Assassins fate, p.73
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       Assassin's Fate, p.73

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

  ‘Papa, walls up! Walls up!’

  My brother, they deceive you!

  I laughed. They were being so foolish. ‘All is well. We are safe now,’ I told them and carried Bee toward the welcoming party.

  THIRTY-FIVE

  * * *

  Confrontations

  I am Bee and Bee is me. My mother knew this from the beginning. Sometimes, at the beginning of a dream, I see myself. I am a bee, gold and black, shining like sparks and charcoal. As I fly, my colours grow brighter and brighter, as does an ember when one blows on it. I am so bright I illumine places that are dark, and in those places, I see the important dreams.

  From the dream journal of Bee Farseer

  It felt like a dream, the simple sleeping kind, in which one dreams of what one wants most. First Per and then my father were with me, dragging me away from smoke and flame. Per spoke to me, and I heard the voice of my first and only true friend. ‘I’ve come to save you.’ The words I’d been longing to hear someone say ever since that wintry night at Withywoods. I could not breathe for smoke and I could not see him but I knew his voice.

  But then, magically, it was my father bending over me. He touched my face so softly. Then he picked me up and he was carrying me. I was safe, safe in his arms. He would protect me. He would take me home. He carried me, and I knew his swinging stride from when he had perched me on his shoulders. I put my face into the angle of his neck and smelled strength and safety. His hair was greyer and the lines in his face deeper, but this was my Da and he had come to find me and take me home. I lifted my head to smile down at Perseverance. He was taller than he had been, and he looked stronger. He carried his knife before him, as my father had taught me a knife should be carried.

  He turned his head and looked up at my father. ‘Fitz? What are we doing? They will kill us!’

  Then the dream became nightmare.

  My father carried me toward Vindeliar. Not just walking, hurrying, as if he could not wait to get there. Capra, Fellowdy and Coultrie walked with Vindeliar, and all of them were smiling. Capra clutched her belly, and a slow leak of blood showed on her garments, but still she smiled. They were so pleased with Vindeliar, so certain they had won. I stared. Did they know of my fires roaring two floors above us? I suspected not; Vindeliar had gathered them and brought them here. They knew only what his will was, and his will was my death.

  ‘Papa!’ I shouted at him.

  ‘Hush.’ He patted my back. ‘You’re safe Bee. I’m right here.’

  I had held my walls so tight and so strong for so long that only now did I touch them and feel the force beating against them. I allowed myself to hear Vindeliar’s lure. Come to me, come to us. Everything will be well. We are your friends. We know what is best. We will help you.

  And my father was believing them!

  ‘Papa! Walls up, walls up!’ I shouted the words desperately as I wriggled to get out of his arms. He looked down at me and slowly a furrow grew between his brows. I think he was starting to realize what Vindeliar was doing to him, but he was doing it too slowly. I kicked free of him, fell as I hit the floor, stood up and pulled his big knife from its sheath.

  ‘Kill her!’ Vindeliar shrieked as he saw me seize the weapon. ‘Kill Bee now!’ Not only his voice but his magic pushed that thought, and the eyes of every person advancing toward us narrowed with hatred as they looked at me. The guards drew their swords and even Capra drew a little belt-knife. I looked up at my father, fearing to see that he, too, would have been turned against me by Vindeliar’s magic, but instead I saw a terrible blankness on his face. I turned to face them, alone.

  ‘No!’

  Perseverance pushed me to one side as he charged forward. Not for an instant did he hesitate. The full force of his body was behind his knife as he drove it into Vindeliar. Both went down, and Perseverance planted a knee on Vindeliar’s chest. I saw Per’s elbow draw back and then punch the knife forward again. Vindeliar’s terrible pain burst in my mind, edging my thoughts in red. His desperate magic leapt in a new direction.

  No! Stop, drop the knife, no, don’t kill me, don’t hurt me!

  So powerful was that sending that my father’s knife fell from my suddenly nerveless hands. I was seized with the necessity of not hurting Vindeliar.

  But no such compulsion stilled Perseverance. Vindeliar’s magic did not touch him. He stood up, drawing out the bloody knife as he did so, and shouted, ‘No one will kill Bee while I live!’ He had grown stronger than the boy I had known at Withywoods. The terrific slash of his blade had the force of a swinging axe. The edge crossed Vindeliar’s throat, and blood flew out in an arc as it ripped free of his flesh. As Vindeliar’s magic failed and stilled, Per sprang back. He spun to stand in front of me, knife lifted in one hand and the other pushing me protectively behind him. ‘Behind me, Bee,’ he commanded. Chaos broke out in the force facing us.

  ‘Why are we here?’ Capra wailed, while Fellowdy danced backward into his own guards in his desire to flee.

  ‘’Ware!’ my father shouted, and took a great stride past us. He stooped, snatching up the knife I had dropped. He had a hatchet in his other hand. He drove himself into the ranks of befuddled guards. He was suddenly among them, using both knife and small axe against their swords. I saw him hook a man’s blade with the hatchet and force it down while he thrust his knife into the man’s unguarded throat. His only hope was to be closer to them, inside the thrust or swing of their blades. His face was alight, his teeth bared and his eyes brighter than I had ever seen them.

  Per remained between me and the melee. ‘Stay back!’ he warned me, but I cried, ‘They are too many for him! We must help him or we will all die!’ They were engulfing him as if he were a boot sinking into mud. In the back of their force, something else was happening. I heard a woman screaming, not in pain but in fury as her filthy curses rang out in the hall. A man’s deep shouting cut through her words. ‘Drop him! Let him be!’

  Symphe’s knife! I scrabbled to get it from under my shirt, then ducked under Per’s arm and went for Fellowdy with it. The great coward had turned away from the battle and was trying to get past the knot of fighters and flee. Perhaps I was as great a coward, for I tried to drive my knife into his back. The short blade skittered down his ribs as if they were a pole fence, and then found a soft place below his short ribs and above his hip. I sank the blade as far as I could, and then seized the haft with both hands and shook it from side to side. I accidentally pulled it free as he jerked away from me.

  I was much better at biting than knifing.

  Then Coultrie hit me. His open palm slapped the side of my head with tremendous force and my crumpled ear roared at me. Fellowdy was crawling away from me, making short, sharp shrieks. I turned to face Coultrie. ‘You dirty little traitor!’ he shouted at me. Madness was in his eyes. ‘You killed Symphe and you killed poor, dear Dwalia!’

  Vindeliar’s body was twitching on the floor behind him. I sprang at Coultrie, leading with my knife. He retreated to avoid me, stumbled on Vindeliar and fell backwards. He kicked at me as I jumped at him, a glancing blow that still pushed me sideways and made me lose some of my breath. But I paid no attention to his flailing, slapping hands I would put my knife into the middle of him, into his belly where coiled the parts he needed to live. Wolves always tore for the belly.

  I hit him too high. His breastbone stopped my blade. I pulled back my knife and with both hands on the hilt I drove it down again as he battered me with slaps. He wasn’t very good at it. Dwalia had hit me harder than that. My knife punched into him. I leaned on it, trying to push it deeper. Coultrie grabbed my hair with both hands and pushed my head back. My head was not my hands. I dragged the knife as he pushed me away. The cracked paint on his face made him look like a ruined doll.

  Then someone else’s knife carved across his throat. He didn’t know he was dead. His lips writhed away from his bared teeth and I lost some hair as I ripped myself free of him.

  I’d almost forgotten the other
people fighting all around me. Per had hold of my upper arm and was dragging me back, shouting, ‘No, Bee, stay clear! Don’t get hurt!’ The knife in his free hand dripped red.

  My father was still engaged with the three guards that were trying to take him down. He was bleeding. Somehow he had gained a short sword and his snarl was a joyous thing. Fellowdy was still trying to crawl away. The guards had dropped the man they’d been carrying. The black man, Prilkop stood over the fallen man, weaponless. Between those two and the remainder of the patrol, a man and a woman stood back to back, and the man was FitzVigilant. Lant was alive! A strange thrill ran through me. Was it all going to come undone, all my hurt and sorrow? My father had come to rescue me, and Perseverance was alive, and Lant, too? Was it possible to hope for Revel? Did I dare?

  Then a sword licked in and sliced into my father’s thigh. He roared his fury, and it did not seem he could be hurt, for he swung his own blade so forcefully that it cut into the man’s side almost to his spine. He jerked the blade out as another man cut at his head. He ducked that blow. ‘Help him!’ I screamed, but Perseverance dragged me back.

  ‘He can’t fear for you!’ he shouted, and for a fleeting instant, my father’s glance flowed over me. Then I heard Capra screaming, ‘Guard me, guard me! Leave off and guard me!’ She had broken free of the melee, to lean against the corridor wall, clutching her reddened belly. The five standing Clerres warriors abruptly sprang back from their engagements and formed up around her. She clutched at one of them and he took her weight, helping her hobble along. The others kept their faces toward us, a bristling wall of blades. Capra stumbled and the warrior picked her up. He carried her like a child as they backed away from us. Fellowdy howled at them to help him, and one of the guards seized him by an arm, pulled him to his feet and dragged him off at a staggering run.

  My father stood panting, his bloodied blade slowly drooping toward the floor as they retreated. Lant started to go after them, but the girl cried out, ‘No, let them go!’ and he listened to her.

  Capra’s retreat saved us. As the curve of the corridor hid them, my father tottered sideways. Per left me and went to him, easing him down to the floor. My father was cursing furiously, clutching at the blood that welled between his fingers. I ran to him. Per was tearing his shirt off. It was the wrong kind of fabric. I wriggled my arm out of my sleeve, and held it out to him. ‘Cut this off to use!’ I told him, and after a shocked moment, he did.

  ‘Bee!’ Lant exclaimed as he came to my father. He looked down at me and I looked up at him. His face was freckled with blood. I didn’t think it was his. He looked as if he felt ill and I thought I knew why.

  ‘You wanted to kill me, didn’t you? It was Vindeliar’s magic. Not your fault. He could make people believe things. Even me.’

  My father spoke in a thick, tired voice. ‘It was like the Skill, but not. Magic used in a way I’ve never experienced.’ I heard him swallow. ‘How could he be that strong?’

  ‘They gave him a potion made from serpent spit. It made him very strong. I could barely hold my walls against him.’

  ‘I couldn’t hold my walls. If it hadn’t been for Perseverance …’

  ‘I felt nothing,’ Per said. ‘I thought you had all gone mad,’ he muttered, almost sulkily. He knelt by my father. ‘We should cut the clothing away from this.’

  ‘No time,’ Lant said. ‘That fire is spreading.’ He knelt and took my sleeve from Per and wrapped it snugly around my father’s thigh. He knotted it tight and I heard my father groan. The sleeve went red. Then the girl I didn’t know came to us, Beloved limping as he leaned on her shoulder. ‘They’re gone, they ran away,’ she was saying to him. Blood was running from the corner of his mouth and his face was lopsided with bruises, but all he said was ‘Bee! You’re alive!’ He reached for me with claw-like hands, one gloved, and I shrank away.

  ‘Bee, he won’t hurt you,’ Prilkop said quietly.

  I had almost forgotten Prilkop. ‘He would never hurt you,’ he repeated quietly. ‘You are his.’

  Beloved turned his gloved hand toward me, palm up. ‘Bee.’ My name was all he said, in a slurred voice.

  I drew back from him. ‘I can’t. He makes me see things when I touch him. I don’t want to see things any more,’ and it was true.

  ‘I understand,’ Beloved said sorrowfully and dropped his hands.

  ‘Bee. He has a glove on one hand,’ Perseverance said very gently. ‘He has come a long far way to rescue you.’ His voice reminded me of a long-ago day when he had said, ‘Shall I ready her for you?’ and saddled the horse I was afraid to ride. But I was not that little girl any more. I looked aside. I saw my father’s expression.

  I was still holding Symphe’s knife. I wiped the blood from it and put it back in the waistband of my trousers. Slowly I reached out my hand and set it on the back of Beloved’s glove. ‘I gave you an apple,’ I said quietly. ‘Do you remember that?’

  His mouth shook. ‘I do,’ he said, and tears welled and ran down his face.

  ‘Oh, Bee, what have they done to you?’ Lant asked me. His eyes were moving over my face. My scars sickened him.

  I didn’t want them to speak of that. I didn’t want them to ask me questions about any of it. I looked at the dead guards scattered in the corridor. Blood was pooling around the bodies. The girl was moving among the bodies, looking for something. I saw her take a sword from a dead man’s hand. Coultrie lay on his back, covered in blood and unmoving. I’d helped to kill him, and I didn’t care. I hoped Fellowdy would die, too. And in the far parts of the castle, I still heard screams and crashes. Fire stops for nothing. Was I truly the Destroyer? ‘We need to get away from here.’ I reminded them all. Didn’t they understand that we could not stand here? ‘I set fire to the libraries. It’s spreading.’

  ‘The libraries?’ Beloved said faintly. He looked devastated as he stared down at me. ‘You burned the libraries of Clerres?’

  ‘They needed burning. Burn the nest to kill the wasps.’

  My speaking my old dream made his eyes go wide.

  ‘The Destroyer came,’ Prilkop said quietly.

  Beloved looked from me to my father, and then back to me. ‘No. Not her.’

  ‘Yes.’ I pulled my hand back from touching him. He would not want to know me now. ‘Bee,’ he said, but I went to my father. I put my hand on his sleeve.

  ‘We have to get out of here now. If we can.’

  My father was trying to stand up. He gave me a crooked smile. ‘I know; we need to be moving. But first, are there any more like Vindeliar?’

  ‘He was the only one. I think. They said they did not have much of the serpent potion left, but I think they lied to one another about that.’ Could they make another Vindeliar?

  ‘Serpent potion?’ Beloved asked. He had drawn closer to us, and Prilkop stood beside him.

  Prilkop spoke in his low, deep voice. ‘I have heard rumours of this. Is that what they gave to Vindeliar? It is made from the concentrated secretions of a sea serpent. There is an island where dragons used to lay their eggs. The eggs hatched into serpents that wriggled into the sea. Some very peculiar creatures live on that island. Sometimes they capture a serpent or two, and hold it in captivity.’

  I was watching my father. He put a heavy hand on Lant’s shoulder. His expelled breath made a horrid sound as he forced himself to rise. At first his foot did not touch the ground. Then he set it deliberately to the floor and tested his weight on it. The red on his bandage darkened. ‘We need to get out of here. The fire will consume the upper storeys first, and then it will all fall on us. We need to get outside, and then off the island.’

  ‘It may not fall.’ Prilkop suggested. ‘The bones of this stronghouse are stone and it has stood through many a calamity. It is not the first time fire has visited here.’

  My father did not seem to be listening to Prilkop, so I ignored him as well. We started walking. I stayed close to him. My father expelled a harsh, short breath with each step on his bad leg, bu
t he led us. Slowly. ‘You should leave me behind,’ he said. ‘Take Bee and run for the doors.’

  ‘Run straight into their guards?’ Spark asked him.

  ‘We aren’t leaving you,’ Per said quietly.

  ‘Sir, is there a way out of this castle, one that won’t be guarded? Or packed with fleeing people?’ Spark asked Prilkop. She glanced down at my father’s leg as he limped along and said to me, ‘We will need your other sleeve.’

  Prilkop shook his head. ‘This stronghouse was designed to be easy to defend, not to escape from. There are only three entrances. Those who have escaped the flames will flee down the main stairs and go to them.’

  I pulled my arm into my shirt and offered her the limp sleeve. She cut it off as we walked, her knife sliding easily through the fabric. ‘Wait a moment,’ she told my father, and he halted. She knelt to add another layer to the seeping bandage on his leg and a brief snarl passed over his face.

  ‘Let’s go,’ he growled, and limped on.

  ‘How did you get into Clerres?’ Prilkop asked curiously. He walked beside my father. Beloved walked next to me. I think he wished to hold my hand, but Per was doing that. Then he let go of my hand. ‘I’m going ahead,’ Per said quietly. ‘I don’t like that we can’t see around the curve here. The Fool will take care of you. And Spark and Lant.’ He put my hand in Beloved’s gloved one, and I let him. He sprinted ahead of us, staying close to the inner curve of the wall. I looked up at Beloved. He looked down at me and offered a cautious smile. It rippled his bruised face. I could not smile back. I let my eyes follow Per.

  ‘We came in by the waste chute on the low tide. It will be flooded with water now. No use to us until late afternoon. I don’t think the fire will give us that long.’

  Lant asked Prilkop, ‘Do you know of a concealed tunnel under the causeway? The Fool believes he was taken out of Clerres that
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