Assassins fate, p.42
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       Assassin's Fate, p.42

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

  ‘What must happen!’ Vivacia spoke before any of her crewmen could respond to their captain. ‘Did you think I would not hear the truth of what Paragon has spoken? Liveship I am, and a wondrous vessel I have been for your family for generations. But Paragon is right, and deep within we all knew that we had other natures, even before the truth of the so-called “wizardwood” was revealed. I will be a dragon again, Wintrow. I know of no liveship who will not wish to rise up and fly again. So, in this I will follow Paragon. Not just to Clerres but up the Rain Wild River afterward, to demand the Silver that is the right of every dragon!’

  ‘You will follow Paragon to Clerres?’

  ‘You wish to be a dragon?’ Althea and Wintrow spoke simultaneously.

  ‘I am considering it,’ the ship replied judiciously.

  ‘Why Clerres?’ Brashen’s voice was raised in complete confusion. ‘Why not go directly to Kelsingra?’

  ‘Because a memory stirs in me. A dragon memory, a memory eclipsed by human thoughts and emotions, a memory so over-scarred by human experiences that I cannot be certain of anything except a feeling of anger and betrayal that rises in me at the name Clerres. Dragons recall few memories of their serpent years but … there is something that I recall. Something intolerable.’

  ‘YES!’ Paragon flung back his head and shouted the word to the night skies.

  The exultation that rushed through the ship infected me. I fought against the smile that bloomed on my face. His Skill was so strong, I thought to myself, and then with a shock recognized the implications of that and felt cold and shaky. I lifted Amber’s hand from my forearm and said to Spark, ‘Please take over guiding Lady Amber. I need a time alone to think.’

  Amber clutched my shirtfront. ‘You are leaving? You don’t want to stay here and hear what is said?’

  I took her wrist and tugged her hand free, more roughly than I intended. I could not keep from my voice the unease and the irritation I felt with myself for not recognizing the obvious. ‘Listening will change nothing. They will decide what becomes of us, when we travel and who goes with us. I have something else I have to ponder. Spark will be with you, and Lant and Per. But for now, I need to think.’

  ‘I understand,’ she said, in a voice that said she did not.

  But my insight into the ship’s ability to manipulate human emotion was too large to share with her. I strode away to the crew quarters. Empty hammocks. Only a few sailor’s trunks and ditty bags remained. I sat down on someone’s sea-chest there in the dark and muggy hold and pondered. I felt as if I were assembling the pieces of a broken teacup. The Silver the liveships craved and the dragons so jealously guarded was the same Skill I had seen on Verity’s hands when he had carved his dragon. It was the raw stuff of magic, the very essence of it. I’d seen it as a thick slurry on my king’s hands, watched him shape stone into a dragon with the power it gave him. In a Skill-sharing dream of Verity I’d seen a river with a wide band of Silver in it, running with the water. I’d seen Silver tendrilling through a vial of dragon’s blood, and witnessed how it had rushed the Fool’s healing, just as the Skill had healed and changed the children of Kelsingra.

  So the Silver was the Skill, and the Skill was the magic I used with my mind, to reach out to touch thoughts with Chade. The Fool had once insinuated that I had dragon’s blood in my veins. Tarman had said I had been claimed by a dragon. Was it the stone dragon I had touched, or an echo of Verity as I had known him. I re-ordered that thought now. Had I inherited something in my blood, some trace of actual Silver, that gave me the power to push my thoughts toward others? Silver traces in the portal-stones, in the Skill-pillars that I could use to travel. Lines of silver in the stones from which Verity had carved his dragon, and in the stone dragons that had slept until, with blood and the touch of my Skill, I had wakened them. Silver traces in the memory-stones that held the records the Elderlings had left for us.

  What, then, was the Skill-current I used to reach out for Nettle or Dutiful? It was a force outside me, of that I was sure. And there were others in it, powerful awarenesses that attracted and might absorb me. Who were they? Had I truly felt Verity there? King Shrewd? How did that fit with the Silver?

  I had too many thoughts. My mind leapt from wondering about the Skill-current to considering what magic I might be able to wield if I were to drink the vials of Silver that Rapskal had given me. Temptation vied with fear. Would it grant me great power, or a painful death? How much Silver was too much for a man’s body to absorb? Paragon had grown much more powerful with the Silver that Amber had given him. The vials in my pack each held more than twice what he’d taken. Now his emotions exploded from him with a force that I could barely resist. Did he know what he did to humans? Did it affect me more because I’d been trained in the Skill? If he understood his power and directed it, would I be able to resist it?

  Would anyone?

  When the stone dragons had risen in flight and Verity had led them to battle against the Red Ship raiders, they had affected the minds of the warriors below them. With acid breath and the powerful winds of their wings and the blows of their lashing tails, they had destroyed our enemies. But worse had been what they did to their minds. To be overflown by the stone dragons was to lose memories. It was not that different to how the OutIslanders had Forged their captives. Even our own men on the ground had felt the effect; even Verity’s presence as a stone dragon had worked it on the guardians of Buckkeep. The recollection of how the queen and Starling had returned to Buckkeep Castle was a hazy one for those who had witnessed it. The most common telling was that Verity had been astride a dragon when he delivered them to safety. Not that the king had become a dragon.

  Such was the power of the Skill, of Silver, to confuse and confound. To steal memory and perhaps one’s humanity.

  As my serving folk had been confounded on the night that Bee was taken. Had they used Silver or dragon’s blood to work that magic, to make all my people forget how they had come and stolen my child, to forget that she had even existed?

  Could that same magic be used against them?

  I dared myself to imagine drinking the Silver. Not all of it, not at first. Just a little, to see what I could do. Just sufficient to make me strong enough to resist the ship’s emotions. Enough to heal the Fool without losing my vision to him. Was that possible? Enough to reach out to ask Chade’s advice, perhaps to heal his body of the ravages of age and restore his mind. Could I do that? Would Nettle know more of what it could or could not do?

  If I drank it all, could I walk into Clerres and demand that all there kill themselves?

  Could it be that easy to destroy them and win back my daughter?

  ‘What are you doing down here?’ Lant asked me. I turned to see him coming toward me, Per and Spark trailing behind him.

  ‘Where is Amber?’

  ‘She is with the figurehead. She dismissed us. What are you doing?’

  ‘Thinking. Where are the others?’

  ‘Wintrow went back to Vivacia. She needs calming, I think. The queen and Sorcor went back to Divvytown. I think they will try to find Kennitsson and reason with him. Brashen and Althea went to their stateroom and shut the door. And Amber had Spark fetch her pipes; and she is playing for Paragon.’ He drew breath and looked around the crew quarters. ‘You came here to think?’


  ‘Can you think while you work?’ I turned to Clef’s voice. It was humid below deck and his face ran with sweat as he stepped out of the shadowy darkness of the hold. ‘I was just coming to look for you. We’re short of crew and we need to move freight. Some of the crates have shifted and a few look damp. Captains wanted those ones up on deck. You said you’d pitch in. Now would be a good time.’

  ‘I’m coming,’ I said.

  ‘Me, too,’ Lant added and Per nodded.

  ‘And me,’ Spark asserted. ‘I’m part of this crew. Now and to the end.’

  To the end, I thought morosely, and rose to follow them. A wave of vertigo swe
pt over me such that I abruptly sat down again on the sea-chest. There you are! Satisfaction rang in the voice in my head. I am coming for you. Prepare for me.

  ‘Fitz?’ Lant asked, concern in his voice.

  I stood slowly. My smile held back my fear and confusion. ‘Tintaglia is coming for me,’ I said.


  * * *

  Another Ship, Another Journey

  Report to the Four

  The lurik known as Beloved continues to create restlessness among the other luriks. He was caught attempting to remain in the village when the tide was coming in and the other luriks had already formed up to return to their cottages. He has upset those who have come to have their fortunes foretold by hypothesizing horrible calamities. He told one client that his son would marry a donkey but that the children from that union would bring the family great joy. To another, he said simply, ‘How much money do you wish to give me to lie to you? My best lies are very expensive, but this one is free. You are a very wise woman to have come here to give me lots of money to lie to you.’

  Twice I have beaten him, once with my hands and once with a strap. He begged me to lash him hard enough to tear the tattoos from his back. I believe he was sincere in desiring that.

  As soon as he healed and was to return to his duties in the marketplace, he clambered onto a pile of boxes and proclaimed to all that he was the true White Prophet for this generation and announced that he was being held prisoner in Clerres. He appealed to the crowd that immediately gathered to help him escape. When I seized him and shook him to silence him, I was stoned by some of the onlookers and it was only when two other guards intervened that I was able to drag him back within the walls.

  I believe that I have done my duty as well as any might, and I petition to be freed from responsibility for the lurik known as Beloved. With the greatest respect, I say that I consider him both troublesome and dangerous to all.


  My life had improved, or so I told myself. We were quartered in a nice cabin; the meals were regular and Dwalia had few chances to beat me. Indeed, she seemed almost mellowed by our improved fortunes. Summer had found the seas; the winds were fresh and storms were few. As a result of whatever glamor Vindeliar had cast over me, the crew accepted my presence without comment or interest. If I lived my life from moment to moment, it was not too bad. Very little was expected of me. I fetched Dwalia’s meals to the cabin and took away the empty dishes. When she walked on the deck in the afternoons with the captain, I followed at a decorous distance, in a pretence at maintaining the lady’s virtue.

  But for now, the pretence was small. I sat on the deck outside the door of the captain’s stateroom. When he had offered his stateroom to Lady Aubretia, I do not think that Dwalia had realized that he expected to continue occupying it. I heard a rhythmic thudding from inside the cabin and fondly hoped it was the top of her head against the bulkhead. The tempo was increasing, which saddened me. The times when Captain Dorfel was occupying Dwalia were the most peaceful in my constrained existence. She was making little gasping shrieks now, barely audible through the stout plank walls.

  I heard shuffling footsteps coming down the companionway. I thought of the sea and the moving waves and how the sunlight glittered on their tops. I thought of the seabirds flying high above us and yet still looking so large. How big would such a bird be if it landed on the deck? As tall as me? What did they eat? Where did they nest or land to rest when we were so many days away from land? I filled my thoughts with those wide-winged, white birds and thought of nothing else. When Vindeliar crouched beside me, I wondered what he would look like if he were a bird. I imagined a beak for him and glossy feathers, and orange-clawed feet with spurs like a rooster.

  ‘Are they still in there?’ he asked in a hoarse whisper.

  I didn’t look at him or reply. Long, shining, grey feathers.

  ‘I won’t try to push into your thoughts.’

  I don’t believe you, I don’t trust you, I don’t believe you, I don’t trust you. I just thought it, but I didn’t lower my walls. He was not as powerful as he had been when he first took in the serpent spit, but he was still strong. I was starting to understand that unlike my father’s magic that was always with him, Vindeliar’s magic depended on the potion. I wondered how long it would take before it dwindled away completely. Before I could trust that my private plans remained private. Don’t think of that. I don’t trust you, I don’t believe you, I don’t trust you.

  ‘You don’t trust me.’ He said it with such sadness that I almost felt rebuked. Except that he had taken the words from my thoughts and said them aloud. He wasn’t to be trusted. Not at all. I knew that, down to my bones. I desperately needed an ally, but Vindeliar was not one. I don’t believe you, I don’t trust you, I don’t believe you, I don’t trust you.

  ‘Poor Dwalia.’ He was staring at the closed door, a look of dismay on his face. ‘He just goes on and on! She must blame me. I made Captain Dorfel see her as the most beautiful woman he could imagine.’ He scratched his head. ‘It has not been easy, to keep him convinced of his desire for her. At all times, I must be aware of all who see her. It’s very taxing.’

  ‘What does he see when he looks at her?’ Damn curiosity! The question had been on my lips before I had recalled I must not speak to him. I tried to think only of the birds again.

  He smiled, pleased that I’d spoken to him. ‘I don’t tell them what to see, exactly. I tell them they see something they like. For Dwalia, I told the captain he would see a beautiful woman he wanted to help. I don’t know exactly what she looks like to him.’

  He looked at me, waiting for my questions. I held them all back and thought of how the tip of every wave sometimes sparkled so brightly that I could not look at them for long.

  ‘For me, I told them all to see “just a serving man”. Unthreatening. Nobody to worry about.’

  He waited again. I held my silence.

  ‘I told them you were homely and dull and smelled bad.’

  ‘Smelled bad?’ Again, I had not meant to speak.

  ‘So they would leave you alone. On the boat before this there were some who looked at you and wanted … wanted what he does to poor Dwalia now.’ He crossed his stubby arms on his chest. ‘I protect you, Bee. Even when you hate and mistrust me, I protect you. I wish you could open your eyes and see that we are taking you to safety, to where you have always belonged. Dwalia has suffered so much for you, and you have rewarded her only with difficulty and physical attacks.’

  As if she had heard him and wished more of his sympathy, we heard a series of rising moans from within the cabin. Vindeliar looked from me to the door and then back to me. ‘Should we go in? Does she need us?’

  ‘They’re nearly done.’ I knew that they were mating, but had no clear idea of the mechanics of it. My days as sentry had taught me that it involved a lot of bumping noises and moans and left the cabin smelling sweaty. For a few hours, Dwalia would doze and be uninterested in persecuting me. I did not care what the captain did to her in his afternoon visits.

  Vindeliar seemed both foolish and patronizing as he told me, ‘She must allow this. If she refused, it would be harder for me to keep him believing that he loves her. She endures this to win us safe passage to Clerres.’

  I started to tell him that I doubted it, but bit back my words. The less talk we exchanged, the better for me. Sunlight on the waves. Gary birds flying.

  The moaning reached a higher pitch and pace, and then suddenly dwindled away in a descending sigh. A galloping series of thuds and then all sound from the chamber abruptly ceased.

  ‘I will always wonder what it is like. I will never do that.’ He spoke as wistfully as a child. Gary birds sliding across the blue sky. Wind in our sails, waves sparkling. ‘I barely remember what they did to me. Only the pain. But they had to do it. They saw very soon that I should not make children for Clerres. Girls like me they kill. And most of the boys. But Dwalia spoke for me and my sister, Oddessa. We w
ere twins, born of one of the purest White lineages, but … flawed. She kept me alive when all others thought I should die.’ He spoke as if I should marvel at Dwalia’s goodness.

  ‘You are so blind to her. So stupid!’ Anger demolished my self-control. ‘She cut you like a bull calf, and you grovel with thankfulness. Who is she to say you should never make a child? She strikes you and calls you names and you sniff along behind her like a dog nosing another dog’s piss! She feeds you filth to give you power, a magic she does not understand, and you let her decide how it will be used! She thinks nothing of you, Vindeliar! Nothing at all! But you are too stupid to see how she uses you and how she will discard you the moment you become useless. She hits you and calls you names, but the moment she smiles at you, you forgive it all and forget it! You call me brother but you do not care that she intends to hurt me and then kill me. You know it as well as I do. You could have helped me. If you cared for me, you would have helped me! We should have fled when that last ship made port, and I could have gone home to my family and you could have chosen a life for yourself! Instead you helped her kill a woman who had done nothing bad to you and had been kind to me. And you threw aside the Chalcedean, and left him to die for you after you compelled him to kill for her! You’re a coward and a fool!’

  But I was the fool. From somewhere in a distant darkness, I heard a wolf’s long howl fade. Then Vindeliar was inside my mind. Be calm, I won’t hurt you, just let me see your secrets, what do you fear, be calm, my brother, I won’t hurt you, just let me see. He babbled excitedly as he whirled through my mind, stirring and flinging memories as if they were dead leaves and he an autumn storm. Wall after wall I raised to him, and each he tore and parted as if they were paper. I was dizzy and sickened with the assault of memories, each with an emotion attached to it. My mother fell and died, my mouth was torn when I was slapped, a cat purred still and warm as I stroked him, I smelled bacon and fresh bread in a winter kitchen lit with candlelight and hearth fire, FitzVigilant shamed me, and Perseverance fell as an arrow tore through him. Vindeliar was a greedy child rummaging a platter of sweets, taking a bite of this one and a lick of that one. Dirtying my memories with his eager sampling, as if he could own me by knowing me. You do dream! He was exultant.

  I felt pushed out of my own mind. I could not find a voice to shriek at him nor fists to batter him. I was writing in my dream journal –NO, he must not see that, he must not read those! And
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