Assassins fate, p.65
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       Assassin's Fate, p.65
 

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

  ‘Something much darker. And stronger.’

  ‘Come to my stateroom. You look as if you could use a drink and I’ve news.’

  I shook my head. ‘I need to gather my friends. We must go ashore, as soon as possible. Today I must find my child. They are going to kill her!’

  He clapped a steadying hand to my shoulder. ‘Get control. You’ve had a terrible dream. You need to let go of it and face the day.’

  I started to shake free of his misplaced sympathy but his next words froze me.

  ‘I’ve bad news for you and it’s all real. Amber is missing.’

  ‘What? Overboard?’

  He scowled. ‘Not in the way you think. We anchored late last night. Both Althea and I went to get some sleep. In the night, some of the crew took a ship’s boat and went ashore, eager to see the town they’d heard tales about. Kennitsson among them, and Boy-O, too.’ He strangled and then swallowed his anger. ‘Did you know of that plan?’ It was almost an accusation.

  ‘No! And you think Amber went with them?’

  ‘Yes! She who should have known better as much as Boy-O. I am … baffled, FitzChivalry. They talk as if she instigated it. She went garbed as a common sailor, promising to show them the rowdiest tavern they could imagine, food beyond compare, and with men and women trained to satisfy every appetite.’ He shook his head. ‘Does that seem like her to you? To incite a mutiny on the eve of this rescue she claims is so important?’

  I heard Althea shouting orders, and Ant dashed past me with Per not far behind. I stepped out of the way and cut past Trell’s confusion. ‘How did she go missing?’

  ‘The crew had agreed to return before dawn. When they gathered to leave, she could not be found. They searched. They returned a short time ago, without her. I came to tell you and found you here.’

  I realized the ship was in motion. Again. How dazed had I been as I sprawled on the deck? How long unaware? I rubbed my eyes roughly, scratched my face and then gave my head a shake. None of it helped dispel the fog, and I suddenly recognized what I was feeling. ‘The tea. He put it in the tea last night,’ I said.

  ‘What?’

  ‘It doesn’t matter. How quickly can I go ashore?’

  ‘As soon as we anchor, we’ll put a boat over the side for you.’ He shook his head. ‘I’m angrier at my son than I’ve ever been. He claims his intention was to be sure they all returned. But he should have come to me! And Amber? I feel betrayed and yet full of fear for her. Blind and alone. Why would she have wandered off?’

  I had a darker fear, that she had been recognized and taken. ‘I don’t know. I must get ashore as soon as possible.’

  ‘I’ll be glad to help you do that,’ he said, and in his voice I heard his ardent wish to be done with me and all the trouble I’d brought aboard his vessel. I could not blame him. He strode away and I was left trying to find my wits. I leaned on the railing and took deep breaths. It was all too much. The Fool had drugged me last night. My fountaining joy at Nettle’s news, and my fear of the terrifying presence I had felt, dimmed.

  She planned this. She made it happen.

  Paragon did not speak aloud. His message was a whisper in my mind.

  Why?

  I do not know. But now I understand her tales from last night. Be careful! he charged me and suddenly faded from my mind. I felt nothing from the entity that had touched both of us but tightened my walls anyway. Vindeliar. I knew his name now, and his touch. And he would die.

  I had seen Per. I discovered that Lant was part of the crew manoeuvring the ship into the harbour. When I knocked loudly on the door of Amber’s room, there was no response. I opened it to stillness. Spark was sprawled in her bunk. I shook her and she lifted her head. ‘I feel terrible,’ she slurred.

  ‘We were drugged. By Amber. Probably with a powder from my own kit.’ I talked as I dressed in the prepared clothes.

  She swung her feet over the edge of the bunk and sat with her face buried in her hands. ‘Why?’

  ‘Because she thinks she has a better chance to rescue Bee than I do. What did she take?’

  Spark peered around groggily. ‘Not her granny disguise. The trousers I’d made for Per. They’ll be short on her. A hat.’ She gestured at pots of cosmetics. ‘She disguised how pale she is.’ She took a deeper breath and sat up straighter. ‘It’s hard to tell. Some of your poisons, I think. One of mine. Is the butterfly cloak gone?’

  It was.

  Spark began going through an assortment of small packets next to her ‘fair maiden about to be wed’ disguise.

  ‘Did she take any of that?’

  ‘Not that I can see.’ She held out a hand to me. There was a pouch and a small paper. ‘Cindin or carris seed. You get first choice.’

  I took the carris seed. I well knew how that affected me. ‘Where did you get this?’

  ‘Carris seed from Chade. Cindin from Prince Kennitsson.’

  I ransacked my memory. ‘It gives stamina. May cause arousal in some. And may abort a baby.’

  She gave me a look. ‘He wanted to share it with me. I palmed it.’

  ‘Nice fellow,’ I said, feeling strangely disappointed in him.

  ‘He is. He told me what it would do. We were both tired on the dog-watch. It wasn’t for romance, only for stamina.’

  ‘Mm.’ I opened the pouch of carris seed, gauged how much I needed, poured it into my hand and tossed it into my mouth. I ground the small seeds between my teeth, and the spicy flavour flooded out. Almost immediately my head felt clearer. I watched Spark put the stick of cindin in her cheek against her gum. ‘Dangerous habit,’ I warned her.

  ‘If it becomes a habit. It won’t.’ She gave me a sour smile. ‘Likely we’ll both be dead before that can happen. Are you keeping that carris seed?’

  ‘If I may.’

  She nodded and resumed her survey of what remained in the room. I began setting the firepots into the belt she had made. She watched me with an eagle’s gaze. ‘Remember which fuse is which. Blue is slow. Chade has greatly refined those since you last used one. They are much more reliable and powerful. He is …’ She lifted a hand suddenly to her lips. ‘He was so proud of them,’ she corrected herself and I saw her eyes flood.

  ‘I’ll use them well,’ I promised her.

  A moment later she announced, ‘The flame-jewel bracelet is gone!’

  ‘I’m not surprised. The fire-brick?’

  ‘It’s here. And here’s a gentlemanly little shoulder bag I sewed for you yesterday. The brick will fit nicely in the bottom.’

  ‘Thank you.’ It suddenly felt companionable and right to be assembling my assassin’s gear with a fellow killer. I tucked the fire-brick in the bag. It held it nicely upright. I removed one of the exploding pots from the harness and used a scarf to settle it on the fire-brick. A grease poison, and an extra knife. She watched me.

  ‘Never carry all your supplies in one place,’ she guessed, and I nodded at Chade’s old wisdom. I watched her putting her picks into a cuff seam and said, ‘I’m a grandfather. Nettle Skilled to me this morning.’

  ‘Girl or boy?’ she asked without looking up.

  ‘A girl.’

  ‘Chade would have been a great-uncle? No, a great-great uncle.’

  ‘Something like that.’ The carris seed was bringing the morning into sharper focus. I would have blurted all my news out to the Fool. I weighed and measured what I knew before I spoke to Spark. How much would she understand? How much would she believe? ‘Nettle Skilled the news to me. And then, I sensed something else. Someone else. Vindeliar.’

  She was horrified. ‘The man who made everyone forget at Withywoods. He Skilled to you?’

  ‘No. Yes. It was like Skill but … clumsier. And very powerful. As an ox is to a horse.’ Her eyes were getting wider. I told her the worst thing of all as it finally settled into my brain. ‘I think he felt me. And Paragon. I think he knows we are coming.’

  Her expression looked as sick as I felt at that thought. I spoke qui
etly. ‘Pass me the tubes of Silver.’ It was unlikely I would do something so drastic. Very unlikely I would use them.

  She moved tossed clothing, looking for them. ‘All our plans that we made … that was all a ruse? All the work I did?’

  ‘I consider it likely.’

  I heard her catch her breath. ‘Fitz. There’s only one here. She’s taken a tube of Silver with her.’

  TWENTY-NINE

  * * *

  Accusations

  I was troubled beyond telling when I discovered Beloved had been taken from the cell beside mine. Had he died or been murdered, had he escaped or been freed? No one would allow me to ask those questions, let alone give me answers to them. To my cell came luriks trained as healers, and they treated the injuries the torturers had given me, but told me nothing of Beloved. They fed me nutritious food, and when I was healed they cautioned me to silence and released me to live among the luriks at Clerres. No one spoke of Beloved and I dared not ask anything. He faded like an insignificant dream, like the ripples from a tossed stone that spread, travel and are gone.

  For a time, they suffered me to continue to live in one of the cottages, and to have access to the youngest Whites. Some of them were pathetic little things, frail of body and feeble of mind, skin white as snow and full of dreams they could barely enunciate. I did what I could with them. Others were keen enough in their thoughts and well able to grasp what I told them of the outside world.

  As season after season passed, they grew to prefer my company, and to listen to what I taught them. It distressed me to see the very young girls going with child. I spoke of this to them, and tried to counsel them that this was not the way for men and women to conduct themselves. I spoke often of our duty to the greater world. The lingstras and collators heard of my counsels. Some came to speak with me.

  Then the Four sent their guards. They were not unkind. They were not kind. They confined me as if I were a bullock, of little use now but too valuable to destroy. They took from my cottage the dreams I had recorded. They sought to discuss them with me, to add them to their knowledge. I refused to share my insights. But they must have seen how often the Destroyer figured in my dreams.

  I was placed in a cell on the rooftop, given a comfortable bed, adequate food, pen and ink and paper for my dreams. I was left alone. Those who tended me were counselled not to speak to me.

  The writings of Prilkop the Black

  I awoke on the straw mattress in my cell from a foul dream of Vindeliar standing over me, gloating. ‘You will die today,’ he promised me, and I jerked from sleep to wary wakefulness. My walls were slammed tight before I even opened my eyes. I should have made sure of him last night, I decided. It seemed impossible to me that he could be alive after the blow I had dealt him, but perhaps he was stronger than I thought. Perhaps. My heart leapt as I suddenly worried that there might be others like him. I should have made sure of his death. Next time, I promised myself grimly. For if he lived, I was certain that I would encounter him again.

  And if he lived, he would tell the others who had killed Symphe and Dwalia. That made my heart beat faster. Had I left any proof of my guilt behind? The loose cuffs of my blouse covered my hands. I pushed them back and examined my palm. The cut was now a fine white seam. It did not look as if it had happened last night. I poked at the marks on my tough soles. A twinge of pain. I sent more healing to them and they eased. I donned the sandals, experimenting with the straps until they didn’t strangle my feet. I paced around my cell, practising walking without limping or wincing. It was not easy. Feet remember pain. I thought of the filth and serpent spit I had trodden in. Would the closed cuts become infected? I had no way of knowing. I sat down on the edge of my bunk and waited.

  The keeper of the cells came carrying her tray of food-bowls and then returned with jugs of water. The food was neither good nor bad. The vegetables were cooked and the fish was smoked. It was adequate in both type and amount. She moved as calmly as she always did, spoke as little, and the occupants of the other cells were as subdued as ever. Except for my cuts, the faint smell of the oil on my hands and smoke in my hair, the previous night might have been a dream. I said nothing but tension built inside me. How long before someone noticed that Symphe was missing? How long before someone took food and water to Dwalia’s cell and discovered the bodies?

  The keys and the knife were two lumps in my thin mattress. I avoided sitting on them and tried to imagine how I would behave today if last night had never happened. What if I had slept the night through and awakened to another long day in my cell? What would I feel, how would I think? I must be that girl today. I hoped Prilkop would not betray me. I did not think he would, but scarcely knew why I had that trust in him. He had seemed so sad for me.

  I’d killed last night.

  I felt every muscle in my body tighten and then go loose. I thought I might faint. No. I could not and must not think of that. I’d done what I had to do. Now as I waited for the murder to be discovered, I had to wait as if I were a girl expecting to spend the day talking to a scribe. I had to be the girl who hoped for her own little cottage and nice things to eat. I practised hopeful smiles. They felt like grimaces.

  I did not wait long. I heard the doors open and lay down on my mattress, feigning sleep. I heard footsteps. More than two people were coming. But I did not move nor open my eyes until Capra said, ‘Bee. Get up.’

  I moved slowly, rubbing my eyes, looking at them through my fingers. Capra was standing at the cell door, looking regal in her long gown of deep blue. She was breathing through her nose, as if some strong emotion raged in her. There were four guards with her, and Fellowdy and Coultrie stood behind them. I did not recognize Coultrie at first for his white cosmetics were ruined. Little remained of them except at his hairline and in the lines of his face. He was weeping and his extravagant green sleeves were smeared with white paint and tears.

  I looked from one to another in confusion. Then I smiled at Capra hopefully. ‘Are we going out again today? Am I going to tell you more of my story so it can be written down?’ I stood, my smile covering how I gritted my teeth against the pain of my sore feet, and came to the barred door.

  A fake smile bent Capra’s mouth. ‘You are coming with us. But not to talk to a scribe today.’ She put her hand on the barred door and tried it against the locks. It did not move. She half-turned to Fellowdy and Coultrie. ‘Can you see how ridiculous this is? Look at her. Scrawny. Uneducated. Childish. And behind a Lock of Four.’ She handed a guard a key. ‘Here is mine.’ She presented another key to him. ‘And here is Symphe’s. It was in her pocket.’ It dangled on its elaborate fob.

  The guard inserted and turned them. Coultrie shouldered past Capra to seize the bars of my door. He shook it and I was glad it was still half locked. His face was livid with rage. ‘She is wicked! Vindeliar told me all she has done to him. She killed Symphe and then she killed Dwalia! She stunned Vindeliar with her magic!’ He pointed a shaking finger at me. ‘You cannot deceive me. I have spoken with Vindeliar myself! I know he speaks truth. When Capra and Fellowdy speak to him, they will know, too! They will give you the slow death you deserve!’

  ‘Be silent, you moron!’ Capra snapped at him. ‘Your keys, both of you! Present them. And then we take her to a place where this can be done more privately.’

  Coultrie pulled a chain and then a key from around his neck. He stared at me with complete hatred as he stuffed it into the lock and turned it. His conviction rattled me, and then I knew. The serpent spit. It had made Vindeliar stronger than I had supposed. He had patted his hands in it, licked what he could reach. And if I had only stunned him, when he woke he would have consumed as much as he could get, regardless of the filth. How much had he taken? How strong was he? Strong enough to touch Coultrie’s mind and instil fanatic loyalty in him. And Capra and Fellowdy? My mind raced. Were their thoughts still their own? Whites, Vindeliar had said, were not as vulnerable to his magic. So Dwalia had spoken true when she said Coultrie was no Whit
e.

  Spittle flew from his mouth as Coultrie shrieked, ‘Look at her! She is guilty! She did it, she did it all! She deserves to die! She deserves to die the traitor’s death! She betrays every drop of White in her! She killed poor, dear Symphe.’

  ‘Poor, dear Symphe?’ Fellowdy asked quietly.

  ‘Step back, and be silent! The knowledge you spew did not need to be shared here!’ Capra made a small, furious gesture toward Prilkop’s cell. Coultrie clapped his mouth shut.

  Fellowdy offered his key. Once it was inserted and turned, the door was opened. Fear held me still. ‘Oh, lady, please!’ I begged Capra. ‘You cannot believe such a wild tale!’

  ‘If you wish to keep your tongue, not another word.’ She turned her wrath on her guards as she leaned forward and snatched her key and then Symphe’s from the lock. ‘Bring her.’ And to Fellowdy and Coultrie, ‘Come. This is a waste of my time.’

  I stepped toward the guards before they could seize me and held out my arms. ‘Just move along,’ one told me. As we passed Prilkop’s cell, I looked in. He sat cross-legged on the floor, at a low table. He wrote on paper. He did not look at me as we passed.

  I followed Capra and the others down the corridor, out the door. Down a set of steps, through another door, and then into a small chamber. The guards stayed with us. The moment the door shut behind us Coultrie sprang at me. I shrieked and leapt behind a guard.

  ‘Stop him!’ Capra barked. Each seized one of his arms and bore
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