Fools assassin, p.10
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       Fools Assassin, p.10

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

  I cleared my throat. “The secret keyword is a bad idea, Chade. If you must have one, let it be written down and put into the King’s care. ”

  “Anything written can be read. Anything hidden can be found. ”

  “That’s true. Here is something else that is true. Dead is dead. ”

  “I’ve been loyal to the Farseers all my life, Fitz. My death is preferable to being used as a weapon against the King. ”

  Painful to realize that I agreed. Still, “Then by your logic, every member of his coterie should be Skill-locked. Each with a separate word that can only be discovered by answering a riddle. ”

  His hands, large and agile still, spidered bonily along the edge of his coverlet. “That would probably be best, yes. But until I can persuade the rest of the coterie that it’s needed, I will take steps to protect the most valuable member of the coterie from corruption. ”

  His opinion of himself had never been small. “And that would be you. ”

  “Of course. ”

  I looked at him. He bridled. “What? Do you not agree with that assessment? Do you know how many secrets I hold in trust for our family? How much family history and lineage, how much knowledge of the Skill, now resides only in my mind and on a few moldering scrolls, most of them nearly unreadable? Imagine me falling into someone else’s control. Imagine someone plundering my thoughts of those secrets and using them against the Farseer reign. ”

  It chilled me to discover that he was absolutely correct. I hunched over my knees and thought. “Can you simply tell me the word you will use for your lock, and trust me to keep it secret?” I already accepted that he would find a way to do it again.

  He leaned slightly forward. “Will you consent to Skill-locking your mind?”

  I hesitated. I didn’t want to do it. I recalled too vividly how Burrich had died, sealed off from the help that could have saved him. And how Chade had nearly died. I had always believed that given a choice between a Skill-healing and death, I’d now choose death. His question made me confront the truth. No. I’d want the option available. And it would be more available if my mind wasn’t locked against those who could help me.

  Chade cleared his throat. “Well, until you are ready, I’ll do as I think best. As you will, too, I’m sure. ”

  I nodded. “Chade, I—”

  He waved a dismissive hand at me. His voice was gruff. “I already know that, boy. And I’ll be a bit more careful. Get to work on those scrolls as soon as you can, would you? The translations will be tricky, but not beyond your abilities. And now I need to rest. Or eat. I can’t decide if I’m hungrier or more tired. That Skill healing—” He shook his head.

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  “I know,” I reminded him. “I’ll return each scroll as it’s translated. And keep a copy secreted at Withywoods. You should rest. ”

  “I will,” he promised.

  He leaned back on his multitude of pillows and closed his eyes, exhausted. I slipped quietly from the room. And before the sun had set, I was well on my way home.

  Chapter Four

  Preservation

  I did not know who my father was until I arrived at Buckkeep Castle. My mother was a foot soldier in the Farseer army in the two years that the Six Duchies forces were massed on the border of Farrow and Chalced. Her name was Hyacinth Fallstar. Her parents had been farmers. In the year of the choking sickness they both died. My mother was unable to keep up the farm by herself, so she leased the land to her cousins and went to Byslough to seek her fortune. There she became a soldier for Duchess Able of Farrow. She was instructed in swordplay and showed an affinity for it. When war broke out along the borderlands and the King of the Six Duchies himself came to lead his troops into battle, she was there. She remained with the forces on the Chalcedean border until the invaders’ army was pushed back into their own territory and a new boundary established.

  She returned to her farm in Farrow and there gave birth to me. A man named Rogan Hardhands followed her back to her farm, and she took him to husband. He had soldiered alongside her. He loved her. Toward me, her bastard son and not his at all, he did not feel so kindly, and I returned his sentiments with vigor. Yet we both loved my mother and were loved by her, and so I will speak fairly of him. He knew nothing of farming, but he tried. He was the father I knew until the day my mother died, and though he was a callous man who found me an unwelcome nuisance, I have seen far worse fathering. He did what he thought a father should do with a boy: He taught me to obey, to work hard, and not to question those in authority. Moreover, he toiled alongside my mother to find coin that I might go to a local scribe and be taught to read and figure, skills he did not possess, but my mother thought vital. I do not think he ever considered whether or not he loved me. He did right by me. I hated him, of course.

  Yet in those final days of my mother’s life, we were united in our grieving. Her death shocked us both for it was so useless and foolish a fate to befall a strong woman. Climbing up to the loft in the cow byre, she slipped on the old ladder and took a deep splinter in her wrist. She pulled it out and it scarcely bled. But the next day, her whole arm was swollen and on the third day, she died. It was that swift. Together we buried her. The following morning, he put me on the mule with a satchel that held late apples, biscuits, and twelve strips of dried meat. Two silvers he gave me also, and told me not to leave the King’s highway and eventually I would get to Buckkeep Castle. Into my hands he put a scroll, much battered, for me to deliver to the King of the Six Duchies. I have never seen that scroll since the day I gave it over, hand-to-hand, to the King. I know that Rogan Hardhands had no letters. It must have been written by my mother. I read only the one line on the outside of it: “To be opened only by the King of the Six Duchies. ”

  My Early Days, Chade Fallstar

  Chade’s intrusion was like a whisper by my ear. Except that I could have slept through a whisper. A Skill-intrusion cannot be ignored.

  Do you ever regret writing it all down, Fitz?

  Chade never slept. Not when I was a lad, and it seemed to me that the older he got, the less sleep he needed. As a result, he assumed that I never slept, and if I dozed off after a hard day of physical labor without my wards set tight around my mind, he was prone to intrude into my sleeping thoughts with no greater sense of my privacy than he had had about entering my bedchamber when I lived at Buckkeep Castle. When I was a boy, he had simply triggered the secret door to my room and come down the hidden staircase from his concealed tower room to my chamber in the keep. Now, a lifetime later and days away, he could simply step into my thoughts. The Skill, I thought to myself, is truly a wonderful magic, and an incredible nuisance in the hands of an old man.

  I rolled over in my bed, disoriented. His voice always echoed in my thoughts with the same command and urgency as it had when I was a boy and he was a much younger man and my mentor. But it wasn’t just the force of his words. It was that his Skill-contact with my mind brought with it the imprint of his impression of me. Just as Nettle had once seen me as more wolf than man, and her sense that I was a wild and wary beast still tinged our Skill-conversations, so with Chade I would always be twelve years old and an apprentice completely at his disposal.

  I mustered my Skill-strength and reached back to him. I was asleep.

  Surely it’s not that late! I became aware of his surroundings. A comfortable room. He leaned back on a cushioned chair, staring into a small hearth fire. A table was at his elbow, and I smelled the rich red wine that he lifted in a delicate glass and the applewood burning on his hearth. All so different from his assassin’s workroom above my boyhood bedroom at Buckkeep Castle. The secret spy who had served the royal Farseer family was now a respected elder statesman, advisor to King Dutiful. I wondered sometimes if his new respectability bored him. Certainly it did not seem to tire him!

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  Not so late at night for you, old man. But I spent hours
on the record keeping for Withywoods tonight, and tomorrow I have to be up at dawn to go to the market at Oaksbywater to speak to a wool buyer.

  Ridiculous. What do you know of wool and sheep? Send one of your sheep tenders to speak to him.

  I can’t. It’s my task, not theirs. And actually, I’ve learned a great deal about sheep and wool in my time here. I drew my body carefully away from Molly’s before I eased out from under our blankets and groped with a foot for the robe I had discarded on the floor. I found it, kicked it up, caught it, and pulled it on over my head. I crossed the darkened room on soundless feet.

  Even if I wasn’t speaking aloud, I did not want to take the chance of disturbing Molly. She had not been sleeping well of late, and several times I had caught her regarding me with a speculative smile on her face. Something occupied her thoughts by day and left her restless at night. I longed to know her secret, but knew better than to press her. When she was ready, she would share it with me. Tonight, at least, she slept deeply and I was grateful. Life was harder for my Molly than it was for me; the aches and pains of aging took a toll on her that I did not have to pay. Unfair, I thought to myself and then, as I slipped from our bedroom into the corridor, I banished the thought.

  Too late.

  Molly is not well?

  She isn’t ill. Just our years catching up with us.

  Chade seemed surprised. She need not feel those pains. The coterie would be glad to assist with a small reordering of her body. Not a major change, just …

  She would not welcome that sort of interference, Chade. We’ve spoken of it and that was her decision. She deals with aging on her own terms.

  As you wish. I could feel that he thought I was foolish for not intervening.

  No. As she wishes. The Skill could indeed have banished a lot of her aches. I knew that I went to bed with twinges that were gone by morning. The price of those tiny healings was that I ate like a longshoreman, with impunity. No cost at all, really. But Molly’s health is not why you woke me out of a sound sleep. Are you well?

  Well enough. Still regaining flesh since my Skill-healing. But as that healing seems to have set right a host of other small ailments, I judge it a good bargain.

  I padded through the wood-paneled corridors in the dark, leaving our comfortable chambers in the main house and making my way to the little-used west wing. With the shrinking of our household, Molly and I felt that the main house and the north wing were more than ample space for the two of us and our rare guests. The west wing was the oldest part of the house, chilly in winter and cool in summer. Since we had closed most of it, it had become a last refuge for creaking chairs and wobbly tables and anything else that Revel considered too worn for daily use but still too good to discard. I shivered as I hurried down a dark corridor. I opened a narrow door and in the blackness descended one flight of servant stairs. Down a much narrower hall I went, my fingertips lightly brushing the wall, and then I opened the door to my private study. A few embers still winked on the hearth. I wended my way through the scroll racks and knelt by the fire to light a candle from it. I carried the flame to my desk and one after another lit some half-spent tapers in their holders. My last evening’s translation work was still spread on my desk. I sat down in my chair and yawned hugely. Come to the point, old man!

  No, I didn’t wake you to discuss Molly, though I do care for her health as it affects your happiness and Nettle’s focus. I woke you to ask you a question. All your journals and diaries, written through the years … have you ever regretted all the writing you’ve done?

  I pondered it very briefly. The light from the flickering candles danced teasingly along the edges of the laden scroll racks behind me. Many of the spindled scrolls were old, some almost ancient. Their edges were tattered, the vellum stained. My copies of them were made onto fine paper these days, often bound together with my translations. Preserving what was written on the tattering vellums was a work I enjoyed and, according to Chade, still my duty to him.

  But those were not the writings that Chade referred to. He meant my numerous attempts to chronicle the days of my own life. I had seen many changes in the Six Duchies since I had come to Buckkeep Castle as a royal bastard. I had seen us change from an isolated and, some would say, backward kingdom to a powerful trading destination. In the years between, I had witnessed treachery born of evil, and loyalty paid for in blood. I had seen a king assassinated, and as an assassin I had sought my own vengeance. I sacrificed my life and my death for my family, more than once. I had seen friends die.

  At intervals throughout my life, I had tried to record all I had seen and done. And often enough I’d had to hastily destroy those accounts when I feared they would fall into the wrong hands. I winced as I thought of it. I only regret the time I spent writing them when I had to burn them. I always think of all the time I spent carefully writing, only to have it burn to ash in a matter of minutes.

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  But you always began again. Writing it down.

  I almost laughed aloud. I did. And each time I’ve done so, I’ve found that the story changed as my perspective on life changed. There were a few years where I fancied myself quite the hero, and other times when I saw myself as star-crossed and unjustly oppressed by my life. My thoughts wandered for a moment. Before the whole court I had chased my King’s killers through Buckkeep Castle. Brave. Foolish. Stupid. Necessary. I could not count the ways I had thought of that incident through the years.

  Young, Chade suggested. Young and full of righteous fury.

  Hurt and heartbroken, I suggested. So tired of being thwarted. Tired of being bound by rules that no one else had to follow.

  That, too, he agreed.

  Abruptly, I didn’t want to think about that day, not who I had been or what I had done, and most of all not why I had done it. It was from a different life, one that could no longer touch me. Old pain could not hurt me now. Could it? I turned the question back on him. Why do you ask? Are you thinking of writing down your life’s memories?

  Perhaps. It is something to do during my recovery time. I think I understand a bit better now why you have warned us about the judicious use of Skill-healings. El’s balls, but it has taken me far too long to feel like myself. My clothing hangs on me so that I am almost shamed to be seen. I totter about like a man made of sticks. Abruptly, I felt him shift the conversation away from himself, almost as if he had turned his back on me. He never cared to admit any weakness. When you wrote things down, why did you begin it? You were always writing things down.

  An easy question. It was Fedwren. And Lady Patience. The scribe who had taught me and the woman who had longed to be my mother. Both of them said often that someone should write an orderly history of the Six Duchies. I took their words to mean that I should do it. But every time I tried to write about the kingdom, I ended up writing about myself.

  Who did you think would read it? Your daughter?

  Another old bruise. I answered honestly. At first I didn’t think about who might read it. I wrote it for myself, as if by doing so I could make sense of it. All the old tales I had ever heard made sense; good triumphed, or perhaps the hero died tragically, but he accomplished something with his death. So I wrote down my life as if it were a tale, and I searched for the happy ending. Or the sense of it.

  My mind wandered for a time. Back through the years I went, back to the boy who had been apprenticed to an assassin so that he might serve the family who would never acknowledge him as a son. Back to the warrior, fighting with an axe, against ships full of invaders. Back to the spy, to a man serving his missing King while all descended into chaos around him. Was that me? I wondered. So many lives lived. So many names I’d borne. And always, always, I had longed for a different life.

  I reached toward Chade again. For all the years when I couldn’t speak to Nettle or Molly, I sometimes told myself that someday they might read it and understand why I had not been with them.
Even if I never came back to them, perhaps one day they would know that I had always wanted to. So at first, yes, it was like a long letter to them, explaining all that had kept me from them. I tightened my walls, not wanting Chade to sense my private thought that perhaps I had not been as honest in those early attempts as I might have been. I had been young, I excused myself, and who does not put himself in the best possible light when he presents his tale to someone he loves? Or his excuses to someone he has wronged. I thrust that thought away and pushed a question back at Chade.

  Who would you write your memoir for?

  His answer shocked me. Perhaps it’s the same for me. He paused, and when he spoke again, I felt he had changed his mind about telling me something. Perhaps I write for you. You’re as close to being my son as makes no difference to me. Perhaps I want you to know who I was when I was a young man. Perhaps I want to explain to you why I shaped your life as I did. Maybe I want to justify to you decisions that I’ve made.

  The idea shocked me, and not that he would speak of me as a son. Did he sincerely believe that I did not know and understand his motives for what he had taught me, for all he had asked of me? Did I want him to explain himself? I thought not. I warded my thoughts, trying to think of a response. Then I felt his amusement. Gentle amusement. Had it been an object lesson?

  You think I underestimate Nettle. That she would not need or want me to reveal myself completely to her.

  I do. But I also understand the urge to explain yourself. What is harder for me to understand is how you make yourself sit down and do it. I’ve tried, because I think it’s something I need to do, more for myself than anyone else who might come after me. Perhaps, as you say, to impose some sort of order or sense on my past. But it’s hard. What do I put in, what do I leave out? Where does my tale begin? What should come first?

  Page 38

 

  I smiled and leaned back in my chair. I usually start trying to write about something else, and end up writing about myself. A sudden insight came to me. Chade, I would like it if you wrote it down. Not to explain it, but just because there is so much I’ve always wondered about you. You’ve told me some bits of your life. But … who decided you’d become a royal assassin? Who taught you?

 

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