Assassins fate, p.76
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       Assassin's Fate, p.76
 

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

  but his half-blind eyes shone with tenderness. She stared back at him and leaned tighter into me. As she looked at him, she whispered, ‘I had a dream.’

  He lifted a gloved hand and stroked her hair. ‘Would you like to tell it to me?’ he offered.

  She looked at me. I nodded. ‘I sit near a fire beside Da and a wolf. He is very old. He tells me stories and I write them down. But I am very sad as I do this. Everyone is mourning.’ She finished with, ‘I believe this dream is very likely.’ She turned worried eyes to me.

  I smiled at her. ‘That dream sounds lovely to me. I would change only your sadness.’

  She frowned at how little I understood. ‘Da. I don’t make the dreams. I can’t change them. They just come to me.’

  I laughed. ‘I know. The same thing happens to the Fool. Sometimes he is very sure a dream will come true.’ I shrugged one shoulder and grinned at her. ‘And then I make it not true.’

  ‘You can do that?’ She was astonished.

  ‘He is my Catalyst. He changes things. Sometimes in ways I never imagined,’ the Fool admitted ruefully. ‘And often enough I have been grateful for him to do that. Bee, there is so much I must teach you. About Catalysts and dreams and—’

  ‘Prilkop told me that Dwalia was my Catalyst. She came and made changes in my life. She changed me. Thus she enabled the changes I made. And I killed her. I killed my Catalyst.’ She looked up at me. Her eyes were as blue as forget-me-nots, her pale curls matted to her head. ‘Did you know that I killed people? And I burned all the dreams so the Servants cannot use them for evil any more. Papa, I am the Destroyer.’ Her words left me speechless. In a very small voice, she asked, ‘Can you change that for me?’

  ‘You are Bee and you are my little girl,’ I told her fiercely. ‘That doesn’t change. Not ever.’

  Bee turned her head sharply to something and I followed her gaze. Another prisoner was making her slow way toward us, her pale face pinched with pain as she limped on a welted foot. ‘In my dream, I saw you, little girl,’ she said. She smiled at us with chapped lips. ‘You were made of flame. You danced in the flames and brought war to where war had never been. With a sword of flame, you sliced the past from the present, and the present from the future.’

  Prilkop started toward us, his face full of worry.

  The White shuffled closer. ‘I am Cora, a collator. I studied in the scroll-library. I had a lovely little cottage. But I spilled ink on an old text. I knew I must be punished. But I also knew that one day I would go back to my ink and pens and fine vellum. To evenings of rest and wine and songs by moonlight.

  ‘But you came. And you destroyed it all. ‘She shrieked the last words and flung herself at Bee. Bee screamed in fury and fear, and stood to meet her. My knife clashed against Bee’s as they drove into the woman’s body at the same moment. She went down under our combined weight as I fell onto her. The Fool gave an incoherent cry over Per’s roar of rage. The killing wrath that rose in me obscured all else. Bee was fast. She withdrew her knife and sank it again before I could finish the woman. Cora bubbled a whine that became silence. We sprawled on the filthy floor, my hands slick with blood and my leg searing with pain. Bee rolled off the woman and struggled to rise. The blood on her clothes terrified me. She was not hurt, our Skill-thread assured me. She retrieved her knife and wiped it on Cora’s dirty trousers.

  Prilkop reached us, crying, ‘Cora! Cora, what have you done?’ He tried to pull me off the White’s body, but I snarled at him and he drew back. Per darted in and pulled Bee to his side as Prilkop demanded, ‘Did you have to kill her? Did you really have to kill her?’

  ‘I did,’ Bee confirmed. Her eyes blazed at him. ‘Because I am going to live.’

  Per had hold of her upper arm and was staring at her with a mixture of awe and horror. I rolled off Cora’s body and tried to rise but could not. The wounded leg would not bend and my other leg was shaky. Lant came to us. ‘Step back,’ he warned Prilkop in a deadly voice and hauled me to my feet. I was grateful for his roughness. I wanted no gentleness now.

  The Fool’s cry cut through the simmering tension. ‘Why?’

  Prilkop spoke before I could open my mouth. ‘Why, indeed, did your Catalyst and his daughter murder Cora? You recall Cora, do you not? She smuggled messages for us.’

  ‘Cora,’ the Fool said quietly, and his face sagged and aged in that moment. ‘Yes,’ he said in a shaky voice. ‘I recall her.’

  ‘She attacked Bee!’ I reminded all.

  ‘She had no weapon!’ Prilkop objected.

  ‘We have no time!’ Lant shouted the words. ‘She is dead, as are many others. As we will all be dead, unless these stones come out. Prilkop! Come and work. Fool, you also. No time for recriminations or fond reunions. All of you come to the wall. Now!’

  I looked down at Cora’s body and felt no regret. She had tried to kill my child. I tilted my head toward the nasty black knife that lay by her body. One of their torture tools. ‘There are tools for slicing human flesh on that rack near the table. Take what will work best on mortar.’ I nudged Cora’s knife feebly with my foot. ‘Here’s one for you, Prilkop.’

  He gave me a stricken look and I almost regretted my words. But Bee stooped and took up Cora’s black knife. She carried it to the wall and began scraping the mortar around the lowest block. The Fool made to follow.

  ‘Fool. Will you help me?’

  ‘How bad is your leg?’

  ‘Not terrible. It’s worse that my body is sapping my energy to heal it.’

  ‘So the half-blind will lead the mostly lame?’

  ‘It’s supposed to be the other way round.’ I set my arm across his shoulders. ‘Watch your step,’ I warned him and steered him around Cora’s outflung arm.

  ‘She was not a bad person,’ the Fool observed softly. ‘Bee destroyed her life. Everything she had ever known, the only task she knew how to do, all gone.’

  ‘I don’t regret it. Bee sprang like a hunting cat.’

  Like a wolf.

  ‘More like a wolf, I am sure,’ the Fool said, and his echoing of Nighteyes put a shiver up my back. It was a shiver that made me smile.

  Lant looked up and motioned us away from the work area. ‘I didn’t mean you. No room,’ he said. As he spoke, Per and Spark rotated a heavy block of stone. It moved but did not come free. They went back to scraping. Working tools into the crevices to cut the mortar was slow work, as was dragging the freed block out. Above us, we heard something fall. I looked up at the ceiling.

  ‘Do you think they’re dead?’ the Fool asked.

  I didn’t need to ask who. ‘Dwalia and Vindeliar, yes. Bee killed Symphe. Fellowdy is a dead man, sooner or later, if he touched anything in his chambers. And I think Bee stabbed him, at least once, in the corridor. Per cut Coultrie’s throat. And Capra was still bleeding from your knife when last we saw her.’ I said nothing of all the nameless people who would be dead in the fire.

  He was silent for a moment. ‘Two for Per: Vindeliar and Coultrie. Two for Bee: Symphe and Dwalia. Perhaps three, unless I claim Fellowdy. She only knifed him, but if they take him back to his chambers, he’s sure to die.’ His laugh was shaky. ‘None for you, Fitz. My fine assassin.’

  ‘And Spark set off the firepot that killed the guard troop. And Bee scared off the others.’ I didn’t mention the guardsmen I’d taken down in the melee. ‘I’ve lost my edge, Fool. As I feared I had. Perhaps it’s time to admit that. I should find a different line of work.’

  ‘Nothing to be ashamed of in that,’ he said, but it did not make me feel better. ‘Later,’ he added.

  ‘Later, what?’

  ‘Later, perhaps, when Bee is somewhere safe, we shall come back and be sure of all of them.’

  ‘If a dragon does not do them first.’

  A smile of pure pleasure broke over his face. ‘The dragons may have them, if we have Bee.’

  I nodded to that. I was so tired, and I had feared that his hunger for vengeance would still be unsated. But
as he watched Bee scraping at mortar he seemed only pleased. As if having her with us had driven all other ambitions away from him.

  I had seldom felt so useless as I did then. My hunger grew, and my thirst, but I tried to leave our scanty supply of water for those who laboured. When Lant dragged another stone out, I called to him, ‘Can you see anything beyond the opening?’

  ‘Lots of darkness,’ he replied and went back to work.

  At one point, the Fool helped me hobble over to the seats near the torture table. From there, I could better watch the work.

  As soon as we moved, the three remaining Whites came to claim Cora’s body. They carried her back to her cell and composed her on the straw mattress. Prilkop joined them and they spent a few silent moments standing by her body.

  When I quietly commented on it to the Fool, he sighed. ‘Our Bee is the Destroyer to them. They mourn the dead, here and above in the fire. Even more, they mourn the loss of generations of knowledge. So much destroyed. So much history gone.’

  I looked over at him and thought him blind in so many ways. ‘So many weapons destroyed,’ I said quietly.

  He did not reply to that. We listened to the others scraping mortar and muttering to one another. Lant pushed a poker under one end of a stone and put his weight on it. It did not move. ‘Not yet,’ he sighed and they went on with their scraping. But the next time he leaned on the lever, a stone broke free. The Fool helped me hobble closer to the work.

  Lant reached into the opening, and the muscles stood out in his arms and chest as he gripped the block and pulled it toward him. It scraped, sawed and got stuck, then grated out toward us. It reached the tipping point and he jumped back as it slid out of the opening. With the Fool’s help, I hop-limped over to join them.

  ‘One more, and Per can slip through with a torch.’

  Per nodded eagerly. He darted away and a short time later returned. He’d wrapped rags from one of the cell mattresses around a torture poker and drenched them with oil from a lamp. Lant stepped back from the opening as Per kindled it and poked it through the hole. ‘Not much to see. Ow!’ he cried as the flames licked up toward his hand, and he dropped the torch.

  Bee leaned in to peer into the darkness. ‘She dragged her small body up and half into the hole. ‘What do you see?’ I asked her.

  ‘Steps going down. Not much else.’ She wriggled deeper into the hole and then abruptly dropped down on the other side.

  ‘Bee!’ I cried in alarm.

  She stood up, torch in hand, and peered back at us. ‘I’m fine.’ She lifted the torch higher and I leaned into the opening. Broad steps led down into darkness. I smelled the sea, and soaked stone. I suspected standing water at the bottom of the steps. I had a glimpse of cut-stone walls and ceiling. The lower parts of the walls were speckled. ‘I’m going down the steps, to see what I can see,’ Bee announced.

  ‘No,’ I forbade her. I tried to seize her but could not reach her.

  ‘Da,’ she said, and the hollow beyond echoed her laughter strangely. Her voice was merry as she said, ‘No one can tell me “no” any more. Not even you.’ She started down the steps. ‘I’ll be back,’ she promised.

  My eyes met Lant’s. He looked as stricken as I felt.

  ‘I can fit through that hole. I’m sure of it,’ Per declared, and pushed past Lant and me to thrust his head and shoulders into the gap. He withdrew, then tried again, leading with his clasped hands this time. ‘Lift me and push!’ he commanded in a muffled voice, and Lant obeyed. I heard Per’s grunts and the scraping of fabric on stone. I dreaded that he would wedge, but after some struggle, Lant seized his kicking feet and pushed him through. I heard him tumble down a step or two. He stood and cried breathlessly, ‘Bee, Bee, wait for me!’

  ‘Take a sword!’ Lant commanded him, and thrust one through the gap. Per took it and hastened away from us, his body blocking most of the dancing light that was Bee and her torch. ‘Don’t go far!’

  He called something back to us, and was gone.

  ‘They’re brave,’ Spark said, and I saw her measuring her body against the opening.

  Lant caught her by the shoulder. ‘Help us free one more stone. At most two. Then I think all of us can escape, if indeed it leads to freedom.’

  ‘I wouldn’t go without you,’ she promised him and immediately began to dig at the next seam of mortar. After a moment, Lant knelt to pursue the seam adjacent to hers. I stood and stared into blackness. Shadows that were Per and Bee moved with the descending light. It grew smaller and then vanished. I waited, eyes straining, to see it again, but saw only darkness.

  ‘Their torch has failed. We have to send Spark after them.’ I hoped my voice did not shake too badly. I imagined a hundred evil things awaiting Bee.

  ‘One more stone, and we can,’ Lant promised me.

  Time dragged and no one spoke. There was only the endless scraping of tools on mortar to mark the passing moments. Only darkness inside the hole. I wanted to pace. I could not. They worked in shifts, Lant and Spark, then two of the prisoners, then back to Lant and Spark. The ground away mortar sifted down the wall. Behind and above us, the fire muttered to itself.

  ‘Stop!’ Lant said suddenly. He leaned past the Whites who had been scraping away to peer into the opening. ‘I see light! They’re coming back.’

  I pushed up beside him. The light danced toward us slowly, barely an ember in the darkness. Lant fashioned another torch and thrust it toward the hole. Now we could see more, but it was still some time before we saw Bee coming up the steps. ‘Where’s Per?’ I called, dreading some disaster.

  ‘He’s trying to break an old wooden door,’ she called, breathless as she climbed the steps. ‘It’s partly rotten, but we couldn’t get past it. He poked the sword through between the planks and a tiny bit of light came in. So we think it’s the way out! The tunnel steps go down, and then the floor slopes down. We had to wade through water for a long way. I cut my feet on some barnacles, but then Per cut one of his sleeves away so I could bind my feet. Then we came to steps going up. A lot of them, going up and up and finally the door. Per said it might have been a guard post once. He said he didn’t mind the dark, but I’ll want light for going back. We need pokers for levers. Or an axe. We will work on the door while you work on the bricks here.’

  It was a sensible plan. I hated it.

  We passed the smallest pot-lamp through to her and I surrendered the ship’s hatchet. Bee hugged the lamp to her chest, the hatchet and a poker tucked awkwardly under her arm. I watched her carry it away as if I were watching her leave the world.

  ‘The ceiling is burning through,’ the Fool said quietly. ‘I smell it. And it’s getting warmer in here.’

  ‘Work faster,’ Lant suggested, and they all did. When Lant judged there was enough purchase for the poker, he pushed it under the stone. ‘A moment,’ Prilkop suggested, and inserted a bar of his own. ‘Now,’ he said, and both men leaned on their levers. The stone was adamant.

  Behind me, a small piece of the ceiling fell, landing on the torture table and the steps where I had rested. Flames were dancing on it as it came down. The floors here were of stone, as were the walls, but that would be small comfort to us if burning rubble fell on us. I had gained a fearful respect for smoke and heat. We stared wide-eyed at one another.

  ‘Let me help!’ Spark cried. She stepped up and balanced on one of the pokers like a bird perching on a twig. ‘Now push down,’ she told Lant. He and Prilkop leaned on their bars. With a slow crackling sound, the stone moved upward slightly. Prilkop shoved his bar deeper and leaned on it, groaning. The stone grated as it rose out of its bed. It tipped then lodged, making the opening even smaller than it had been. The prisoner who had first come to help pushed the stone deeper into the opening with all his skeletal weight. The stone slid into the maw of the tunnel. It almost but not completely cleared the opening.

  Lant threw down his bar and eeled into the darkness. One of the prisoners squirmed in beside him, contributing his feeble
strength to move the stone. ‘Help me,’ the skinny White gasped, and a second crawled through to join him. I heard Lant grunt, then groan and the grinding noise as the stone grudgingly moved. Slowly an escape opened before us. The two prisoners quickly wriggled through and out of the way. Lant joined them on the other side and then turned around.

  Lant’s face appeared in the opening. ‘Quick. Come through,’ he commanded Spark, and stepped back to make room for her. But as she stepped forward, the last prisoner suddenly threw herself at the opening. Fast as a startled rat, she was through. I heard Lant’s exclamation of surprise and then he cursed. ‘They’ve run ahead,’ he complained. That alarmed me; I did not trust any of them.

  ‘Lant. Go after them!’ I begged him.

  ‘Sword,’ he demanded, and Spark stooped, seized one, and passed it to him.

  ‘I’m going, too,’ she declared, and slid into the gap, her sword leading the way.

  ‘Bring my pack!’ she called over her shoulder and then raced down the steps and into darkness. Lant was already out of sight. I had to go after her.

  I tried to stand and my leg folded under me. The Fool caught my arm and pulled me upright. It simply would not take my weight. Fury welled in me and for a moment I could not even speak. When I had control of myself, I lifted my eyes to Prilkop. ‘Will they hurt Bee? Do they mean her harm?’ I demanded of him.

  Prilkop had picked up the last pot-lamp in his arms. He looked from me to the Fool and chewed his lip. ‘I hope not,’ he offered me. ‘But they are very frightened. And angry. It’s hard to say what people will do when they are scared.’

  ‘Can you go after them and stop them?’ the Fool asked.

  ‘I don’t know if they’ll listen to …’ he began.

  ‘Try!’ the Fool cried, and Prilkop nodded brusquely. He pushed the lamp to one side and squeezed stiffly through the opening. On the other side, he laboriously took up the lamp and went down the steps, far more slowly than I wished him to.

 
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