Assassins fate, p.47
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       Assassin's Fate, p.47

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

  Silence filled the room.

  Amber broke it. ‘Then the dragons go to Clerres with us, to take their vengeance?’ Was there hope or dread in her voice?

  Rapskal set down his glass and shook his head. ‘Not immediately. Our mission to protect the hatching eggs is the more pressing one. When the hatching season is complete and we are satisfied that every Abomination has been slain, we will come there.’

  ‘When last we spoke, we believed my daughter was dead. Now we believe she may have survived. That Bee may be a prisoner in Clerres.’

  Amber broke in. ‘If she is in the city and the dragons attack, she may be injured. Or killed.’

  Rapskal nodded to that. ‘Killed is likelier,’ he conceded. ‘The destruction we wrought on Chalced was very thorough. Buildings collapsed. The acid breath of the dragons sprayed over people and beasts.’ He nodded his satisfaction. ‘I doubt that anyone within the duke’s palace survived.’ Then, as he looked around at the horror on our faces he said suddenly, ‘I see your concern. Indeed.’

  ‘And you can speak to Tintaglia and Heeby? Ask them to aid us? Or at least allow us to make our rescue attempt before they bring the city down?’ Amber was breathless with hope.

  He steepled his long-fingered hands and looked down at their scarlet nails. We waited in silence. At last he said quietly, ‘I will tell them. But.’ He lifted his eyes and met my gaze squarely. ‘I can promise nothing. I think you already know that. Dragons are not … they do not regard humans …’ His voice trailed away.

  ‘They will not consider it important.’ My words fell like dead birds.

  ‘Exactly. I am sorry.’ He toyed with his fork and added, ‘Your best hope is to be there before they are. To try to rescue her before they lay siege to the city. Truly, I am sorry.’

  I wondered if he was. I wondered if he were not very like a dragon himself. Unable to grasp the importance of one child.

  Rapskal lifted his head as if he were listening to something. ‘Heeby is sated. You have provided well for her. I thank you.’ Again, his face took on that pensive look. Then he smiled. ‘I believe that Tintaglia is as well. Now they will sleep. Such a flight has wearied both of them, and Heeby is close to exhaustion.’ He looked at me and quirked one scaled brow, as if to remind me that we shared a secret. ‘Luckily I carry in her saddle a supply of a … restorative. Tomorrow, she shall have it. But for the rest of the day and all tonight, she must sleep. And so must I.’ He turned his smile on Wintrow and Etta. ‘Could you prepare a bedchamber for me, and a bath? I confess I am wearied and aching in every limb. Travelling so high above the earth it is always cold! I could sleep a bit in my saddle, but it was not true rest.’

  Queen Etta’s eyes narrowed to be addressed as if she were a chamber servant. I anticipated Etta coming to her feet with her hand on a sword’s hilt, but instead Wintrow pushed hastily back from the table. He knew when his queen had reached her limit for tolerance. ‘If you will follow me, General Rapskal, I will be pleased to surrender my own chamber to your use. I’m sure that is the swiftest way to find you a place to rest. Gentlemen, ladies, if you will excuse us.’

  And they went, leaving Queen Etta and my party at the table. Abruptly, the queen stood up. ‘You need to leave as soon as possible. To have a chance to reach Clerres before the dragons, to save your child.’

  ‘That is so.’ I fought to control my voice. I was still trying to accept the fatalism I had heard in Rapskal’s words. The allies I had hoped for had now become a different sort of threat.

  ‘And you take my son into a greater danger than I perceived.’

  ‘I consider that likely.’

  She nodded slowly. ‘He is his father’s son. This business with the dragons and their vengeance … it will only fire his determination steel-hard.’ She fixed me with a considering stare. ‘Well, Prince FitzChivalry, you have brought more excitement, disaster and puzzlement to Divvytown than we have enjoyed in many a year.’

  I heard the clack of boots and Kennitsson strode into the room. There was a fire in his eyes I had not seen there before. ‘Mother. I have come to tell you that I am determined to sail tomorrow, on the first tide. The sooner we reach Clerres, the sooner we can take a vengeance long delayed.’ His gaze swept us, and then he turned and departed.

  Etta stared after her son for a long moment. ‘So like his father.’ She turned to me. ‘I had hoped to delay your departure. Now, I will give commands that the ship be well provisioned by nightfall.’ As she rose from the table she added in a chilling voice, ‘Farseer. You have lost your child. Do not lose mine as well.’


  * * *

  Under Sail

  The first time the mountain burned was in the summer. Some said the earth’s shaking broke the distant mountain. Others that the mountain woke and that caused the earth to shake.

  It was not the first time that the earth had quaked under us. Always there had been tremors. Hence we had always built with stone rich in the silver threads that could be magicked to stand firm and remember their purpose in the world. But in that shaking, although most of our buildings stood firm, a crack opened in the earth itself from the river to the District of the Tinkers. Later, it would fill with water from the river and we would accept it as a part of our city.

  A rain fell on the city that was not only water but contained black sand. It dusted the streets, and some of the folk and three of the dragons took a cough from it. Dark clouds gathered over Kelsingra, and day was like night for twelve days. Birds fell lifeless to the ground and fish washed up along the shores of the river.

  All the while, far in the distance, what had been the snowy peak of Sisefalk glowed like a cauldron of melted iron.

  Memory-cube 941, found in a corridor in Aslevjal

  Transcribed by Chade Fallstar

  At dawn the next day, the dragons departed.

  Etta had been as good as her word. We had worked through the night, taking on supplies and making all ready to catch the first tide. I do not think the dragons gave warning or farewell to anyone. They rose from the ground and our crow circled below, cawing unhappily as they rose higher and higher into the sky in slow circles over Divvytown before departing to the south and east. As I dropped my eyes, I saw that Vivacia was in full sail below them. Brashen strode past me on the deck and I pointed her out to him.

  ‘Word came late last night. Vivacia was determined to go to Others’ Island with the dragons, to see what has transpired there. And afterward, perhaps she will follow them to Clerres.’

  I stared after them, wondering what that meant for my mission until Brashen slapped me on the back. ‘The ale-casks will not stow themselves,’ he pointed out, and I moved to where Clef was putting hands onto a hoist.

  Not long after, the Prince of the Pirate Isles came alongside in a small boat. Sorcor was at the oars, pulling hard and well for a man of his years. Two ornate trunks and a canvas seaman’s bag rode in the centre of the boat. Kennitsson perched in the bow, with the plumes of his hat nodding in the wind. A youngster, finely attired, sat on one of the trunks.

  Clef spotted them and strode purposefully toward the captains’ stateroom. A moment later, both Althea and Brashen appeared. Althea’s mouth was taut and her eyes narrowed like an angry cat. Brashen looked relaxed and in command.

  Kennitsson ascended the ladder first, followed by the youngster. Sorcor joined us on the deck. Two of Etta’s sailors clambered over the side to bring the trunks aboard. As Kennitsson looked around, Sorcor spoke. ‘Well,’ he said heavily. ‘Here we are.’

  ‘Paragon Ludluck! To me, young man, to me!’ cried the ship. Without a word or a glance at Althea or Brashen, Kennitsson walked towards the figurehead. Over his shoulder he called to the youngster, ‘Barla, see to my things! Arrange my stateroom as I like it. Be lively about it.’

  Sorcor watched him go, and a blush reddened the old pirate’s cheeks. Without looking at Brashen or Althea, he said quietly, ‘I’d like to come with you.’

; ‘We’ve already enough captains on this vessel,’ Brashen replied, trying to soften his decision with humour. ‘If you’re aboard, not only Kennitsson but every sailor you’ve offered us will look to you before following an order from me or Althea.’

  ‘That’s true,’ Sorcor admitted. We watched as the first heavy trunk of Kennitsson’s essentials was lifted and swung over Paragon’s deck. Sorcor’s eyes tracked the trunk’s journey. He gave a small sigh. ‘You want a free hand with the lad, don’t you? Don’t want me stepping in if I think you’re too rough on our young prince.’

  ‘I do,’ Brashen admitted. ‘I can’t think of him as a lad, let alone as a prince. The ship wants him aboard. You’d like him to learn something of our trade.’ He gave a deprecating laugh. ‘And I’d like a bit of peace aboard this vessel. That’s only going to happen if I treat him like any other hand.’

  ‘So I told him last night, when his mother was chaining that charm snug to his throat. I don’t think he heard a word we said to him. But I give him over to you.’ A small silence followed Sorcor’s capitulation. The old pirate turned to Barla, who was guiding the heavy trunk down to the deck, and said quietly, ‘Lass, tell them to take that one back. The canvas sea-bag is all we need brought aboard.’ Then he squared his shoulders. ‘Kennitsson and Trellvestrit got along well whenever Vivacia was in port. Wintrow threw them together whenever he could. He wanted your boy to get a feel for our politics and to pick up a bit of polish. Begging your pardon, Wintrow’s words, not mine!’

  Brashen gave a wry twist of his mouth. ‘Polish, eh? I’d have said Boy-O had the Trader’s polish already. But no offence taken.’

  ‘I’d appreciate it if your lad stood by him now. He could teach him your ways, the same way Trellvestrit learned our ways from Kennitsson. He’ll have to learn this deck, and everything above and below it. I know Kennitsson’s in for some rough seas before he fits in here. He’s never lived aboard a ship. Never been …’ He shook his big head. ‘My fault,’ he said hoarsely.

  ‘I’ll teach him,’ Brashen said in a low voice. ‘He’ll have to learn to bend a bit. But I won’t deliberately break him. The first thing he’ll have to learn is how to take an order.’ He cleared his throat and gave Sorcor an apologetic look. ‘Grit your teeth and stand back, Sorcor.’ Then Brashen drew breath and bellowed, ‘Kennitsson! Your gear is aboard. Come and stow it. Boy-O, show him his hammock and help him square himself away.’

  Boy-O came at a run, a grin on his face, which faded when he saw the trunk being lowered back over the side. Barla shrugged and went down the ladder after it. A moment later, one of the new hands appeared, the canvas sea-bag slung over her shoulder. She set it down on the deck as Kennitsson strode up. He had not loitered but neither had he hastened. He looked at Brashen with his eyebrows cocked. ‘My “hammock”?’ he queried, a small smile on his lips as if he were certain the captain had misspoken.

  ‘Right by mine!’ Boy-O interjected. ‘Grab your sea-bag and let’s take it below.’ I wondered if Kennitsson heard the note of warning in his friend’s voice.

  ‘Below?’ Kennitsson asked, his eyebrows venturing toward his hairline. His glance flickered to Sorcor and waited for him to intervene.

  Brashen slowly crossed his arms on his chest. There was reluctance on Sorcor’s face but no challenge as the old pirate offered, ‘Good voyaging, Captain Trell. May you have smooth seas and a steady wind.’

  ‘I doubt I’ll get either at this time of year, heading southeast, but I appreciate the wish. Please convey my respects to Queen Etta. I would thank her again for all she has done to equip us for this voyage and to help us make amends with our trading partners.’

  ‘I’ll be sure she knows you thank her.’ I could see Sorcor’s unwillingness to leave. Behind him, incredulous indignation was building on Kennitsson’s face. Boy-O had picked up the sea-bag.

  ‘Where are my trunks?’ Kennitsson demanded. ‘Where is my valet?’

  ‘That’s your sea-bag there, in Trellvestrit’s hands. I packed it myself. Everything you need is in there.’ Sorcor turned slowly and made his way to the side of the ship. Below, the dory that had ferried them out awaited him. Barla popped her head up over the railing. Sorcor shook his head and motioned her to return to the dory. Puzzled, she obeyed. Sorcor straddled the railing beside the rope ladder. ‘Honour your father’s memory. Become a man.’

  Kennitsson stared after him, his cheeks going scarlet. ‘I am a man!’ he bellowed after Sorcor.

  Brashen spoke in an even voice. ‘Boy-O. Drop it.’ As soon as his son obeyed, he turned to the pirate prince. ‘Can you manage your own sea-bag, sailor? I can tell Prince FitzChivalry to give you a hand with it, if there’s need.’ His voice betrayed no emotion. He was a captain finding the limits of a new hire.

  I had watched the scene unfold as if I watched a puppet-play, leaning on the ship’s railing a short distance away. At Trell’s suggestion, I straightened and stepped forward briskly to help with the sea-bag. I was a bit puzzled at his request. The canvas bag was not so large that it presented any sort of a challenge. But I had given my word that I’d help sail the ship and I intended to live up to that at least.

  ‘Out of my way! I can manage it!’ Kennitsson declared. Captain Trell gave a small jerk of his head and I moved away. Kennitsson had strength more than equal to moving his sea-bag, but he deployed it in the sullen over-reaction of a spoiled boy. I reminded myself that he was not my problem and took myself to Amber’s cabin.

  There, I found the Fool, sitting cross-legged on the lower bunk, with one of Bee’s books open in his lap.

  ‘I wondered if you had changed your mind and gone to Divvytown with the others.’

  ‘Sightseeing?’ he asked and gestured at his ruined eyes.

  I sat down beside him, bowing my head to avoid hitting it on the bunk above. ‘I hoped you were regaining a bit of your vision. You’re looking at a book.’

  ‘I’m touching a book, Fitz.’ He sighed and held it out to me. I felt a jolt of dismay. It was her journal, not her book of dreams. Open to a page I hadn’t shared with him. Did he know? I closed it gently, found the shirt I always used and re-wrapped it carefully. I slid it back into my worn pack. I feared he might accidentally discover the Silver. But I said only, ‘We must be very careful with my pack. The fire-brick from Reyn is in here. It must always be stored upright.’

  As I placed it carefully under the bunk, I told him, ‘Kennitsson has come aboard. We’ll be leaving on the change of the tide.’

  ‘Have Lant, Per and Spark returned yet?’

  ‘They won’t be late. Lant had some bird messages to send. Per wanted help to get word to his mother. Spark wished to send a message to Chade.’

  ‘So today we finally resume our journey.’ The breath he expelled was uneven. ‘Yet there is still so far to go, and every moment that passes is a moment that she is too long in their possession. Any moment may be the moment she dies.’

  Panic rose in me. I pushed it down and denied it. Hardened my heart and extinguished hope. I tried to share my defence. ‘Fool, despite what you believe, despite what you have dreamed … If I imagine this is a rescue, not an assassination, I will lose my focus. And it is all I have left.’

  Alarm claimed his face. ‘But she is alive, Fitz. My dreams make me certain of it. I wish I could share them with you!’

  ‘So you’ve had more than one dream of Bee still alive?’ I asked reluctantly. Could I bear to hear any more of his wishful proof?

  ‘I have,’ he replied and then, tilting his head, ‘Though perhaps only I could interpret them that way. It is not so much the images as the feel of the dream that makes me certain they pertain to Bee.’ He paused and grew thoughtful. ‘Possibly I could share my dreams with you? If you touched me with no thought of healing but only of sharing, perhaps?’

  ‘No.’ I tried to soften my refusal. ‘When we link, Fool, what happens has nothing to do with my intent. Something that feels inevitable begins to happen. Like the current of a river s
weeping us along.’

  ‘Like the Skill-river you speak of, like a current of magic?’

  ‘No. It’s different.’

  ‘Then what is it?’

  I sighed. ‘How can I explain something that I don’t understand myself?’

  ‘Hmph. When I say something like that, you get angry at me.’

  I brought us back to the subject. ‘You said you’ve had more dreams about Bee.’

  ‘I have.’

  A short response and a secret unspoken. I pressed him. ‘What sort of dreams, Fool? Where do you dream her, what is she doing?’

  ‘You know my dreams are not like windows into her life. They are hints and portents. Such as the dream about the candles.’ He tilted his head. ‘You recall how Bee wrote of it. I’ll tell you something. That’s an old dream, dreamed often and by many. It could mean so many things. Yet I think it is fulfilled in us. Bee dreams it more clearly than I’ve ever heard it, speaking of us as the Wolf and the Jester.’

  ‘How could many people dream the same dream?’ I pushed aside his confusing words. Without intending it, my voice had dropped to the level of a wolf’s warning growl. His sightless eyes widened slightly.

  ‘We just do. It’s one measure the Servants use to consider the likelihood of something happening. It’s a common dream among those who carry White bloodlines. Each one is slightly different, but they are recognizable as the same dream. I dreamed it as a fork in a path. There are four candles spaced along the path in one direction. At the end of it, there is a little stone house with a low door and no windows. The place where the dead are put. The other path is lit by three candles. At the end of it, a fire burns and people are shouting.’ He took a small breath. ‘I stand staring at it. Then, out of the dark, a bee comes, and buzzes in circles
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