Assassins fate, p.89
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       Assassin's Fate, p.89
 

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

  Yet given the opportunity, it was only a dozen or so who chose to depart. Some who had long sailed with Vivacia decided to stay with her, to see her become the dragon. ‘That will be a tale to tell for years, and a sight I will not miss,’ declared one man. And at that, two who had sought to leave decided to stay. Wintrow bade farewell to the others and assured them that the ship’s accountant would see them paid. And Boy-O said to the oldest man, ‘I trust this to you, to give to Queen Etta. All of you leaving the ship here, this must not go astray.’ But what he gave them was only a rather plain necklace with a dull grey charm on it. I did not understand while the crewmen were so stricken with gravity. They promised him many times it would go directly to her. The boats were lowered and we watched them row away across the waves. And we left the Pirate Isles behind us.

  That night Captain Wintrow got very drunk, and Althea and Brashen with him. Boy-O stood the night watch and commanded the ship. Clef kept him company, and Per. They sat on the foredeck, near the figurehead, and sang some rude songs. The next day, they all went about their work with blotched faces and shaking hands. Amber and Spark helped to fill the gaps left by the departing sailors, and the ship seemed almost to sail herself in her drive to reach the Rain Wild River.

  I had another episode of the sickness in which I became weak and feverish. When Amber sought to reassure me that all would be well, I said that I’d been through it before and wished to be left alone. Amber seemed to find that astonishing, but acceded to my wishes. It was Per who brought me water and soup and when the fever had passed begged permission of the captain that I be allowed to take a bath in his quarters. I was given a tub to stand in, a cloth to use and a bucket of hot water. I had longed for a tub full of steaming water, but Per explained that given Vivacia’s refusal to stop in the Pirate Isles we had to conserve our fresh water. With what they gave me, I could rid myself of most of my peeling skin. I emerged a colour that was a shade closer to Per’s skin and feeling much better.

  It was peculiar that the very boredom of our uneventful voyage became difficult for me. After months of plotting each day how I would survive, there was suddenly very little for me to do. No one expected chores of me. Over and over, I was told to rest. In those idle hours, I was left to recall every detail of what had befallen me. I tried to make sense out of all that had happened. My father was dead. The people who had stolen me were dead, or mostly so. I was going ‘home’ to Buckkeep Castle, to a sister I did not know well and a niece who was a baby.

  I thought of the things that had been done to me, and the things I had done to survive. Some, I could scarcely believe. Biting Dwalia’s face. Watching Trader Akriel die. Becoming the Destroyer, and killing Dwalia and setting fire to Symphe and burning all the libraries. Had that truly been me, Bee Farseer?

  I had dreams, both those full of portents and the ordinary kind. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. I wandered the walls of Withywoods, calling for my father, but only a wolf came to me. Trader Akriel crawled after me, screaming that it was all my fault. I tried to run from her, but my legs were jelly. A blue buck leapt into a silver lake and a black wolf leapt out of it. A dozen dragons rose in glorious flight. Dwalia stood over my bed and laughed to think I had believed I could kill her. I dreamed of a woman who ploughed an immense field, and golden grasses grew up to be harvested into creaking wagons. I dreamed of my mother saying, ‘He may not seem to love you, but he does’. I dreamed I watched a grand ball in an immense, festive chamber through a crack in the wall.

  Some I wrote down on the paper Beloved had given me, and some I kept to myself. He came to me one evening and said, ‘I propose that we sit down together, and you read your dreams to me, and we discuss them.’

  I did not want to share them. Writing them down made them important. Reading them aloud would make them even more so. I said nothing.

  He sat down beside me on the foredeck. It had become my favourite place to be in the evening. His long hands, one gloved, one bared, were folded loosely in his lap. ‘Bee, please let me know you. There is nothing more important to me than that. I want to know you, and to teach you the things you must understand about yourself. Teach you about your dreams and what they might mean and what life may demand of you. Some day you must find a Catalyst, and begin to make the changes …’

  I noticed that he did not say he wished me to know him. Amber-Fool-Beloved that he was. I covered my drawing of Trader Akriel. I made a smile for him. ‘I found a Catalyst. And I made my changes. I am finished with that.’ I thought of what my father would want me to do. I drew a great breath and tried not to hurt his feelings. ‘I don’t want to be a White Prophet like you were.’

  ‘I could wish that we could change that. But I’m afraid that for you, it’s inevitable. Let’s set that aside. Would you tell me about your Catalyst?’ He tipped his head at me and asked gently, ‘Is it Per?’

  Per? I tried to hide my dismay for such an idea. Per was my friend! ‘I already told you! My catalyst was Dwalia. She enabled me to be who I had to be to become the Destroyer. She changed my life. She took me from Withywoods to Clerres. There I made the changes they all feared I would make. And then I killed her. I am the Destroyer, and I destroyed the Servants.’

  He was silent for a time. His fingers, some gloved and some bared, toyed with one another. ‘Are you sure that Dwalia was your Catalyst?’

  ‘Prilkop said she was.’ I corrected myself. ‘Prilkop said he thought she was.’

  ‘Hmm. Prilkop has been known to be wrong.’ He sighed suddenly. ‘Bee, I thought this was going to be so much easier, for both of us. But then, I had hoped your father might be with us. To help us become friends. To help you trust me.’

  ‘But he’s dead.’

  ‘I know.’ He suddenly sat up straight. He tilted his head to consider my face. Those eyes. I looked away. He spoke to me anyway. ‘Bee. Do you blame me for his death?’

  ‘No. I blame him.’ I hadn’t known I was going to say that. But now that I had, I felt a surge of righteousness. It had been his own fault that he died, and it was fair that I was so angry with him.

  Beloved took my hand in his gloved one. He wasn’t looking at me any more. He stared off over the sea. ‘I do, too. And I think I am as furious with him as you are.’

  I tugged my hand away. As if he were innocent!

  We sailed up the shifting coastline they called the Cursed Shores. Day by day we drew closer to Bingtown until the night we could see its lights in the distance. Beloved set out plans for us. We would disembark in Bingtown, send a messenger bird to Buckkeep Castle that we needed funds for passage home, and wait to hear back from them. Althea had invited us stay in her family home until our funds arrived and our passage was arranged, and ‘Amber’ had gratefully accepted. Until our funds arrived from Buckkeep, we were paupers, dependent on her charity.

  The day was sunny as we sailed into Trader Bay and then Bingtown harbour. Vivacia went directly to the docks reserved for the liveships. Our arrival caused a stir and soon the other liveships were calling to her. It was strange to hear ships shouting to one another, demanding news. Apparently the two small dragons that once had been Paragon had stopped in Bingtown to exhort the other ships to follow them to Kelsingra. Now they wanted to know: was it true? Had these dragons once been Paragon the liveship? One liveship named Kendry was the most vocal, roaring that it was past time for ships to be free dragons. His figurehead was a handsome, bare-chested young man. He was tied at a separate dock from the other liveships, and his masts were naked of canvas. Most of the ships were curious, but Kendry’s anger was frightening.

  It was not only the ships that were in uproar. No sooner were we tied up than a contingent of folk in peculiar robes came down the docks in a gaggle. As I disembarked behind Beloved with Spark and Per they were demanding permission to board.

  ‘Who are they?’ I demanded as we passed them by. Men and women alike were garbed in robes of differing colours and wore grim expressions.

  ‘They
are members of the Bingtown Traders’ Council.’ Beloved as Amber spoke quietly beside me. ‘Each of the original families who settled here has a vote in the Bingtown Council, to make decisions that bind all. The prospect of the liveships becoming dragons will upset many of them. The liveships and their ability to move up and down the Rain Wild River, as well as their swiftness upon the open seas have long given the Traders a distinct advantage. Their vanishing will affect not only the families fortunate enough to have owned them for generations and to have founded their fortunes upon them, but all who have relied on them to bring first to Bingtown the finest goods from the Rain Wilds.’

  ‘Boy-O told me the council won’t be happy about any of it,’ Per summed it up. ‘They’ll likely have a big meeting tonight to decide what’s to be done.’

  Bingtown was a place of beauty and bustle in equal measure. Folk walked with purpose in their stride. A woman loudly hailed a man, demanding to know where her shipment of fine calf leather was. Two men rose from a table and leaned forward to shake hands over a pot of tea and two cups. A messenger dashed past, her pouch of missives clutched to a bouncing bosom. Clerres had been a town of passive pastels and calm folk. Bingtown roared with colour and commerce. The scents of spices and rich meats floated on the air. Amber grinned as she strode through it, and seemed familiar with the town. She was not certain of every turning, but soon found a place where we could send a messenger bird to Buckkeep Castle. Spark produced a small pouch and counted out careful coins from it to pay.

  As we left, Spark hefted the little bag. ‘Not much left of our funds, Amber.’

  ‘We are fortunate to have any. Whatever we have, it must suffice,’ she said. She was attired somewhere between a man and a woman’s garb. We were all in borrowed bits of clothing, for we had come aboard the Vivacia with only the clothes in which we had gone overboard. In comparison to the smartly-clothed Traders and the colourfully garbed folk on the streets we looked like beggars.

  We were on our way back to the ship when Spark shrieked and bolted away from us. I looked up to see a man charging toward her. He seized Spark around the waist and hugged her tight, then spun her around. I was groping for my belt-knife when Per shouted, ‘Lant? How can it be? Lant!’

  And it was. He was baked brown from the sun and more ragged than any of us, but it was Lant indeed. His restoration was enough to decree that we would spend what little coin we had to share a small meal. We sat at a table outside a tea-house under a canopy. Lant supplemented our coins with his. ‘I was clinging to wreckage when the Sea Rose passed me, fleeing the harbour. Her crew threw me a line and I clung to it until they drew me aboard. I begged them to take me back, but neither mate nor crew would hear of that! I’d landed in the middle of a mutiny, for they’d left their insane captain behind them in Clerres.’

  It was a fine tale as he told it. He had worked aboard her as a common sailor, and when she put into a port he had left her and taken passage on a vessel bound for the Spice Isles. From there, he had found work on a little boat happily bound for Bingtown. He had arrived within a day of Vivacia and quickly come to find us.

  I tried to be glad for Spark and Per, but their joyous reunion made me want to weep. Beloved wore Amber’s smile, but in a chance moment I saw melancholy in his eyes. They bought drinks squeezed from fruit and seasoned with a tingling spice. When it came time to pay, the tea-woman refused our money. She touched the wooden earrings she wore and said, ‘They’ve brought me more luck than ever I could have imagined. I am glad to see you back in Bingtown, Amber, and look forward to seeing your shingle once more swinging on Rain Wild Street.’

  We were on our way back to the ship only to be met by Althea before we reached the harbour. She grinned to see Lant with us. ‘I see you found them! Come. I will take you to my family home.’ Her invitation was more of an order than a request. As we fell in with her, she led us up cobbled streets toward a section of the town where gracious homes gazed serenely over garden walls festooned with fragrantly blooming vines. When we had left the crowds of the city behind us, she spoke hastily. ‘We go to fetch my mother. The mood of the Traders’ Council is a testy one. They assailed us for the Vestrit vote, urging us to forbid other traders from allowing Silver to be given to the liveships. My mother controls that vote. They were very bitter with Brashen and me, accusing us of failing our duties as Traders when we “allowed” Paragon to become dragons.’

  ‘As if you could have stopped him!’ Per injected.

  ‘Worse. As if we should have stopped him. Paragon was right. Once we knew it was possible, both Brashen and I knew it was the correct choice for him. No matter how hard it was for us.’

  ‘So you will argue that the ships should be allowed to seek the Silver and become dragons?’

  ‘No,’ Althea replied grimly. For a short woman, she moved rapidly, her speed making up for the shortness of her stride. ‘Brashen and I will not attend the council meeting at all. Nor Wintrow. This way.’

  She turned aside from the shady thoroughfare onto a carriageway. A short distance down it we encountered a stout wall of worked stone. But no gate barred our passage and we entered a type of garden I had never seen before. Flat grassy areas spread out to either side, as if sheep had grazed them to an even height, but left no dung. There were tall trees and beneath them, shady banks of flowers. This vista stretched out beyond us in all directions. To one side, I saw a little building with its walls made of glass. Inside, plants pressed up against the glass like children peering out. We walked and walked, and Althea muttered, ‘I should have sent a runner for a carriage. I was too angry to think.’

  ‘The grounds are exceptionally beautiful this year,’ Amber observed, winning a wry smile from Althea.

  ‘Money buys good servants. But, yes, they are exceptionally lovely. Nothing like the storm-battered neglect you saw the first time you visited.’ She shook her head. ‘I wonder if we will be able to keep the grounds like this with Paragon gone? Well.’ The last word came out on a harsh exhalation of breath and she bounded up the wide front steps. Without a pause she opened the door and entered, calling out, ‘Mother! We’re in port! And we’ve important news!’

  Two servants in matching livery were hastening toward us, but Althea waved them off with, ‘We’re fine, Rennolds, good to see you. Angar, where is my mother?’

  We heard a questioning, ‘Althea? Is that you?’ from down the passage, and then a door opened. Stick in hand, a grey-haired woman emerged. The hand that clutched the stick had knotted knuckles and her face was lined, but the woman stepped briskly as she came toward us with a smile. ‘And who have you brought home with you this time? Wait! Amber? Is that you, after all these years?’

  ‘It is,’ Amber replied and the woman’s eyes and smile widened.

  ‘Come in, come in! I had just requested tea and a bite. Rennolds! Can you please bring enough for a horde? You know how Althea eats when she first gets home!’

  Rennolds, who had been hovering, responded with a grin, ‘Indeed yes, ma’am. Right away.’

  Althea introduced the rest of us. But as she began to explain, her mother said, ‘I know more than you think I do, and far less than I should like to. I received your dispatches from Divvytown and was frankly terrified for you and Brashen and Boy-O. But Karrigvestrit assured me that you had survived and that Vivacia would bear you home. How badly injured is Boy-O?’

  ‘Karrigvestrit?’ Althea was shocked.

  ‘The blue one. The green dragon was more guarded about her name. She is the decidedly odd one, and I think the one most responsible for Paragon’s … uneven nature when he was a ship. How is Boy-O?’

  ‘The dragons came here and spoke to you?’

  ‘Would you like to see the mess they made of the iris gardens around the reflecting pool? That is where the two bullocks they requested fled to, and where they feasted. So I knew you were alive and I hoped you were coming directly home, but I know little more than that, and understand still less of it!’

  ‘Well, th
at saves me some time, but there is much more to tell and an even more immediate worry. A contingent from the Traders’ Council met us as soon as we docked. They were very angry that Paragon had become dragons. They all but accused us of treason. And now Vivacia wishes—’

  ‘Trader business is for Traders,’ her mother rebuked her firmly. She turned a smile on us. ‘Please. I do not even know your names yet, but please, be comfortable here while Althea and I converse privately. In here, if you would.’

  ‘In here’ was a spacious room with cushioned chairs near windows that looked over the spoiled iris garden. The room was floored with white tiles, and a table with a white-tiled top was surrounded by six chairs. As Amber ushered us in, I heard the mother say, ‘Oh, excellent, Rennolds. In there, and please, a word with you afterwards.’

  ‘Did we offend her?’ Lant asked in a quiet voice, but Amber shook her head.

  ‘Not at all. Traders are very private about their business. I am sure she will join us shortly. Oh, my, hot tea! And lemon!’

  Rennolds entered with a large silver tray bearing a steaming china pot and cups. As he set it down, I smelled tea and saw a sliced yellow fruit in a little dish on the tray. Two other servants followed, carrying similar trays of little cakes and cold sliced meats and tiny bread rolls.

  ‘Real food,’ I said aloud, and Per laughed.

  ‘Like Withywoods food,’ he affirmed.

  I felt awkward and shy, but Amber was not. She seated herself and dismissed Rennolds with a nod after he had poured cups of tea for each of us. My teacup had a painting of a rose on it and a delicate little handle. The tea was dark and strong. I copied Amber, squeezing juice from the lemon into the tea. Tea had always both calmed me and cleared my mind. Lant put little cakes on a small plate and set them in front of me. I looked at them and my throat went tight as I recalled a winter feast that had never been. Per bit into one that was dusted with cinnamon. I took one and broke it. It was pink all through. I tasted strawberry. Like my mother had grown. I hid my tears as I ate. The tea smelled like the kitchen at Withywoods in the morning. It was hard to swallow.

  Amber was speaking to the others. ‘… funds from Igrot’s hoard. I believe Althea put a goodly amount of her share into restoring her childhood home, for it had been neglected due to lack of funds even before the mercenaries invaded and vandalized half the town. I know she fears for their fortune with the liveship gone. But I am sure that Paragon was not Ronica’s only business investment. I am confident that Althea and Brashen and Ronica can generate income with any ship, even if it does not speak to them.’

  ‘Would you like more? You’ve hardly eaten,’ Lant asked me quietly. I was surprised at the concern in his eyes. Then I realized that my father’s absence would be sharply real to him this day.

  ‘I don’t know,’ I said, and he nodded gravely. Per was still eating. Amber and Spark had risen from the table and taken their cups to the windows to look out over the destruction. There was a tap at the door and Rennolds entered.

  He looked a bit uncomfortable as he said, ‘If it please you, Trader Vestrit noticed that the child is shoeless. There are children among the servants who have outgrown shoes and skirts, and she thought I might offer something to you for her.’ He spoke to Lant and Amber, as if I were too young to understand him.

  I spoke for myself. ‘I would be very grateful indeed, for
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