Assassins fate, p.83
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       Assassin's Fate, p.83

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

  short time ago. They told me of your other losses, including young Lant. A shame. He seemed such an engaging fellow.’

  ‘He was,’ Per said quietly, and suddenly the red man seemed to realize that perhaps his words had been thoughtless.

  ‘Well, I should find some sustenance for myself. Heeby is sleeping and I have some time to myself. Vivacia will soon be arriving. We overflew her on our way here. Doubtless she and her crew will be disappointed to discover they have missed the battle.’ He turned and began to walk away, leaving as abruptly as he had arrived.

  ‘Red man!’ Navigator called after him. ‘Stay and eat with us. And drink to Kennitsson, Prince of the Pirate Isles.’

  He turned back, his gleaming eyes very wide. ‘I would be welcome here? And my dragon?’ He seemed surprised.

  ‘We will remember our dead tonight,’ Clef told him.

  Rapskal nodded slowly and then suddenly grinned wide. ‘We would be honoured to join you. She is sleeping, her belly full of meat. When she wakes, I will bring her here.’ He turned and hurried off.

  The rest gaped after him, but I filled my mouth again. Spark came to find us, carrying a basket full of onions and carrots. ‘I harvested one of the gardens,’ she said quietly, as if a bit ashamed. ‘There was little left of the house. I do not think the owners will be returning. How is Boy-O?’

  ‘Much better. Bee can heal, like her father. And Vivacia is on her way here. Perhaps we have a way home,’ Per told her.

  She smiled. ‘Good news all round, then,’ she said, but her voice held the note of sorrow suppressed. ‘I shall be glad to leave this place,’ she added.

  ‘As shall we all,’ Beloved affirmed.

  It was a peculiar night. Someone brought Brashen beer in a bowl. He drank it slowly but did not leave Boy-O’s side. Rapskal did come back, and with him a scarlet dragon named Heeby. I was surprised to find that Heeby was shy and held herself apart and did not speak at all. Some of the crew got very drunk and sang songs about loot and sailing. Navigator was as drunk as any, and showing all that her tattoos were actually charts of harbours and waterways. After a time, she and Rapskal went apart from us, for she wished to show him a large tattoo on her belly. Per put my piece of canvas down on the far side of the fire from the singing and laughing crew. When he came to sit beside me, he smelled of beer. Later, Spark came to lie down beside me. She wept quietly in the dark.

  Beloved sat apart from us. I watched him until I fell asleep. My last thought that night was that he was as alone as I was.

  I awoke to birds calling. I looked up at tree branches with bits of blue sky beyond them. Dwalia! My entire body jerked with fear.

  Then Per said, ‘Bee? You’ve slept a long time. Are you waking up now?’

  I sat up slowly. Per was bare-chested. Oh. His shirt had been my blanket. I offered it to him wordlessly and he spoke as he put it back on. ‘Vivacia came into the harbour early this morning. Well, to the harbour. Too shallow for her to come closer. Their boat came ashore looking for us. That red fellow, Rapskal, he’d overflown them and shouted we were here. They’ve already taken Boy-O. We’ll go next.’

  I looked around me, blinking. ‘Is there food?’ I asked stupidly.

  ‘There is.’

  The bread was stale, but he had saved me a peach. He warmed the bread on a stick over the embers and dunked it in the butter. It was good. I washed my hands and face and said, ‘The birds woke me. Did you have a blue crow? With some red feathers?’ It seemed a dream.

  ‘She went with the dragons, I think. They gave her such colours! She loves them.’ He seemed sad.

  I changed the subject. ‘Who is Vivacia and why has she come?’

  ‘She’s a liveship, like Paragon was. She came following the dragons and Rapskal. She’d gone to Others’ Island. There was a battle there, too, to kill all the Others who had been taking the dragon eggs or capturing the little serpents as they hatched. Then Vivacia said they must now come here to help Tintaglia take revenge …’

  ‘I see,’ I said, but only to stop his flow of words. My head felt too foggy to take on so much information. I stood up slowly and looked around. Spark was drifting listlessly about our camp, as if looking for anything that needed to be done. Her eyes were red, her mouth drooping. The others were gone. ‘Did Beloved go to the ship with the others?’

  ‘No. He went up into the hills, to try to find his way back to the tunnel. He went before, in the night, but could not find it. So he got up very early, as soon as it was light, to try again.’

  ‘And he didn’t wake me to go with him?’ Anger coursed through me.

  ‘Nor me, nor Spark. He told Ant to tell us where he’d gone.’ He put more bread on the toasting stick. ‘I think he needed to go alone, Bee.’

  ‘And what about what I might need?’ I raged. The anger that shot through me was as heady as when the Skill rushed from me. Like the night the serpent spit had got in my cuts.

  ‘Bee?’ Per said and stepped a little back from me.

  I saw Beloved at the edge of the camp. He walked slowly, looking at the ground. I did not run to him. I shouted, ‘Did you see him? You went without me.’ I could not keep the anger from my voice.

  ‘No.’ His voice was a hoarse admission of defeat. ‘I found the tunnel mouth again. But it was as I feared. At a high tide, it floods full.’

  I winced. I did not want to think of my father’s body floating in cold seawater while fish nibbled at him. ‘He’s dead. I told you that. I felt it.’

  He didn’t look at me. With an effort, he said, ‘Spark, Per, if there’s anything you want to take, gather it. I promised Wintrow I would not delay the sailing. There’s probably a boat waiting for us now.’

  Per had piled fruit onto a square of canvas. He bagged it up and said, ‘That’s it. Ready to go.’

  ‘I’m taking nothing from here,’ Spark said.

  Beloved looked at me. I shrugged. ‘Nothing. Taking nothing. Leaving everything.’

  ‘I know he’s dead,’ he admitted brokenly. He finally turned toward me. The rims all around his pale eyes were red. There were deep lines around his mouth. He looked at me. ‘You are all I have left of him now.’

  I spoke very quietly. ‘Then you have nothing at all.’

  FORTY

  * * *

  Warm Water

  Battle death to your last breath and even unknown, you are a hero.

  Whimper your way into darkness and your name will become a taunt of cowardice.

  Chalcedean saying

  Dying is boring, Nighteyes observed.

  I drew a deeper breath. ‘Perhaps you are not taking it as personally as I am.’ My voice sounded strange to me. Water had risen in the chamber and I had wondered if I would drown, trapped on my back with my head lower than my hips and my legs pinned between stone and stone. It was among the worst deaths I could have imagined for myself, but it had not even wet my hair. If it had come that high, I probably would have drunk some of it. Saltwater or not, I was so thirsty.

  The water was retreating now. The high tide had not reached me. This time. Perhaps the next tide would reach higher. I would almost welcome it, I decided. I had never expected to awaken in my body again, never expected to endure physical discomfort again. Now it seemed unfair that the pain from my trapped legs was not enough to drive hunger and thirst from my thoughts. I wrapped my arms around my body. I was cold. Not the cold that kills, but the cold that makes one stiff and miserable.

  Your death is personal, Little Brother. When you go, so do I.

  You should have stayed with Bee.

  All the same. When you perish, I go, too.

  The blackness was absolute. Either I was blind or no light reached this chamber. Likely both were true, but I didn’t regret giving the Fool my strength and my eyes. I hoped it had been enough to get them out of this tunnel and back to Paragon. I hoped they had boarded the ship, hoisted anchor and dropped sail and fled without another thought for me.

  I tried again to move.
The edges of the stone steps dug into my hips, the middle of my back and my shoulders. Cold and hard. The sword slash still hurt, and the back of my neck itched maddeningly. I scratched it again. It was the only discomfort I could do anything about.

  So the plan is to lie here until we die?

  It’s not a plan, Nighteyes. It’s inevitable.

  I thought you were more of a wolf than that.

  That stung. I scowled and spoke aloud into the darkness. ‘Give me a better plan, then.’

  Make up your mind. Is Death a friend? Then go joyfully to hunt with it, as I did. If it’s an enemy, then fight it. But don’t sag here like a wounded cow waiting for predators to finish it off. You are not prey, nor I! If we must die, let us die as wolves!

  What would you have me do? Chew off my legs?

  A brief silence. Then, Could you do that?

  I don’t bend that way, my teeth are wrong, and I’d likely bleed to death before I escaped.

  Then why did you suggest it?

  I was being sarcastic.

  Oh. Bee was not sarcastic. I enjoyed that about her.

  Tell me of your time with her.

  A longer pause in his thoughts. Then, No. Fight your way out of this and live, and perhaps she will tell you herself. I am not going to share tales of her hardship while you lie here and moan like a wounded sow.

  Her hardship. How bad was it?

  Bad enough.

  His rebuke stung in a way that only his disdain of me had ever achieved. I tried again to shift my legs. Useless. The fallen beam pinned me just above the knees. I could not get any leverage. I tried to remember if I’d had a long knife in my pack. The wolf was right about that aspect of my predicament. I did not want to linger like this. Would I go so far as to sever my legs to escape? A ridiculous idea. My knife would never go through leg bones. Was the ship’s hatchet in my bag?

  I groped for my pack. I’d had it slung over my shoulder before the blast flung me down the steps. It was gone. My groping fingers found only loose gravel and rubble. And standing water if I stretched my arms as far as I could past my head. I paddled my fingers in the water and then wiped grit and dust from my face with my wet hand. The warm water felt good. I reached my hand into it again and trailed my chilled fingers in it.

  Warm water. Warm water?

  I froze.

  In my experience, two things gave off warmth: living creatures and fire. My Wit told me there were no other living creatures in my vicinity. A fire in water was not possible. For a single, chilling moment, I recalled that Forged people were invisible to my Wit, yet alive and giving off warmth. But I had not encountered a Forged one in decades, not since the Red-Ship Raiders had created them during our war with the OutIslanders.

  We found that hot spring, once.

  It stank. I smell nothing.

  Nor I.

  I opened my eyes wide and strained to see something, anything. But still there was nothing. I firmed my will to iron and reached out again, groping. The water was definitely warmer. I strained my arms in that direction as far as I could. I felt the slash in my leg straining with my reaching. Warmer yet. My fingertips brushed something I recognized at once. The side of my pack. Just a little more. I strained, dragged my fingertips down the sturdy fabric, seeking something to grip. Instead, I felt it overbalance and slip away from me. With a muffled ‘tunk’ it fell down one step. Hopelessly out of my reach now.

  And that sound, the noise of something solid and dense made me recall what had weighted my pack. One of Chade’s firepots was in there. With the heavy tube of dragon-Silver.

  And the Elderling fire-brick.

  I wondered which side of the brick was now up. I wondered if Chade’s firepot could explode under water. The brick could not set fire to it. Was mere heat enough to set it off?

  What happened to dragon-Silver when it was heated?

  Probably nothing.

  Some time passed. A lot of time, or a little time. In the dark, degrees of pain, hunger and thirst were more potent measures than time. Occasionally I shifted, to put the pressure of the edges of the steps in different uncomfortable parts of my body. I scratched my neck where it itched. I crossed my arms on my chest; I uncrossed my arms. I thought of Bee, of the Fool. Had they escaped? Had they reached the ship safely? Perhaps they were even now on their way home. I yearned after them, and then rebuked myself. I did not want them here in the dark with me. Much as I might claim to disbelieve the Fool’s dream, his prediction had been too powerful. I thought of Bee’s illustration in her book. The blue buck stood on one pan of the scale, the tiny bee on the other. And below it, in her careful script, the words of the red-toothed woman were written. ‘A worthy exchange.’

  It was.

  My thoughts wandered. I hoped Nettle’s child was growing well. Riddle would be a good father. I hoped Lant and Spark and Per would understand my decision. I thought of Molly and wished I could have died in bed with her beside me.

  The Skill was stealing my body’s paltry reserves, trying to heal the broken parts while rebuilding the strength I had pushed into the Fool. But my body had nothing left to fuel a renewal. I felt like a lamp flame dancing on the last of a wick. I wanted to sleep but was too uncomfortable. Eventually, I knew sleep would take me whether I willed it or not. Possibly I was already asleep in this total darkness. Maybe I was already dead.

  I preferred the boredom to this self-pity. And the water to the left of you is warmer now. Don’t you smell it, even with your pitiful nose?

  I reached over my head and as far to the left as I could in the darkness. My hand touched water. And it was much warmer than standing water inside a dank tunnel should have been. I strained again, reaching, and the water grew surprisingly hot. The fire-brick was a powerful magic.

  As I drew my hand back, my pack exploded.

  I was not completely blind, for I knew an instant of gleaming silver light. Water splashed over me, hot enough to scald. I tried to wipe it from my face but it clung, searing and burning, to both my hands and to my face; it was not water. It sank into me like liquid poured into dry sand, permeating me. And my body sucked it in as if it had always craved this magical stuff. One side of my face, my chest and left arm and both hands it coated, and then it spread as if it were something alive, seeking to envelop me. I screamed, but not in pain. It was an ecstasy too large for my body to contain. Four times I gave voice to an experience no human was ever meant to have. Then I lay back, panting and weeping. I could feel it soaking and changing me. Claiming and trapping me.

  I tried again to wipe it from my eyes. It had gone into my mouth when I screamed and up my nose. The burning pleasure of it was so excruciating that it was a new kind of pain. I rubbed my eyes and tried to blink it away and saw instead a new world in the dark cavern. The gleaming splashes of Silver that had erupted had spattered the fallen stonework that pinned me. I also understood what the Fool had tried to explain to me back in Buckkeep Castle when he spoke of seeing as a dragon might. I saw warmth, on the spattered silver and splashed water. I watched it fade as the water cooled.

  Darkness flowed back in around me. The Silver continued to explore me. I lay still, beyond pleasure, beyond pain. Beyond time. I closed my eyes. I let go.

  Fitz. Do something.

  I realized I was still breathing. And with that thought, awareness of my body triggered a rush of all the pains. ‘Do what?’ I spoke the words in a dry whisper.

  Verity shaped stone with his silvered hands. The Scentless One shaped wood with his silvered fingertips.

  Oh.

  With the tips of my fingers, I explored the fallen beam that trapped my legs. I stroked it. No change that I could feel. I scratched at it with my nails. Splinters under my nails. Not pleasant. I smoothed it with my fingertips.

  I do not know how long it took me to master the process. It was not a physical digging away that was needed, but a persuasion of the wood. I did not compress it with the strength of my hands, nor shear it away, but I came to know the fall
en beam very well indeed.

  It was a physical feat to tighten my belly muscles and curl up enough to reach under the pinning wood. Too often I had to lie back and gather myself again. Silver was not food and water. It gave me strength, but still my body was hungry and thirsty. And so very
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