Assassins fate, p.99
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       Assassin's Fate, p.99

         Part #3 of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy series by Robin Hobb
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  felt that unfurling landscape of his being. It was endless, reaching to a distant horizon. But in some way, I knew it. Owned it. Had created it.

  He lifted his hand.

  ‘Did you feel that?’ I asked him.

  He smiled sadly. ‘Fitz, I have never needed to touch you to feel that. It was always there. No limits.’

  Some part of me knew that was important. That once it would have mattered terribly to me. I tried to find words. ‘I will put that in my wolf,’ I said, and he turned sadly away from me.

  ‘Da?’

  I tried to lift my head.

  ‘He’s still alive,’ someone said in a wondering voice and someone else shushed him.

  ‘I brought you tea. There’s a strong painkiller in it. Do you want it?’

  ‘Gods, yes!’ That was what I meant to say. I had draped myself over my wolf. I had feared I would die in the night and worried that if I were unconscious I could not slip away into him. I opened my eyes and saw the world through a pink sheen. Blood in my eyes. Like the messenger. I blinked and my vision cleared slightly. Nettle was there. Bee was beside her. Nettle held a cup to my lips. She tipped it and liquid lapped against my mouth. I sucked some in and tried to swallow. Some went down. Some ran down my chin.

  I looked beyond her. Kettricken, weeping. Dutiful had his arm around her. His sons were with him. The Fool and Lant, Spark and Per. And beyond them the ranks of the curious. The Skill-coteries and those who had come with them. All gathered to watch my final spectacle. I would do at last what the Witted had long been rumoured able to do. I would transform into a wolf.

  It reminded me of my final days in Regal’s dungeon. They had tormented me there, trying to force me to reveal my Witted nature so they could justify killing me.

  Was this so different?

  I wished they would all go away.

  Except the Fool. I wished he would join me. Somehow, I had always thought he would join me. Now, I could not recall why. Perhaps I had buried that in the stone.

  I heard music. It was strange. I cast my eyes to one side and saw Hap with a strange stringed instrument. He played a handful of notes and then began to softly sing ‘Crossfire’s Coterie’. I had taught him that, years ago. For a time, I was carried away by the music. I recalled teaching him the song, and then how he had sung it with Starling. I recalled the minstrel who had taught it to me. I let the memories seep into the wolf, and I felt them lose their colour and vibrancy within me. Hap’s song became only a song. Hap became only a singer.

  I was dying. And I had never been enough for anything.

  It’s time to ask him. Or time to let go.

  It’s not the sort of thing one asks of a friend. He hasn’t offered, and I will not ask it. I will not tear him that way. I am trying to let go. I don’t know how.

  Do not you recall how you shed your body in Regal’s dungeon?

  That was long ago. Then, I feared to live and face what they would do to me. Now I fear to die. I fear that we will simply stop, like a bubble popping.

  We may. But this is excruciating.

  Better than being bored to death.

  I do not think so. Why don’t you ask him?

  Because I already asked him to look after Bee.

  That one needs little looking after.

  I’m letting go. Right now. I’m letting go.

  But I could not.

  FORTY-NINE

  * * *

  Lies and Truths

  I have endeavoured to record the events of my father’s life as he has put them into his wolf-dragon. I can tell that when I am near and writing, he selects what he will share with great caution. I accept that he must have many memories that are too private to share with his daughter.

  Today he spoke mostly of his times with the one he calls the Fool. It is a ridiculous name, but perhaps if my name were Beloved, I would consider Fool an improvement. Whatever were his parents thinking? Did they truly imagine everyone he ever encountered would wish to call him Beloved?

  I have observed a thing. When my father speaks of my mother, he is absolutely confident that she loved him. I recall my mother well. She could be prickly and exacting, critical and demanding. But she was like that in the confidence that they shared a love that could withstand such things. Even her angers at him were usually founded on her taking offence that he could doubt her at all. That comes through when he speaks of her.

  But when he speaks of his long and deep friendship with the Fool, there is always an element of hesitation. Of doubt. A mocking song, a flash of anger, and my father would feel the bewilderment of one who is rebuffed and cannot decide how deep the rebuke goes. I see a Catalyst that was used by his Prophet, and used ruthlessly. Can one do so to one he loves? That, I think, is the question my father ponders now. My father gave, and yet often felt that what he gave was not considered sufficient, that the Fool always desired more of him, and that what he desired was beyond what my father could give. And when the Fool left and seemingly never even glanced back, that was a dagger blow to my father that never fully healed.

  It changed what he thought their relationship was. When the Fool returned so abruptly to my father’s life, my father never trusted his full weight to that friendship. He always wondered if the Fool might once more use him for what he needed, and then leave him alone again.

  And apparently he has.

  Bee Farseer’s journal

  ‘They should leave,’ I whispered to Nettle. ‘He’s our father. I don’t think he’d want even us seeing him like this.’ I didn’t want to see my father like this, draped on the stone wolf like laundry drying on a fence. He looked terrible, a patchwork man of smooth silver and worm-eaten flesh. He smelled worse than he looked. The clean robe we’d put on him yesterday was now soiled with spilled tea and other waste. Lines of crusted dried blood stretched from his ears down his neck. Bloody saliva collected at one corner of his mouth. Yet the silver half of his face was smooth and sleek, unlined, a reminder of the man he’d been so recently.

  Last night I had watched a grim-faced Nettle bathe the parts of his face that were flesh. He had tried to object, but she had insisted and he’d been too weak to fight her off. She’d been careful, dipping the cloth and folding the soiled part away from her, never directly touching his skin. Little writhing creatures had come away from his sores. She had thrown the cloths into the fire.

  ‘They don’t care for him. They simply want to be here if the wolf comes to life.’

  ‘I know that. They know that. Da knows that.’ She shook her head. ‘It doesn’t matter.’

  ‘It would matter to me. I would want to die privately. Not like that.’

  ‘He’s a Farseer. Royalty. Nothing is private. Learn that now, Bee. Kettricken has it right. Servants to all, and they take from us what they need. Or want.’

  ‘You should go home to your baby.’

  ‘If that decision were solely mine, I would. I miss her and Riddle terribly. But I cannot be seen to leave my father and sister now, in these circumstances. Do you understand?’ She looked at me with my mother’s eyes. ‘I’m not doing this to you, Bee. I will try to protect you from it. But to protect you, I must ask that you be as unremarkable as possible. If you disobey me, if you are defiant or wild, all eyes will be drawn to you. Appear to be mild and uninteresting, and you may have a little bit of a life that is all yours.’ She gave me a tired smile. ‘Even if your sister will always know you are anything but mild and uninteresting.’

  ‘Oh.’ I didn’t say that I wished someone had told me all this before I’d made it so difficult for her. I did take her hand.

  ‘Nice walls,’ she said. ‘Thick taught you well.’

  I nodded.

  The day grew brighter. The drapery of my father’s shelter had been tied open to let in the early warmth of the day, and to let out the smell of death. I sat by his wolf, clutching the book I’d been keeping of his memories. It had been two days since he’d spoken coherently enough for me to understand him. But s
till I’d stayed beside him, adding illustrations to the memories he had spoken aloud.

  Nettle had explained to me what little she knew of the process. Once, it seemed, ageing coteries from the Six Duchies had made their way here, to carve dragons and go into them. They had learned the custom from the Elderlings. It offered one a limited immortality. ‘The vitality of the stone does not seem to last long. Verity fought as a dragon until the Red Ships were defeated. Da was able to rouse the sleeping dragons and win them to Verity’s cause, but how he did that has never been fully discovered. Some of the coteries I have founded have said that, when they are aged, perhaps they will attempt this feat. Da once told me that the old children’s song “Six Wisemen came to Jhaampe-town” is actually about a coterie going up into the Mountains to carve their dragon.’

  ‘Did they all die in such an ugly and painful way?’

  ‘I do not think so. But any records of how it was done were lost when Regal sold off the Skill-scroll library. I hope we may find information in the memory-cubes from Aslevjal. But as yet, we have not.’

  I took no comfort from anything she had told me. My father’s worm-ridden body was on display like that of a caged criminal in a Chalcedean town. If die he must, I wanted him to do it in a comfortable bed in a well-appointed chamber. Or to be like my mother, and simply fall down in the midst of doing something he loved to do. I wanted to be able to take his hand and offer him comfort. I sighed and shifted my feet.

  ‘You do not have to watch this. I can ask one of my Skill-users to take you back to Buckkeep Castle.’

  ‘You have already explained to me why I cannot.’

  ‘True.’

  Night fell and we built up the fire, and he still had not died. I felt I might die of this before he did. There was a terrible tension in the air. We wanted him to die now, and hated that we wanted that.

  His real family, as I thought of us, sat in a tight circle by the fire, our backs to the quarry. ‘Can we help him?’ Per asked suddenly. ‘Could each of us put something into his wolf?’ He told the first lie I’d ever heard from him. ‘I’m not afraid to try it.’

  He stood up. ‘Per!’ Nettle warned him but he slapped his hand onto the wolf. ‘I don’t know how to do this. But I’ll give you my mother forgetting me and turning me from her door. I don’t need that memory. I don’t need to feel that.’

  My father’s human hand twitched slightly. Per stood, waiting. Then he lifted his hand. ‘I don’t think anything happened,’ he admitted.

  ‘Don’t feel bad,’ Nettle told him. ‘I think you must have a bit of the Skill to be able to do it. But I think it’s a good idea. And he’s in no position to prevent us from doing it.’ She stood, graceful as she always was. She put her hand on the wolf’s muzzle. ‘Dream Wolf, take something sweet from my memories of you.’ She did not say what it was, but I could tell by how she stood that she gave him something.

  When she sat down, Lant stood. ‘I want to try,’ he said. ‘I’d like him to take my first meeting with him. I was terrified.’ He set his hand to the wolf’s shoulder. He stood for a very long time. Then he put his finger on my father’s fleshly hand. ‘You take it, Fitz,’ he said, and perhaps he did.

  Spark tried but failed. Kettricken gave a small smile. ‘I already gave him what I wished him to put into our wolf,’ she said. She left us all wondering.

  ‘No,’ Hap said. ‘I’m keeping every memory and emotion I have about him. I need them. How else do you think minstrels make up songs? He knows that. He wouldn’t want me to give them up.’

  Dutiful stood, and motioned his two sons back. ‘Lads, you need to hold tight what little you knew of him. But I have something. There was a night we fought, and I hated him. I’ve always regretted that. Perhaps it will be useful now.’

  When he was finished, he wiped tears from his cheeks and sat down. I glowered at the Fool. For he was the Fool now, all of Lord Chance and Lady Amber and Lord Golden scraped away by sorrow. He was no one’s Beloved now. He was a sad little man, a broken jester. But he did not stand and say he would give anything to my father. I was very still. I needed a strategy, for I knew they would drag me away before I could succeed. I hung my head as if I feared to try, and after a moment, people shifted and Spark offered to bring tea for us all.

  ‘And some cool water,’ Kettricken requested. ‘I’d like to try to at least moisten his mouth. He looks so uncomfortable.’

  Not now. I must not do it while there were onlookers. They were accustomed to me sleeping near my father’s wolf. Some of them, at least, would fall asleep. Don’t die just yet, I thought fiercely at my father. I dared not Skill the thought, and I kept my walls tight lest Nettle hear what I intended.

  Night had never deepened so slowly. We shared tea, and Kettricken wiped my father’s broken lips with a wet cloth. His eyes were closed and likely to remain so. His bony back rose and fell with his slow breaths. Spark persuaded Kettricken to lie down and sleep. Then she and Lant went to the upper lip of the quarry to keep watch. Dutiful and Nettle had withdrawn a small distance to have an intense conversation. The princes sat back to back, leaning on one another and drowsing. Hap sat at a distance, his fingers wandering on the strings of his instrument. I knew he played his memories and I wondered if the sound could sink into the wolf.

  I curled up and pretended to sleep. After a very long time, I opened my eyes. All quiet. I edged closer to the wolf, moving as if I shifted in my sleep. I slid my hand along the gritty stone toward his leg. As I lifted my hand and opened my fingers to clutch the wolf’s leg, the Fool spoke. ‘Bee, don’t do it. You know I can’t allow it.’

  He did not leap to stop me but leaned forward to put two more pieces of wood on the fire. I drew my hand back a little. ‘Someone has to do it,’ I told him. ‘He’s holding on, experiencing the pain so he has something more to put into the stone. Because he doesn’t have enough to fill it.’

  ‘He would not want you to pour yourself into his wolf!’

  I stared at him, refusing to look away from his eyes. I knew the most terrible truth. My father would not want me to join him in the stone. He would want his Fool. I nearly said the words aloud. Nearly. Instead I asked a question. ‘Why don’t you go, then?’

  I wanted to hear him say that he wanted to live, that he had important things still to do with his life. That he was afraid. Instead he said very calmly, ‘We both know why, Bee. You wrote it, and he said as much to me. It’s his decision to make, and finally it’s his own decision. Your dreams spoke of it. You wrote it all down for me to read. A black-and-white rat that runs away from him. His final letter to me saying that he wished I’d never come back, wished that he could reach his own decisions without me. That he knew how I had used him, so very many times.’ He took a sudden gasping breath and covered his face. A terrible sob shook him. ‘If he ever wanted vengeance on me for all I did, he has it now. This is the worst thing he could do to me. Now I know how it feels to be left behind. As I left him.’

  What had I done?

  Old words came into my mind. I’d heard them from my father, read them, heard them from others. ‘Never do a thing until you consider what you can’t do once you’ve done it.’

  Slowly he lifted his face. ‘Not a perfect quote, but close.’ He looked ill and dwindled. ‘“Don’t do what you can’t undo, until you’ve considered what you can’t do once you’ve done it.” The words I dreamed so long ago. The words I came so far to say to King Shrewd, so that he would not let Prince Regal kill Chivalry’s bastard. I knew if I could but say those words to him, I could keep Fitz alive. The first time.’ He shook his head. ‘The first time of many that I intervened, to push him through a tiny hole in his fate. To keep him alive, to be a lever I could use to alter how the future might unfold.’

  And the world re-ordered itself around me. I spoke each word carefully. ‘You are so stupid.’

  Astonishment broke through his pain.

  Could I still undo what I had done? So that he could do what he should? ‘I l
ied!’ I spat my whisper at him. ‘I knew you read my journal. I knew you read my dreams. I wrote there what I thought would hurt you most! I lied to hurt you. For letting him be dead while you lived. For being loved by him more than he loved me!’ I took a breath. ‘He loved you more than he ever loved any of the rest of us!’

  ‘What?’ His mouth hung open after that word, his eyes wide. He made a stupid face of astonishment.

  As if he hadn’t always known he was loved the best. That he was the Beloved.

  ‘Stupid again! Asking stupid questions. Go with him. Go now. It’s you he wants, not me. Go!’

  When had my voice risen to a shout? I did not know, I did not care. Let it be a spectacle, let all the camp be roused and folk stare at me. For that was what was happening. Dutiful had come to his feet, a sword in his hand, looking around for an enemy. They were all half-awake, roused by my shouts. Hap was staring with his mouth hanging open, Nettle’s hands clutched her face in horror at the truth I had shouted.

  And my father lifted a hand. His face was so ravaged, it was like looking at death itself. Except for the smooth, silvered part of it. By creeping degrees, his human hand lifted. He turned it over, showing a bloody palm. His cracked lips moved.

 
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