Fools assassin, p.53
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       Fools Assassin, p.53

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

  His tutoring supplies were beyond what I would have expected. He had maps of an excellent quality, of every duchy, including the Mountain Kingdom. He had a copy of Shortlegs’s History of Buck, a book of herbs with lovely illustrations, tally rods for reckoning, chalk in plenty, and a good supply of coarse paper and ink and another soft leather roll, this one containing pens with tips of copper. In short, I found nothing in his belongings to suggest that he was anything other than a tutor and scribe. And nothing to suggest he would be a competent bodyguard for Bee.

  That thought made me realize that I had hoped he would be relatively skilled in that area. The pale messenger had warned us that hunters might follow her. So far, there had been no sign of any strangers in the area, but I had not relaxed my guard. They had hunted her companion to death, and condemned her to long agony. That did not speak of people who easily gave up a chase.

  Well, Bee had me. I would stand between my daughter and any dangers that might come.

  I surveyed the room quickly, making sure all was exactly as Bulen and FitzVigilant had left it, and quietly let myself out.

  It was time to have a talk with my daughter about her new teacher.

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Settling In

  Among the first lessons for a young Skill-student to master is that of containing herself. She must be made to realize that a container not only holds that which is within it, but prevents that which is outside it from entering, that is, to put it more clearly, a wineskin not only contains wine within it but keeps out rain and dirt. So it is with the mind of the Skill-student. She must learn to keep her own thoughts to herself, and also to keep the thoughts of others from intruding. If she does not master this twofold wall of protection, she will soon fall prey to the musings of others, be they but idle thoughts or lechery or foolishness. Herewith follows an exercise that will teach the student not only to keep her thoughts to herself, but to keep from her quiet center the thoughts of others.

  On the Instructing of Skill-Students, Skillmistress Solicity

  I held perfectly still, wondering if he knew I was there. My father had entered his den, and he now stared at my peephole. But he knew where it was, so of course if he suspected I was there, that was where he would look. I waited. If he turned and went away, it meant he didn’t know.

  He spoke in a conversational tone. “Bee, I’ve been looking for you. If you are going to seemingly vanish from the manor, you had best let me know. Please come out. I need to discuss something with you. ”

  I sat still. The cat was asleep against me.

  “Now, Bee,” he warned me. He turned and shut the door of the study, observing, “When I trigger this panel, you had best be standing right there, waiting to come out. ”

  He meant it.

  I left the dozing black cat and scurried down the narrow spy-way. When he opened the door, I stepped out, brushing at cobwebs. “Are you taking me to meet my tutor?”

  My father looked me up and down. “No. But I did come to talk to you about him. He has arrived, but he is not in the best of health. I think it may be several days before he is ready to teach you. ”

  “I don’t mind,” I said quietly. The relief I felt clarified my mixed feelings. It had been exciting to spy upon the young man as he arrived; it had made me feel a bit more in control of the situation to know that I had seen him before he had seen me. But I found I wanted time to become accustomed to the idea of a tutor. Until I knew more about this man, I would avoid him as much as I could.

  My father cocked his head at me and gave me a measuring glance. Then he asked me, “Are you afraid to meet your teacher?”

  I wanted to ask him how he had known that. Instead I chose another question. “Do you think he has come here to kill me?”

  For an instant my father’s face went slack. It was less than a moment and he recovered quickly, looking at me with pretend consternation and asking me sharply, “Whatever put such a thing in your head?”

  How should I answer that? I came as close to the truth as I could without making him think I was a freak. “I dreamed that he was coming to kill me. That he was sent to kill me, a long time ago, but you stopped him. And that now perhaps he was coming to try again. ”

  Page 196

 

  Another silence. He was containing his Skill so tightly he felt almost as blank as Cook Nutmeg. I had found a scroll about this and read it. Now I knew that was what it was called. Containing his Skill or keeping up his walls meant that I felt like I could breathe when he was in the room. And it also meant he would try to hide something from me.

  “He was sent by your sister. And by Lord Chade. To teach you. Do you think they would send someone to kill you?”

  “Nettle might send him, if she didn’t know he was an assassin. ” I said nothing of what I thought Lord Chade might do.

  He sat down heavily in the chair behind his desk. “Bee, why would anyone want to kill you?”

  I looked up at the sword hanging on the wall and over his head. Maybe truth from me would win truth from him. “For being a Farseer,” I said slowly. “One they didn’t need. Or want. ”

  My father looked away from me. Then he turned slowly in his chair and looked up at the sword with me. I listened to more distant sounds in the house. Someone was hammering. A door opened and shut.

  “I didn’t think we’d be having this discussion so soon. ” He drummed his fingers along the edges of his desk and then looked back at me. He was so sad. So guilty for making this part of my life. “How much do you know?” he asked gently.

  I came closer to his desk and set my own fingers along the edge on my side. “I know who you are. Whose son you are. And that I’m your daughter. ”

  He closed his eyes for a moment and let out a short breath. Without opening them, he asked me, “Who told you? Not your mother. ”

  “No. Not my mother. I put it together myself. From bits of things. You never really hid it from me. When I was little, before I was talking much, you and Mama often spoke over my head, about many things. Stories about Patience. How much she wanted a child, and why she wanted you to have Withywoods. There are bits of my family history everywhere in the manor. My grandfather’s portrait is on the wall upstairs. ”

  His fingers moved more slowly on the desktop. He opened his eyes and looked past me, staring intently at the panel of the door. I saw I would have to put it together for him.

  “Mother sometimes called you Fitz. And Nettle did, too. You look like Chivalry. And in the south wing, there is an old portrait of King Shrewd and his first Queen. My great-grandmother. I suppose they sent it here when he married Queen Desire and she didn’t want to be reminded of the first wife. I look like Queen Constance, I think. A little bit. ”

  “Do you?” He spoke faintly, breathing out the word.

  “I think I do. My nose. ”

  “Come here,” he said, and when I went to him, he pulled me up on his lap. I was able to sit there. He was so contained, it was almost like sitting on a chair. He put his arms around me and held me close. It was odd to feel so separate and yet so close to him. Like Mother, I suddenly realized. She had been able to hold me close like this. I leaned my forehead against my father’s shoulder. I felt his arm around me, a hard-muscled arm that could protect me. He spoke by my ear. “No matter what name they call us by, you will always be mine. And I am yours, Bee. And I will always do everything in my power to protect you. Do you understand that?”

  I nodded my head against him.

  “I will always need you. I will always want you to be part of my life. Do you understand that?”

  I nodded again.

  “Now, this scribe who has come to stay with us? FitzVigilant? Well. Chade sends him here to us because he needs my protection, too. He is a bastard. Like me. Unlike you, his family would like to get rid of him. They don’t need him or want him. So, to keep him safe, Chade has sent him here. ”

  “Like
Shun,” I suggested quietly.

  I listened to my father’s heart beating. “Worked that out, too, did you? Yes. Like Shun exactly. But unlike Shun he has had some training both as a, well, a protector himself, and as a tutor. Chade’s thought was that he could be a guard for you as well as a teacher. And Nettle agreed. ”

  “And he’s illegitimate?”

  “Yes. That’s why his given name has a Fitz at the start. His father acknowledged him. ”

  “But his father doesn’t protect him?”

  “He doesn’t. Can’t or won’t, I do not know. I suppose it makes no difference. His father’s wife and his brothers do not like him or want him. Sometimes things like that happen in families. But not in the family of you and me. And FitzVigilant is no danger to you. Especially now. ”

  “Now?”

  “He was badly beaten. By people sent by his own family. Probably his stepmother. He ran away to be here so they couldn’t find him and kill him. It’s going to take him time to recover enough to teach you. ”

  Page 197

 

  “I see. So I’m safe for now. ”

  “Bee. You are safe for always while I am here. He does not come to kill you, but to help keep you safe. And to teach you. Nettle knows him and speaks well of him. So does Riddle. ”

  He was quiet then. I sat on his lap, leaning against his warm chest, listening to him breathe. I sensed a deep and thoughtful stillness within him. I thought he would ask me how much more I knew, or how I had discovered it, but he didn’t. I had the strangest feeling that he knew. I had been so careful about borrowing his papers. I always tried to put them back exactly as I had found them. Had he noticed something amiss? I couldn’t ask him without admitting what I’d been doing. And I suddenly felt a bit ashamed of how I had spied on him. Was it lying to spy on him and pretend I didn’t know things? A hard question. I began to feel almost sleepy sitting there. Maybe because I did feel very safe. Protected.

  He suddenly gave a small sigh and then set me on my feet. He looked me up and down again. “I’ve neglected you,” he said.

  “What?”

  “Look at you. You’re not much better than a little ragamuffin. You’ve outgrown your clothes when I wasn’t looking. And when was the last time you combed out your hair?”

  I reached up and touched my hair. It was too short to lie down and too long to be tidy. “Maybe yesterday,” I said, knowing I lied. He didn’t challenge me.

  “It’s not just your hair or your clothes, Bee. It’s all of you. I can be so blind. We have to do better, little one,” he told me. “You and I, we have to do better. ”

  I could not make sense of what he was saying, yet I knew he was mostly talking to himself. “I will brush my hair every day,” I promised him. I put my hands behind my back, knowing they were not especially clean.

  “Good,” he told me. “Good. ”

  He was looking at me but not seeing me. “I’ll go brush my hair now,” I offered.

  He nodded, and this time his eyes focused on me. “And I’ll do what I should have been doing, beginning now,” he promised in return.

  I went to my mother’s sitting room. I still had not been moved back into my room. A small trunk there held a limited selection of my clothes and possessions. I found my brush and smoothed my hair, and used water from the ewer there to wipe my face and clean my hands. I found clean leggings and a fresh tunic. And when I went down to dinner, it was only my father and me at the table. It was the best evening I’d had in a long time.

  Riddle and Shun returned from their expedition with two wagonloads of goods. Some of it was for Revel but a lot of it was just for her. She had ordered new hangings for her bed and windows, and they would be delivered when they were finished. In the meanwhile she “supposed” she would have to get by with what the Purple Suite offered her. She had bought two chairs, a lampstand and a rug for her floor, a new ewer and basin, and a rack for her clothes. None of them looked much different to me from the items that had already been in her rooms. She had also added to her stock of clothing with warm woolen things and cloaks trimmed with fur, and fur slippers. There was a carved cedar chest to keep it all in. I watched my father as he saw it all unloaded and carried into her freshly restored room. When he saw me observing him, he commented quietly, “I think that’s more clothing than your mother required in all of her years married to me. ” And I did not think he meant that my mother had had to do with less than what she wanted.

  Both Riddle and Shun expressed some curiosity about my tutor when he did not join us for any meals on the second day after their return. In Shun’s hearing my father said only that some people recovered from traveling more slowly than others. Did she notice the look the two men exchanged? I was certain that Riddle would call on Scribe FitzVigilant before the day was over, and longed to accompany him. I was not permitted to do that, of course.

  So the intervening days were given over to the activities I had created for myself. Each day I took myself to the stables for time with Perseverance and Priss. I did not call him Per. I don’t know why. I just did not like it as a name for him. I did like that we hadn’t asked anyone’s permission. I felt I had taken it into my own hands and that I had chosen a good teacher for myself. I liked Perseverance because he hadn’t seemed to think he needed to ask anyone’s permission to teach me. I suspected that no one besides us even knew I had begun to learn to ride. I liked that. It seemed to me that lately everyone had been making decisions for me. This was something I had done for myself.

  Then Perseverance shocked me at the end of a ride by telling me, “We might not be able to do this at the same time as we have been. ”

  Page 198

 

  I scowled as I dismounted. I got off the horse to the mounting block without assistance. An easy accomplishment now, one I took pride in. “Why not?” I demanded.

  He looked surprised at me. “Well, you know. The scribe came and he’s going to teach us. ”

  “He’s going to teach me,” I corrected him, not gently.

  He lifted his brows at me. “And me. And Lukor, and Ready and Oatil from the stables. And Elm and Lea from the kitchens. Maybe Taffy, though he scoffs and says no one can make him go. And the goose woman’s children, and maybe some of the sheepherder’s children. Holder Tom Badgerlock put the word out that anyone born to help on Withywoods can come and learn. Lots didn’t want to. I didn’t. But my da says that anytime a man can learn a new thing, he should. And that it’s a fine thing to be able to sign your name instead of making a mark, and an even finer thing to know what you’re signing without having to send to the village for a scribe. So. I have to go, at least until I can write my own name. He seems to think that by then I’ll want to keep going. I’m not sure about that. ”

  I was sure I didn’t want him to go at all. I liked how he knew me here, just as Bee. The thought of Taffy being there chilled me. He hadn’t dared to chase me since that day, but perhaps it was only because I’d never dared to follow and spy on them since then. I imagined Elm and Lea, giggling and mocking me. Then Perseverance would see what a mistake he had made in being my friend. No! I could not allow them to be included. I pressed my lips tightly together. “I will be speaking to my father about this,” I told Perseverance.

  He looked disapproving at my chill tone. “I’d be happy if you did. Sitting in a circle getting ink on my fingers isn’t my idea of a good time. My father said it just proved your father was a generous-hearted man, as he’s always said. Not all agree with him. Some say the Holder has a black look to his eyes sometimes, even when he’s fair-spoken. None could name a time when he had mistreated someone or been unfair, but many claimed that was your mother’s influence that made him kind, and they looked for things to go badly for all of us when she died. When he brought that woman here, some said she had a look to be his blood kin, and others said she had the look of a woman come to have an easy life of it with a man handling a lot of mone
y. ”

  I was frozen, my mouth ajar and my heart cold as I listened to his words. I think he mistook it for ardent interest rather than a heartfelt desire to hear no more. He nodded at me. “It’s so. Some talk like that. There was that night when half the staff was up till dawn because that woman was shrieking about ghosts, and then Revel fell on them all the next morning like an avalanche, full of fury and shame that there had been bugs in your bedding, and your father so angry about it he was out setting fire to it in the night. ‘As if he cares for her at all, the way she runs about dressed in clothes that would better suit a cobbler’s boy. ’” He stammered to a halt at my look of outrage. Perhaps he suddenly recalled to whom he was speaking, for he insisted, “That’s what they said, not me!”

  I didn’t conceal my fury as I demanded, “Who said those things? Who is ‘they’ who speak such awful lies about my father and make mock of me?”

  He was suddenly a servant rather than a friend. He pulled his winter cap from his head and held it before his knees, eyes and head down as he spoke. His ears were scarlet and not from the cold. There was wariness in his voice as he said, “Your pardon, Mistress Bee. I spoke above myself and out of turn, most wrong of me. It was only gossip, not fit for a lady’s ears, and I’ve shamed myself repeating it. I’ll be about my work now. ”

  And he turned away from me, the only friend I’d ever made for myself, and took Priss’s headstall. He began to lead her away. “Perseverance!” I called in my most regal voice.

  “I must take care of your horse, mistress,” he apologized over his shoulder. He was walking fast, head down. Priss seemed surprised to be hurried along. I stood on the mounting block, quarreling with myself. Raise my voice and order him back. Run away and never, ever come back to the stables again. Burst into tears and crumple up in a ball.

  I stood, frozen by indecision, and watched him walk away. When he and my horse had disappeared into the stables, I jumped down and ran away. I went to my mother’s grave and sat for a short time on a very cold stone bench nearby. I told myself I wasn’t so stupid as to think my mother was anywhere near. It was just a place to be. I’d never been so hurt, and I couldn’t tell if it was what he had said or how I had reacted to it. Stupid boy. Of course I’d get angry and demand to know who had said such horrid things. Why had he told me about them if he didn’t expect to tell me who had said them? And sharing my lessons with the other children of Withywoods? I would not have minded Perseverance being there, but if Taffy and Elm and Lea were there, their opinion of me would spread like poison. Surely Perseverance would rather be friends with a large boy like Taffy than with someone like me. Elm and Lea sometimes helped at the table now; it was bad enough to glimpse them in passing, and see how quickly they put their heads together, their sharp tongues wagging like blades on a whetstone. They’d mock me. As, apparently, others were already mocking me for my appearance.

 
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