Assassins quest, p.17
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       Assassins Quest, p.17
 

         Part #3 of Farseer Trilogy series by Robin Hobb

  I nodded uneasily.

  “They have lost it. I do not know how it is stolen from them, but that is what Forging does. And it leaves an emptiness in them. This much is well known among those of the Old Blood, and we know, too, that we are more likely to be followed and attacked by Forged ones. Especially if we use those talents carelessly. Why this is so, no one can say with certainty. Perhaps only the Forged ones know, if they truly “know’ anything anymore. But it gives us one more reason to be cautious of ourselves and our talents. ”

  “Are you suggesting that Nighteyes and I should refrain from using the Wit?”

  “I am suggesting that perhaps you should stay here for a while, and take the time to learn to master the talents of the Old Blood. Or you may find yourself in more battles such as the one you fought yesterday. ” He permitted himself a small smile.

  “I said nothing to you of that attack,” I said quietly.

  “You did not need to,” he pointed out. “I am sure that everyone of Old Blood for leagues around heard you when you fought them. Until you both learn to control how you speak to one another, nothing between you is truly private. ” He paused, then added, “Did you never think it strange that Forged ones would spend time attacking a wolf when there is apparently nothing to gain from such an attack? They only focus on him because he is bonded to you. ”

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  I gave Nighteyes a brief apologetic glance. “I thank you for your offer. But we have a thing we must do and it will not wait. I think that we shall encounter fewer Forged ones as we move inland. We should be fine. ”

  “That is likely. The ones that go so far inland are gathered up by the King. Still, any that may be left will be drawn to you. But even if you encounter no more Forged ones, you are likely to encounter the King’s guards. They take a special interest in Witted folk these days. Of late, many of the Old Blood have been sold to the King, by neighbors, and even family. His gold is good, and he does not even ask much proof that they are truly Old Blood. Not for years has the vendetta against us burned so hot. ”

  I looked away uncomfortably, well aware of why Regal hated those with the Wit. His coterie would support him in that hate. I felt sickened as I thought of innocent folk sold to Regal that he might revenge himself on them in my stead. I tried to keep the rage I felt masked.

  Hilda came back to the table, looked it over consideringly, then seized the pot that held the honeycombs in both her paws. She waddled carefully away from the table, to seat herself in the corner and begin a careful licking out of the pot. Holly continued to watch me. I could read nothing from her eyes.

  Black Rolf scratched at his beard, then winced as his fingers found a sore spot. He smiled a careful, rueful smile at me. “I can sympathize with your desire to kill King Regal. But I do not think you shall find it as easy as you suppose. ”

  I just looked at him, but Nighteyes rolled a light snarl in the back of his throat. Hilda looked up at that and thumped down on all fours, the honey jar rolling away from her across the floor. Black Rolf sent her a glance and she sat back, but fixed both Nighteyes and me with a glare. I don’t think there is anything as gut-tightening as an angry glare from a brown bear. I did not move. Holly sat up straight in her chair but remained calm. Above us in the rafters, Sleet rattled his plumage.

  “If you bay out all your plans and grievances to the night moon, you cannot be astonished that others know of them. I do not think you shall encounter many of the Old Blood who are sympathetic to King Regal . . . or any, perhaps. In fact, many would be willing to aid you if you asked them. Still, silence is wisest, for a plan such as that. ”

  “From your song earlier, I would suspect you share my sentiments,” I said quietly. “And I thank you for your warning. But Nighteyes and I have had to be circumspect before about what we shared with one another. Now we know there is a danger of being overheard, I think we can compensate for it. One question I will ask of you. What care the City Guard of Crowsneck if a man has a few drinks and sings a mocking song about the . . . King?” I had to force the word from my throat.

  “None at all, when they are Crowsneck men. But that is no longer the case in Crowsneck, nor in any of the river-road towns. Those are King’s guards, in the livery of the Crowsneck Guard, and paid from the town purse, but King’s Men all the same. Regal had not been king two months before he decreed that change. He claimed the law would be enforced more equitably if City Guards were all sworn King’s Men, carrying out the law of the Six Duchies above any other. Well. You have seen how they carry it out . . . mostly by carrying off whatever they can from any poor sot who treads upon the King’s toes. Still, those two in Crowsneck are not so bad as some I’ve heard of. Word is that down in Sandbend, a cutpurse or thief can make an easy living, so long as the Guard gets a share. The town masters are powerless to dismiss the Guards the King has appointed. Nor are they allowed to supplement them with their own men. ”

  It sounded only too much like Regal. I wondered how obsessed he would become with power and control. Would he set spies upon his spies? Or had he already done so? None of it boded well for the Six Duchies as a whole.

  Black Rolf broke me from my musings. “Now, I’ve a question I would ask of you. ”

  “Be free to ask,” I invited him, but held to myself how freely I should answer.

  “Late last night . . . after you had finished with the Forged ones. Another attacked you. I could not sense who, only that your wolf defended you, and that he somehow went . . . somewhere. That he threw his strength into a channel I did not understand, nor could follow. I know no more than that he, and you, were victorious. What was that thing?”

  “A servant of the King,” I hedged. I did not wish to entirely refuse him an answer, and this seemed harmless, as he seemed to already know it.

  “You fought what they call the Skill. Didn’t you?” His eyes locked with mine. When I did not answer, he went on anyway. “There are many of us who would like to know how it was done. In our past, Skilled ones have hunted us down as if we were vermin. No one of the Old Blood can say that his family has not suffered at their hands. Now those days have come again. If there is a way to use the talents of the Old Blood against those who wield the Farseer’s Skill, it is knowledge worth much to us. ”

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  Holly sidled from the corner, then came to grip the back of Rolf’s chair and peer over his shoulder at me. I sensed the importance of my answer to them.

  “I cannot teach you that,” I said honestly.

  His eyes held mine, his disbelief plain. “Twice tonight, I have offered to teach you all I know of the Old Blood, to open to you all the doors that only your ignorance keep closed. You have refused me, but by Eda, I have offered, and freely. But this one thing I ask, this one thing that might save so many lives of our own kind, you say you cannot teach me?”

  My eyes flickered to Hilda. Her eyes had gone beady and bright again. Black Rolf was probably unaware of how his posture mimicked that of his bear. They both had me measuring the distance to the door, while Nighteyes was already on his feet and ready to flee. Behind Rolf, Holly cocked her head and stared at me. Above us, the hawk turned his head to watch us. I forced myself to loosen my muscles, to behave much more calmly than I felt. It was a tactic learned from Burrich when confronting any distressed animal.

  “I speak truth to you,” I said carefully. “I cannot teach you what I do not fully understand myself. ” I refrained from mentioning that I myself carried that despised Farseer blood. I was sure now of what I had only suspected before. The Wit could be used to attack a Skilled one only if a Skill channel had been opened between them. Even if I had been able to describe what Nighteyes and I had done, no one else would have been able to copy it. To fight the Skill with the Wit, one had to possess both the Skill and the Wit. I met Black Rolf’s eyes calmly, knowing I had spoken the truth to him.

  Slowly he relaxed his hunched
shoulders, and Hilda dropped back to all fours and went snuffling after the trailing honey. “Perhaps,” he said, quietly stubborn. “Perhaps if you stayed with us, and learned what I have to teach you, you would begin to understand what you do. Then you could teach it to me. Do you think so?”

  I kept my voice calm and even. “You witnessed one of the King’s servants attack me last night. Do you think they will suffer me to remain here and learn more to use against them? No. My only chance is to beard them in their den before they come seeking me out. ” I hesitated, then offered, “Although I cannot teach you to do as I do, you may be assured that it will be used against the enemies of the Old Blood. ”

  This, finally, was a reasoning he could accept. He snuffed several times thoughtfully. I wondered uncomfortably if I had as many wolf mannerisms as he had bear and Holly had hawk.

  “Will you stay the night at least?” he asked abruptly.

  “We do better when we travel by night,” I said regretfully. “It is more comfortable for both of us. ”

  He nodded sagely to that. “Well. I wish you well, and every good fortune in achieving your end. You are welcome to rest safely here until the moon rises, if you wish. ”

  I conferred with Nighteyes, and we accepted gratefully. I checked the slash on Nighteyes’ shoulder and found it to be no better than I had suspected. I treated it with some of Burrich’s salve, and then we sprawled outside in the shade and napped the afternoon away. It was good for both of us to be able to relax completely, knowing that others stood guard over us. It was the best sleep either of us had had since we had begun our journey. When we awoke, I found that Black Rolf had put up fish, honey, and bread for us to carry with us. There was no sign of the hawk. I imagined he had gone to roost for the night. Holly stood in the shadows near the house, regarding us sleepily.

  “Go carefully, go gently,” Rolf counseled us after we had thanked him and packed his gifts. “Walk in the ways Eda has opened for you. ”

  He paused, as if waiting for a response. I sensed a custom I was not familiar with. I wished him simply, “Good luck,” and he nodded to that.

  “You will be back, you know,” he added.

  I shook my head slowly. “I doubt that. But I thank you for what you have given me. ”

  “No. I know you will be back. It is not a matter of your wanting what I can teach you. You will find you need it. You are not a man as ordinary men are. They think they have a right to all beasts; to hunt them and eat them, or to subjugate them and rule their lives. You know you have no such right to mastery. The horse that carries you will do so because he wishes to, as does the wolf that hunts beside you. You have a deeper sense of yourself in the world. You believe you have a right, not to rule it, but to be part of it. Predator or prey; there is no shame to being either one. As time goes on, you will find you have urgent questions. What must you do when your friend wishes to run with a pack of true wolves? I promise you, that time will come. What must he do if you marry and have a child? When the time comes for one of you to die, as it must, how does the other make room for what is left, and carry on alone? In time you will hunger for others of your kind. You will need to know how to sense them and how to seek them out. There are answers to these questions, Old Blood answers, ones I cannot tell you in a day, ones you cannot understand in a week. You need those answers. And you will come back for them. ”

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  I looked down at the trodden soil of the forest path. I had lost all certainty that I would not return to Rolf.

  Holly spoke softly but clearly from the shadows. “I believe in what you go to do. I wish you success, and would aid you if I could. ” Her eyes darted to Rolf, as if this were a thing they had discussed, but had not agreed upon. “If you are in need, cry out, as you do to Nighteyes, asking that any of Old Blood who hear you pass word back to Holly and Sleet of Crowsneck. Those who hear may come to help you. Even if they do not, they will send word to me, and I will do what I can. ”

  Rolf let out a sudden huff of breath. “We will do what we can,” he amended her words. “But you would be wiser to stay here and learn first how to better protect yourself. ”

  I nodded to his words, but resolved privately that I would not involve any of them in my revenge against Regal. When I glanced up at Rolf, he smiled at me wryly, and shrugged his shoulders. “Go then. But be wary, both of you. Before the moon goes down you’ll leave Buck behind and be in Farrow. If you think King Regal has a grip on us here, wait until you get to where folk believe he has a right to it. ”

  I nodded grimly to that, and once more Nighteyes and I were on our way.

  7

  Farrow

  LADY PATIENCE, THE Lady of Buckkeep as she came to be called, rose to power in a unique fashion. She had been born into a noble family and was by birth a lady. She was raised to the loftier status of Queen-in-Waiting by her precipitous marriage to King-in-Waiting Chivalry. She never asserted herself in either position to take the power that birth and marriage had brought her. It was only when she was alone, almost abandoned as eccentric Lady Patience at Buckkeep, that she gathered to herself the reins of influence. She did it, as she had done everything else in her life, in a haphazard, quaint way that would have availed any other woman not at all.

  She did not call on noble family connections, or exert influential connections based on her deceased husband’s status. Instead she began with that lowest tier of power, the so-called men-at-arms, who were just as frequently women. Those few remaining of King Shrewd’s personal guard and Queen Kettricken’s guard had been left in the peculiar position of guardians with nothing left to guard. The Buckkeep Guard had been supplanted in their duties by the personal troops that Lord Bright brought with him from Farrow, and delegated to lesser tasks that involved the cleaning and maintenance of the keep. The former guards were erratically paid, had lost respect among and for themselves, and were too often idle or occupied with denigrating tasks. The Lady Patience, ostensibly because they were not otherwise busied, began to solicit their services. She began by requesting a guard when she abruptly began to ride out on her ancient palfrey, Silk. Afternoon rides gradually lengthened to all-day forays, and then to overnight visits to villages that had either been raided or feared raids. In the raided villages, she and her maid Lacey did what they could for the injured, logged down a tally of those slain or Forged, and provided, in the form of her guard, strong backs to aid in the clearing of rubble from the main streets and the raising of temporary shelter for folk left homeless. This, while not true work for fighters, was a sharp reminder of what they had been trained to fight against, and of what happened when there were no defenders. The gratitude of the folk they aided restored to the guard their pride and inner cohesiveness. In the unraided villages, the guard were a small show of force that Buckkeep and the Farseer pride still existed. In several villages and towns, makeshift stockades were raised where the folk could retreat from the Raiders and have a small chance of defending themselves.

  There is no record of Lord Bright’s feelings regarding Lady Patience’s forays. She never declared these expeditions in any official way. They were her pleasure rides, the guards that accompanied her had volunteered to do so, and likewise for the duties she put them to in the villages. Some, as she came to trust them, ran “errands” for her. Such errands might involve the distance carrying of messages to keeps in Rippon, Bearns, and even Shoaks, requesting news of how the coastal towns fared, and giving news of Buck; they took her runners into and through occupied territories and were fraught with danger. Her messengers often were given a sprig of the ivy she grew year-round in her rooms as a token to present to the recipients of her messages and support. Several ballads have been written about the so-called Ivy Runners, telling of the bravery and resourcefulness they showed, and reminding us that even the greatest walls must, in time, yield to the overclimbing ivy. Perhaps the most famous exploit was that of Pansy, the youngest runner. At the age of ele
ven, she traveled all the way to where the Duchess of Bearns was in hiding in the Ice Caves of Bearns, to bring her tidings of when and where a supply boat would beach. For part of that journey, Pansy traveled undiscovered amidst the sacks of grain in a wagon commandeered by the Raiders. From the very heart of a Raiders’ camp, she escaped to continue her mission, but only after she had set fire to the tent in which their leader slept in revenge for her Forged parents. Pansy did not live to be thirteen, but her deeds will be long remembered.

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  Others aided Patience in disposing of her jewelry and ancestral lands for coin, which she then employed “as she pleased, as was her right,” as she once informed Lord Bright. She bought grain and sheep from inland, and again her “volunteers” saw to its transport and distribution. Small supply boats brought hope to embattled defenders. She made token payments to stonemasons and carpenters who helped to rebuild ravaged villages. And she gave coin, not much but accompanied by her sincerest thanks, to those guards who volunteered to assist her.

  By the time the Ivy badge came into common usage among the Buckkeep Guard, it was only to acknowledge what was already a fact. These men and women were Lady Patience’s guard, paid by her when they were paid at all, but more important to them, valued and used by her, doctored by her when they were injured, and sharply defended by her acid tongue against any who spoke disparagingly of them. These were the foundation of her influence, and the basis of the strength she came to wield. “A tower seldom crumbles from the bottom up,” she told more than one, and claimed to have the saying from Prince Chivalry.

  We had slept well and our bellies were full. Without the need to hunt, we traveled the whole night. We stayed off the road, and were far more cautious than we had previously been, but no Forged ones did we encounter. A large white moon silvered us a path through the trees. We moved as one creature, scarcely even thinking, save to catalog the scents we encountered and the sounds we heard. The icy determination that had seized me infected Nighteyes as well. I would not carelessly trumpet to him my intention, but we could think of it without focusing on it. It was a different sort of hunting urge, driven by a different sort of hunger. That night we walked the miles away beneath the moon’s peering stare.

 
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