Assassins quest, p.1
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       Assassins Quest, p.1
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         Part #3 of Farseer Trilogy series by Robin Hobb
Assassins Quest
Page 1

 

  Prologue

  The Unremembered

  I AWAKE EVERY MORNING with ink on my hands. Sometimes I am sprawled, facedown, on my worktable, amidst a welter of scrolls and papers. My boy, when he comes in with my tray, may dare to chide me for not taking myself off to bed the night before. But sometimes he looks at my face and ventures no word. I do not try to explain to him why I do as I do. It is not a secret one can give to a younger man; it is one he must earn and learn on his own.

  A man has to have a purpose in life. I know this now, but it took me the first score years of my life to learn it. In that I scarcely think myself unique. Still, it is a lesson that, once learned, has remained with me. So, with little besides pain with which to occupy myself these days, I have sought out a purpose for myself. I have turned to a task that both Lady Patience and Scribe Fedwren had long ago advocated. I began these pages as an effort to write down a coherent history of the Six Duchies. But I found it difficult to keep my mind long fixed on a single topic, and so I distract myself with lesser treatises, on my theories of magic, on my observations of political structures, and my reflections on other cultures. When the discomfort is at its worst and I cannot sort my own thoughts well enough to write them down, I work on translations, or attempt to make a legible recording of older documents. I busy my hands in the hope of distracting my mind.

  My writing serves me as Verity’s mapmaking once served him. The detail of the work and the concentration required is almost enough to make one forget both the longings of the addiction, and the residual pains of having once indulged it. One can become lost in such work, and forget oneself. Or one can go even deeper, and find many recollections of that self. All too often, I find I have wandered far from a history of the duchies into a history of FitzChivalry. Those recollections leave me face-to-face with who I once was, and who I have become.

  When one is deeply absorbed in such a recounting, it is surprising how much detail one can recall. Not all the memories I summon up are painful. I have had more than a just share of good friends, and found them more loyal than I had any right to expect. I have known beauties and joys that tried my heart’s strength as surely as the tragedies and uglinesses have. Yet I possess, perhaps, a greater share of dark memories than most men; few men have known death in a dungeon, or can recall the inside of a coffin buried beneath the snow. The mind shies away from the details of such things. It is one thing to recall that Regal killed me. It is another to focus on the details of the days and nights endured as he starved me and then had me beaten to death. When I do, there are moments that still can turn my bowels to ice, even after all these years. I can recall the eyes of the man and the sound of his fist breaking my nose. There still exists for me a place I visit in my dreams, where I fight to remain standing, trying not to let myself think of how I will make a final effort to kill Regal. I recall the blow from him that split my swollen skin and left the scar down my face that I still bear.

  I have never forgiven myself the triumph I ceded to him when I took poison and died.

  But more painful than the events I can recall are those that are lost to me. When Regal killed me, I died. I was never again commonly known as FitzChivalry, I never renewed bonds to the Buckkeep folk who had known me since I was a child of six. I never lived in Buckkeep Castle again, never more waited on the Lady Patience, never sat on the hearthstones at Chade’s feet again. Lost to me were the rhythms of lives that had intertwined with mine. Friends died, others were wed, babes were born, children came of age, and I saw none of it. Though I no longer possess the body of a healthy young man, many still live who once called me friend. Sometimes, still, I long to rest eyes on them, to touch hands, to lay to peace the loneliness of years.

  I cannot.

  Those years are lost to me, and all the years of their lives to come. Lost, too, is that period, no longer than a month, but seeming much longer, when I was confined to dungeon and then coffin. My king had died in my arms, yet I did not see him buried. Nor was I present at the council after my death when I was found guilty of having used the Wit magic, and hence deserving of the death that had been dealt me.

  Patience came to lay claim to my body. My father’s wife, once so distressed to discover he had sired a bastard before they were wed, was the one who took me from that cell. Hers the hands that washed my body for burial, that straightened my limbs and wrapped me in a grave cloth. Awkward, eccentric Lady Patience, for whatever reason, cleansed my wounds and bound them as carefully as if I still lived. She alone ordered the digging of my grave and saw to the burying of my coffin. She and Lacey, her woman, mourned me, when all others, out of fear or disgust at my crime, abandoned me. Page 2

 

  Yet she knew nothing of how Burrich and Chade, my assassin mentor, came nights later to that grave, and dug away the snow that had fallen and the frozen clumps of earth that had been tossed down on my coffin. Only those two were present as Burrich broke through the lid of the coffin and tugged out my body, and then summoned, by his own Wit magic, the wolf that had been entrusted with my soul. They wrested that soul from the wolf and sealed it back into the battered body it had fled. They raised me, to walk once more in a man’s shape, to recall what it was to have a king and be bound by an oath. To this day, I do not know if I thank them for that. Perhaps, as the Fool insists, they had no choice. Perhaps there can be no thanks nor any blame, but only recognition of the forces that brought us and bound us to our inevitable fates.

  1

  Gravebirth

  IN THE CHALCED States, slaves are kept. They supply the drudge labor. They are the miners, the bellows workers, the galley rowers, the crews for the offal wagons, the field-workers, and the whores. Oddly, slaves are also the nursemaids and children’s tutors and cooks and scribers and skilled craftsfolk. All of Chalced’s gleaming civilization, from the great libraries of Jep to the fabled fountains and baths at Sinjon’s, is founded on the existence of a slave class.

  The Bingtown Traders are the major source of the slave supply. At one time, most slaves were captives taken in war, and Chalced still officially claims this is true. In more recent years there have not been sufficient wars to keep up with the demand for educated slaves. The Bingtown Traders are very resourceful in finding other sources, and the rampant piracy in the Trade Islands is often mentioned in association with this. Those who are slave owners in Chalced show little curiosity about where the slaves come from, so long as they are healthy.

  Slavery is a custom that has never taken root in the Six Duchies. A man convicted of a crime may be required to serve the one he has injured, but a limit of time is always placed, and he is never seen as less than a man making atonement. If a crime is too heinous to be redeemed by labor, then the criminal pays with his death. No one ever becomes a slave in the Six Duchies, nor do our laws support the idea that a household may bring slaves into the kingdom and have them remain so. For this reason, many Chalced slaves who do win free of their owners by one path or another often seek the Six Duchies as a new home.

  These slaves bring with them the far-flung traditions and folklore of their own lands. One such tale I have preserved has to do with a girl who was Vecci, or what we would call Witted. She wished to leave her parents’ home, to follow a man she loved and be his wife. Her parents did not find him worthy and denied her permission. When they would not let her go, she was too dutiful a child to disobey them. But she was also too ardent a woman to live without her true love. She lay down on her bed and died of sorrow. Her parents buried her with great mourning and much self-reproach that they had not allowed her to follow her heart. But unbeknownst to them, she was Wit-bonded to a she-bear. And when the girl died, the she-bear took her spirit into her keeping, so
it might not flee the world. Three nights after the girl had been buried, the she-bear dug up the grave, and restored the girl’s spirit to her body. The girl’s gravebirth made her a new person, no longer owing duty to her parents. So she left the shattered coffin and went seeking her one true love. The tale has a sad ending, for having been a she-bear for a time, she was never wholly human again, and her true love would not have her.

  This scrap of a tale was the basis for Burrich’s decision to try to free me from Prince Regal’s dungeon by poisoning me.

  The room was too hot. And too small. Panting no longer cooled me. I got up from the table and went to the water barrel in the corner. I took the cover off it and drank deeply. Heart of the Pack looked up with an almost-snarl. “Use a cup, Fitz. ”

  Water ran from my chin. I looked up at him steadily, watching him.

  “Wipe your face. ” Heart of the Pack looked away from me, back to his own hands. He had grease on them and was rubbing it into some straps. I snuffed it. I licked my lips.

  “I am hungry,” I told him.

  “Sit down and finish your work. Then we will eat. ”

  I tried to remember what he wanted of me. He moved his hand toward the table and I recalled. More leather straps at my end of the table. I went back and sat in the hard chair.

  “I am hungry now,” I explained to him. He looked at me again in the way that did not show his teeth but was still a snarl. Heart of the Pack could snarl with his eyes. I sighed. The grease he was using smelled very good. I swallowed. Then I looked down. Leather straps and bits of metal were on the table before me. I looked at them for a while. After a time, Heart of the Pack set down his straps and wiped his hands on a cloth. He came to stand beside me, and I had to turn to be able to see him. “Here,” he said, touching the leather before me. “You were mending it here. ” He stood over me until I picked it up again. I bent to sniff it and he struck my shoulder. “Don’t do that!”

  Page 3

 

  My lip twitched, but I did not snarl. Snarling at him made him very, very angry. For a time I held the straps. Then it seemed as if my hands remembered before my mind did. I watched my fingers work the leather. When it was done, I held it up before him and tugged it, hard, to show that it would hold even if the horse threw its head back. “But there isn’t a horse,” I remembered out loud. “All the horses are gone. ”

  Brother?

  I come. I rose from my chair. I went to the door.

  “Come back and sit down,” Heart of the Pack said.

  Nighteyes waits, I told him. Then I remembered he could not hear me. I thought he could if he would try, but he would not try. I knew that if I spoke to him that way again, he would push me. He would not let me speak to Nighteyes that way much. He would even push Nighteyes if the wolf spoke too much to me. It seemed a very strange thing. “Nighteyes waits,” I told him with my mouth.

  “I know. ”

  “It is a good time to hunt, now. ”

  “It is a better time for you to stay in. I have food here for you. ”

  “Nighteyes and I could find fresh meat. ” My mouth ran at the thought of it. A rabbit torn open, still steaming in the winter night. That was what I wanted.

  “Nighteyes will have to hunt alone this night,” Heart of the Pack told me. He went to the window and opened the shutters a little. The chill air rushed in. I could smell Nighteyes and, farther away, a snowcat. Nighteyes whined. “Go away,” Heart of the Pack told him. “Go on, now, go hunt, go feed yourself. I’ve not enough to feed you here. ”

  Nighteyes went away from the light that spilled from the window. But he did not go too far. He was waiting out there for me, but I knew he could not wait long. Like me, he was hungry now.

  Heart of the Pack went to the fire that made the room too hot. There was a pot by it, and he poked it away from the fire and took the lid off. Steam came out, and with it smells. Grain and roots, and a tiny bit of meat smell, almost boiled away. But I was so hungry I snuffed after it. I started to whine, but Heart of the Pack made the eye-snarl again. So I went back to the hard chair. I sat. I waited.

  He took a very long time. He took all the leather from the table and put it on a hook. Then he put the pot of grease away. Then he brought the hot pot to the table. Then he set out two bowls and two cups. He put water in the cups. He set out a knife and two spoons. From the cupboard he brought bread and a small pot of jam. He put the stew in the bowl before me, but I knew I could not touch it. I had to sit and not eat the food while he cut the bread and gave me a piece. I could hold the bread, but I could not eat it until he sat down too, with his plate and his stew and his bread.

  “Pick up your spoon,” he reminded me. Then he slowly sat down in his chair right beside me. I was holding the spoon and the bread and waiting, waiting, waiting. I didn’t take my eyes off him but I could not keep my mouth from moving. It made him angry. I shut my mouth again. Finally he said, “We will eat now. ”

  But the waiting still had not stopped. One bite I was allowed to take. It must be chewed and swallowed before I took more, or he would cuff me. I could take only as much stew as would fit on the spoon. I picked up the cup and drank from it. He smiled at me. “Good, Fitz. Good boy. ”

  I smiled back, but then I took too large a bite of the bread and he frowned at me. I tried to chew it slowly, but I was so hungry now, and the food was here, and I did not understand why he would not just let me eat it now. It took a long time to eat. He had made the stew too hot on purpose, so that I would burn my mouth if I took too big a bite. I thought about that for a bit. Then I said, “You made the food too hot on purpose. So I will be burned if I eat too fast. ”

  His smile came more slowly. He nodded at me.

  I still finished eating before he did. I had to sit on the chair until he had finished eating, too.

  “Well, Fitz,” he said at last. “Not too bad a day today. Hey, boy?”

  I looked at him.

  “Say something back to me,” he told me.

  “What?” I asked.

  “Anything. ”

  “Anything. ”

  He frowned at me and I wanted to snarl, because I had done what he told me. After a time, he got up and got a bottle. He poured something into his cup. He held the bottle out to me. “Do you want some?”

  I pulled back from it. Even the smell of it stung in my nostrils.

  “Answer,” he reminded me.

  “No. No, it’s bad water. ”

  “No. It’s bad brandy. Blackberry brandy, very cheap. I used to hate it, you used to like it. ”

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  I snorted out the smell. “We have never liked it. ”

  He set the bottle and the cup down on the table. He got up and went to the window. He opened it again. “Go hunting, I said!” I felt Nighteyes jump and then run away. Nighteyes is as afraid of Heart of the Pack as I am. Once I attacked Heart of the Pack. I had been sick for a long time, but then I was better. I wished to go out to hunt and he would not let me. He stood before the door and I sprang on him. He hit me with his fist, and then held me down. He is not bigger than I. But he is meaner, and more clever. He knows many ways to hold and most of them hurt. He held me on the floor, on my back, with my throat bared and waiting for his teeth, for a long, long time. Every time I moved, he cuffed me. Nighteyes had snarled outside the house, but not very close to the door, and he had not tried to come in. When I whined for mercy, he struck me again. “Be quiet!” he said. When I was quiet, he told me, “You are younger. I am older and I know more. I fight better than you do, I hunt better than you do. I am always above you. You will do everything I want you to do. You will do everything I tell you to do. Do you understand that?”

  Yes, I had told him. Yes, yes, that is pack, I understand, I understand. But he had only struck me again and held me there, throat wide, until I told him with my mouth, “Yes, I understand. ”

  When Heart of t
he Pack came back to the table, he put brandy in my cup. He set it in front of me, where I would have to smell it. I snorted.

  “Try it,” he urged me. “Just a little. You used to like it. You used to drink it in town, when you were younger and not supposed to go into taverns without me. And then you would chew mint, and think I would not know what you had done. ”

  I shook my head at him. “I would not do what you told me not to do. I understood. ”

  He made his sound that is like choking and sneezing. “Oh, you used to very often do what I had told you not to do. Very often. ”

  I shook my head again. “I do not remember it. ”

  “Not yet. But you will. ” He pointed at the brandy again. “Go on. Taste it. Just a little bit. It might do you good. ”

  And because he had told me I must, I tasted it. It stung my mouth and nose, and I could not snort the taste away. I spilled what was left in the cup.

  “Well. Wouldn’t Patience be pleased” was all he said. And then he made me get a cloth and clean what I had spilled. And clean the dishes in water and wipe them dry, too.

  Sometimes I would shake and fall down. There was no reason. Heart of the Pack would try to hold me still. Sometimes the shaking made me fall asleep. When I awakened later, I ached. My chest hurt, my back hurt. Sometimes I bit my tongue. I did not like those times. They frightened Nighteyes.

  And sometimes there was another with Nighteyes and me, another who thought with us. He was very small, but he was there. I did not want him there. I did not want anyone there, ever again, except Nighteyes and me. He knew that, and made himself so small that most of the time he was not there.

  Later, a man came.

  “A man is coming,” I told Heart of the Pack. It was dark and the fire was burning low. The good hunting time was past. Full dark was here. Soon he would make us sleep.

  He did not answer me. He got up quickly and quietly and took up the big knife that was always on the table. He pointed at me to go to the corner, out of his way. He went softly to the door and waited. Outside, I heard the man stepping through the snow. Then I smelled him. “It is the gray one,” I told him. “Chade. ”

  He opened the door very quickly then, and the gray one came in. I sneezed with the scents he brought on him. Powders of dry leaves are what he always smelled like, and smokes of different kinds. He was thin and old, but Heart of the Pack always behaved as if he were pack higher. Heart of the Pack put more wood on the fire. The room got brighter, and hotter. The gray one pushed back his hood. He looked at me for a time with his light-colored eyes, as if he were waiting. Then he spoke to Heart of the Pack.

 
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