Assassins fate, p.80
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       Assassin's Fate, p.80
 

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

  The ship roared again. It cascaded through the vessel and echoed in me. I could not find myself for his despair. I saw it mirrored on the faces of the men who had cornered me.

  The man with the burned face spoke quickly in a shaking voice. ‘Fire’s spreading, Per. We can’t stop it. Whatever they’re using, water won’t quench it. You need to get the girl off the ship now. But that Silver stuff … I need it. For Paragon. He’ll sink here and be gone forever unless he can turn into dragons now. Amber told me where to find it. It’s the Silver Paragon was promised if he helped you.’

  The other man held out his hands to me. ‘Please, girl. You can’t use the Silver; it’s poison to you. But it might be enough to let the dragons break free!’

  If I kept it, I could make them obey me. All of them. I’d be like Vindeliar, but much stronger.

  I’d be like Vindeliar …

  ‘Take it.’ I thrust the silvery tube at them. The burned man reached for it.

  ‘No,’ the other man said. ‘You get them off the ship. I’ll get this to Paragon.’

  ‘The flames,’ the burned man cautioned him. ‘Kennitsson, you’ll never get through.’

  ‘It’s Paragon. This is my family ship. Blood of my blood. I must.’ The man called Kennitsson grabbed the container, cradled it, and scampered up the ladder one-handed.

  Another agonizing shriek split the air and raced through the bones of the ship. ‘Get up the ladder,’ Per ordered me, and I obeyed him as quickly as I could. I gained the deck and stood up into blowing smoke and falling ash. I looked up. Our furled sails were slowly burning, shedding fragments of ash and flaming canvas as they did. On one side of the ship, flame licked up in a wall. We would not escape that way. Smoke rose on every other side, and I had learned how quickly rising smoke could become a sheet of flame. My eyes streamed so that I could barely see.

  A gloved hand seized my shoulder from behind. ‘Get to the boats!’ Beloved shouted in a gasping voice. ‘There’s no saving him. Oh, Paragon, my old friend.’

  ‘Amber! Where are my parents?’ the man with the injured arm shouted, and Beloved shook his head.

  ‘They ran toward the bow. Our attackers have been concentrating the fire there. Boy-O, you won’t get through the flames. They’re lost!’

  But the man chased after his friend with the Silver. They ran forward. I saw them run, I saw them leap, and hoped it was a thin curtain of flames they penetrated and not an inferno. The keening of the ship filled my ears and my whole body. I shook with his fear and anger. This was how we would all end. I knew that as clearly as he did. All this I saw as I was dragged away by Beloved. He was stronger than he looked and, in a corner of my mind, I wondered if it was my dead father’s strength that he used.

  We reached the other side of the vessel. He looked over the side through the rising smoke and swore. ‘They left us!’ Per exclaimed and coughed.

  Beloved kept a grip on my shoulder. He wrapped his arm over his face and spoke through the fabric of his sleeve. ‘They had to, or the boat would have caught fire, too. They’re there, trying to wait for us, but we’ll have to jump and then swim. And the Servants’ boats are closing in on them.’

  ‘Lant?’ Per coughed. ‘Spark?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘I can’t swim,’ I said. Not that it mattered. I wondered if drowning hurt less than burning. Probably. But the fishing boats were still shooting arrows at our ships. Two of our sailors dashed up to join us, brandishing their swords futilely.

  ‘Do we jump?’ Per coughed. His eyes were streaming. The smoke had a terrible smell and flavour, like burning flesh. Like the body of the messenger my father and I had burned, so long ago.

  Then something changed. The whole ship shuddered, like a horse shaking off flies. The deck began to buckle under our feet.

  ‘Jump!’ Per shouted, but gave me no time to obey. He seized me by the upper arm and dragged me away from Beloved. He did not give me time to clamber over the railing but pulled me over it, knocking my shins hard against the wood. Strange, how sharp that pain still was in the midst of everything else.

  Beloved leapt with us, kicking and flailing as he fell. I saw his flying body for only an instant before the cold water closed over me. I hadn’t taken a breath and Per had lost his grip on me. I went down, into cold and sudden dark. The force of my plummet pushed water up my nose. It hurt. I gasped, took in water, and then closed my mouth tight. I hung in cold darkness. Kick, kick, I told myself. Paddle hands, do something. Fight to live. Wolf Father!

  No. He was gone, with my other father, and I was alone. I had to fight. As a cornered wolf fights. As he had promised my father would fight. I kicked and slapped wildly at the water that held me. I hated it as much as I hated Dwalia and Vindeliar. And then, for an instant, my head bobbed above the water. There was no time to gasp before I sank again. Kick harder, slap harder. Again, I found light and the touch of air on my face. I spat and snorted water, battering my hands on the surface of the water viciously as I tried to stay above it. I gasped in air before a wave slapped me in the face.

  Someone caught hold of my arm. I climbed up him like a frantic cat climbs a tree, with no thought that I was pushing him under as I thrust my head into the air. I took a deep breath, and someone else caught hold of me and dragged me backwards. ‘Relax. On your back!’ a voice commanded me. The world around me was blurry. I could not relax but she held me on my back and the head that bobbed up beside me was Per. He spat, snorted, and caught hold of my arm. He drew himself closer to me. ‘Ant. Thank you.’

  ‘Kick!’ the girl said suddenly. ‘Kick hard!’

  I blinked saltwater from my eyes. I was looking up. The ship seemed much larger from this perspective. Fire licked up his sides and the scorched rags of burning canvas drifted up into the morning on the hot air that rose from him. I heard the dismayed and angry shouts of sailors on the other anchored ships and twisted, fearing the flotilla of little boats that had attacked us but they seemed to be drawing back now, satisfied with their handiwork.

  I was kicking my feet in imitation of Per and Ant and we were moving away from Paragon, but slowly. The ship towered over us, slowly turning in his own inferno. I saw two more people leap through flames to seek the dubious safety of the water. His slow wallow brought the twin dragon figureheads into view. They had been blue and green, but now both were scorched and burning. The wood seemed to fight the flames. Scorched black, the scales would suddenly reappear, blue or green, but the unquenched oil would ignite again and the flames would flare. Fire licked up the long necks: both heads were thrashing wildly. The foredeck was engulfed in flames. Even at this distance, I could feel the waves of distress from the liveship, and his trumpets of fury and despair echoed over the bay from the rounded hills behind the town.

  A taller wave slapped over my face. I came up snorting and blinking water. As my vision cleared, I saw a flaming man leap onto the blue dragon. He clasped it around the neck and shouted something. He held aloft my father’s glass container. The dragon opened its jaws to accept it from the man. As he did so, the man fell from his perch into the sea. The blue dragon tipped its head back and closed its jaws. I saw a single silver shard fall from the dragon’s mouth.

  ‘Did it work?’ Per gasped.

  ‘Did what work?’ Ant demanded.

  ‘Catch a line,’ someone shouted, and a rope slapped across my chest. Per caught hold of it and so did I. It had been thrown from one of our ship’s boats. I recognized the tattooed woman who held the other end of the rope.

  ‘There wasn’t enough,’ Per said sadly.

  The woman began to take in line, dragging us toward the boat. The motion made the waves lap over us more strongly. Another slapped my face and when I blinked the water away it seemed that Paragon was falling to pieces. The masts were tilting and falling, the grand house aft was tipping into the bay. The railings were sagging and the planks loosening and drooping like snow on branches at the end of winter. Per spat out water. Only the hull w
as holding intact and some of the deck and railings.

  ‘Where’s Amber?’ Per called to our rescuers.

  ‘Not here,’ the woman said.

  I watched a ripple of colour run along a plank section as I clung to a line dragging me through the water. Then hands were seizing me and I was hauled over the side and dropped into a few inches of standing water in the bottom of a crowded boat. The ribs of the boat bit mine as I thudded against them. But no one was paying attention to me. Ant and Per were clambering aboard, legs hooked over the sides. I pulled up Per and then Ant.

  ‘Paragon,’ Per gasped.

  The wreckage of the Paragon was settling into the water. I saw someone clinging to a board and hoped it was Lant. My companions were not looking for survivors. Instead they were transfixed by the sight of a great struggle in the water. A green head broke the surface and then its flailing front legs caught at the wreckage. A green dragon dragged itself up onto the slowly sinking house of the ship. It spread its wings and shook water from them. Its wings were patterned with black and grey, the colours of scorched wood and dirty smoke. Abruptly, it threw its head high and gave a whistling cry. Words were mixed with her scream, for as her thoughts slapped my mind, I knew her for a queen.

  ‘VENGEANCE! VENGEANCE FOR ME AND MINE!’

  Some of my companions covered their ears against that shrill cry but others raised a cheer. She beat her wings more strongly, stirring the water and wreckage around her. She was not a large dragon, not much longer than a horse and team, but when she roared again I saw her gleaming white teeth and the scarlet-and-yellow lining of her throat. She rose from her perch on the wreckage, fighting her way into the air until she was a green shape against a pale blue sky. She circled twice over us, and her wings seemed to grow stronger with every stroke.

  Then she dived onto one of the fleeing boats. I saw her snatch one of the rowers. Three loosed arrows missed her and one bounced from her scales. She lifted the hapless man higher and as her jaws closed, his legs fell to one side and his head and shoulders to the other. We heard our enemies’ cries of horror, but no one in our boat cheered. It was too horrific, too great a reminder of what a dragon could do to any human. Even a small dragon.

  ‘A blue one!’ someone shouted. I had been so intent on watching the green one that I had missed the blue’s emergence from the wreckage. He stood spread-legged upon the wallowing pile of timbers, wings of smoke veined with red lifted wide. He was larger than the green, and the roar he gave was deep and full-throated. He tucked his head and lowered it. I did not realize the body of a man was beside him until he nosed it.

  ‘Oh, sweet Eda! That’s Boy-O. He’s going to eat Boy-O!’

  As if in response to that thought, the blue dragon lifted his head again. His thoughts rode his roar and I began to understand that I ‘heard’ his speech in my mind while my ears heard his trumpet.

  ‘He lives. My friend is not my meat. I will feast on my enemies!’

  His wings beat more powerfully and more slowly than the green’s had. He lifted deliberately into the air. Screams from across the water told me that the green was still feeding. We watched the larger blue rise. Our oarsmen were not rowing; we floated in a spreading raft of debris. Higher and higher the blue climbed and then he dived on his prey. He swamped the boat in passing but carried off a stout oarsman in his jaws. He carried the man up until we could barely hear his screams. Like the green had, he sheared off the dangling parts of the man. But then, in a spectacular display of agility, he swallowed and then dived again to catch the man’s falling legs and gulp them in passing.

  The oarsmen in our boat suddenly seized their oars. I saw why. Another survivor had hauled himself up onto the wreckage. He was crawling toward Boy-O’s body across the bobbing planks and debris. ‘That’s Clef!’ Per shouted.

  A sailor knelt in the bow of our boat, pushing debris from our path as we made our way toward the most densely packed raft of floating wreckage. Another of Paragon’s boats was swifter than we were. I saw Spark climb out, to dance and balance on the floating, tipping pieces until she knelt by the man’s body. ‘Alive!’ she cried and a cheer rose from our company. They rejoiced in the survival of their friends. In life.

  I was not such a good person. I turned my eyes from the survivors and watched the two dragons harrying and chasing, feeding and soaring to let bloody bits rain down on the servants of the Servants.

  I took my bitter satisfaction from their deaths.

  THIRTY-NINE

  * * *

  The Vengeance

  Of the Treasure Beach, this is known.

  You must anchor in the small bay on the south shore. Watch the tides! A low tide will strand you. A high tide coming in may well drive you into the shore.

  Walk the path through the forest with caution. Disaster befalls those who wander from the path.

  When you reach the far shore, walk along the tideline in the bay. Do not leave the beach. All areas on Others’ Island are forbidden to humanity except the beach and the path.

  You may find treasures washed up by the waves. The currents and wind seem to gather them from afar and deposit them there. Collect as many as you wish. None may you carry away.

  At the correct time, a being will come to you. Treat the being with great respect. Present the treasures you have gathered. In his wisdom, the being will tell you of your future and suggest the best paths for you to follow. When the telling is done, you may leave each treasure in an alcove in the cliff.

  You must not take with you anything you find on the Treasure Beach, no matter how tiny. To do so is to invite calamity upon yourself and all your descendants.

  Aljeni’s List of Magical Places, translated by FitzChivalry Farseer

  I was amazed at the destruction two dragons could wreak, but I was certain that the remainder of the Servants were even more astonished. The blue and the green drove away the small boats that had visited such disaster upon us. The other ships that had been in port raised their anchors and unfurled their sails and fled the incomprehensible destruction. They must have believed that the folk of Clerres had gone mad to visit flames upon a peacefully anchored ship. To have the ship suddenly birth two savage dragons was surely beyond their comprehension.

  What shall I say of that chaotic afternoon? All my memories of it are sick and sodden with saltwater and grief and intense weariness. With our enemies fled, we gathered up our friends—living, dead and those in between. Our overladen boat made it to the end of a dock and we claimed that space. Three of our party including the tattooed woman seemed very familiar with battle. Deprived of weaponry, they still organized us in a defensible way and stood ready with knives drawn. Others set out with the boat again, to find our other ship’s boats and comrades clinging to the wreckage.

  ‘Will you feel safe if I leave you here and go look for the others?’ Per asked me, very seriously.

  I shrugged. ‘None of us is safe, Per. This entire city hates us, and soon will find a way to show us.’ I gestured wide. ‘We have no means of escape. The ship became dragons; the other ships have fled or are destroyed by the dragons. We have few weapons and nothing to buy our lives with.’ It was all so clear to me. He gave me a stricken stare. I pitied him. Didn’t he know we were all going to die here? ‘Go,’ I told him. ‘See who you can find.’

  Before he returned, another of our ship’s boats found us. Weary survivors straggled up onto the dock to join us. Spark was among them. Lant was not. Boy-O was the man with the burned face and ruined arm. Clef helped him up the ladder to the dock. I was surprised he could still speak, let alone stand. ‘Has anyone seen my parents?’ he asked. No one replied. His face went slack and he sat down where he was on the dock. Slowly he fell over. The sailor called Ant went to sit beside him. ‘Have we any water?’ she asked.

  We didn’t.

  Spark came to sit beside me. She was drenched and shaking, and we huddled together for warmth. ‘Amber?’ she asked me. ‘Per?’

  ‘Per is helping find
the others. I don’t know Amber.’

  Spark stared blankly at me. ‘Amber is the Fool. But only your father called him that. Or Beloved.’

  ‘Beloved,’ I said quietly. I added, ‘I have not seen him since we jumped from the ship.’

  There seemed nothing else to say. We sat there. No one came to attack us. The Servants’ boats had scattered. Some few had fled to the castle, harried all the way by the blue and the green dragons. The dragons were circling the stronghold now, screeching their anger. The archers on the walls were wasting all their arrows with shots that fell short or bounced off the scaly hide. In the town, people watched from their rooftops and the windows of the upper storeys of their homes. We saw no one moving in the streets, and no one seemed to want to attack us. Perhaps the townsfolk did not even know if or why we were the enemy. The sun grew stronger in a bright blue sky, warming us and drying our clothing. I sat on the edge of the dock, swinging my bare feet over the water below, waiting. Waiting to find out who was still alive. Waiting for the townsfolk to attack us. Waiting for anything to happen at all.

  ‘I’m hungry and thirsty,’ I said to Spark. ‘And I wish I had shoes. That seems so wrong to me. So heartless that I can think of these things.’ I shook my head. ‘My father is dead, and I am wishing I had shoes.’

  She put an arm around me. I found I didn’t mind that. ‘I wish I could brush my hair and tie it back from my face,’ Spark admitted. ‘I wish that even as I wonder if Lant is dead, and strange to say, I feel angry with him.’

  ‘That’s because if you felt sad and wept, you would be making him dead in your mind.’

  She gave me a strange look. ‘Yes. But how do you know these things?’

  I shrugged and said, ‘I’m very angry at my father. I don’t want to weep for him any more. I know I will, but I don’t want to.’ I rolled one shoulder. ‘And I am very angry at Beloved. Amber.’ I
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