Fools assassin, p.37
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       Fools Assassin, p.37

         Part #1 of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy series by Robin Hobb

  “I’d hoped to talk more with you! Can’t you stay the night? The storm outside is only getting worse. Riddle, could you see if the inn has another open room?”

  I shook my head. I knew he wanted to have a long, private conversation with me. He longed for a chance to explain every part of this, and to explore every possible solution. But there was someone else who needed me more. “I can’t. Bee isn’t accustomed to being left alone. ” Was Bee asleep yet? Or lying awake and wondering when her papa would be back? Shame that I had all but forgotten her in this strange business washed through me, followed by uneasiness and urgency. I needed to get home. I looked at Chade.

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  “Surely her nursemaid …”

  I shook my head, irritated at the delay. “She has none. Molly and I were raising her, and before her mother died she needed no one else. Now she has only me. Chade, I have to go. ”

  He looked at me. Then with an exasperated sigh, he flapped his hand at me. “Go, then. But we still need to talk. Privately. ”

  “We will. Another time. And I will ask you about that tutor you recommended as well. ”

  He nodded. He would find a way. Tonight he needed to stay in this room and convince his sullen charge that she must do as he suggested. But that was his task, not mine. I had enough tasks of my own.

  As I left, Riddle followed me out into the hall. “Bad luck all round,” he said. “The passage was difficult for him to manage, and then the storm delayed us, too. He had hoped to have a quiet hour or two with you before dealing with ‘a problem. ’ I was shocked when the problem turned out to be a girl. Shun. Terrible name, eh? I’m sure it’s not what her grandparents called her. I hope she doesn’t decide to keep it. ”

  I looked at him wearily, reaching for words. “Well. At least it’s good to know that the Farseer talent for dramatics is being passed on. ”

  He grinned crookedly. “I’d say you and Nettle both carry a fair share of that. ” When I did not answer his smile, he asked in a gentler voice, “How are you doing, Tom?”

  I shrugged and shook my head. “As you see. I’m getting by. Adjusting. ”

  He nodded and was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “Nettle is worried for her sister. I’ve told her that you are far more capable than she might imagine, but she has still moved forward with preparing a chamber and a caretaker for little Bee. ”

  “Bee and I have actually been doing very well together. I think we are well suited to each other. ” It was difficult to be courteous. I liked Riddle but really, Bee was not his concern. She was mine and I was feeling more and more anxious, more and more certain that I needed to get home. I was suddenly weary of all of them, longing only to leave.

  His mouth tightened, and then I saw him decide to speak. “Except that you’ve left her alone tonight to come here. No nurse, no governess, no tutor? Tom, even an ordinary child takes constant watching. And Bee is not—”

  “For you to worry about,” I cut in. I was stung by his words, though I was trying not to show it. Damn. Would he go straight back to Nettle as soon as he could and report to her that I was neglecting her little sister? I stared at him. Riddle met my gaze squarely. We had known each other for years, and endured several very bad things together. Once, I had left him for dead, or worse than dead. He’d never rebuked me for that. I owed him the courtesy of hearing him out. I tucked my chin and waited for him to speak.

  “We worry,” he said quietly, “about all sorts of things that don’t necessarily belong to us. Seeing you tonight was a shock. You’re not thin, you’re gaunt. You drink without tasting what you put in your mouth, and you eat without looking at your food. I know you’re still mourning, and that’s only right. But grief can make a man overlook the obvious. Such as his child’s needs. ”

  He meant well but I was in no mood to hear it. “I don’t overlook her needs. It’s exactly why I’m leaving now. Give me three days to ready things before you bring Shun to my door. ” He was nodding and looking at me so sincerely that my anger faded. “You’ll see Bee then, and talk to her. I promise you she’s not neglected, Riddle. She’s an unusual child. Buckkeep Castle would not be a good place for her. ”

  He looked skeptical but had the grace to keep his doubts to himself. “I’ll see you then,” he replied.

  I felt his gaze follow me as I walked down the hall. I descended the stairs wearily and full of regrets. I admitted my disappointment. There had been in my heart the germ of a hope that Chade had arranged this meeting because he wished to see me, to offer me some sort of comfort or sympathy at my loss. It had been years since he had been my mentor or my protector, yet my heart had still yearned to once more feel the shelter of his wisdom. When we are children, we believe that our elders know all and that even when we cannot understand the world, they can make sense of it. Even after we are grown, in moments of fear or sorrow, we still turn instinctively to the older generation, hoping to finally learn some great hidden lesson about death and pain. Only to learn instead that the only lesson is that life goes on. I had known that Chade did not deal well with death. I should not have expected it of him.

  I turned my collar up, pulled my damp cloak tighter around me, and went back out into the storm.

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  Chapter Fourteen


  This is the dream from the end of my time. I have dreamed it six different ways, but I will only write what always stays the same. There is a wolf as big as a horse. He is black and stands still as stone and stares. My father is as gray as dust, and old, so old. “I’m just so tired,” he says in two of the dreams. In three he says, “I’m sorry, Bee. ” In one of the dreams, he says nothing at all, but his silence means everything. I would like to stop having this dream. It feels so strong, as if it must happen, no matter the path I choose. Every time I wake from it, it feels as if I have taken a step closer to a cold and dangerous place.

  Dream journal of Bee Farseer

  I refuse to believe I slept. How could such abject terror lend itself to falling asleep? Instead I huddled there, behind my closed eyelids, trembling with terror.

  And Wolf-Father came. That was the first time.

  I’d had dreams before, dreams that I knew were portentous, dreams that I committed to memory upon waking. I had begun writing my dreams down, the ones that I knew meant something. So I knew what dreams were.

  That was not a dream.

  The smells of dust and mice droppings blew away before the brisk scents of new snow and spruce needles. Then came a warm, clean smell of healthy animal. He was close. I curled my hands into the fur of his ruff and held tight, feeling my fingers warm there. His muzzle was by my ear, his breath warm there. Stop your whining. If you are frightened, be silent. Whining is for prey. It attracts predators. And you are not prey.

  I caught my breath. My throat was sore and my mouth dry. I had been keening, without realizing it. I stopped, shamed by his disapproval.

  That’s better. Now, what is your problem?

  “It’s dark. The doors won’t open and I’m trapped here. I want to get home, back to my bed. ”

  Didn’t your father tell you to stay safe in the den? Why did you leave it?

  “I was curious. ”

  And curious cubs have been getting into trouble since the world began. No, don’t start whining again. Tell me. What are you afraid of?

  “I want to be back in my bed. ”

  That is what you want. And you are wise to return to the den where your father left you, and remember not to leave it again without his permission. So why don’t you do that? What makes you afraid to do that?

  “I’m afraid of the rats. And I can’t find my way back. I’m trapped here. ” I tried to draw a breath. “I can’t get out. ”

  And why is that?

  “It’s dark. And I’m lost. I can’t find my way back. ” I was beginning to be angry with the calm, implacable voice
even as I cherished the warmth and feeling of safety he gave me. Perhaps even then I realized that I only felt irritation with him because I now felt safe. Slowly it came to me that I was no longer afraid, just perplexed.

  Why can’t you find your way back?

  Now he was just being stupid. Or mean. “It’s dark. I can’t see. And even if I could see, I can’t remember which way to go. ”

  The voice never lost its patience. You can’t see, perhaps. Perhaps you can’t remember because you are so frightened. But you can smell. Get up.

  Uncurling myself was hard. I was cold all over now, shaking with the chill. I stood up.

  Lead the way. Follow your nose. Follow the scent of your mother’s candle.

  “I can’t smell anything. ”

  Blow out through your nose. Then breathe in slowly.

  “All I smell is dust. ”

  Try again. Inexorable.

  I growled low.

  So. You are finding your courage. Now find your wits. Sniff your way home, cub.

  I wanted him to be wrong. I wanted to be justified in my fear and hopelessness. I took a breath to tell him how stupid he was and tasted my mother’s scent. Loneliness welled in me and hunger for she who had loved me so. My heart drew me toward the smell, and my feet followed.

  It was so faint. Twice I paused, thinking I had lost it. I must have walked in blackness but I recall that I moved slowly through the summer garden toward the honeysuckle that tangled and sprawled along a stone wall in the herb garden.

  I came to a place where a draft of air touched my face. The moving air confused the scent and suddenly I was in darkness again. My heart jammed against my throat and I reached out blindly, touching nothing. A sob of terror fought with my hammering heart to see which could leap first from my mouth.

  Steady. Use your nose. Fear is useless now.

  I sniffled, thinking him heartless. And caught the scent again. I turned toward it, only to have it get fainter. Turned my head back the other way, more slowly. I walked toward the smell that now felt like my mother’s hands on my cheeks. I leaned my face forward, breathing my mother’s love. There was a slight bend in the corner and then a gradual ascent. The scent grew stronger. And then I bumped the little shelf. That jolted my eyes open; I wasn’t aware I had closed them.

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  And there, leaking in around the peephole’s cover, was a tiny gleam of flickering light, illuminating the stub of my mother’s candle. The light caressed it, yellow and warm and welcoming. I knelt and took the candle and held it to my breast, breathing the fragrance that had led me to safety. I pushed the peephole cover aside and peered into the dimly lit study. “It’s going to be all right,” I said to Wolf-Father. I turned to look back at him, but he was gone, leaving only a cooler place in the air behind me.

  “Father?” I said, but there was no reply. My heart sank and then I heard the rapping.

  “Bee. Unlatch the door. Right now. ” His voice was low and I could not tell if he was afraid or angry.

  The rapping came again, louder, and I saw the doors shake. Then they leapt at a blow.

  It took me a moment to get my bearings. I seized my courage tight and left the peephole’s comforting light. Dragging my fingertips on the wall as I went down the narrow corridor, around a corner, and then another sharp corner and out of the panel. The rapping and shaking were louder now. “I’m coming!” I called back as I pushed the panel closed. I had to work the catches on it, and then I went to unbolt the study door. My father pushed it open so suddenly that he knocked me off my feet.

  “Bee!” he exclaimed in a breathless shout and dropped to his knees to seize me. He hugged me so tightly that I couldn’t breathe. He had forgotten to hold himself in. His fear drenched me. I stiffened in his grip. Abruptly it was gone, leaving me to wonder if I had truly felt that wave of love beneath it. He released me but his dark staring eyes held me. They were full of hurt. “What were you thinking? Why aren’t you in your bed?” he demanded of me.

  “I wanted to—”

  “You are not allowed. Do you understand me? You are not allowed!” He wasn’t shouting. The voice he was using was more frightening than shouting would have been. It was as low and intense as a snarl.

  “Not allowed what?” I trembled out.

  He looked at me with wild eyes. “Not allowed to be gone from where I left you. Not allowed to make me think I’ve lost you. ” He gathered me in again and held me close against his cold coat. I became aware that his hair was dripping wet and he still wore his outer garments. He must have come in and gone straight to my room to check on me. And instantly panicked when I wasn’t there. I felt an odd little lift to my heart. I was important to him. Very important.

  “Next time you tell me to stay in the den, I will,” I promised him.

  “Good,” he said fiercely. Then, “What were you doing in here with the door latched?”

  “Waiting for you to come home. ” Not quite a lie, and I couldn’t have said why I evaded his question.

  “And that’s how you come to be covered in cobwebs with a dirty face. ” He touched my cheek with a cold finger. “You’ve been crying. There are two clean streaks on your face. ” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a less-than-clean kerchief, and reached for my face. I drew back from it. He looked at the cloth in his hand and laughed ruefully. “I wasn’t thinking. Come. Let’s go to the kitchen and see if we can get a bit of warm water and a clean cloth. And you can tell me exactly where you were waiting for me to return. ”

  He did not put me down but carried me, as if he did not trust me beyond his arm’s reach. I felt the power thrumming through him, battering to breach his walls and engulf me. It was a frightening, contained storm inside him. But I did not struggle against him. I think I decided that night that the discomfort of being close to him was preferable to standing away from the only person in the world who I knew loved me. I suspect that at some point he had made the same decision.

  In the kitchen he ladled water from the warming pot always kept there and found a clean rag for me to use to wash my face. I told him that I had been curious to explore the spy-warren and had gone in, but then lost my way when my candle went out and became frightened. He didn’t ask me how I had found my way out; I am sure he did not imagine how far I had traveled in the hidden corridors, and at that time I chose to keep it that way. Of Wolf-Father, I said nothing.

  He took me up to my room and found me a clean nightdress. The one I had been wearing was dirtied all round the hem, and the socks were thicker with cobwebs and dust than they were with wool. He watched over me as I got into bed and then sat in silence by my bed until he believed I was asleep. Then he blew out the candle and left the room.

  I had almost been asleep, but held myself back from it for two reasons. The first was to find the peephole that had looked into my room. That took longer than I had expected. It was very well concealed in the paneling of one wall, and up high, so the viewer could see almost the entire room. I felt round the nearby woodwork and paneling to see if perhaps I could find an entrance to the spy-maze, to no avail. And I was chilly, weary, and my warm bed was tempting.

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  Yet as I climbed into it and put my head on the pillow, I again felt the reluctance to sleep. Sleep brought dreams, and since my mother’s death they seemed to come almost every night. I was tired of them, and tired of the labor of remembering them and writing them into my book each day. Some of the most frightening ones were recurrent. I hated the one with the snake boat. And the one where I had no mouth and could not close my eyes to avoid what I was seeing. I helped a rat to hide inside my heart. There was a fog, and a white rabbit and a black rabbit ran side by side from terrible ravening creatures. The white rabbit was pierced with a living arrow. The black rabbit screamed as it died.

  I hated the dreams, and yet every time they came back to my sleep I added a detail,
a note, a curse to my journal.

  This storm of dreams was something new, but not the dreaming. I had been dreaming for longer than I had been outside my mother’s womb. Sometimes I thought that the dreams went back beyond my existence, that they were the fragments of someone else’s life, but somehow bound to me. As an infant, I dreamed, and as a very small child. Some of the dreams were pleasant, others weirdly beautiful. Some frightened me. I never forgot my dreams, as some people say they do. Each was a complete and separate memory, as much a part of my life as remembering the day we took honey from the hives, or the time I slipped on the stairs and scraped all the skin off both shins. When I was small, it was almost as if I had two lives, one by day and one by night. Some dreams seemed more important than others, but none of them seemed trivial.

  But after Wolf-Father came to me, that very night, I had a dream that when I woke I knew was no ordinary dream. And suddenly I realized there were two categories to my old dreams. There were dreams and then there were Dreams. And I was seized by a compulsion to begin anew and record my real Dreams in great detail and keep them safely collected. It was as if I had discovered the difference between river pebbles and gemstones, and realized that I had left jewels scattered haphazardly about for the past nine years.

  I woke in my curtained bed and lay still for a time in the winter darkness, thinking of what I must do. It had been good to record all my dreams, but now that I knew the difference between them, all of them must be recopied. I would need ink, good pens, and decent paper. I knew where to get those. I wanted vellum, but that would be missed, and I did not think I could persuade my father that my endeavor merited vellum. Perhaps later I would be able to acquire the quality of paper that my Dreams merited. For now I would be content with recording them and keeping them safe. It suddenly seemed to me that there was only one place in the world for either of those activities. And that presented another problem.

  For I was sure that after my nocturnal exploration, my father would limit my access to the spy-network in the walls of Withywoods. As I lay in bed and became convinced of this, it also became unthinkable.

  I had told him little of my explorations in the corridors last night. He had deduced I had been in the spy-network, and that I had frightened myself. Perhaps he would think that enough to put an end to my explorations. But he might check for himself. He would find my cached candle, I did not doubt, and perhaps where I had dropped the end stub of the finished taper. Would he be alert enough to follow my footprints in the dusty passages to see how far I had explored? I could not know. Last night he had been extremely alarmed to discover I was not where he had left me. Perhaps my relief at his homecoming would have reassured him.

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