an axe bout with Burrich.

  ‘Prince FitzChivalry? Fitz? Fitz!’

  I opened my eyes to Brashen crouched over me. Fear and relief warred on his face. ‘Are you all right?’ In a lower voice, ‘What did Paragon do to you?’

  I was coiled in a ball on the deck. The strengthening day around us was warm but my clothes were clammy and clung to me with cold sweat. Brashen held his hand out to me and I clutched his forearm and pulled myself upright. ‘Not the ship,’ I gasped.
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