Assassins fate, p.71
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       Assassin's Fate, p.71

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

  Symphe burning.

  I slipped as I got off the chair. My candle fell and rolled. I pounced on it, and the flame leapt as it licked my oily hand. It did not quite catch. There was oil on my bare feet, and I struggled to get the purchase to open the door to the second scroll-room. I did not leave my candle this time. I walked deep into the room and crouched to set fire to the mounded paper under the tables. I moved past four tiers of shelves, crouched again, and set a tumble of papers ablaze. I lit a third one and was startled when it caught well and the flames darted away from me, following the trail of tumbled scrolls. I ran back to the door, racing the devouring fire. At the door I turned. ‘Goodbye, Mother,’ I said softly and set her last candle down on an oily scroll.

  The flames leapt high, licking the wooden shelves and racks, racing down the narrow walkways between the shelves. They were high enough and hot enough that scrolls on the second, third, even the fourth shelves began to brown and crisp and then ignite. I looked up to see coiling clouds of smoke crawling along the ceiling, like drowned serpents tugged by a tide.

  I stood for a time, my back to the door, watching, smelling the smoke and fumes, feeling the heat waft toward me. Burning bits of paper were carried on the waves of heat from the fires. They lifted high, to settle on the topmost shelves like homing pigeons, bringing glowing embers to the papers stored there.

  I had to push hard to get the door open. As it did, the air moved and the flames suddenly roared. I leapt out of the room, fearful that the oil on my hands and clothes might catch. The candle in the first scroll-room had done its task. The doors to that chamber shuddered as if the flames were pounding to get out. Thin tendrils of smoke were wafting out with every thud of the doors against their frames. It reminded me of a dog’s breath streaming fog on a cold winter day.

  I stood still, feeling as if I balanced in that instant. This was my perfect moment. I was where I was born to be, and the task I had been born to do was now being performed. Once I moved, the futures would again swirl and change. But in this perfect moment, I fulfilled my fate. Perhaps I would live. I wanted to live, but only if that path led toward my escaping the Servants. If living meant I was recaptured, if they gave me the traitor’s death, if I lived to see Vindeliar’s face … no. I knew what they meant by a traitor’s death. I had seen the poor messenger, tears of blood flowing from her eyes, eaten from within by parasites. If I had to choose between death and capture, I would choose death. My heart beat faster at that thought, and with every beat, I was aware that I was making a decision. Move, don’t move. Run back into the scroll-room, and the flames would seize me. It would still be a faster death than that the Servants would give me. Weep, don’t weep. Run left, run right. Flee back to my cell and lock myself in, hide in the gardens. All choices I could make, and from each of those choices, an infinite number of futures sprang.

  My fire was hot. I could smell the wooden doors charring, and even see the darkening of the wood. The corridor was warmer than it had been. How much damage could I do?

  The chairs I had pushed out into the corridor still waited under the lamp shelves where I had kindled my candles. My two candles that had come so far from my mother’s hand to help me pull this evil from the world, right down to its roots, were used now. But I could do more, I thought. No time to pause or to wonder. I climbed up on the nearest chair.

  The base of the pot-lamp was fat and heavy. And just slightly warm to the touch. I already had oil on my shirt and trousers. One touch of the flame and I could dance and scream just as Symphe had done. Do it. But do it carefully. Then flee. Wolf Father’s suggestion was a whisper. It made me realize I’d been careless with my walls. I could taste the foul serpent-potion in Vindeliar’s mouth.

  Do not think of him. Walls.

  I could only reach the pot with one hand, and only if I stood on my toes. I pushed at it. Nothing. Push again. I heard the baked clay base of the pot grind against its wooden shelf. I pushed again. It didn’t move. I felt a wave of dizziness and lifted my eyes from my task to look down the hall. It was hazy. I more fell than jumped from my chair.

  My fires were humming behind the doors now. The doors thudded rhythmically in their frames. The wood was blackening. Soon the flames would break through. I wondered if I could pick up the chair and throw it at the pot, to break it or knock it down. Then a little tongue of flame licked from the top of the first door, making a stripe of brown on the wood panelling above the door.

  I moved away from my fires. I came to another door and opened it. I stared in awe and disappointment. More scrolls. More books and papers. More harvested dreams for them to exploit. I would not let it happen.

  There is no time!

  ‘This is why I am here. This is the future I was meant to create. This is my time, and all the time I need. The Path I make begins here! I have to do this!’ I spoke the words aloud.

  I was more careless now. I pushed and pulled books and scrolls. I found a lamp inside the library. Someone had left it on a table. This one was only half full. I dumped it in a trail. I found another lamp on a shelf and pushed it down with a great crash. Oil spattered a tapestry and the side of a tall shelf of papers. Good. All good. Now I just needed a flame. I spindled papers and carried them out into the hall with me.

  Smoke and haze. I coughed. I suddenly felt dizzy.

  Flee. Now! You must get outside. Wolf Father broke through my walls and his urgency could not be denied. I heard a crash and then the fire roared ever louder. Of course. There were other pot-lamps in the scroll-rooms. They would catch and feed the flames. I dropped my spindled papers. Abruptly, I wanted to live. I wanted one more chance to escape and to be alive. I scuttled down the hallway to the stairs. I looked back. Thick smoke was crawling and boiling along the painted ceiling. The panelling above the first door was on fire now.

  Abruptly, the doors of the second chamber popped open. Flames leapt out. The pot-lamp beside the scroll-room door hopped and fell. Oil coursed down the wall and across the floor. Flames licked out of the cracked door, and then danced across the flowing oil. Fire caressed and stroked the panelled walls.

  The conflagration gave a mighty cough, then the wall of heat struck me. I flew forward with the impact, landing on the hard floor. Elbows and knees and chin. I bit my tongue. I gasped with the sharp pain, choked, and blinked my watering eyes. I gathered myself and stood up. Almost immediately, I dropped down again. Above me was a hovering blanket of heat and smoke. I lay on the floor, trying to pant.

  Crawl. Get to the stairs. You must get outside.

  I obeyed him.

  THIRTY-FOUR

  * * *

  Smoke

  ‘But you know, Fitz, after my brother died, I was more alone than I had thought I could ever be. Shrewd was my king, yes, and the man who commanded my hand, but in the hours after the castle was asleep, when he and I sat at the hearth in his bedroom and talked, he was also my friend.

  I’ve had few friends in my lifetime. When I lived behind the walls, there were a few key spies I met with, often in one of my guises. Perhaps I came to depend on your companionship too much because of that isolation. Was I jealous of your friendships and romances? No. I think the better word would be envy. Even after I emerged from the walls and could move through Buckkeep as Lord Chade, it was difficult to form deep friendships, for always my history and trade had to remain a secret.

  Look at your own friends through those days. How many of them truly knew what you were, what you had done and what you were capable of doing?

  Missive from Chade to FitzChivalry Farseer

  ‘Fool,’ I said. The word barely reached past my lips as I stared into the darkened cell. I saw his pale face, eyes closed, the whiteness of his out-stretched hand and knew with swift certainty that he had taken my merciful exit. Blackness threatened the edges of my vision. I could neither look away nor speak. I’d given him his death. He’d taken it. We were here: we could have saved him. Why had I done it?

  I heard small sounds of metal
on metal. ‘Bring a light!’ Spark muttered. I turned my head. She was beside me, picks already in a very old lock. Then Lant came, carrying a fat lamp in both hands. He thudded it down beside her. It did little to light her task, but she laboured on. I studied the Fool in the flickering light. Blood on his face. He’d died alone in a cell. Better, perhaps, than the sustained torture he had feared, but I could not feel any relief.

  ‘Leave it. It’s too late. We need to seek for Bee,’ I whispered to Spark. Bee, I told myself. Think only of Bee. But Spark gave a sudden grunt as she moved two picks against each other and the lock gave way to her. And I could not help but push the door open and enter the cell to stand over him. Did I have to leave his body here? Could I do otherwise? The others clustered at the door, watching me as I stooped, reaching to wipe the blood from his face.

  The swung chamber pot missed my head, but not by much. I felt the noisome wind of its passage and heard the clatter as it hit the cell wall. I jumped back as the Fool came up at me, clawed hands seeking my eyes. I caught him and hugged him tight to me saying, ‘Fool, Fool, it’s me, it’s Fitz! Stop, it’s me!’

  An instant longer, his body was tense against mine and then he all but collapsed. ‘Capra.’ His swollen mouth softened his words. ‘I was expecting Coultrie. With the hot tongs. While she watched.’

  ‘No. We’re all here, to find you and to find Bee and bring her home. Fool, why did you go off without us?’ The question that had been fire in my gut all day.

  ‘Get to Bee. Rooftop cells. She’s up there. So is Prilkop.’

  ‘Motley told us. We’ll find her.’

  He pushed his feet against the floor. I let him take some of his weight but didn’t drop him. The phrases came from him in gasps as I walked him to the cell door. ‘To save Bee. My fault they took her. I led them to her. And to kill them. To do my own dirty work. To fix the mess I’d made. To be the Catalyst this time. As you said I might.’

  ‘Let me help,’ Lant said, taking his arm, and Spark leaned in to look at his face, asking, ‘How badly is he hurt?’

  ‘I don’t know. Fool, I feared you’d eaten the poison I gave you. You didn’t. Did you?’ A horrible thing, to wonder if he had swallowed it just before we arrived.

  ‘I couldn’t. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. Not while they have Bee. I can’t die until I’ve made it right, Fitz.’ Fresh blood was flowing from his nose. He snuffled and then said proudly, ‘I did for two of them. I think. I got to Coultrie’s chambers. I had to hide on his stairs, and thought that I might as well climb the rest of the way, and leave him some small mementos. He wasn’t there. I think I did it right. On the lip of his cup. In his wine, to be sure, and a powder rubbed into his pillow and linens. More on the latch of his door.’ His voice was uneven as we walked him out of the cell.

  ‘That should do it,’ I muttered. It sounded as if he had deposited enough poison to kill a dozen people. ‘Thorough,’ I added. And then, ‘How did you kill Symphe?’

  ‘Not Symphe. Capra. She was groaning when they dragged her back. I think I killed her. I put a knife in her belly twice.’ He swayed, leaned on me, then determinedly straightened. ‘I lost that knife. And the butterfly cloak.’

  ‘Acceptable cost,’ I said.

  ‘I found a hogshead of water. I don’t know how clean it is,’ Per announced worriedly.

  ‘Water? Clean or dirty, give me some!’

  We walked him over to it. There was a dipper hooked on the edge of the barrel. Per filled it for him, and he drank. The next one, he poured over his head and rubbed over his face. With his hair slicked to his skull in the dimness, he looked very old. ‘More,’ he said, and we waited for him, without speaking. When he paused, Spark asked, ‘Besides the bruises we can see and the split brow, are you hurt?’

  He grimaced, showing bloody teeth, and then spat. ‘They hit me with sticks. A lot. Some kicking, too. Brutal, but not precise. They were reserving that for Capra’s pleasure, I think. But I hope she’s dead. Fitz, my hurts don’t matter. We have to get to Bee. The last time I saw her she was held in the upper cells, on the roof of the stronghouse. And Prilkop is here, somewhere. I thought they would put him here with me, but they didn’t.’ He stopped to breathe, holding his ribs. He coughed, and I winced with him.

  ‘I told you, Motley found her for us.’ I wondered how many blows to the head he had taken.

  He was silent, then said, ‘Of course. She should have been our first spy.’

  ‘Per thought of it,’ I said and the boy grinned briefly when I glanced at him. He had dragged the guard’s body away from the table and now set the chair out for the Fool. I nodded at him, acknowledging his work. We seated the Fool and Per went back to the water to wash his hands, and then drink. I set my attention back on the Fool. ‘We’re going after her now, Fool. We can’t smuggle her out over the causeway. With Symphe dead, the Servants have shut it down. We are trapped here, unless you can find the entrance to the tunnel that goes under the causeway.’

  He squinted at me, trying to master his thought. ‘How did you get here then?’

  ‘We came in through the waste chute that dumps into the bay. But we can’t go back that way. The incoming tide will flood it. Unless we can find Bee and conceal ourselves until the next low tide.’

  ‘Half a day from now?’ He shook his head. ‘They’ll come back for me long before that. They’ll find us here.’

  ‘What was your escape plan?’

  ‘Butterfly cloak and the causeway.’

  ‘One is gone and the other closed. We are back to trying to find the entrance to the tunnel under the causeway.’

  He gasped a laugh. ‘I liked mine better. How do you know Symphe is dead?’

  ‘They announced it, and hung a black banner from her tower.’

  He shook his head and it turned to a wobble. ‘Not my doing.’

  Spark broke in. ‘Dawn comes. We need to go get Bee. Now. Before the castle awakes.’

  ‘And Prilkop, too. Please.’ The Fool tried to sit up straighter, failed.

  ‘If we can.’ I would make no promises. Once I had Bee, all my efforts would go toward keeping her safe and getting her out of here. ‘Fool. How much can you see?’

  ‘In this light? Not much.’

  ‘I killed the guard here. Do you know if or when others will be sent down?’

  ‘I don’t know. She was the only one I saw. Fitz, in hundreds of years no one has moved against the Servants. With Symphe dead, my attack on Capra will have alarmed them. Expect to encounter a lot of guards.’

  I nodded. ‘I’m going up after Bee.’

  ‘They may have moved her. I know they were going to move Prilkop after they saw me there.’

  ‘Well, that’s where I’ll start. I want the rest of you to stay here with the Fool. Try to find the entry to the old tunnel, the one they took the Fool out of when he “escaped” the first time. Now I must go.’

  ‘Not alone!’ Lant objected. Per said nothing. He simply stood and came to my side.

  ‘Let me think,’ the Fool replied breathlessly. ‘We should go up one level. There are more cells there. A dozen of them, and some will almost certainly be occupied. It is their … their main place for torment and imprisonment. They held Prilkop and me there for a very long time. Perhaps he is there.’ Unwillingly he added, ‘And perhaps Bee is, too.’

  I was not sure if I hoped to find Prilkop or not. If he had been as badly treated as the Fool, would we be able to get him out of Clerres? A useless question. We would be unable to leave him. ‘The stairs past the water barrel? Are those the ones we want?’

  ‘Yes. The door will be locked.’

  ‘Not for me,’ Spark bragged. Fleet as a rabbit, she sprinted ahead of us and up the steps. I saw her bend to examine the lock, and then she rummaged in her small pack to find her picks. While she worked on the latch, I had a more thorough prowl of that level, and quickly came back to my companions.

  ‘If there is a door that leads to a passage under the causeway, I don’t s
ee it.’

  ‘The door to a secret tunnel would be well concealed,’ the Fool reminded me. Unwillingly he added, ‘And it may not be on this level. I was moving in and out of awareness when they freed me from here. Fitz, I know you think I will slow you. I know you fear for Spark and Per. But behind that door, there will be more guards. Possibly more than you can handle alone.’

  ‘It would be excellent if we could find that tunnel.’ I let his other words go by me.

  Per looked thoughtful. ‘It would most likely be on the wall that faces the causeway.’

  ‘Go look again. I may have missed something.’ I went to help Spark with the lock.

  But as I stood behind her, she gave me an annoyed glance. ‘I can do this,’ she breathed, and I let her. I knew a moment of terrible guilt. Lant had followed me up the steps. My eyes met his over the girl’s bent head as she worked with her picks. I would not waste words telling him to protect her, to protect them all at any cost. He knew. I could see in his eyes that he was as troubled as I about what we might face. The Fool had stirred the hornets’ nest, but Symphe’s death was not his doing. Accident, disease or murder?

  ‘I’ve got it,’ she whispered at almost the same moment that Per came up the steps to gesture that his search had been fruitless. The ‘snick’ of the lock surrendering seemed very loud. I held my breath and listened. Nothing from beyond the door. Time to go.

  I glanced at Lant. He shook his head, his lips folded tight. He would not be left behind. Per refused to look at me, but his knife

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