Assassins fate, p.86
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       Assassin's Fate, p.86

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

  ‘Humans call it a glamour,’ the ship said quietly. ‘Your name is Bee? I give you thanks. At the end of this voyage, we will all go our separate ways. It grieved me that Althea and Brashen might have to go without their son. But he will live, and go with them, and be a comfort to them. And knowing that will be a comfort to me, I think. Even as a dragon.’

  ‘As Bee should be a comfort to me. And Per. And her sister Nettle! Ship, interfere with this child again and I shall …’

  ‘You have no threat to offer, Amber. Be still. She has done enough for Boy-O. What would I ask again of her?’

  He had fallen silent but I could see words piling up in him like unrecorded dreams.

  ‘I will be fine,’ I assured them as I stood. I had to smile. ‘Vivacia, you are as beautiful and perfect as you told me. I could love you.’ I was only a little tottery. And very tired. Don’t tell that. ‘I am going to go sleep. Good night to all of you.’

  Behind me, the adults spoke softly. My hearing has always been keen. Brashen spoke with regret. ‘She must have been a very pretty child, once.’

  ‘Such scars! But thank Sa she is here with us now. She has great heart.’

  ‘I beg you to be more careful of her. She is not strong. Not yet.’ That was Beloved. He was wrong. I could be as strong as I needed to be. It bothered me that he tried to protect me. That he thought I was weak and tried to make others believe it as well. It made a hot little fire of anger in me.

  My legs trembled slightly as I made my way back to my hammock. I couldn’t get into it. I thought of the first time I’d had to climb onto Pris’s back. My horse. Per was right. I’d be glad to see my horse again.

  When Beloved spoke, I startled. ‘Bee. That healing was a kind thing. But you must think first of your own health. You are not well yet. I won’t ask you to promise me, but I will ask that you let me know if you are going to do something like that. Someone must be with you who has your best interests at heart.’

  ‘I do not think the ship would have let me go too far,’ I said. I smiled inside as I felt a warm, wordless reassurance that she would have stopped me. To him, I showed an expressionless face.

  ‘You are like your father. That isn’t really an answer to my request.’ He smiled, sad but serious.

  I sighed. I wanted to sleep, not talk. Even more, I didn’t want his concern for me. It wasn’t his task. I found a lie. ‘You needn’t worry. My ability to do this is almost gone.’

  The smile changed to a worried scowl. ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘The night I fought Symphe and Dwalia and Vindeliar, Symphe had a vial of serpent spit. What Dwalia called serpent potion. I think it had traces of Silver in it, like the Silver Paragon used to turn into dragons.’ I yawned wide. Suddenly I wanted to explain. ‘In a dream I had, they got it from keeping a sea serpent in a very tiny pool of salt water. Symphe was going to have Vindeliar drink it. He had used it before, and it gave him great power. But when I set fire to Symphe, she dropped the vial and it broke. When I was stabbing her, I cut my feet on the glass and some got into my blood. It made me stronger than Vindeliar. I was so strong I could just tell Dwalia to be dead, and she was.’

  He went still. I watched him. Would he fear me now? Hate me?

  No. When he came back to himself, his eyes were sorrowful. ‘You set fire to Symphe. And stabbed her.’

  How could he think it sad that I had done that? I put it clearly. ‘I told you when I told my father. I killed them. It wasn’t evil, and I have no regret. It needed to be done, I was the one who was in the place and time to do it, and it was my task. So, I did it. I should have killed Vindeliar that night, too. It would have saved us all a great deal of trouble.’

  ‘Did you dream it?’ he asked hesitantly. When I stared at him, he said, ‘Did you have a dream that killing them was something you were supposed to do?’

  I shrugged one shoulder. I seized the edge of the hammock and this time I got into it. I pulled up my blanket. It was summer above, but belowdecks, it was chill at night. I closed my eyes. ‘I don’t know. I have dreams. I know they mean something, but they are so strange I can’t connect them to what I will do. I dreamed a silver man carving his heart. The serpent spit was silver. Was that a dream of me carving Dwalia’s heart into death?’

  ‘I don’t think so,’ he said quietly.

  That had been a recent dream. I felt better for having told someone. ‘I’m going to sleep now,’ I told him. I closed my eyes and ignored him. He did not move. It was very annoying. I’d hoped he would leave. I waited a long time and then looked through my lashes. I was going to tell him to go away. Instead I asked, ‘Did you love my father?’

  He went as still as a cat. When he spoke it was with reservation. ‘I had a deep bond with your father. A connection I had with no one else.’

  ‘Why won’t you say you loved him?’ I opened my eyes to see his face. My father had given him all his strength, and this man would not even say he had loved him?

  His smile was too tight, as if he were forcing a different expression to be a smile. ‘It always made him uncomfortable if I used that word.’

  ‘He did not use that word very much. His love was things he did.’

  ‘He never counted up the things he did for me, but he always remembered the things I did for him.’

  ‘So he loved you.’ Loved you so much he left me to take you to Buckkeep.

  All expression fell away from his face. His peculiar eyes were empty.

  ‘He wrote long letters to you, but he had nowhere to send them. He missed you desperately. He loved my mother, but he always had to be strong for her. He had Riddle, too, and my brother Hap. But the things he wrote about in those letters were things he could not say to my mother, nor Riddle nor Hap. You left him, and all he could do was write them down.’

  I watched him carefully and saw my barbed words hit and hold. I wanted to drive him away. I did not care that I hurt him. He was alive and my father was dead. I added, ‘You never should have left him.’

  His voice and face were expressionless as he asked, ‘How do you know what he wrote?’

  ‘Because he did not always burn them every night. Sometimes he waited until the morning.’

  ‘So you read his private papers.’

  ‘I believe you read my journals?’

  He looked startled. ‘I did,’ he admitted.

  ‘You still do. When you think I am deeply asleep, you have looked at my writing.’

  He did not flinch. ‘You know that I do. Bee, you have endured much, but you are still a child. Your father gave you into my care. I promised to watch over you. Understand me, adults do what is best for a child. Parents especially have that obligation. It comes far before doing what you wish or what you might think is best. You have a White heritage; your dreams are both important and dangerous. You need to be guided. Yes, I read your journal, to know you better. I will read the dreams you write.’

  My mind had snagged on his earlier words. ‘Do I get my White heritage from my mother?’ For I knew my father was Mountain and Buck, and nothing else.

  ‘You get it from me.’

  I stared at him. ‘How?’

  ‘You are young to understand this.’

  ‘No, I am not. I knew my father and I knew my mother.’ I held my breath, waiting for him to tell a terrible lie about my mother.

  ‘Do you know how the dragons change the Elderlings? How they give them scales and colours? How their children are born sometimes with scales?’

  ‘No. I did not know they did that.’

  ‘You saw Rapskal, the scarlet man?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘A dragon changed him. A dragon loves him very much. So Heeby, the red dragon, added something of herself to Rapskal, and he changed. And Rapskal’s dragon, Heeby, has taken on much of his thoughts and ways.’

  I was listening intently.

  ‘For many years, I lived alongside your father. I think we both … changed each other.’ I saw his thoughts wander into a differ
ent trail. ‘He said once that he had become the Prophet and I the Catalyst. I thought long about his words. I decided that I wanted it to be so. For once, I wanted to make the change. So I came to Clerres Castle and tried to be the Changer.’

  ‘You were not very good at it.’

  ‘No. But when I first met your father, I would never even have thought of trying.’ He gave a great sigh. ‘I expect you to be angry at me, Bee. I will tell you this. I did what your father wanted me to do. I got you out safely. When I intrude on your life and privacy, it is because he charged me with taking care of you. My word to him comes first. I had hoped to win your respect, if not forge a closer bond. I understand that you resent that I am alive and Fitz is not. But why unleash this tonight?’

  I steeled myself and looked into his pale eyes. ‘Tonight, you tried to act like my father. You said things he might have said. But you are not my father. I don’t want you to behave as if you are. You can teach me, yes; there are things I need to learn. But you are not my father. Don’t pretend you are.’

  ‘Actually,’ he began. Then he stopped.

  He concealed something. He’d read my dreams and my journal, my most private thoughts, and still try to keep secrets from me? Insult most deep. I struck back. An omission was as good as a lie. ‘He wrote you a last letter. One he did not burn, for I think he wrote it mostly for himself. He told you that he understood why you had left. That your “friendship” had never been anything but how you could use him. He wrote that he was better off without you, for my mother loved him for who he was rather than how he could be used. In that letter, he said he hoped never to see you again, for you had twisted his life and robbed him of joy. That he was pleased to take control of his life and determine his own direction now.

  ‘But he saw you again and it happened again. You only came back to him to use him again. You destroyed our home, and he lies dead because of you. All you.’

  I rolled away from him, not an easy task in a hammock. I stared up at the timbers and the shifting lantern shadows. My father would not have been pleased with me. I knew I should apologize and admit my falsehood. Even if I didn’t mean it? Perhaps.

  I looked back at him, but he had fled.

  FORTY-TWO

  * * *

  Furnich

  And among the remnants of what was burned (And there was not much; your protégé was very thorough!) I found a scorched scrap. I have transcribed it here.

  ‘As soon as they are unable to fight, go forward boldly and bleed them. It is essential to do this swiftly, while most of the poison is in their bellies and has not tainted meat, bone, brain or tongue. Harvest the blood, then the organs and last the meat. Label each tub, for each must be tested separately to see if the poison has been too strong and rendered it lethal. Administer some to at least two slaves. If even one dies, dispose of it. Unfortunately, we cannot control how much each dragon will eat of the bait, and therefore we cannot control how much poison each beast will consume.

  The eyes must be preserved in vinegar; they are the most perishable. Slice the meat thinly, salt it and dry it.

  Of the entire creature, only the stomach may be summarily discarded. Every other bit must be harvested and preserved, for once we have eliminated dragons, these are the last that we …’

  And here it ends in scorching. Old friend, you were right. Our Servants deliberately slaughtered what remained of the dragons and serpents following the disaster to the north. Other bits of documents with only dates and the number of casks and barrels would hint to me that the slaughter was carried out in various locations.

  Hence the dragons’ vengeance. Hence also the longevity of the Four.

  Following the murder of Capra, I assumed the care of the few remaining Whites. We have left Clerres for a small farm inland. I am trying to teach the youngsters to grow and harvest food. Many have ceased dreaming.

  I fear this letter will take many months to reach you. When last I parted with FitzChivalry Farseer, we exchanged some hard words. Please extend my respect to him. I do not doubt that he will return to you, just as you made your way back to him.

  Letter from Prilkop to Beloved

  The Fool had told me of how he had returned to Clerres the first time. All I had to do was to make that same journey, in reverse. I had to get to the other side of the island of Clerres, to one of the deep-water ports, Sisal or Crupton. From there, I would find a boat to give me passage to Furnich. There, on the hills around the port of Furnich, I would find the Elderling ruins and a heavily-canted Skill-pillar.

  It seems so simple, if one says it quickly. Most things do.

  I took shelter in the mouth of the tunnel for the night. It was, as Lant had told Bee, a defensible point. At dawn, I climbed to what seemed the highest hill and looked for a road. I cut across a pasture where two cows regarded me with suspicion, down the hill, past the recent ruins of a farmhouse, and struck the road. There was little traffic but I knew that would change as the news of the fall of Clerres spread. This way would come the plunderers and salvagers and the sort of folk who would be quick to take advantage of the battered population. Rumours of dragons would not deter them for long. I hoped that Prilkop would swiftly seize the leadership position I had left vacant for him. The surviving Whites and whatever Servants followed them might, under his tutelage, go back to the old ways. In any case, I was done with them.

  My leg was still healing and ached. I was constantly hungry. Mosquitoes feasted on me and something like a tick had bitten the back of my neck. I could find no little body, but it itched abominably. I missed my shoes badly. That afternoon, a small shadow overflew me. On the next pass, Motley dropped onto my shoulder. ‘Take me home,’ she directed me.

  ‘Did you miss the boat?’ I asked. I wouldn’t admit that I welcomed her companionship.

  ‘Yes,’ she conceded after a time.

  ‘Crow. Motley. How did you know I was alive? How did you know where to find me?’

  ‘Silver man, but still stupid,’ the crow observed. She lifted from my shoulder but called back to me, ‘Fruit tree! Fruit tree!’

  She flew ahead of me down the road. Within me, the wolf was both amused and annoyed. In my absence, you bond with a crow? Well, at least she is not prey. And she is clever.

  We are not bonded!

  No? Well, you are not bonded as you and I were, that is true. But there are many levels of Wit-bond. She senses you, even if she does not care to let you borrow her senses.

  Suddenly, many things became clear to me. I felt offended. Why does she keep me at a distance? I wondered.

  She knows you will never cede to her the sort of bond we shared. And so she protects herself.

  When I made no reply, he added, l like her. Were I still trotting at your side, I might welcome her.

  I smelled the ripe fruit before I saw the tree. A small orchard. A narrow road led to another collapsed dwelling. The dragons had been thorough. Unharvested apricots had fallen and were fermenting on the ant-covered ground. The heady smell and the buzzing of bees and wasps filled the air. Ample fruit still hung on the tree, and I was not slow to fill my hands and then my belly. The juice inside them eased my thirst as well as my hunger.

  When I could eat no more, I picked a generous amount and fashioned what remained of my shirt into a sack. I returned to the road and hiked on, hoping that I would hear a wagon’s creaking or a horse’s hoofbeats in time to conceal myself. My stomach was cramping from all the fresh fruit, but it was less painful than hunger. From time to time Motley flew a lazy circle over my head. Very cautiously, I extended my Wit toward her. Yes. If I focused, I could sense her. But I also felt a small, indignant push of repel. I let her be.

  The Fool had never told me how many days the journey had taken. I did recall that he had spoken of travelling at least part of the way in a cart. I had only my feet. I slept in the open each night and hiked on each day. Food was what I could find, and many of the plants here were foreign to me. The few greens I recognized as edible were not
filling. The days were too hot, and the nights full of stinging insects.

  That evening I tried to find a comfortable spot to sleep where the gnats would not devour me. That wasn’t possible. I sat with my back against a tree, slapping mosquitoes, and reached out to Dutiful. I could let him know I was alive and making my way home. I wanted Bee and the Fool to know that as soon as was possible. Perhaps Dutiful could arrange funds for me. The Skill-pillar could take me as far as Kelsingra, and I hoped I’d be welcomed there. But coin in pocket is always useful. Disaster had stripped me down to the Silver-holed clothes on my back, the knife in my belt, and the few small assassin’s tools left in my little pockets. I centred myself and pushed away my awareness of gnats and a rock poking me and reached for Dutiful. Only to fail as I had not failed with the Skill in many a year.

  I swatted the little bloodsuckers from the back of my neck, pulled my shirt up over my head and tried to think. I tried again. And again. It was like trying to scoop a tiny fly from bubbling soup, always to miss. I stopped and pushed my frustration aside.
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