Assassins fate, p.49
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       Assassin's Fate, p.49

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

  Chade’s training for me to put warmth and certainty into my voice.

  ‘Go to sleep, old friend. Per and I must return to our hammocks, for our watch begins soon. We should all rest while we can.’

  ‘While we can,’ he agreed, and Spark nodded to me as we left the small cabin. Lant walked with us as Per and I headed back toward our hammocks.

  When we were well away from the Fool’s door, Lant caught at my sleeve to halt me. ‘Do you believe Bee is still alive?’ he asked in a low voice. Per stepped closer to hear my reply.

  I chose my words carefully. ‘The Fool does. He makes a plan that puts finding her first. I am happy to follow it.’ That was a lie. I added, ‘It does not interfere with my own plans to take the lives of those who took her from me.’

  And so we parted. I returned to my hammock, but could not find sleep again.

  Day after long day, the horizon did not change. Water was all I could see when I went to sleep at the end of my watch, and when I arose to my duties. The weather held fine and grew warmer. We all browned in the sun except for Lady Amber, who remained a very pale gold, darker than the Fool had been but much lighter than Lord Golden. Once, the Fool had told me that it was believed that as White Prophets succeeded in their tasks, they would shed skin and become darker. He had become paler, and I wondered if it meant that the Servants had thwarted him in his goals. Lady Amber did what tasks she could, from scrubbing the turnips and potatoes to splicing lines. She ungloved her silver fingers for that task, and the rope seemed to obey and merge where she directed it. It reminded me uncomfortably of Verity smoothing the stone of his dragon, and I avoided watching her at that task.

  Amber spent more time with Paragon than either of our captains would have preferred. Paragon welcomed her, and often Kennitsson and Boy-O joined her when she played music for him. Motley also spent a great deal of time with Paragon. Between my duties and Amber’s time with the ship, I saw little of the Fool and I had little opportunity to worry about how aloof she had become.

  Our progress was slow. The currents of the ocean did not favour us. The weather was kind but the winds were inconstant. On some days the wind slept and the canvas hung nearly limp. Sometimes, looking at the endless water, I wondered if we moved at all. The farther south we went, the warmer the days grew. Summer was upon us and light lingered long in the evenings.

  One such a day I retired early to my bunk and closed my eyes. I was both weary and bored, but sleep eluded me. I tried to do as my wolf had taught me: centre myself in the now and refuse to worry about the future or dwell on the past. It had never been easy for me, and that afternoon was no exception. As I lay still, hoping for sleep to find me, a whisper of Skill came to me. Da?

  I sat up straight, startled, and lost the contact. No, no, lie down, be very still, breathe slow and deep, and wait. Wait. It was like watching a game trail from up in a tree. Wait.

  Da, can you sense me? It’s Nettle. I got your bird, and I have news for you. Da?

  I took slow deep breaths and tried to stay balanced on the knife’s edge between sleep and wakefulness. I ventured into the Skill-current. It seemed weaker, almost elusive. Nettle, I am here. Is all well with you? And your child? A shiver went through me. Nettle’s child, my grandchild. Banished from my mind for all these weeks.

  Not yet. But soon. Her response was a whisper on the wind but with it came a warm thread of her pleasure that my first thought had been for her and the child. Soft as thistledown, her words floated to me. Your bird message reached us, but I did not fully understand. We have sent Lady Rosemary as an emissary there. Why did you wish Skill-healers to go to Kelsingra?

  I believe it would benefit all. I opened my mind to her and shared my pity for the dragon-touched folk there. I added to it my practicality; an unshakeable alliance could be formed with these peoples, and possibly we would gain a greater understanding of the Skill if we had access to Kelsingra and all that the Skill had wrought there. I tempered it with a warning about dragon-Silver and my conviction that it was the same stuff that Verity had slathered onto his hands so that he could finish his stone dragon. Incredibly powerful and dangerous stuff. Do not let Chade get wind of it or he will long to experiment with it! How is Chade? I miss him and so does Lant.

  Hush! Think not his name!

  Her warning was too late. I felt a ripple of something, like a breeze that stirs the canvas before the wind hits a sail fully. Then Chade swept into my mind, obliterating me. He was mad, triumphantly so, and ecstatic with Skill. FITZ! He boomed my identity out into the Skill-current. As if he had violently stirred a pot of water, I felt that the Skill whirled and drenched me. THERE YOU ARE, MY BOY! I’VE MISSED YOU SO! COME WITH ME, I’VE SO MUCH TO SHOW YOU!

  Dutiful! Coteries all, to me, to me! Contain Lord Chade. Contain him!

  I was ripped out of myself. Torn from my body, my mind spread as thin as spilled wine on a table. I was a flurry of snowflakes scattered by the wind, the dispersing fog of breath on an icy night. I heard distant cries and shouts and sensed a struggle somewhere. Then, as clear as a drop of icy water on the back of my neck, I felt the uncertain touch of another mind.

  Da? Are you a dream? Da?

  I had never touched minds with Bee in the Skill-stream. I did not hear her voice; I did not see her face. But the touch of her thoughts was so uniquely Bee that I could have no doubt it was her.

  It was feeble and thin, a child’s voice shouting into strong wind over water. I reached for her. Bee! Is it you, are you alive?

  Da? Where are you? Why didn’t you come for me? Da?

  Bee, where are you? My first desperate question.

  On a ship. Bound for Clerres. Da? They are cruel to me. Please help me. Why don’t you come for me?

  Then, like a great sweeping wind, Chade blasted through my thoughts, scattering me. Bee? Does she Skill, then? My daughter Skills, my Shine does. She is strong in the Skill, but they keep her from me!

  Da? DA?

  Chade was a tumultuous wind, catching and scattering smaller Skill-entities in his roaring passage. I feared Bee would be tossed and broken, torn to shreds in any encounter. I shoved her away.

  Bee, flee! Wake up, turn away, break clear. Get away! Don’t touch your mind to mine.

  Da? She clung to me, desperate and afraid.

  There was no time to reassure her. I pushed her then, hard, as if I pushed her out of the path of a runaway horse. I felt her fear and hurt, but I tore myself clear of her reaching thought and engaged Chade to prevent him from scorching her. Chade, stop! You are too strong! You will sear all of us to nothing, as Verity burned out poor August! Take control of your Skill, Chade, please!

  You, too, Fitz? Will you suppress me as well? Traitor! You are heartless. This is my magic, my birthright, my glory!

  Then pour it down his throat if you must! Quickly! Three of the apprentices are having seizures!

  That was Nettle, at a great distance, both shouting and Skilling with all her strength. I sensed Chade’s anger and hurt that we were conspiring against him. We had all turned on him, he was certain of it, because we were jealous of his magic and wanted all his secrets. None of us had ever truly loved him, not one of us, except for Shine.

  As abruptly as a curtain dropping at the end of the puppet-show, all was gone. There was no roaring Skill from Chade, no whisper from Nettle, and worst of all, when I groped for Bee’s uncertain Skilling, I found nothing. Nothing at all.

  I found I was on the floor beside my bunk. Tears were streaming unchecked down my cheeks.

  She was out there, my Bee, tossed and torn in a storm of Skill, captured and treated badly. The Fool had been right all along. I could not give up. I plunged in again, sieving the Skill-current for her, over and over, until I felt my strength failing. When I came back to my surroundings, I was curled in a ball. My body ached and my head pounded. Old, I felt a hundred years old. I had failed and abandoned not only my child but my old mentor.

  I spared a thought for him. Chade, poor old C
hade, lost in the magic that he had so longed for. Now it mastered him, and he rode it as one rode a runaway steed. We had hurt him tonight, and I knew it was not the first time he had felt abandoned and persecuted. I wished I could be there to sit by his bed and take his hand and assure him that, yes, he was loved and had always been loved. His hunger for that had burned me almost as much as his wild Skilling.

  But fiercely as I longed to be with Chade, my anxiety for Bee consumed me. On a ship, she had said, bound for Clerres. Alive. Absolutely alive! But in a terrible situation. But alive. And wondering why I had not come to save her. Her captors were cruel to her. But she lived! The amazement of that echoed through me like bells ringing. The surging joy of being certain she had survived collided with my terrible fears for her. How had she managed, all those months, alone with her captors? It burned that I had pushed her away when she reached for me.

  But alive! Indubitably alive! That knowledge was air in my lungs, water after drought. I pulled myself to my feet. She was alive! I had to share the news with the Fool. Our primary quest was now her rescue!

  And then bloody vengeance on those who had kept her from me.

  ‘I already told you she was alive.’

  I was still shaking, still breathing hard from my rush through the ship to find the Fool. To have Lady Amber be so dismissive of my news was maddening. ‘This is different!’ I asserted. ‘You had a dream that might or might not have indicated that Bee was alive. I felt her Skill. She spoke to me! I know she is alive. On her way to Clerres. And treated poorly by those who hold her captive.’

  Amber smoothed her skirts. I had found her standing at the railing, staring blindly out over the side of the ship. Waves slapped against us, but I saw no sign we were moving. My need for the ship to be moving, to be pounding his way through waves toward Clerres was a pain in my chest. Amber glanced at me empty-eyed and then turned her face to the sea. ‘As I told you. Weeks ago. Months ago! Before we ever left Buckkeep, I urged you to rush to Clerres! Had you heeded me we would be there now, awaiting her arrival. Everything would have been different. Everything!’ There was no ignoring the sharp rebuke in her tone. She spoke as if she were the Fool, but she was not.

  I stood for a time, simply looking at her. I was on the point of walking silently away when she spoke again. Very quietly. ‘It tires me. And it annoys me. All my life, people have doubted that I was the true White Prophet. But you, you are my Catalyst. You have seen what we have done. You took me to the door of death and drew me back again. I do not deny that my powers are greatly diminished. Even my vision of this world is light and shadow.

  ‘But when I tell you that my dreams have returned, when I say I have dreamed a thing, and it is so or will be so, Fitz, you, of all people, should not doubt me. If I were to say that I doubted the truth of your Skilling, if I claimed you had merely had a dream, would you not be annoyed?’

  ‘I suppose so,’ I conceded. It was a sharp slap that she would not share my joy in finally being certain but only rebuked me for my doubts. I wished I had not hurried to her, wished I had kept my news to myself. Could she not understand how dangerous it felt to believe that my child was alive? How I feared the fall from such a high hope? Could she not grasp now how painfully I soared, knowing Bee was alive and fearing for her situation? The Fool would have understood that! I was abruptly taken aback at how odd a thought that seemed. Were the Fool and Amber truly so separate in my thoughts?

  Yes. They were.

  Amber had never saved Kettricken, or carried me on her back through a snowy night. She’d never known Nighteyes. She’d never been tortured and maimed. Never served King Shrewd through danger and treachery. I clenched my teeth. What, exactly, did I share with this Amber? Very little, I decided.

  She was merciless as she continued. ‘If you had believed me, we would be there, watching and waiting. We would be in a position to recover her before they could take her into their stronghold. As it is, we must wonder now, are they before us, are they behind us?’

  I tried to find an argument to make her wrong, but I could not. Her rebuke was too stabbing an attack. I had not shared with her that Chade had been on a Skill-rampage and that Nettle and her coteries seemed barely able to contain one old man, and I decided I would not. I straightened from leaning on the railing. ‘I’m going to get some sleep,’ I told her. Later, perhaps, when he was the Fool, I’d share my Skill-fears and my agony of worry for Bee. Later, I might tell him how I had pushed her away, out of Chade’s path but also away from me. I had come to Amber full of exhilaration from my contact with Bee and devastation that I could not sustain it or find her, but now I had no one to share that storm of emotions. I could not speak to Lant without tormenting him about the state of his father. I did not wish Spark to worry for Chade. Right now, I did not wish to supply Amber with any new quarrels to shoot at me.

  ‘Walk away,’ Amber said in a small, deadly voice. ‘Walk away, Fitz. From things you don’t want to hear. Things you don’t want to feel. Things you don’t want to know.’

  I had halted at her first words, but as she continued, I did as she suggested. I walked away. She lifted her voice to call after me, her words freighted with anger. ‘Would that I could walk away from what I know! Would that I could choose to disbelieve my dreams!’

  I kept walking.

  A ship never truly sleeps. Always, there are sailors on watch and all must be ready to leap to the deck at a moment’s notice. But I was deeply asleep when someone shook my shoulder, and I came up ready to fight. By the hooded light of a dimmed lantern, I saw Spark regarding me with a mixture of alarm and amusement. ‘What?’ I demanded, but she shook her head and motioned that I should follow her. I rolled quietly from my hammock and threaded my way through sleeping sailors.

  We emerged onto the deck. The wind was slight, the waves calm. Overhead, the stars were close and bright, the moon a paring. I hadn’t bothered with a shirt or shoes but the air was so balmy I didn’t miss them.

  ‘Is something wrong?’ I asked Spark.


  I waited.

  ‘I know you thought less of me for bringing the book to Amber. For spying on you to see where you kept it. And you had the right to be distrustful of me. When last I tried to speak of this to you, you made it clear you did not wish to know any secrets. Well, now I come to betray trust to you again, and I expect your opinion of me will be even lower. But I cannot keep this secret any longer.’

  My heart sank into the pit of my stomach. My thoughts immediately leapt to her and Lant, and I dreaded what she might tell me.

  ‘It’s Amber,’ she said in a whisper.

  I drew breath to tell her that I did not wish to know any of Amber’s secrets. Amber’s anger at me was a wall I did not want to breach. I felt both sullen and sulky about it. If Amber had a secret she did not wish to share with me, but told Spark, well, then they were both welcome to keep it to themselves.

  But Spark didn’t care if I wanted to know or not. She spoke quickly. ‘She dreams your death. When we were on the river, it was only once, at most twice. But now it is almost every night. She talks and cries out warnings to you in her sleep, and wakes up shaking and weeping. She does not speak of it to me, but I know, for she talks in her sleep. “The son will die? How can the son die? It must not be, there must be another path, another way.” But if there is, I do not think she can find it. It’s destroying her. I do not know why she does not tell you of her nightmares.’

  ‘Did you leave her just now? Does she know you’ve come to me?’

  Spark shook her head to both questions. ‘Tonight, she seems to sleep well. Even when she awakens weeping, I feign sleep. The one time I tried to help her, she told me not to touch her and to leave her alone.’ She looked at the deck. ‘I don’t want her to know that I told you this.’

  ‘She won’t,’ I promised. I wondered if or how I would let the Fool know that I knew. He had told me that the more often something was dreamed, the likelier it was. During our years
together, he had often helped me dodge deaths. I recalled how he had summoned Burrich to the top of the tower on the evening Galen had beaten me. Together they had drawn me back from the edge where I had crawled, inspired by Galen to hurl myself down. He’d warned me of a poisoning in the Mountain Kingdom. Carried me on his back to safety when I’d been felled by an arrow. He’d often told me that in his dreams my survival was so unlikely as to be nearly impossible, but that he had to keep me alive, at any cost, so that I could help him change the world.

  And we’d accomplished that. He’d dreamed his own certain death, and together we had defied that.

  I believed his dreams. I had to, except when they were too terrifying to believe. And then I always pretended I could defy them.

  And now he dreamed my death. Again. Or did he? Was I still the Unexpected Son in his visions, or was Bee? Did we hurtle toward a rescue that he believed could not succeed? I felt supremely unmoved at the thought of my own death. If my death was the price of rescuing Bee, I’d pay it and gladly. And I was suddenly relieved to think that Lant and the Fool would be there to take her safely back to Buckkeep. I knew that Riddle and Nettle would take her in, and probably do a far better job of raising her than I could.

  But if he dreamed we would reach Clerres only to have her snatched away into death— No. I would not, could not believe it. I would not allow that to be.

  Was that what had made Amber so callous when I shared my news? Did she now believe that Bee lived, but would not survive to be rescued?

  No! It had to be me. I was the Unexpected Son, not Bee. Please, Eda and El, not Bee.

  Spark was still staring at me, her face pale in the starlight. ‘It’s not the first time he has dreamed me dead,’ I told her. I managed a crooked smile. ‘Remember, when he is the Prophet, I am the Catalyst. The Changer. I have no intention of dying, or letting anyone else die. Go back to sleep, Spark. Get rest while you can. What is to be, may be. Or may not!’

  She stood silent and I saw a battle waged inside her. She lifted her eyes to meet mine and added defiantly, ‘She sees more than she admits to you.’

  I nodded to that. ‘He always has,’ I told her and turned away from her.

  I let my gaze wander back over the water. After a time, I heard her light footsteps bear her away. I let out my pent-up sigh. I wished it were all over. All the doubts and uncertainties finished. They wearied me more than any axe-fight. I wanted to be finished with waiting and preparing. Yet the waters stretched endlessly before me like crumpled paper under the uncertain moonlight.

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