Assassins fate, p.90
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       Assassin's Fate, p.90

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

  anything that might cover my feet.’ I was the most ragged among us, for while the others had been given clothing from Vivacia’s crew, nothing they had would fit me. Rennolds had brought several pairs of the soft leather slippers that house servants usually wore, and one set with a harder sole. Fortunately, that was the pair that fitted me the best. I donned the skirt over the ragged cotton trousers that Capra had given me to wear. The skirts tied with a sash, and looked much too tidy to be worn with my stained blouse. It had been so long since I’d worn skirts that it felt strange. I thanked Rennolds for his thoughtfulness, but Per shook his head. As Rennolds was leaving, he marvelled sadly, ‘A princess of the Six Duchies, wearing a servant’s hand-me-downs.’

  ‘A princess?’ Ronica asked as she came in the door. She smiled as she said it, as if it were a fancy of mine.

  ‘That’s not quite her correct title,’ Amber said. ‘But a high-born lady.’

  ‘One who is very glad of shoes,’ I put in, lest Althea’s mother think me ungrateful. I curtseyed to her in my new skirts and said, ‘Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness.’

  ‘She is the daughter of FitzChivalry Farseer. Bee. The girl we went to rescue,’ Althea filled in.

  Her mother jerked her gaze to her daughter. ‘She is the daughter of the Farseer prince who healed Phron?’ She looked stricken. ‘I did not understand! I grieved when Althea told me that he had died. He was your father? Oh, I am so sorry. Our family owes him a debt we can never repay.’

  ‘And it doubled when she healed Boy-O of his burns from when the Clerres folk set fire to Paragon. Mother, we thought he would lose the use of that arm and be forever scarred. But his new skin is pink and healthy.’

  ‘Boy-O was that badly burned? Obviously, there is a great deal to your tale that you have not told yet!’

  ‘There is, and precious little time to stand here and tell it. Mother, we must get back to the ship. May we use the carriage?’

  ‘Of course. Just let me change my shoes. Rennolds! Rennolds, the carriage, please, as quickly as possible. Althea, come with me while I change. I have many questions for you.’

  And they hastened off.

  A short time later, a behatted Ronica escorted all of us to the carriage. Per and Lant had left not a crumb or a drop of tea on the table. I’d almost forgotten how to manage skirts, and I stepped on my hem climbing up into the very grand carriage. Per had only a moment to gape at the matched black horses that would take us back to the docks, and then the door was latched behind us and we were on our way.

  As we rattled over the cobblestoned streets, Ronica Vestrit leaned across to take my hands in hers. ‘Had we time, my dear, there would be a feast in your honour, and I would see you decked out as befits, not your station, but your kindness. I have only two grandchildren, and your family has saved them both. I regret that our visit will be so short, and I grieve at your loss. I am saddened that you must be on your way again tonight.’

  ‘What is this?’ Amber interjected.

  Althea spoke tersely. ‘I’ve sent a bird down to the harbour. Wintrow and Brashen will have seen to replenishing our water and bringing on as many supplies as time allows. As soon as the Traders’ Council meeting is convened we will be departing Bingtown Harbour and heading for Trehaug. We’ve sent a bird ahead to Kelsingra, to demand for Vivacia what should be hers by right; enough Silver for her to become a dragon.’

  ‘But …’ Amber attempted.

  ‘I should have told you first that my mother has received bird-messages from Malta and Reyn. Buckkeep has already sent magic-users to Kelsingra. Some were overcome by the voices of the city, and could not stay long. But others could “keep their walls” as they put it, and they helped many people there. When they went across the river to the Village, they could do even more, away from the stones of the city.’

  Ronica Vestrit was smiling as she spoke. ‘Including Reyn’s sister,’ she added. ‘And we have sent our bird to let Kelsingra know that we will be bringing you back up the river to them. Your Buck magic-users have some method of travelling between the Six Duchies and Kelsingra using magic statues, as I understand it. And perhaps they will be able to take you home that way.’

  ‘They could,’ Amber said quietly. I could tell she was startled by this news. ‘And very quickly indeed.’ She took my hand. ‘It may be a bit frightening, but it would cut many days from our journey home.’

  ‘I’ve travelled through a stone before,’ I reminded her as I disengaged my hand from hers. I fell silent, thinking of being trapped with the others in the ruins of Chalced. Of Reppin falling back into the stone. The coach rattled us along.


  * * *

  Up the River

  A disappointing night. I slipped from my room and went very quietly to my father’s study. Last night, I had taken some of his writing from his desk. In them, I read of a day he spent with my mother, when they were very young. He wrote of reading to her something her mother had written for her, a recipe for candles. So strange to read such sentimental words from the pen of one who holds himself on such a tight rein. And he wrote something there that I had never known. On the night she summoned him to tell him that I would be born, when he followed her to the room where I would come out of her body, those were the candles she burned.

  How could he not have told me such a thing? Was he saving it until I was older? Does it still exist, that precious writing of my grandmother’s? I put his pages back with the edges uneven, exactly as he had left them.

  Tonight, when I heard him finally go to his bed, I went again to his study. I wanted to read again how tenderly he thought of her, how astounded he was on the night I was born, and how certain he had been that I would not live.

  But the pages were not where he had left them. And when I stirred the dying fire on the study hearth, that I might have a bit more light to look for them, I saw their fate. I saw the words I recalled from the last page ‘I will ever regret’ curling on the page as the flames ate them. I watched them go, watched them forever lost to me.

  Why, I wonder, does he write and then burn? Does he seek to banish his memories? Does he fear that writing it down makes it important? Some day, I hope to sit next to him and demand that he tell to me everything he can remember of his life. And I will write it down and never let the flames steal it.

  From Bee Farseer’s journal

  We reboarded Vivacia, but she felt like a different ship. Althea, Brashen and Boy-O were aboard, but Paragon’s crewmembers had disembarked. From overheard conversations, I knew that Brashen had seen that they had funds for their immediate needs and promised them that they would be paid their full wages in the next two days, and given recommendations for future work. For some of them, it had been years since they had lived ashore. Paragon had been their home, and most were already pounding the docks looking for a new berth on another ship.

  ‘Why must we leave so soon?’ Lant asked Boy-O. We had herded ourselves into the galley to avoid being in the way, and Boy-O had come in to give me a parcel that had been delivered to the ship. It had my name on it. It was wrapped in canvas and tied with string. The knots were complicated but I didn’t want to cut the string.

  ‘It’s a Trader thing. If we are underway before the council votes that the liveships must not be allowed to turn into dragons, then we don’t know they voted that, so we aren’t disobeying the Traders’ Council. That’s something that no Bingtown Trader wants to be accused of, let alone found guilty of and fined. The alliance of Bingtown Traders has become extremely important once the impervious ships started competing for the river trade. If all the liveships go dragon, the Bingtown Traders won’t have any way of bringing articles from Trehaug and Kelsingra and the other little Rain Wild towns to Bingtown, unless they hire impervious ships. The Rain Wild Traders will have to start doing business with the impervious boats, and we lose our monopoly on Elderling goods. So we leave tonight and we run hard for Trehaug. And we hope that Malta and Reyn agree with us, and
get the Silver shipped down to Trehaug as fast as possible.’ He gestured with his pink hand, palm up. ‘Once it’s on its way, it’s a done deal, and to be honourable Traders, we have to accept shipment of it.’

  ‘Can they really stop the liveships from turning into dragons?’ asked Per.

  ‘Probably not. But those who don’t own liveships, those who think they are just talking boats, believe they can order us to do that. And they could make it difficult for us.’

  ‘Aren’t they just talking boats?’ asked Per innocently.

  ‘No. They’re family,’ Boy-O replied seriously and then realized Per was teasing him.

  I got the knot undone and pulled the string away. I unfolded canvas to find trousers and a jerkin. The material was like silk, and patterned with golden frogs on a background of green lily pads. They were as colourful as the butterfly cloak had been. I ran the fabric over my hands. It snagged slightly on my broken nails and rough skin. ‘They’re beautiful. I will set them aside for when I grow into them. Who should I thank?’

  Boy-O was staring at the gift open-mouthed. ‘My grandmother,’ he said breathlessly. ‘And you don’t have to wait to wear them. They’re Elderling made. They’ll adjust.’

  ‘Will they make her invisible?’ Per asked.


  ‘She had a cloak like that with butterflies on it, and it made the wearer invisible.’

  Boy-O stared. ‘You meant really invisible when you told me that story? You never actually showed us how it worked that night when Fitz chased us out of Amber’s cabin! The night Kennitsson and I glimpsed the Silver.’ For a moment, he went still, recalling his friend. Then he shook his head. ‘I thought you meant she had covered you with the cloak and thrown snow over the cloak to make you invisible.’ He sat back. ‘Do you still have it? Can I see it?’

  As Per shook his head, we heard a shout. ‘Boy-O! On deck!’ It was his father, and he jumped to his feet. ‘And no, they won’t make her invisible. But they are worth a small fortune. Try them on!’ And he clattered away to his father’s command.

  That very night we were underway again. Vivacia’s mooring lines were slipped and we ignored the shouts of the harbourmaster’s underlings. We sailed under a clear sky and when the moon rose and I went out on deck, I saw we were not alone. Kendry trailed us. ‘Well. I’m glad his family isn’t going to fight him any more,’ Brashen said when he came to stand beside me. He looked down at my beautiful clothes, and smiled. ‘Aren’t you fine?’

  But as Boy-O dashed by behind us, he dared to tousle my hair. ‘For good luck!’ he whispered, and then ran on. More sail blossomed on Vivacia’s masts and we easily outpaced Kendry.

  Up the coast we fled, with Per and Ant keeping watch in the crow’s nest for any pursuit. They saw two ships, but they could catch neither Vivacia nor Kendry. And when we started up the river, Brashen laughed and said the acid would protect us from any pursuit.

  We sailed against the current. I watched how it was done and marvelled at it, and marvelled too at a landscape I could never have imagined. In the evenings, our little company gathered at the table. It began with Per telling me of their journey from Kelsingra down the river, and gradually other stories of their travel were shared. Lant spoke of how Per had killed Ellik, a different tale from the one Per had told. Lant’s praise made him blush. We recalled those who had died at Withywoods. Spark wept when Per spoke of how his mother had forgotten him. Boy-O remembered Paragon to us, and more than once tears were shed for the ship-turned-dragons. I heard stories of Malta, who I would meet, and her romance with a veiled Rain Wild Trader and how they had wed after many adventures. In my hesitant turn, I began to tell how Shun and I had been taken. Of Ellik. Of Vindeliar’s magic. Of the Chalcedean. I even told them of Trader Akriel and her death. But of killing Dwalia and Symphe I said not a word. Silent, too, was Beloved/Amber. I wanted to hear what that person knew of my father, of the years he said they had shared. But he gave me none of that.

  Such a strange riverscape! I saw brightly coloured birds, and once, a troop of shrieking monkeys fleeing through the trees. No one asked me to do hard work, no one struck me or threatened me. I had no reason to be afraid. Yet I would wake as often as four times a night, shaking and weeping, or so paralysed by fear that I could not even cry out.

  ‘Come with me,’ someone said one night, standing by my hammock in the shifting dark, and I cried out in alarm, for it was Vindeliar commanding me again. But it was Beloved. I followed him up to the foredeck near the figurehead, but not on the special little deck where her family often gathered to speak to her. Vivacia was both anchored and tethered for the night, for the changing currents of the river made night navigation dangerous.

  I dreaded long discussion with him. Instead, he took out a little flute. ‘A gift from Wintrow,’ he said and began to play soft and breathy music on it. When it was over, he handed me his little wooden pipe and said, ‘Here are where your fingers go. If it sounds wrong, your fingers aren’t blocking the holes completely. Try each note.’

  It was both harder and easier than it looked. By the time the sun was threading through the trees, I could sound each note clearly. I ate with everyone, and then found a place on top of the aft-house to curl up out of the way and sleep. I felt like a cat, sleeping in warm sunlight while everyone around me worked. In my sleep, Vivacia spoke to me. It’s like poison working out of a wound. Let the tears fall and let the fear shake you. On my deck or within my hold, you do not have to be strong. Let go of what you had to hide.

  Before we reached Trehaug I could play four simple tunes. And sleep at night in the dark. The ship helped me twice to meet with Boy-O secretly. He did not ask me. Vivacia was the one who told me that something was binding in his elbow and he could not straighten his arm completely. He worked alongside the others and did not complain, but he could not swing through the rigging as he once had. She woke me by night, and I went to him as he stood the anchor watch. I moved very softly and he startled when I reached to take his hand in mine. ‘Don’t tell,’ I whispered, and he stared at me in shock and dismay. He tried to pull his hand away, but I held him fast, and then he felt what I did. ‘The ship says it’s like loosening a line jammed in a block and tackle,’ I told him as I worked.

  ‘How can I thank you?’ he asked me as he flexed his arm.

  ‘By not telling anyone,’ I said, and slipped away to my hammock.

  But the next day, he took me up in the rigging with him, to the very top, and showed me the river and the jungle. And while he named the birds and the trees we could see, I put right a place where the skin on his neck had healed as smooth and shiny as polished wood. ‘It pulls sometimes,’ was all he needed to say. And then we clambered down, and no one was the wiser save he and me.

  I had looked forward to Trehaug after all Per had told me of it. He shouted to me at his first sight of one of the little houses dangling in the trees. He stood beside me and we pointed and exclaimed as we saw little children running along outstretched branches, and a man fishing from a tree branch over the river.

  So, I was disappointed when our crew anchored Vivacia out of the channel but in the river, away from the docks. Another liveship, a flat black barge named Tarman, was waiting for us, and we anchored next to him. Lines were exchanged to raft the two ships together. Three little boats from the treehouse town rowed out to us, but Captain Wintrow denied them permission to come aboard or tie to us. ‘We are concluding a bargain,’ he warned them. Trader custom meant they could not come aboard or speak to us.

  I stood at the railing and watched, wishing I were more a part of it, regretting what I had not learned and done. Vivacia reached for me and I lowered my walls. She suffused me with reassurance and a wave of warm gratitude for what had been done for Boy-O and his cousin Phron. What you have done, no one else could, she assured me.

  The people on Tarman’s deck shouted greetings, and Per seized my hand and begged immediately to be allowed to cross to the other ship. Althea said we might,
and my heart leapt with a good sort of fear as we crossed over the gap between the two ships and onto Tarman. Had Vivacia spoken to him somehow? He welcomed me, and he felt like a gracious old gentleman as he reassured me that I was safe on his decks. The captain of Tarman saw me touching his railing and as he hurried by me he muttered, ‘I should have guessed that would happen!’

  On both vessels, the work was swift and frantic. Vivacia’s boats were moved and tied off to Tarman. Up from the hold and out of the captain’s stateroom came everything of value or sentiment. Charts and chairs, glasses and bedding, all manner of things came across the gap and were stowed in Tarman’s hold. At the same time, heavy casks were hauled up from Tarman’s hold and arranged in a row on his deck.

  Captain Leftrin and his red-haired wife were much too busy to meet anyone new. He told Per to put me up on the flat roof of the deckhouse. He did, and then Per darted away to be helpful. I felt strange to be the only one idle. But from that perch, I could hear snatches of conversations. Several of the crew on Tarman joked with Spark and Per that they had feared the casks would leak. ‘We’d be trying to sleep, wondering if we’d wake up in a dragon’s belly instead of inside Tarman,’ one man called out to Lant. He was greeted with a chorus of shushes. ‘Sound carries across the water,’ a plump woman warned him, and he grinned and fell silent.

  Midway through the day, Kendry anchored alongside us. ‘Not sure we have enough,’ Brashen called to his captain in a low voice.

  ‘We’ll take whatever you can spare,’ the captain replied. He shook his head. He was an older man, older than my father had been, and his face was lined. His eyes were the same as Brashen’s had been when he knelt by Boy-O and looked at his burns. His voice was thick with sorrow. ‘He’s been in agony for years now. Time to release him.’

  Evidently Kendry had not been sailed for a time, for there was much less to unload from him. As they loaded their few goods onto Tarman, his captain spoke to his sparse crew, thanking them for bringing the difficult ship up the river. He grimly wished them good fortune in finding work again. It was Captain Leftrin who gruffly noted that the Dragon Traders had two impervious ships that could use experienced river crew.

  ‘I’d almost forgotten that Kelsingra had a couple of those,’ Kendry’s captain replied speculatively.

  ‘They haven’t been used much since we captured them. Tarman’s better on the river, shallow draught and all. But when his turn comes …’ They both fell silent.

  Kendry’s captain nodded grimly, and Captain Leftrin added, ‘We’ll have a surplus of captains for a time, but experienced crew is always welcome.’

  ‘So. Tarman will change, too?’

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