Assassins fate, p.75
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       Assassin's Fate, p.75
 

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

  The rhythmic slap of running feet.

  ‘Drop me. Run!’ I ordered them.

  No one listened to me. ‘Hurry,’ Per suggested.

  Spark glanced back. ‘No. Stop and face them!’

  ‘No!’ Per objected, but she held my arm tight to her shoulder and I found myself pivoting on my good leg as she spun me around.

  ‘What are you doing?’ Per cried out.

  ‘Trust me!’ A hissed whisper. ‘Swords up.’

  I lifted mine with an effort. ‘Get clear,’ I warned Per, and at last he obeyed me. I could not walk but I could balance. Somewhat.

  ‘El’s balls.’ Per’s voice went guttural. ‘They have bows.’

  ‘Of course they do,’ Spark laughed darkly.

  They halted well out of sword range, a dozen of them, tall, well-made warriors. Four with bows, six with swords. Their leader barked, ‘Capra wants the man taken alive! Shoot the other two!’

  ‘Run,’ I suggested.

  ‘Get behind Fitz,’ Spark said, and seized Per to drag him in as she stepped behind me. ‘And hold here,’ she whispered. ‘Not much longer. Hold. Hold. Hold.’

  The archers were fanning out and advancing. I would not block their arrows for long. They would kill Spark and Per.

  ‘Hold. Hold,’ whispered Spark.

  The door and the wall leapt out at them as I flew backwards, landing on my companions. In the next instant, the ceiling came down, scorched wood and some stone. A blast of heat and stinging dust struck me, blinding me as the roar numbed my ears. My face felt burned. I dragged a sleeve across my eyes and blinked, expecting to find enemies charging. I still couldn’t see. Tears streamed from my eyes. I sat up slowly as Per and Spark squirmed out from under me. The hazy corridor held only the shattered wall and collapsed ceiling and the smouldering beam that leaned across it. I felt a rain of fine debris.

  Spark said something.

  ‘What?’

  ‘That worked well!’ she shouted.

  I nodded and found a stupid grin spreading across my face. ‘It did. Let’s go!’ Per helped me up. His face was reddened from the blast but he managed a smile. I felt something sting the back of my neck and slapped it. I brushed a dart away, looked at it in surprise but Spark was already screaming, ‘Ware! More of those bastards! Swords up!’

  Chade’s firepot blast had deafened us so we had not heard the patter of running feet. A dozen guards had come up on us from behind, completing the pincer movement I had feared.

  Four in the front line raised brass-bound tubes to their lips. A blast of those horns would summon more guards. Kill them first. Fight like cornered wolves! I agreed with Nighteyes. I raised my sword and Per and I lurched toward them, roaring as the trumpeters puffed their cheeks. But before they could sound their horns, another fall of burning ceiling drove Per to his knees and sent me hopping sideways. The guards wavered as a rush of heat rolled past us and I heard no blast of horns. Was I that deafened? But I’d felt a tiny impact and I looked down to see a dart dangling from my vest. Spark shook another from her hair. It fell away as I hopped in, sword feebly swinging. My blade bit into one before I staggered sideways and fell. Per leapt to stand over me, thrusting and yelling. Spark charged, shrieking as she attacked.

  The door to the dungeons swung open right beside them. I roared my dismay. They’d betray themselves! We’d all die.

  But it was not Lant who came out, blade in hand, but Bee.

  She pointed her knife at them, but that was not her weapon. She widened her eyes and stared at them. Go away, go away, go away! Be scared, be scared, run away, run away!

  Verity’s strength, without his wisdom or control. I slammed my walls against her wild Skilling. Per stared in astonishment as our enemy threw down weapons and fled. I thrashed myself forward, barely catching one of Spark’s ankles. She slammed to the floor hard as I tripped her, but in an instant, she was flailing and trying to crawl away from me. ‘Bee, stop! Spark, not you! You don’t run away, Spark.’

  Spark, I didn’t mean you!

  Bee did not know how to turn down her power. Spark leapt like a hooked fish, and then was still, eyes wide. Like Verity, Bee could influence those whose Skill-ability was so low they had never even been aware of it. Once my king had used that power to convince captains to turn away from the Six Duchies or to steer their red warships onto rocks. Now my daughter sent warriors fleeing. And stunned her allies!

  ‘Inside,’ I told them. ‘Per, bring Spark.’ I hobble-hopped to the door as he grabbed Spark under the arms and dragged her. ‘Get inside, Bee!’ My daughter held the door wide as Lant thrust his head out.

  ‘What happened?’ His face was white with terror. His voice seemed a whisper.

  ‘A firepot brought the ceiling down. And Bee can Skill. Strongly. That was her you felt! But she doesn’t know how to target. She frightened off a patrol. But when they come to their senses, if they do, they’ll know where we are.’

  ‘I’m so sorry, Fitz!’ Prilkop was showing me the bricked-up entrance. ‘I told her to stay close.’ He had my arm and dragged me in.

  ‘My father needed me,’ Bee explained.

  ‘Bee made them run away?’ Per asked. He let Spark slide to the floor as he slammed the door shut behind us. We stood in the stillness of the guard’s chamber. My ears were still ringing.

  ‘Spark?’ Lant cried, his heart in his voice as his wits returned to him. He knelt by her, crying, ‘Where is she hurt?’

  ‘She is Skill-stunned. I think she’ll come around in a few minutes. Bee, no one is angry. You saved our lives. Come here, please, come here!’

  Per was ignoring the rest of us as he pushed the guard’s table against the door. I dodged the chair he flung at it to hobble toward Bee.

  She had retreated to a corner of the room, both her hands lifted to cover her shamed face. ‘I didn’t mean to hurt her! And now they know where we are hiding!’

  ‘No, you saved us! You saved all of us!’

  She darted to me, and for a fleeting instant I held my child in my arms and she clung to me, believing I could protect her. For a breath, I felt like a good father. The Fool came up the steps. ‘What happened?’ he demanded.

  ‘Down the steps,’ Lant commanded. He had dragged a dazed Spark to her feet. Her eyes were open and she looked confused. A good sign, I decided.

  Bits of paint were already flaking down as the cracks in the ceiling above us ran and widened. ‘If the ceiling comes down, we’re trapped down there,’ I reminded him.

  ‘Even if the ceiling fall hadn’t blocked the corridor out there, we haven’t any hope of getting out past the guards and gates. This is our only chance, small as it is. Come on.’

  I do not like this.

  Nor I.

  The Fool came to help me follow them. Lant went through with Spark holding tight to his arm. Per put a last chair in his stack of furniture and came to join us.

  ‘You have magic?’ Per asked Bee as she held the door for us.

  ‘And you do not. I am so glad. I would have made you run away from us.’ For just an instant, a smile crossed her face. It was Molly’s smile in that little scarred face. My heart broke.

  ‘Never,’ the boy promised her, and his grin was wide. It was all she saw.

  Behind me, a corner of the ceiling came down, smoking and stinking and effectively blocking the outer door. I felt a wash of heat with it, pushing Bee and me toward the steps. Per closed the door behind us. ‘Well. I doubt we need to fear any enemies coming at us from that direction.’ He sounded almost cheerful. I said nothing to contradict him, but I knew that smouldering wood would catch the walls on fire. We were truly trapped now.

  Bee and Per descended before us. I looked down the steps. ‘Lean on me,’ the Fool bade me. At every step, the gash on my thigh gaped. There was light below, but not much. I caught a whiff of fragrant pine oil before the prison stench drowned it. Then I felt an immense thud, as if a giant horse had kicked the wall, and the door jumped in its frame. I judged that
more of the ceiling had come down. That was it. We were trapped and would die here if we did not find another escape route.

  ‘No going back,’ the Fool said. I nodded numbly. We reached the bottom and I sat down on the lowest step. The Fool sat down beside me and Bee came to my other side. Here we were. All of us alive. For now.

  I put my arm around her and drew her close. For an instant, she stiffened at my touch. Then she leaned into me. For a time, I just sat there. My strength was at a low ebb, but Bee was here. My child was beside me.

  Above us, fire and falling walls and a furious enemy. Down here, chill and dank and dimness. We were caged in by stone and sea. Prilkop crouched beside the prisoners he had freed. They sat together in one cell, ragged and round-shouldered, huddled close on a single pallet. I could not hear what he was saying to them. Across the room, a shaky Spark inspected a section of the wall. I watched her and Lant run their hands over the stonework, rub at the scratched mortar and shake their heads. They looked discouraged.

  ‘We may have to use a firepot,’ Lant suggested.

  Spark rubbed her eyes and gingerly shook her head. ‘Last resort,’ she said loudly. ‘Unless we could put it inside the wall more of the force would come at us than into the stone. Chade and I did many tests. If we buried the pot, it blasted a hole. On top of the ground it made a wide, shallow indentation. It could as easily bring the ceiling down on us.’

  ‘I’m so tired,’ Bee said. I could barely hear her.

  ‘So am I.’ The carris seed had already faded leaving its darkness and weariness.

  ‘Wolf Father is with you now?’

  Yes.

  ‘Yes.’ Her name for Nighteyes made me smile at her.

  ‘What is he?’

  I didn’t know. ‘He’s good,’ I said. I sensed approval from him.

  ‘He is,’ she agreed. She waited for me to say more. I shrugged at her, and a smile flickered across her face. Then she asked, ‘Are we safe here?’

  ‘Safe enough. For now,’ I told her.

  I studied her face. Her eyes widened. Almost defiantly, she said, ‘I know what I look like. I’m not pretty any more.’

  ‘You never were,’ I told her. I shook my head at her.

  The Fool gasped at my cruelty and Bee’s eyes went wide in shock.

  ‘You were and are beautiful,’ I said. I freed a hand to touch her lumpy ear. ‘Every scar a victory. I see you had many of them.’

  She straightened her back. ‘Every time they beat me, I tried to hurt them back. Wolf Father told me that. Make them fear me, he said. So I did. I bit a hole in Dwalia’s face.’

  That shocked me to silence. But the Fool leaned in and said, ‘Oh, well done! Would that I could have done that myself.’ He smiled at her. ‘Do you like your father’s nose?’

  She looked up at me and I fingered the break in it. She had never seen it any other way. ‘What’s wrong with it?’ she asked in puzzlement.

  ‘Nothing at all,’ the Fool told her merrily. ‘I’ve always told people, “There’s nothing wrong with his nose.’’’ He laughed out loud, and both Lant and Spark turned to regard us in surprise. I didn’t understand his joke, but their expressions made me laugh and even Bee smiled, in the way one does at a madman.

  She leaned closer and closed her eyes. The pain from my leg came in surges with my heartbeat. Rest, rest, rest said the pain. I knew I could not. My body wanted to sleep, to heal, but now was not the time. I needed to get up, to help the others, but Bee was slumped against me and I didn’t want to move her. I leaned back and the last firepot in the belt poked me. ‘Help me,’ I said and the Fool tugged it off me.

  Bee didn’t stir. I looked down at her little face. Her eyes were closed. Her disfigurement told a dreadful tale. Scars, some months old, some fresh, distorted her face. I wanted to touch the cut at the corner of her mouth and heal it. No. Don’t wake her. I realized I was leaning heavily on the Fool. I lifted my head to look at him.

  ‘Did we win?’ he asked me. His smile was lopsided in his swollen face.

  ‘The fight isn’t over until you win,’ I said. Burrich’s words. Spoken to me so long ago. I touched my leg. Warm and wet. I was hungry and thirsty and so tired. But I had them both beside me. Alive. Still bleeding, and my ears ringing. But alive.

  Across the room, Lant was grinding at mortar with his knife. Per knelt on the floor beside him, likewise digging at a seam. Spark had crossed to a rack of tools meant for tearing flesh, not stone. Her upper lip curled back as she selected one of the black iron implements. I turned my gaze away from that and met the Fool’s eyes.

  ‘I should go help them,’ he said.

  ‘Not yet.’

  He gave me a questioning look.

  ‘Let me have this moment. All of you here with me. Just for a short time.’ A smile suddenly came to me. ‘I have news for you,’ I told him. I found I still could grin. ‘Fool, I’m a grandfather! Nettle has a baby girl now. Hope! Isn’t that a wonderful name?’

  ‘You. A grandfather.’ He smiled with me. ‘Hope. A perfect name.’

  For a time we sat together in silence. I was so weary, and danger still threatened, but that did not steal the sweetness of being here, alive, with them. I was so tired. And my leg hurt. Nonetheless, I had this moment. I slipped into the wolf’s enjoyment of the immediate.

  Rest a moment. I will keep watch.

  I didn’t realize I had dozed until I twitched awake. I was thirsty and ravenously hungry. Bee was holding my hand and was asleep against me. Skin to skin, I felt my daughter as a part of me. I smiled slowly as I became aware of her Skill-wall. Self-taught. She would be strong with it. I lifted my eyes to the Fool. He was haggard but smiling. ‘Still here,’ he said softly.

  Through the dimness, I saw that Lant had taken off his shirt and was sweating in the chill. He, Per and Spark were employing our looted swords to dig out the mortar in a section of wall. They had made an opening big enough to admit a man’s arm. The stone they had pulled out was as long and wide as a man’s forearm but only a hand tall. The blocks in the wall were staggered. They’d have to remove three above to take out the two below. At least six to move before Per could squeeze through. I should go and help. I knew that. But my body had cheerily burned my reserves to try to heal my leg. I cautiously felt the bandaging. Sticky and crusty. No new blood. Still likely to split open again when next I stood.

  Lant stood up. ‘Stand back,’ he said and when Per and Spark did he kicked at the block they’d been working on. ‘Not yet,’ Spark said wearily. Per went back to his scraping.

  ‘Can’t we put one of your firepots in there now?’

  Spark gave him a look. ‘If you want to chance caving in the tunnel beyond, I suppose we could.’

  Per made a small sound of amusement and went on scraping at mortar.

  The Fool and I were silent. One of the prisoners came out of the cell. He stumbled slowly toward where Per, Spark and Lant scraped at the mortar. He spoke hoarsely, in a boy’s voice. ‘I will help, if you have a tool for me.’ Spark measured him with her eyes, then she gave him her belt-knife, and he began to dig feebly at a line of mortar.

  ‘I truly feared I had to choose between you,’ the Fool said quietly. When I said nothing, he added, ‘Her dream of the buck, the bee, and the scale.’

  ‘And yet I am here, and alive, and our enemies are walled away from us by smouldering rubble. Perhaps I am still the Catalyst, and can change even her predictions of what must be. I am not dead yet and I don’t intend to die. I am taking Bee home, to Buckkeep. She will be raised as a princess, and you will be at her side to teach and advise her. Her sister will adore her and she will have a little niece to play with.’

  Two of the freed Whites rose and went to the rack of torture tools. They made choices and then joined Lant, Spark and Per, chipping away at the mortar. The irony twisted my gut.

  ‘And we will live happily ever after?’ the Fool asked.

  I watched the bits of mortar fall. ‘That is my intention.’


  ‘And mine. My hope. But a thin one.’

  ‘Don’t doubt us, or we are lost.’

  ‘Fitz, my love, that is the problem. I do not doubt Bee’s dreams at all.’

  I opened my mouth and then found wisdom. I closed it. But as a dreadful thought came to me, I asked him, ‘The container of Silver you took from the stateroom. Did the Servants get it?’

  ‘I stole it to keep a promise,’ he admitted. ‘What did you think? That I’d taken it to use on myself?’

  ‘I feared that.’

  ‘No. I didn’t even bring it with me. I told Boy-O—’

  Beside me, Bee stirred. She lifted her head and took her hand out of mine. The Skill-link held, stretched thin as a thread but still there. I wondered if she felt it. She drew in a deep breath and sighed it out. She looked from me to the Fool. He smiled at her as I’d never seen him smile at anyone. His scars stretched with it,
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