Assassins fate, p.13
Assassin's Fate, p.13Part #3 of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy series by Robin Hobb
lacked the will to do what they must. I undertook to separate them.
The writings of Prilkop the Black
My recovery was slower than from any physical injury I had experienced in decades. Clearly my old Skill-healing did not repair whatever the Skill itself had drained from me. Focusing my thoughts was a challenge, and I tired easily. And my afternoon with General Rapskal had taxed me gravely. Even in this so-called ‘quiet’ building, the Skill-current sang and surged around me. But that did not mean there was not work to do. Information to gather, regardless of barriers. No matter how weary I was.
That night I sent Perseverance down to the kitchens to beg brandy and a glass for me. He had returned with a large bottle of Sandsedge. ‘Carot is from the Rain Wilds and very hampered by thick scales on his face and hands,’ he had informed me as he set out the bottle and two glasses. ‘He said you deserved only the best, and asked me to remember him to you.’ I’d sighed. My steady refusals to attempt any more healings had not stopped the requests and courtship of those afflicted with dragon changes. With an understanding shrug, Per left me alone in my room and went off to bed.
I was sitting on the bed, bottle beside me and glass in hand when Amber came in after a late dinner with Malta. I greeted her after I drained the last drops of brandy from my glass. ‘Did you have a pleasant evening?’ I asked her in a slow voice.
‘Pleasant enough. Little to show for it. IceFyre has been gone for months now; Malta isn’t sure when he left. All know that Heeby doesn’t speak to anyone except Rapskal, and Malta had heard that Rapskal had called on you and was concerned for you.’
‘I hope you told her I was fine. Though truly, I shouldn’t have ventured out into Kelsingra. The Skill-current out there is like being tumbled down a river full of boulders. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been trained to be aware of it and use it, or because there is so much Silver here. Perhaps I made myself vulnerable to it somehow, when I did those healings and let it course through me without restraint.’ I lifted the bottle. ‘Will you have some?
‘Some what?’ She sniffed the air. ‘Is that Sandsedge brandy?’
‘It is. I’ve only one glass but there are cups still on the table.’
‘I will, then. It would be shameful to make you drink alone.’
I kicked my boots off, let them thud to the floor. I let the bottle’s neck clink on the lip of my glass as I dribbled a bit more into it. Then I lay back on the bed, staring up at the dimmed ceiling. Stars gleamed against a deep blue sky. They were not the only illumination in the room. The walls had become a forestscape. White flowers gleamed on the swooping branches of trees. I spoke to the stars. ‘So much Skill coursing through this city, and I dare not use it at all.’
I did not watch as Amber discarded her skirts and wiped paint from her face. When I felt someone sit down on the edge of the bed, it was the Fool in plain leggings and a simple shirt. He had brought a teacup from the table. ‘And you still dare not venture to help any of the dragon-touched folk? Not even with the smallest complaint? Scales growing down over the eyes, for example?’
I sighed. I tapped the neck of the bottle light on the edge of his teacup to warn him, and then filled it well. ‘I know the man you speak of. He has come twice to talk to me, once to beg, once with coin. Fool, I dare not. I am besieged by the Skill. If I open my gates to it, I will fall.’ I moved over on the bed. He took two generous sips from his cup to lower the level of the brandy before taking a place beside me. I set the bottle on the bed between us.
‘And you cannot reach out to Nettle or Dutiful at all?’ He leaned back on the pillows beside me and held the teacup in both hands on his chest.
‘I dare not,’ I repeated. ‘Think of it this way. If there is water sloshing in my boat, I don’t drill a hole in the bottom to let it out. For then the ocean would surge in.’ He did not reply. I shifted in the bed and added, ‘I wish you could see how beautiful this chamber is. It is night in here, with the stars illuminated on the ceiling, and the walls have become a shadowed forest.’ I hesitated, needing to ease into the topic. Do it. ‘It makes me grieve for Aslevjal. The Pale Woman’s soldiers destroyed so much beauty there. I wish I could have seen it as it was.’
The Fool held a long silence. Then he said, ‘Prilkop often spoke of the beauty that was lost when she invaded Aslevjal and made it hers.’
‘Then he was there before she was?’
‘Oh, long before. He’s very old. Was very old.’ His voice went dark with dread.
He made a small, amused noise. ‘Ancient, Fitz. He was there before IceFyre buried himself. It shocked him that the dragon would do so, but he dared not oppose him. IceFyre was seized by the idea that he must burrow into the ice and die there. The glacier had claimed most of Aslevjal when Prilkop first arrived there. Some few Elderlings still came and went, but not for long.’
‘How could anyone live that long?’ I demanded.
‘He was a true White, Fitz. Of a much older and purer bloodline than existed when I was born. Whites are long-lived and terribly hard to kill. You have to work at it to kill a White or permanently disable one. As the Pale Woman did with me.’ He sipped noisily from his teacup, and then tipped it to take a healthy drink from it. ‘What they did to me in Clerres … it would have killed you, Fitz. Or any other human. But they knew that, and were always careful not to go too far. No matter how much I hoped they would.’ He drank again.
I’d come to the topic I wanted to explore but not by the path I’d hoped. I could already feel the tension in him. I looked around and asked, ‘Where is that bottle?’
‘It’s here.’ He groped beside him on the bed then passed it to me, and I tipped a bit into my glass. He held out his cup and I sloppily refilled it.
He scowled as he shook brandy from his fingertips, and then sipped it down to where it would not spill. For a time, neither of us spoke. I counted his breaths, and heard them slow and become deeper.
Beside me in the darkness, he lifted his gloved hand. He let the teacup balance on his chest by itself. Gingerly he pulled at the fingertips of the glove with his other hand, until his silvered hand was bared. He held it up and turned it first one way and then the other. ‘Can you see it?’ I asked him curiously.
‘Not as you do. But I can perceive it.’
‘Does it hurt? Thymara said it would kill you, and Spark told me that Thymara is one of the few Elderlings allowed to work with Silver and knows more of it than anyone. Not that she has mastered the artful way of the old Elderlings.’
‘Really? I had not heard that.’
‘She attempts to learn from the memories stored in the city. But it is dangerous to listen too closely to them. Lant hears the city whisper. Spark hears it singing. I’ve warned them to avoid deliberate contact with places where memories are stored.’ I sighed. ‘But I am certain they have at least sampled some of what is there.’
‘Oh, yes. Spark told me that some of the serving girls do nothing in their free time except seek out the erotic remembrances that a certain Elderling left stored in a statue of herself. Malta and Reyn disapprove, and with reason. Years ago, I heard a rumour about the Khuprus family, that Reyn’s father spent too much time in a buried Elderling city among such stones. He died of it. Or rather, he became immersed in it and then his body died from lack of care. They call it drowning in memories.’ He sipped from his cup.
‘And we call it drowning in the Skill. August Farseer.’ I spoke aloud the name of a cousin long lost.
‘And Verity, in a much more dramatic way. He did not drown in someone else’s memories but submerged himself in a dragon, taking all his memories with him.’
I was quiet for a time, thinking about his words. I lifted my glass to my lips and then paused to say, ‘A hedge-witch once told me that all magic is related—like a circle—and people may have this arc of it, or that. No one gets it all. I’ve got the Skill and the Wit, but I can’t scry. Chade can, or could. I think. He never fu
He sighed. His free hand shook out his glove and held it open as his silvered hand crept into it. He took up his cup in both hands. ‘To have the magic, Fitz. To be able to use the pillars more easily. To be able to shape wood again, as I once did. To touch someone or something and know it, from the bones out, as I once could.’ He drew in a deep breath and sighed it out. ‘When they tormented me … When they skinned my hand …’ He faltered. He took a slow sip of his brandy and said in a careless voice, ‘When I had no Skill on my fingers, I missed it. I wanted it back.’
‘Thymara said it would kill you.’
‘It was slow death for Verity and Kettle. They knew it. They raced to create the dragon and enter it before the Silver could kill them.’
‘But you lived for years with Silver on your fingertips.’
‘And you bore the marks of my fingers on your wrist for years. You didn’t die of it. Nor has Malta from my touch on her neck.’
He scowled at his teacup and drank to lower the level of brandy in it before he shifted onto his side to face me. ‘I don’t know. Perhaps because I am not fully human. Perhaps because of the White heritage. Perhaps because you were trained to master the Skill. Perhaps because for you, like Malta, it was the barest brush of Silver on your skin. Or, for her, perhaps Tintaglia’s dragon-changes made her immune.’ He smiled. ‘So perhaps because there is something of a dragon in you. Elderling blood, from long ago. I suspect it entered the bloodlines of the Farseers when the first Holder came to the shores of what would be Buck. Perhaps the walls of Buckkeep are not as heavily infused with Skill as the walls of Kelsingra, but we both know there is some of it, in the Skill-pillars and in the oldest stones of the castle. Perhaps you are immune to it because you grew up with it, or perhaps you were born that way.’ He shook his head against the bed that had relaxed to cushion him. ‘We don’t know. But I think this,’ he held his gloved hand aloft and rubbed his fingertips together, ‘will be very useful to me when we reach Clerres.’
‘And the vials of Silver you asked for?’
‘Truthfully, I wished them for a friend. To improve his lot in life. And perhaps to win a favour of him.’
I trickled some brandy into my glass and refilled his teacup. We both drank. ‘Do I know this friend?’
He laughed aloud. It was a sound that had become so rare that I smiled to hear it, even when I did not know the reason. ‘No, you don’t know him yet. But you will.’ He looked at me with his pale gold eyes and I felt he could see me. ‘And you may find you have much in common,’ he said, and laughed again, a bit loosely. I didn’t ask. I knew better than to think he might answer a direct question. He surprised me when he asked, ‘You have never considered it? Adding a bit of Skill to your fingers?’
‘No.’ I thought of Verity, his hands and forearms coated with Silver, unable to touch his lady or hold her. I thought of the times when something, a fern or a leaf, had brushed against the Fool’s old fingerprints on my wrist and I’d had a disconcerting moment of full awareness of it. ‘No. I think I have enough problems with the Skill without making myself even more vulnerable to it.’
‘Yet you wore my fingerprints for years. And became very upset with me when I removed them.’
‘True. Because I missed that link with you.’ I took a sip of brandy. ‘But how did you remove them from my skin? How did you recall the Skill to your fingertips?’
‘I just did. Can you tell me how you reach out to Nettle?’
‘Not in a way you would understand. Not unless you had the Skill.’
Silence fell between us for a time. I worked on my walls and felt the muttering of the city become a soft murmuring and then fade to blessed silence. Peace filled me for a moment. Then guilt welled up to fill the space the city’s muttering had occupied. Peace? What right had I to peace when I had failed Bee so badly?
‘Do you want me to take them back?’
‘My fingerprints on your wrist. Do you want me to take them back again?’
I thought briefly. Did I? ‘I never wanted you to remove them when you did. And now? I fear that if you put your hand to my wrist, we might both be swept away. Fool, I told you that I felt besieged by the magic. My latest encounter with the force of the Skill has left me very wary. I think of Chade and how he crumbled in the last few months. What if that were suddenly me? Not remembering things, not keeping my thoughts organized? I can’t let that happen. I have to keep my focus.’ I sipped from my glass. ‘We—I—have a task to complete.’
He made no response. I was staring at the ceiling but from the corner of my eye, I watched him drain his teacup. I offered him the bottle and he poured more for himself. Now was as good a time as any. ‘So, tell me about Clerres. The island, the town, the school. How will we get in?’
‘As for my getting in, that’s not a problem. If I show myself in a guise they recognize, they will be very anxious to take me back in and finish what they began.’ He tried for laughter, but abruptly fell silent.
I wondered if he had frightened himself. I sought for a distraction. ‘You smell like her.’
‘You smell like Amber. It’s a bit unnerving.’
‘Like Amber?’ He lifted his wrist to his nose and sniffed. ‘There’s barely a trace of attar of roses there. How can you smell that?’
‘I suppose there’s still a bit of the wolf in me. It’s noticeable because you usually have no scent of your own. Oh, if you are filthy, I smell the dirt on your skin and clothes. But not you, yourself. Nighteyes sometimes called you the Scentless One. He thought it very strange.’
‘I had forgotten that. Nighteyes.’
‘To Nighteyes. To friends long gone,’ I said. I lifted my glass and drained it, as did he. I quickly refilled his cup, and chinked the bottle against the lip of my glass.
We were both quiet for a time, recalling my wolf, but it was a different kind of silence. Then the Fool cleared his throat and spoke as if he were Fedwren teaching the history of Buck. ‘Far to the south and across the sea to the east is the land from which I came. I was born to a little farming family. Our soil was good; our stream seldom ran dry. We had geese and sheep. My mother spun the wool, my parents dyed it, my fathers wove with it. So long ago, those days, like an old tale. I was born to my mother late in her life and I grew slowly, just as Bee did. But they kept me, and I stayed with them for many years. They were old when they took me to the Servants at Clerres. Perhaps they thought themselves too old to care for me any longer. They told me I had to become what I was meant to be, and they feared they had kept me too long from that calling. For in that part of the world, all know of the White Prophets, though not all give the legends credence.
‘I was born on the mainland, on Mersenia, but we journeyed from island to island until we reached Clerres. It’s a very beautiful city on a bay on a large island named Kells in the old tongue. Or Clerres. Some call it the White Island. Along that coast and on several of the islands are beaches littered with immense bones. They are so old they have turned to stone. I myself have seen them. Some of those stony bones were incorporated into the stronghold at Clerres. For it is a stronghold, from a time before the Servants. Once, a long narrow peninsula of land reached out to it. Whoever built the castle at Clerres cut away that peninsula, leaving only a narrow causeway that leads to it—a causeway that vanishes daily when the tide is in and reappears as the tide goes out. Each end of the causeway is stoutly gated and guarded. The Servants regulate who comes and who goes.’
‘So they have enemies?’
He laughed again. ‘Not that I have ever heard. They control the flow of commerce. Pilgrims and merchants and beggars. Clerres attracts all sorts of folk.’
‘So we shoul
He shook his head and sipped more brandy. ‘No. The towers above are manned at all times with excellent archers. Toward the sea, there are tall pilings of stone, and nightly the lamps on them are lit. They burn bright. You cannot approach from the sea.’
‘Go on,’ I said with a sigh.
‘As I told you. All manner of folk come there. Merchants from far ports, people anxious to know their futures, folk who wish to become Servants of the Whites, mercenaries to join the guard. We will hide among them. In the daily flood of people seeking Clerres, you will be unnoticed. You can blend with the fortune-seekers who at every low tide cross the causeway to the castle.’
‘I would rather enter by stealth. Preferably during darkness.’
‘There might be a way,’ he admitted. ‘There is an ancient tunnel under the causeway. I don’t know where one enters it, or where the tunnel opens. I told you that some of the young Whites carried me out in secrecy.’ He shook his head and took a healthy swallow of his brandy. ‘I thought they were my friends,’ he said bitterly. ‘Since then, I have had to wonder if they did not serve the Four. I think they freed me as one uncages a messenger pigeon, knowing it will fly home. I fear they will expect me. That they will have foreseen my return and be ready for me. What we attempt to do, Fitz, will disrupt every future they have ever planned. There will have been many dreams about it.’
I rolled my head to look at him. He was smiling strangely. ‘When first you brought me back from death, I told you I was living in a future that I’d never foreseen. I had never dreamed of anything beyond my death. My death, I knew, was a certainty. And when I travelled with Prilkop, back to Clerres, I had no dreams. I was certain that my time as a White Prophet was over. Had not we achieved all I’d ever imagined?’
‘We did!’ I exclaimed and raised my glass. ‘To us!’ We drank.
‘As the years passed, my dreams came back to me, but fitfully. Then Ash gave me the dragon-blood elixir, and my dreams returned as a flood. Powerful dreams. Visions that warned of strong divergences in what may be, Fitz. Twice I have dreamed of a Destroyer who comes to Clerres. That would be you, Fitz. But if I have dreamed such a thing, then will others have done so also. The Servants may expect us. They may even have deliberately set in motion that I will come back to them, and bring my Catalyst with me.’
‘Then we must make sure they do not see you.’ I feigned an optimism I did not feel. Telling an assassin he is expected is the worst news that can be delivered. I ventured toward something I had long wondered about. ‘Fool. When we were changing the world, putting it into a “better track” as you used to say … how did you
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