Fools assassin, p.49
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       Fools Assassin, p.49

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

  “Did they make a camp there? Out in a snowy pasture?”

  He shook his head.

  “I’ll walk out there later and take a look. ”

  He shrugged one shoulder. “Nothing to see. Just horse tracks. I already put the fence railing back up. ”

  I nodded, and wondered. Simple travelers or those who had hunted my messenger? I doubted they were the hunters. Folk who had killed one messenger and condemned another to a horrible death were unlikely to simply pause in a pasture on the pursuit. I would still look at the tracks, but doubted I’d find anything more than what Lin had.

  Chapter Twenty

  The Morning After

  There is a time for an assassin to kill and disappear. There is a time for public killings, and there is a time to kill in secret. For the purposes of a lesson, a killing may be public and the body left for others to deal with. Sometimes, it is better to assassinate in private, and then display the body in a way that will shock, terrify, or admonish others. Most difficult of all, perhaps, is the assassination that must be completely concealed, not just the killing but the resulting body. The purpose of this is sometimes to create uncertainty, or to avoid blame, or to make it appear that the subject has fled or abandoned his duties.

  Thus it becomes clear that simply training your assassin to kill efficiently is not enough. One must instill judgment, discipline, and self-effacement to create a useful tool.

  Singal’s Lessons in Murder, translated from the Chalcedean

  I woke to gray light coming in the windows. I was on the couch where my mother had birthed me, wrapped in a blanket. On my father’s regular chair near the fire, a blanket was neatly folded. I could tell that the fire had recently been fed. I lay still, thinking of all the ways my life had changed in one day. Shun had arrived. And the pale messenger. My father had seen me as useful, and even intelligent as I helped him bring her in. He’d trusted me to follow his instructions. And then Shun had distracted him with her silly complaints, and we’d lost our chance with the messenger. When we had concealed her death, I had been shocked. But I’d also felt that he valued me. But the moment Shun was frightened, he had left my side and forgotten me completely as he ran off to see to her hysterics.

  I threw my blanket off me and onto the floor and glared at my father’s empty chair as I sat up. Everyone wanted him to take care of someone else besides me. Take care of Shun and protect her; the pale girl wanted him to go off and look for a lost son. Was anyone telling him to pay attention to his own daughter because otherwise there was no one else in the world who would watch over her? No.

  Except maybe Nettle. And she thought I was an idiot. Well, perhaps not an idiot and perhaps that was my own fault for never letting her share my thoughts, but it still didn’t bode well for my future if I went to live with her. Or would Riddle go back to Buckkeep and tell her I wasn’t as feeble-minded as she thought? If Riddle went back to Buckkeep Castle. He seemed very intent on protecting Shun, too. And Shun seemed very eager to keep him by her side. I scowled at that thought. I was not sure why, but I was certain that Riddle was the property of my older sister. In that moment Shun became not only the outsider but the enemy.

  And my absent father was little better.

  Swiftly I constructed my resentment and believed in it. Silently seething with anger at all of them, I returned to my bedchamber. I was not pleased to find it full of folk scrubbing the walls and floors. The smell of vinegar was strong. All bedding had vanished from the servant’s bed frame, and when I threaded my small way among the unfamiliar servants, I found that most of my clothing chest had been emptied as well. I was pleased at the idea that my things would be returned washed and fresh, and less pleased that so little was left for me to choose from. Nor did I like how the four newly hired woman and the beefy man helping them with the heavier lifting paused in their cleaning tasks to stare at me. They were the intruders here, not I!

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  Yet stare they did, and not one offered to help me as I struggled with the heavy lid of the chest. I contented myself with grabbing whatever garments I could reach. I carried them off with me and went back to the relative privacy of my mother’s room to change out of my nightrobe.

  I changed hastily there, squatting behind the screens in the corner. The tunic was from summer and a bit too small for me, shorter than my mother would have allowed me to wear. The leggings bagged at the knee and bottom. I consulted the small pieces of looking glass set in a decorative lamp cover. My shorn hair stood up like the stubble in a harvested field. I looked more like a serving boy than our serving boys did. I took a deep breath and refused to think of Shun’s fine clothing and hair combs and rings and scarves.

  My new red nightrobe was on the floor. I picked it up and shook it out. I gathered it in my arms and smelled it. My mother’s scent had faded but was still there. I folded it and hid it behind a stool. I myself would wash it out and scent it with one of her rose sachets. I went in search of my father.

  I found him, Shun, and Riddle at breakfast in the dining room. I was surprised to see the table made up so formally. There were covered serving dishes and two pots of tea on the table. An empty place setting awaited me. I wondered if it would be like this every day now that Shun was living with us. They had almost finished eating. I came into the room quietly and slipped into the empty place.

  Shun was talking, some nonsense about warding off ghosts with cups of green tea. I let her finish. Before my father could speak, I observed to him, “You had breakfast without me. ” It hurt me deeply and I didn’t try to hide that. It was a small ritual we had shared since we had been left alone after my mother’s death. Whatever else happened, he woke me in the morning and we had breakfast together.

  He looked very draggled and weary, even though he had shaved and his shirt was clean. But I refused to feel sorry for him as he said, “It was a late night for all of us. I thought you would want the extra sleep. ”

  “You should have wakened me to see if I wanted to join you. ”

  “I probably should have,” my father said quietly. He spoke in a voice that told me he wasn’t pleased we were having this discussion in front of Riddle and Shun. Suddenly I regretted it.

  “Children need more sleep than adults. Everyone knows that,” Shun informed me helpfully. She picked up her teacup and observed me over the rim as she sipped from it. She had the eyes of an evil cat.

  I looked at her levelly. “And everyone knows that ghosts are bound to the site of their deaths. Your Rono is wherever you left him. Ghosts don’t follow people about. ”

  If she had been a cat, she would have hissed at me. Her lips pulled back from her teeth in just the same way. But if she had been a cat, she would have known the noise in the walls was just another cat. I looked at her as I asked my father, “Is there any food left for me?”

  He looked at me without speaking and then rang a small bell. A servant I didn’t know hurried into the room. My father directed him to bring breakfast for me. I think Riddle was trying to be soothing when he asked me, “Well, Bee, and what are your plans for the day?”

  Shun narrowed her eyes when he spoke to me and I knew instantly what I wanted to do that day. Keep Riddle so busy he would have no time for Shun. I lifted my chin and smiled at him. “Since you are here, and my father has been so busy preparing for our guest and with the repairs to the house that he has little time for me, I wondered if you would show me how to ride a horse today?”

  His eyes widened with genuine pleasure. “With your father’s permission, I would be delighted!”

  My father looked stunned. My heart sank. I should have known that asking Riddle to teach me would hurt his feelings. I had aimed for Shun and struck my father instead. Not that I had missed Shun. Her narrowed eyes made her look even more like a dunked cat. My father spoke. “I thought you said that you didn’t want to learn to ride; that you didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of sitting on ano
ther creature’s back and telling it where to go. ”

  I had said that, when I was much smaller, and it still made perfect sense to me. But I would not have said it in front of Shun. I felt the burn rise to my cheeks.

  “Such a peculiar idea!” Shun exclaimed and laughed delightedly.

  I stared at my father. How could he have said that aloud and in front of a relative stranger? Had he done it on purpose, because I’d hurt his feelings? I spoke stiffly. “I still feel it is unfair, simply because we are humans and can force animals to obey us, that we should do it. But if I am ever to visit my sister at Buckkeep Castle, it is a thing I must learn. ”

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  Riddle seemed oblivious of the currents sweeping past him as he smiled and said, “And a visit from you would please your sister more than anything, I think. Especially when she sees how well you speak. ”

  “Did she used to stutter then? Or lisp?” If Shun was trying to disguise her disdain for me, she was doing a poor job of it.

  Riddle looked at her directly, his face solemn and his voice grave. “She spoke little. That was all. ”

  “If Bee wishes you to teach her to ride, I’m sure I’m pleased,” my father said. “There is a horse in the stables, not a pony, but a small horse. I chose her for Bee when she was five, when I thought I might persuade her to try riding, but she refused. She’s a mare, a dapple-gray. With one white hoof. ”

  I looked at him but he was hidden behind his eyes. He had chosen a horse for me, all those years ago, and when I had wriggled and squirmed when he tried to put me in the saddle, he had given up that plan with no rebuke for me. Why had he kept the mare? Because he had kept the hope. I had not meant to hurt him. “One white hoof, try him,” I said quietly. “I am sorry that I did not try her, all those years ago. I’m ready now. ”

  He nodded but did not smile. “I will be pleased to see you learn, Bee, regardless of who teaches you. But there will be no visits to Buckkeep Castle just yet. Very early this morning, I received word that your new tutor will soon begin his journey to join us here. It would be peculiar indeed if he left Buckkeep Castle and arrived here to find you gone to Buckkeep. ”

  “My new tutor? What news is this? When was this decided?” I felt as if the room tilted around me.

  “Years ago. ” My father spoke tersely now. “His name is FitzVigilant. This has been planned for some time. He will arrive within the next ten days. ” He suddenly looked as if something pained him. “And a room must be readied for him as well. ”

  “FitzVigilant,” Riddle said quietly. He did not shoot my father an odd look or raise his brows, but I heard an affirming note in his voice and knew that he was letting my father know that he knew more than he had been told. “I had heard that Lord Vigilant thought his younger sons were old enough to come to court. ”

  “Indeed, that is the case,” my father confirmed. “Though I am told it was more his wife’s decision than his. Indeed, I have heard that Lord Vigilant was surprised to hear of it. ”

  Lady Shun’s gaze was darting from one to the other. Did she guess that more was being conveyed than she was privileged to know? In that moment I scarcely cared. I was caught in a daze.

  The memories from my earliest babyhood, like the memories I have from within my mother, are floating memories. They exist, but they are not anchored to my daily life. Only when a scent or a sound or a taste wakens one does it cascade to the front of my mind. In this case it was a name.


  The name had rung in my ears like a bell, and suddenly my awareness was flooded with a memory. It came with a scent of my mother’s milk and a fire of applewood and cedar logs and for a long moment I was an infant in a cradle, hearing that name spoken in a youth’s sullen voice. It is one thing to have a vague memory from one’s childhood. It is quite another for the aware mind to put that memory into context and offer it back. He had crept into my cradle room when I was a baby. My father had stopped him from touching me. My father had spoken of poisons. And threatened to kill him if he came near me again.

  And now he was to be my tutor?

  My mind boiled with questions. The new servant whisked back into the room and set before me a bowl of porridge, two boiled eggs, and a small dish of stewed apples. A touch of cinnamon on the apples fragranced the room. Had Tavia done this especially for me, or was it for everyone? I lifted my gaze. They were all looking at me. I was in a quandary. Had my father forgotten the name of the boy who had come to my cradle that night? Did he think he had changed? Why would he be my tutor? I took a spoonful of the apples and thought before I asked, “And you think FitzVigilant will teach me well?”

  Shun had been sipping her tea. She clattered her cup onto the saucer. She looked at Riddle as she shook her head in consternation. In a conspiratorial voice, as if she did not intend my father and me to overhear, she opined, “Never have I heard a child question her father’s decisions! Had I objected to even one of my grandmother’s plans for me, I am sure she would have slapped me and dismissed me to my room. ”

  It was neatly done. I could not defend myself without appearing more spoiled and petulant than she had already painted me. I drank some milk, looking at my father over the rim of my cup. He was angry. His face had not changed at all and perhaps, I thought, only I could tell that he had been provoked. By Shun or by me, I wondered. Even his voice was normal as he said, “My relationship with Bee is different, then, from what you had with your grandparents. I have always encouraged her to think, and to discuss with me our plans for her. ” He took a sip of his own tea and added, “I cannot imagine slapping her. Ever. ”

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  His gaze briefly kissed mine, and tears stung my eyes. I had been so jealous, so sure that he was favoring Shun. But that swift look offered me something that went beyond even being my father. He was my ally. When he set down the cup, he nodded to me pleasantly and added, “For a number of years, Lord Chade has especially prepared FitzVigilant to be your tutor, Bee. ” He tipped me a wink that no one else saw. “Try him. ”

  “I shall,” I promised. I owed my father that. I focused and summoned a smile to my face. “It will be so exciting to learn new things. ”

  “I am very pleased to hear you say that,” he replied, and I almost felt the warmth of the thoughts he sent me.

  Shun spoke over my words. “The messenger announcing his coming arrived last night? From Lord Chade? But I heard nothing, and I assure you I was not asleep. I found not the least bit of rest last night. Did the messenger say anything of me? Was there word for me from him?”

  “The message came quietly, and was only about the tutor,” my father said. His words said one thing while his tone pointed out that it was not her business. For myself, I understood that Lord Chade had Skilled the information to him. Truly, my father had had a very busy night and had every excuse to look haggard. I kept the smile on my face from becoming smug as I realized that I obviously knew something that Shun did not, and that was that my father and Lord Chade shared the Skill-magic.

  That satisfied me, and I resolved that for now I would ask no more questions. I put my attention on my food and listened to Riddle and my father speak, and Shun interrupt with questions that related only to herself. The workmen would return by noon and resume the renovations of Withywoods Manor. Shun hoped they would not begin work too early; she disliked being wakened by noise. My father had informed Revel that he must prepare chambers for Scribe FitzVigilant. Shun wondered which chambers he would be given. The subject of the imaginary bedbugs came up, and Shun expressed horror and demanded that she be given entirely new bedding. My father assured her that new bedding would be part of the renovation of the Yellow Suite. She asked if the Yellow Suite must remain yellow, as she much preferred mauve or lavender.

  That made me lift my eyes. I watched my father and Riddle exchange looks of consternation. My father’s brow wrinkled. “But the Yellow Suite has
always been the Yellow Suite,” he said, as if that explained everything.

  “There is a Purple Suite, at the other end of that wing, if I recall correctly,” Riddle offered.

  “You would be quite a distance from the rest of the household, but if you wish it,” my father began.

  I tried not to smile. I ate the last of the cooling porridge as Shun objected, “But I do like the view from those windows. Cannot you simply paint the walls of my chambers and change the hangings to a more restful color? Just because it has always been the Yellow Suite does not mean it must remain so. ”

  “But … it’s the Yellow Suite …”

  My father remained baffled by Shun’s failure to understand this while she hammered at him to make him see that yellow might be painted mauve. While they were distracted, I slipped away from the table. My father and Riddle were, I think, peripherally aware that I had vanished. But neither of them stopped me.

  My bedchamber was bare enough that I could have painted it any color and not worried about furniture or tapestries or rugs. Something meant to kill bed vermin smoldered on the hearth, giving off a thick smoke. The wooden skeletons of the beds remained. My clothing chests had been removed to the corridor. I retreated there and rummaged again for warmer clothing before I ventured outside.

  The rain had paused and a wind, warm for this time of year, was moving over the land. I went first to where my father and I had made our bone fire the night before. It had burned hot: There was only white ash in the center of a ring of partially burned sticks and branches. I took up one of the sticks and stirred the white ash. Beneath it, black coals opened red spark eyes at me as I woke them. I saw no bits of bones, not even the round of a skull I had expected to find. I wondered if my father had been here before me, at the very edge of dawn. I kicked some of the ends of the branches back into the center and waited. A thin tendril of smoke began to rise and eventually the fire woke to flames again. I stood, watching it burn, recalling all that our peculiar visitor had said, and wondering if my father would act on it, or forget it now that she was gone. An unexpected son had been foretold. And someone had once believed that my father fulfilled that foretelling. Clearly, I still did not know his full tale. I wondered if I could safely be bolder about stealing his papers and reading them while he was enslaved to the repairs on Withywoods. I decided I would have to.

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