Assassins fate, p.94
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       Assassin's Fate, p.94
 

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

  Spark!’

  ‘Lant is dead,’ I told her, more sharply than I meant to.

  The wolf spoke more sharply. Persist in being so stubborn, and you will be dead. And me with you.

  My mind froze.

  ‘Going home!’ Motley announced.

  ‘Soon,’ I told her.

  ‘Now,’ she parried. She ripped a last bit of gut from the porcupine. It wrapped around her silver beak. She deftly pulled it free with one foot, arranged it, and then gulped it down. She preened her feathers, blue-black and scarlet. ‘Goodbye!’ she added and lifted into the sky. I stared after her.

  ‘It’s a long flight!’ I shouted. Did she have any idea where we were?

  She circled the old quarry, flying low over the blocks of rejected stone, and the piles of rubble from long ago works. At the low end was the rainwater pool. She skimmed it and I spun to follow her flight, she flew straight into the Skill-pillar. I feared I would run to a broken and flopping bird. But she vanished smoothly.

  ‘I didn’t know she could do that,’ I said. ‘I hope she emerges intact.’

  Not her first journey through the stones. And she has Skill on her beak.

  True.

  I could not help her but my heart sank that I might never see her again. I reminded myself I had a plan of my own for my journey. I made several trips for firewood. I roasted the porcupine’s bones until they cracked and I could get at the marrow. Then it was time to fish. I had not tickled fish in a long time. I went to the creek and found a spot where I could lay on my belly, where dangling plants overshadowed an undercut bank, where the sun would not cast my shadow on the water. I was pleased that I remembered so well how it was done, and even more pleased with two fine, fat trout. I put a hooked willow wand through their gills and kept them in the water until I was rewarded with two more. Two to eat tonight, and two to smoke or dry for my journey. I felt very satisfied.

  Are you sure you ‘don’t remember’ any of what Verity counselled you?

  I stumbled into the stone and out of it again. I’ve no recall of our passage.

  You were deep in the Skill. Verity found you. He is a large fish there now, swimming in those deep currents. He told you to carve your dragon and not delay. King Shrewd was there, smaller and thinner. Chade was with him. They wished you well in that effort.

  I spoke eventually. ‘I don’t recall that at all. I truly wish I did.’

  I recall it for you. He warned you not to delay it. He nearly failed. Had you not brought Kettle with you, and had she not been who and what she was, there would have been a half-finished dragon and a dead king. And probably the OutIslanders would hold Buckkeep Castle now.

  We are not gambling for such high stakes as he was.

  Only your life. And mine.

  I will think well on it tonight.

  Fitz. I do not want to cease being. Make us a dragon. Give me that vestige of life. Let me smell the night air again, let me hunt, let me feel the cold of night and the heat of the sun. There was such hunger in his words. I felt selfish. He experienced the world through me, but my senses were but a shadow of what his had been.

  ‘Nighteyes. What are you?’

  He paused. I am a wolf. You need to be reminded of that?

  ‘You were a wolf. What are you now? A ghost that lives inside me? A mixture of my memories and me thinking what you might say or do?’

  That seems unlikely. For I remember Verity, and you do not. And I sojourned with Bee, apart from you, and she heard me.

  I wish I’d had more time to speak of you to her. To tell her the tales I promised she would know.

  I was not derelict in that. She knows much of our time together. Much of my life.

  I am glad of that.

  And I. So, you do not imagine me.

  You live in me.

  Yes. And if you die, I die with you.

  ‘I want to go home, wolf. I want to see Bee. I need to be with her, and I need to make reparations for the sort of father I was. I need a chance to do better with her.’

  That is what you told Verity. I will repeat what he said. Someone else will do that for you. And you must trust that they will do it well. As he did, with his son. The son he never met.

  What is this urgency to carve a stone?

  My brother, something eats you. From within. I feel it. Stop hiding it from yourself.

  I was too long in the stone. That is all. I ran my silvered hands down my ribs. Felt the jut of my hip-bones. You think I have worms?

  I know you do. They are eating you faster than your body can heal itself.

  I thought deeply as I left the stream and made my way back to the quarry. My fire had burned low. I raked coals out and rebuilt the rest of it. I baked two of the fish on the coals and ate them. I looked at the other two. I was still so hungry. I could catch more tomorrow for my journey. I raked out more coals and set the fish on them.

  When will you decide?

  Soon.

  I almost heard his sigh, the same sigh he would give when he wished to go hunting at night and I would stay in, morosely writing on paper that I would burn before morning. I poked at the fish. Almost done. Eating raw fish could give me worms. I smiled bitterly. Would those worms eat the parasites that the wolf insisted I already had? With two sticks, I turned the fish over on the coal bed. Be patient.

  It began to rain. I felt two warm drops fall onto my wrist. No. Blood. My nose was bleeding. I reached up and pinched it shut.

  What if it doesn’t stop?

  It always stops.

  And your body always heals itself.

  After a time, I let go of my nose. No more blood. See?

  No response.

  ‘Wolf. Are you still with me?’

  A sulky acknowledgement.

  A thought came to me. ‘If you had to. If something happened to me, could you go to Bee? And be with her the rest of her life?’

  I would be the shadow of a shadow.

  ‘Could you do it?’

  Perhaps. If her walls were down and everything was right. But I would not.

  ‘Why not?’

  Fitz. I am not a thing you can give away. We are interwoven.

  I poked the fish out of the fire. With a twig, I dusted off the ash. In a less hungry time, I would have peeled back the skin to reveal the flesh and then discarded the skin. Now I scarcely waited for it to cool before I was juggling steaming chunks of fish to cool them before pushing them into my mouth. After the fish was gone, I went back to the water and drank. I felt better.

  I looked up at a clear blue sky. Even in summer, nights in the Mountains were chill. I decided I should get firewood. My path out of the quarry took us past abandoned blocks of cut stone. As I headed toward the forest, Nighteyes spoke. I like that piece.

  It’s not very big.

  There are only two of us.

  To placate him, I walked over to the chunk of rock. I saw why it had been discarded. It had been part of a larger piece that had broken along a thick silver vein. It was gleaming black and richly streaked with threads of Silver. Not near as large as what Verity had used. This stone was about the side of a pony cart. I set my hand on top of it. It was a very strange sensation. Raw Skill-stone was empty, I discovered. Empty and waiting to be filled. It had an indefinable tactile sensation. I wanted to touch it. The sun had warmed it pleasantly. If I’d been a cat, I would have curled up on top of it.

  You are so stubborn.

  And you are not?

  I was as a cub. I wanted to hate you. Do you remember how savage I was when you first saw me in the cage? Even as you were carrying me off, I was trying to bite you through the bars.

  You were not much more than a cub. And you’d been treated badly. You had no reason to trust me or listen to what I told you.

  True.

  He’d been dirty and smelly and bone-thin. Riddled with parasites and full of anger. But that anger was what had drawn us together. Our parallel fury at the paths we were trapped on had linked our minds an
d for those first few moments, I had not realized our minds were joined. That we had the beginning of a deep Wit-bond, whether we wanted it or not.

  ‘Oh, cub,’ I said out loud.

  So you called me then.

  I realized what we had done. The fused memory had poured from us into the stone. I could feel it under my hand and I knew exactly what I would find when I moved my hand. There was a patch of fur on the back of Nighteyes’ neck, where the black guard hairs had a sort of gentle swirl on top of his thick grey-and-black fur. I had a sensory memory of how it had felt to put my hand on him there. Often, I’d put my hand on his back, as we walked side by side, or as we sat on the cliff’s edge looking out over the sea. It had been the natural place for my hand to fall. The touch that had renewed our bond like a repeated vow.

  It felt good to feel that again.

  Lifting my hand was an act of will. And there it was, on the stone. It was not hair and fur and a warm breathing animal beneath it. But it was exactly the size and the shape of my hand, and where my palm had touched, I could see each individual guard hair.

  I drew a deep breath. Not yet. No. I walked away.

  Nighteyes was silent within me.

  I had to pass our old campsite. Kettricken had been so young. The Fool and I of an age and yet not. Old Kettle with her wise old eyes in their nests of wrinkles and her deep-kept secrets. And Starling. Starling, who could annoy me like a humming gnat. I looked around at the view. The trees were taller. Underfoot, on the stone, only sodden and rotted bits of fabric and line. I kicked at it and turned up a layer that had kept its colour. That blue had been Kettricken’s cloak. I stooped and touched it. My queen, I thought to myself and smiled. I nudged the rotting cloth. Beneath it, the pitted and corroded head of our old hatchet was scarcely recognizable. I stood and walked on.

  Beyond it was the place where Verity had carved his dragon. Chips and shards still littered the empty area where his dragon had crouched. He had used a chisel with a rock for a hammer at first, until he had plunged his hands into raw Skill and carved and shaped with them. My king. Had he truly told me it was time to carve my dragon? Told me it was time to surrender Bee to someone else’s care? Time to surrender my man’s body for one of stone and Skill?

  No. Tomorrow, with the dawn, I would be up and fishing. I would catch a dozen, and eat them all. Then I would catch still more and smoke them and the next morning I would begin my walk to the abandoned market pavilion. I wondered if winter had killed the old bear, or if he would trouble me.

  We will die before you get there. Fitz. I know these things. Why won’t you listen to me?

  I can’t.

  And that was the truth. I could not let go of the hope that I could go home to Bee. Worms were not so terrible an affliction. Burrich had known half a dozen cures for them. The healers in Buckkeep grew all the herbs in the Women’s Garden. Once I reached home, I would rest and grow strong again. Bee and I would be together. We’d leave the court and all its rules. We would travel by horseback. We’d go from keep to keep, as if we were travelling minstrels and she would learn the history and geography of the Six Duchies by seeing them. The Fool would go with us, and Per. We would live simply and move easily and we would be happy.

  I won’t watch you die.

  I don’t intend to die.

  Does anyone?

  I gathered an armload of firewood. There were plenty of fallen branches. I had no way to cut the larger one. I smiled as I recalled how Verity had returned an edge to his sword before giving it to me. I went back for the corroded hatchet head. I handled it, remembering it, and then pushed the rust and corrosion away. I slid the blade between my thumb and forefinger, imagining a fresh edge. Fitting a haft to it took longer. But with it, I chopped a good supply of thicker branches, took an armful and carried it back to my fire. I could smell the fish I had cooked and wished there were more of it. I added a stick or two of wood to my fire and sat down beside it.

  I jolted awake in the dead of night. I was lying on cold stone and my fire was nearly dead. I built it up again. I was glad I had enough wood to get through the night, for I had no desire to go blundering through the dark to find the chopped supply I’d left behind. I waited for the wolf to rebuke me for my stupidity and laziness.

  He didn’t.

  It took some time for me to realize he was gone. Just gone.

  I was alone.

  FORTY-SEVEN

  * * *

  A Wolf’s Heart

  Revel, if you would, please ride into Oaksbywater today. Marly the leatherworker sent word that my order is ready. I trust you to judge its quality and accept it or ask her to re-do the work. Be sure to see that the pages are well bound to the cover, and that the paper is of a good quality, and that the embossing on the cover is cleanly impressed. Please deliver it only to me, if you find it worth the coin we spent. It is a gift for Mistress Bee and I wish to surprise her with it myself.

  Among Revel’s papers at Withywoods

  I continued to see Thick every night, although it made me very stupid and dull during the days. I did not care that I was chided for not knowing my Chalcedean verbs, and that I had to pick out all my embroidery stitches for making the daisies green. Every night, I went to my bed, and slept a short time before his music would gently wake me. I would hurry down the hall in my night robe for the best hours of my life.

  I wanted to give him something. Anything. The bright kerchiefs I had bought for Revel were still in my wardrobe. It took a long time for me to decide that I could give them to Thick. But even those were not enough to express what I felt for the kindly old man. I had ink and brushes for my dream journal. With great care, I sliced a page from it and drew Smokey dancing after the spool. I coloured him, his green eyes and black pupils, his grey fur and tiny white claws.

  Thick was delighted with my gifts. He promised he could keep them secret.

  I returned to my room and crawled into my bed, tired and happy.

  I awoke when Spark sat down on the foot of my bed. ‘Bee. Wake up!’ she ordered me.

  ‘What? It’s you! Where have you been? I’ve missed you!’

  ‘Shh.’ She tilted her head toward the adjoining chamber where Caution snored on. ‘I’m here at Buckkeep Castle. I’m busy with many things. When we returned, Lady Nettle took me aside. Lord Riddle had endorsed me. I watch over you. I keep you safe.’

  ‘Because I ran away on Pris that day?’ I felt a surge of unhappiness. What a foolish thing I had done. My sister did not trust me now. I didn’t deserve her trust.

  Spark shook her head. ‘From the first day we returned. Years ago, your sister Nettle was a stranger at Buckkeep Castle when she was little more than a girl. She feared that there would be people who would take advantage of you. Riddle agreed. So I watch over you and every few days I report back to them.’

  ‘How is it I don’t see you, then? Oh.’ My eyes roved the walls of my bedchamber, seeing a spy-hole I was certain would be there.

  She smiled. ‘I am better able to watch over you if I am not seen. I was taught ways of moving about Buckkeep unseen. Some day, perhaps, I will show you.’

  ‘Why are you here now?’

  ‘To let you know that Thick cannot keep a secret. He will show off his kerchiefs. He wore two of them to bed. And he will, eventually, show Smokey’s portrait to someone. He is too pleased with it to keep it to himself. The work is unmistakably yours. No
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