Assassins fate, p.51
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       Assassin's Fate, p.51

         Part #3 of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy series by Robin Hobb
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  I listened to my heart beating. ‘No.’

  ‘Nor I. Nor would he. So why burden him with it?’

  ‘Perhaps so he would never do likewise?’

  ‘That bit of dragon womb the lad wears strapped to his throat, carved in his father’s likeness, was worn by his mother for many more years than Kennit. She spent her childhood as a whore. Can you conceive that she thought of Kennit as the first person to treat her with kindness? That she came to love him for saving her from that life?’

  ‘I did not know,’ I said quietly.

  ‘Believe me, Kennitsson knows more of rape than he would care to admit, and I doubt he will perpetuate upon others what his mother regards with abhorrence.’ He took in air and sighed it out, a sound like waves on fine sand. ‘Perhaps that was why his mother bound it so tightly about his throat before she allowed him to board.’

  Kennitsson stirred. He rolled over and opened his eyes and stared wordlessly up at the sky. I held my breath and stood motionless. The cloak was not a perfect protection. It took on the texture and colour and seeming dimension of whatever was behind me, but the wind was ruffling it and I suspected that would look peculiar. Still he did not look toward me. He spoke to the sky, or the ship. ‘I should have been born on these decks. I should have grown up here. I’ve missed so much.’

  ‘We both have,’ Paragon replied. His voice was kindly. ‘There is no going back, my son. We will take what we have now, and keep it with us forever.’

  ‘When you turn into dragons, you will leave me.’


  Kennitsson sighed. ‘You didn’t even have to think about it.’

  ‘Any other answer would be impossible.’

  ‘Will you come back to visit? Or will you just be gone forever?’

  ‘That I don’t know. How can I possibly know?’

  Kennitsson sounded very young as he asked, ‘Well, what do you hope you will do?’

  ‘I think I will have to relearn how to be a dragon. And there will be two of us, me and yet not me. I cannot speak for what happens after. I can only say that for the days we have left together, I will be here with you.’

  I ghosted away. That conversation was not for me. I had enough pain of my own without hearing another child abandoned by a father. I had stayed too long with the figurehead. It might be that both Amber and Spark would be sleeping. I moved across the deck in a series of pauses, avoiding the crew. In the dark of the companionway, I stood outside the door and silently removed the cloak. I gave it a shake and carefully folded it. I tapped lightly on the door three times. No one spoke so I eased it open.

  The Fool was supine on the floor. A faint light came in the porthole, just enough to distinguish him there. ‘Fitz,’ he greeted me amiably.

  I looked down at him and then at the upper bunk. ‘No Spark?’

  ‘On duty tonight. So. The butterfly cloak again?’

  ‘How did you know?’

  ‘I heard the snap of fabric outside the door. I guessed it was the cloak and you just confirmed it. Where were you spying?’

  ‘I wasn’t. It’s one way to be alone. To be invisible even when there are others nearby. But I did spend some time with Paragon.’

  ‘That’s a dangerous pastime. Stand clear, please.’ I moved until my back touched the door. He brought his knees quickly up to his chest and attempted to vault to his feet. He failed, crashing sideways into the bunk with a force that would leave bruises. He made not a squeak at the pain. Instead, he slowly stood, and then sat down on the bunk. ‘Not quite able to do that yet. But I will.’

  ‘I know you will,’ I said. If will alone could make a thing be, the Fool could master his old tumbler’s tricks.

  I pulled my old pack out from under the bed. Reaching inside, I found the Elderling fire-brick and made sure it was upright before I tucked the folded cloak beside it. I reached past my folded clothing and Bee’s books. The tubes of Silver I felt through the shirt wrapping them. Chade’s exploding pots in the very bottom. As I resettled everything securely, I asked lightly, ‘Any more dreams, Fool?’

  He made a dismissive sound. A moment later, he said, ‘I should have known that Paragon would be aware of my dreams. What did he tell you?’

  ‘Nothing about what you dream. But he did share with me, in an impressively vivid manner, a bit of what shaped Kennit.’ I wedged my pack back under the bunk in an upright position and sat down beside the Fool. I had to bow my head to fit. ‘What monsters humans are! I’d rather be a wolf.’

  He surprised me by suddenly leaning on me. ‘Me, too.’ After a moment, he added, ‘I’m sorry. I’ve been angry with you. That wasn’t fair. But it also wasn’t fair for you to doubt my dreams. Have you touched minds with Bee again?’

  ‘No. I’ve tried several times, but I can’t find her. I must be so careful. Chade is out there, raging like a storm. Twice he has come at me, demanding I join him. At first, I sensed Nettle there, too, and the coterie trying to bring him under control. To confine him to his body. The last time, I didn’t sense them at all. But if Chade is pursuing me and Bee gets caught up in that, it might very well burn out her abilities. She was very tentative, and I pushed her away. I know I confused her.’ I stopped. That was enough for him to know. My pain and shame were my own.

  ‘You didn’t tell me any of that.’

  ‘You were angry.’ I paused. ‘So. Your turn. What did you dream?’

  He was quiet.

  I tried to keep my voice light. ‘I suppose we both die. Again.’

  He drew in a deep breath and his gloved hand sought my wrist. ‘I don’t want to sleep, Fitz. I sit up here in the bunk, in the dark both day and night, and I try not to sleep. Because I don’t want to dream. But I do. And the urge to speak the dreams, to write them down, is so strong it makes me ill. But I cannot write them down, for I’ve not enough sight, even if I had ink. And I don’t want to tell them to anyone.’

  ‘Not telling the dreams makes you sick?’

  ‘It’s like an obsession. The true dreams must be spoken and shared. At the very least, written down.’ He laughed low. ‘The Servants count on that. They harvest the dreams of those poor half-Whites like farmers harvesting grapes. Everything goes into their library of dreams and predictions. All is processed, like blowing the chaff from grain. All is preserved. Referenced and cross-referenced. Ready for them to employ, to see what they can predict and how they can profit from it.’ He leaned in hard to me like a child fleeing nightmares and I put my arm around him to brace him. He shook his head. ‘Fitz. They will know we are coming. They have Bee and they will know we are coming. This can’t end well for any of us.’

  ‘So tell me. Don’t let me go into this blind.’

  He choked out a laugh. ‘Oh, no. I’m the one who goes into it blind, Fitz. You die. You drown. In darkness, in cold seawater and in blood you drown. There. Now you know. I don’t know what good it does us, but you know.’ I felt his shoulders slump in the dimness. ‘And I have the small relief of having told my dreams.’

  Cold crept through me. My mouth might claim not to believe him, but my guts did. ‘Couldn’t I freeze to death?’ I asked in a falsely light voice. ‘I’ve heard that you just fall asleep and it’s done.’

  ‘Sorry,’ he said, and I heard the same effort in his voice. ‘I don’t get to decide how it happens. I’m simply told it does.’

  ‘And you?’

  ‘That’s the worst part. I think I live through it.’

  I had a moment of relief. Then it died. He was not certain of his survival. ‘And Bee?’ My voice shook. ‘I know you’ve dreamed her alive. Do we save her? Does she go home?’

  He spoke hesitantly. ‘I think she is like you. She is a crossroads of many possible futures. I’ve seen her wearing a crown with alternating spires of flame and darkness. But she also appears as broken manacles. One who frees things. And as the shattered vessel.’

  ‘What is the shattered vessel?’

  ‘Something broken beyond repair,’ he sa
id quietly.

  My child. Molly’s daughter. Broken beyond repair. Some part of me had known that her experience must do that to her. She would be as broken as the Fool and I were. Something inside my chest hurt at the thought. My voice creaked. ‘Well. Who wouldn’t break? I broke. You broke.’

  ‘And we both emerged stronger.’

  ‘We both emerged,’ I modified his words. I was never sure I understood what Regal’s torture had done to me. Part of me had died in that cell, both literally and figuratively. I was alive today. I’d never know if I’d lost more than what I had found. Useless to wonder. ‘What else?’ I demanded.

  His head lolled forward slightly and then twitched up. I changed my question. ‘How long have you been awake?’

  ‘I don’t know. I doze off and then awaken and I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep. Blindness is peculiar, Fitz. No day, no night. And not darkness, if you want to know.’

  ‘Any other dreams or thoughts you want to share with me?’

  ‘I dream of a nut that is dangerous to crack. Sometimes I hear a nonsense ditty: “The trap is the trapper and the trapper is trapped.” But it isn’t always dreams. Sometimes I see … like a crossroads, but one with an infinite number of paths starring away from a centre. When I was a youngster, I saw those often and clearly. After you brought me back to life, I didn’t see any for a long time. Not until Bee touched me in the market that day. That was incredible. I touched her and I knew she was the centre of a multitude of paths. She saw them, too. I had to draw her back from making too swift a choice.’

  His voice faltered to a stop.

  ‘Then what happened?’ I demanded in consternation.

  He gave a snort of laughter. ‘Then I believe you knifed me in the belly. A number of times, but I lost count after two.’

  ‘Oh.’ Cold roiled through me. ‘I wasn’t sure you recalled any of that.’ I felt the weight of his body against my shoulder. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said.

  ‘It’s too late for that.’ He patted me with his gloved hand and straightened up with a sigh. ‘I’ve already forgiven you.’

  What can one say to that?

  He continued, ‘Paragon. When I looked up and saw Paragon as we came into dock at Trehaug … he was shining with pathways. There were others there, at that junction, leading back to Kelsingra or into Trehaug itself, but most were the ones that led to Clerres, the straightest, shortest ones, began with Paragon.’

  ‘So that was why you insisted we must stay with him?’

  ‘Now you believe in me?’

  ‘I don’t want to. But I do.’

  ‘I feel the same.’

  Silence claimed us both. I waited. After a time, I realized he was deeply asleep. I moved him gently from my shoulder onto the bunk. I lifted his legs up onto the bed. It reminded me of how I used to put Hap back to bed after his nightmares, all those years ago. The Fool pulled his knees in closer to his chest and slept curled defensively. I sat down again on the edge of the bunk. He would sleep and he would dream, whether he would or no.

  And I would Skill.

  I exhaled slowly, letting my breath blow away my boundaries and immediately became more aware of the ship. ‘Excuse me,’ I muttered as if I had bumped against a stranger in a crowd. Then I ignored his presence and reached out, feeling for the Skill-current. It was there, but it was calmer than I’d felt it in months. It was as constant as the wind that gently filled the sails and pushed us through the waves. I moved with the Skill-current, letting it carry my thoughts and will toward Buckkeep and to my daughter Nettle.

  She was sleeping. I eased into her dream thoughts, woke her gently. How are you, and your child?

  Chade’s dead.

  The news flew from her mind to mine, drenching me with her urgency that I know. Her grief swept in and woke my as-yet-unformed sorrow. For a time, that was all there was. I did not ask her how. He was old, it had been coming for a very long time. Deprived of the herbs and kept from the Skill that he had been using for so long to rejuvenate himself, his years had caught up to him.

  I blame myself. We gave him delvenbark to quench his Skill. He had grown so randomly strong with it. He would be calm, and then he was like a cold wind blasting. Two of the new apprentices decided to leave the training because his spells were so frightening. Even Shine had come to dread his moments of strength, for no matter how she deadened herself, he would seize her and tumble her into the Skill with him. She was terrified. As were we all!

  So I authorized the delvenbark. I changed all the pages who had been carrying out his errands. I suspect they were fetching more than food and wine for him! After three days of it, it blocked his Skill, and he became … an old man. Kindly but fretful, and old. We let him have visits with Shine again; I’d had to keep her away from him. He … he didn’t seem to understand why we had kept his daughter away. He was so confused. He would talk to Shrewd’s portrait … Oh, Fitz, I fear he died thinking I was needlessly cruel, that I had taken his daughter and his magic from him, simply for meanness. Simply to control him.

  I felt Riddle. He’d heard her crying, I surmised, and awakened. I felt him as if he were armour closing around her, hammered metal holding her in and upright. Anything that wanted to hurt her would have to go through him first. I thought grief had numbed me, but suddenly relief soared in my heart. I am glad Riddle is there with you.

  So am I. I’ll tell him that.

  Did you get our bird messages?

  Yes. Chade’s message from Lant was clutched in his hand. I don’t know how many times Shine read it aloud to him, Fitz. He was smiling when we found him. A calm, sweet smile.

  I realized abruptly, I have to tell Lant. Then, I can’t.

  Your first thought was correct. You must tell him. As I had to tell you.

  I will. I didn’t know how or when, but I would tell him. And Spark. I wondered if I now understood the Fool’s compulsion to speak of his dreams. I did not want to tell them. Yet I desperately wanted to share the news, as if grief were a heavy burden to be spread out among those who must bear it.

  Yes, she agreed with me. And it’s good to know you are alive. I have reached out to you over and over these last few days. When none of us could reach you with the Skill, we feared the worst.

  I’m on a liveship His presence is … pervasive. Even as I Skilled to her I could feel the ship sharing what I told her. I am sorry to have worried you.

  I understand. I will immediately wake Dutiful to tell him.

  Then my own news burst from me without warning. The Fool has dreamed that Bee is alive. And the last time I could reach you with the Skill, when Chade so abruptly parted us? I felt Bee. I knew her touch.

  The winds of all the worlds blew between us and the shushing of waves whispered against every shore. What news was more shocking? That Chade had died or Bee might still live?

  I felt her shock pour through me. Where is she? How is she? Have they mistreated her? Does she think we abandoned her? How did she survive passing through that Skill-stone? How is it possible she lived and we gave up on her, for months!

  I don’t know. That was the torment of it, so much I didn’t know. I was not going to tell my pregnant daughter that her small sister was miserable and mistreated. That I would lie about, with a clear conscience. I agonized enough for the both of us. I would not put that burden on her. I had just a brush of her against my senses. I know she is bound for Clerres, as are we. I do not know if she is ahead of us or behind us. Only that she is on a ship bound for Clerres. That was all. And the Fool dreamed of her, alive. It’s little to go on, but I will take heart from it.

  Her thoughts suddenly swept over me, a mistress of war awakened. I will muster an army of warriors and Skill-users. Elliania has brought up this proposal more than once to me. We will come. We will take back what is ours and leave nothing but ruins and bodies.

  No! For now, do not send any vast force in this direction. We think our best chance is to go in quietly.

  You will negotiate for her

  That thought had never even occurred to me. I had set out on a mission of vengeance, planning only to kill. The thought of Bee in their hands had only made me more determined to see their blood.

  I am still on a ship, bound for Clerres. I will decide when I arrive there and study the situation. Perhaps I shall negotiate. There were many ways to negotiate. Taking hostages immediately sprang to mind. My thoughts went winging off, and I knew that Nettle sensed that.

  How are you? I asked her.

  Heavy. Tired. Happy. Sometimes.

  Sometimes. When she was thinking of her baby rather than the death of Chade or the torment of her small sister. I’m sorry I woke you. And sorry that Chade is gone. I will tell Lant. And you should rest now.

  She laughed. Rest. While thinking of little Bee in the hands of kidnappers. Oh, Da, does life ever become simple?

  Only for a few moments, my dear. Only for a few moments.

  I drew myself away from her as if we were unclasping hands. For a time longer, I floated in the Skill. I wondered if some remnant of Chade remained in this flow, some ghost of Verity or perhaps even my father. I had encountered presences in the Skill. I was not sure what they were, only that they were far larger beings than I was. Larger? Richer, deeper, more fully formed. Eda and El? Ancient Elderlings or Skill-users who had acquired more presence in that flow?

  I gathered my courage. Bee. Can you hear me? I formed an image
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