Assassins quest, p.3
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       Assassins Quest, p.3

         Part #3 of Farseer Trilogy series by Robin Hobb
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  Chade nodded to that. Then he smiled.

  Chade cleared the table of everything but the dish of water and some candles. “Come here,” he said to me softly, so I went back to the table. He sat me in his chair and put the dish in front of me. “Look in the water,” he told me. “Tell me what you see. ”

  I saw the water in the bowl. I saw the blue in the bottom of the bowl. Neither answer made him happy. He kept telling me to look again but I kept seeing the same things. He moved the candle several times, each time telling me to look again. Finally he said to Burrich, “Well, at least he answers when you speak to him now. ”

  Burrich nodded, but he looked discouraged. “Yes. Perhaps with time,” he said.

  I knew they were finished with me then, and I relaxed.

  Chade asked if he could stay the night with us. Burrich said of course. Then he went and fetched the brandy. He poured two cups. Chade drew my stool to the table and sat again. I sat and waited, but they began talking to one another again.

  “What about me?” I asked at last.

  They stopped talking and looked at me. “What about you?” Burrich asked.

  “Don’t I get any brandy?”

  They looked at me. Burrich asked carefully, “Do you want some? I didn’t think you liked it. ”

  “No, I don’t like it. I never liked it. ” I thought for a moment. “But it was cheap. ”

  Burrich stared at me. Chade smiled a small smile, looking down at his hands. Then Burrich got another cup and poured some for me. For a time they sat watching me, but I didn’t do anything. Eventually they began talking again. I took a sip of the brandy. It still stung my mouth and nose, but it made a warmth inside me. I knew I didn’t want any more. Then I thought I did. I drank some more. It was just as unpleasant. Like something Patience would force on me for a cough. No. I pushed that memory aside as well. I set the cup down.

  Burrich did not look at me. He went on talking to Chade. “When you hunt a deer, you can often get much closer to it simply by pretending not to see it. They will hold position and watch you approach and not stir a hoof as long as you do not look directly at them. ” He picked up the bottle and poured more brandy in my cup. I snorted at the rising scent of it. I thought I felt something stirring. A thought in my mind. I reached for my wolf.

  Nighteyes?

  My brother? I sleep, Changer. It is not yet a good time to hunt.

  Burrich glared at me. I stopped.

  I knew I did not want more brandy. But someone else thought that I did. Someone else urged me to pick up the cup, just to hold it. I swirled it in the cup. Verity used to swirl his wine in the cup and look into it. I looked into the dark cup.

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  Fitz.

  I set the cup down. I got up and walked around the room. I wanted to go out, but Burrich never let me go out alone, and not at all at night. So I walked around the room until I came back to my chair. I sat down in it again. The cup of brandy was still there. After a time I picked it up, just to make the feeling of wanting to pick it up go away. But once I held it in my hand, he changed it. He made me think about drinking it. How warm it felt in my belly. Just drink it quick, and the taste wouldn’t last long, just the warm, good feeling in my belly.

  I knew what he was doing. I was beginning to get angry.

  Just another small sip then. Soothingly. Whispery. Just to help you relax, Fitz. The fire is so warm, you’ve had food. Burrich will protect you. Chade is right there. You needn’t be on guard so much. Just another sip. One more sip.

  No.

  A tiny sip, then, just getting your mouth wet.

  I took another sip to make him stop making me want to. But he didn’t stop, so I took another. I took a mouthful and swallowed it. It was getting harder and harder to resist. He was wearing me down. And Burrich kept putting more in my cup.

  Fitz. Say, “Verity’s alive. ” That’s all. Say just that.

  No.

  Doesn’t the brandy feel nice in your belly? So warm. Take a little more.

  “I know what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to get me drunk. So I can’t keep you out. I won’t let you. ” My face was wet.

  Burrich and Chade were both looking at me. “He was never a crying drunk before,” Burrich observed. “At least, not around me. ” They seemed to find that interesting.

  Say it. Say, “Verity’s alive. ” Then I’ll let you go. I promise. Just say it. Just once. Even as a whisper. Say it. Say it.

  I looked down at the table. Very softly, I said, “Verity’s alive. ”

  “Oh?” said Burrich. He was too casual. He leaned too quickly to tip more brandy into my cup. The bottle was empty. He gave to me from his own cup.

  Suddenly I wanted it. I wanted it for myself. I picked it up and drank it all off. Then I stood up. “Verity’s alive,” I said. “He’s cold, but he’s alive. And that’s all I have to say. ” I went to the door and worked the latch and went out into the night. They didn’t try to stop me.

  Burrich was right. All of it was there, like a song one has heard too often and cannot get out of one’s mind. It ran behind all my thoughts and colored all my dreams. It came pushing back at me and gave me no peace. Spring ventured into summer. Old memories began to overlay my new ones. My lives began stitching themselves together. There were gaps and puckers in the joining, but it was getting harder and harder to refuse to know things. Names took on meanings and faces again. Patience, Lacey, Celerity, and Sooty were no longer simple words but rang as rich as chiming bells with memories and emotions. “Molly,” I finally said out loud to myself one day. Burrich looked up at me suddenly when I spoke that word, and nearly lost his grip on the fine-plaited gut snare line he was making. I heard him catch his breath as if he would speak to me, but instead he kept silent, waiting for me to say more. I did not. Instead I closed my eyes and lowered my face into my hands and longed for oblivion.

  I spent a lot of time standing at the window looking out over the meadow. There was nothing to see there. But Burrich did not stop me or make me go back to my chores as he once would have. One day, as I looked over the rich grass, I asked Burrich, “What are we going to do when the shepherds get here? Where will we go to live then?”

  “Think about it. ” He had pegged a rabbit hide to the floor and was scraping it clean of flesh and fat. “They won’t be coming. There are no flocks to bring up to summer pasture. Most of the good stock went inland with Regal. He plundered Buckkeep of everything he could cart or drive off. I’m willing to bet that any sheep he left in Buckkeep turned into mutton over the winter. ”

  “Probably,” I agreed. And then something pressed into my mind, something more terrible than all the things I knew and did not want to remember. It was all the things I did not know, all the questions that had been left unanswered. I went out to walk on the meadow. I went past the meadow, to the edge of the stream, and then down it, to the boggy part where the cattails grew. I gathered the green cattail spikes to cook with the porridge. Once more, I knew all the names of the plants. I did not want to, but I knew which ones would kill a man, and how to prepare them. All the old knowledge was there, waiting to reclaim me whether I would or no.

  When I came back in with the spikes, he was cooking the grain. I set them on the table and got a pot of water from the barrel. As I rinsed them off and picked them over, I finally asked, “What happened? That night?”

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  He turned very slowly to look at me, as if I were game that might be spooked off by sudden movement. “That night?”

  “The night King Shrewd and Kettricken were to escape. Why didn’t you have the scrub horses and the litter waiting?”

  “Oh. That night. ” He sighed out as if recalling old pain. He spoke very slowly and calmly, as if fearing to startle me. “They were watching us, Fitz. All the time. Regal knew everything. I couldn’t have smuggled an oat out of the stable th
at day, let alone three horses, a litter, and a mule. There were Farrow guards everywhere, trying to look as if they had just come down to inspect the empty stalls. I dared not go to you to tell you. So, in the end, I waited until the feasting had begun, until Regal had crowned himself and thought he had won. Then I slipped out and went for the only two horses I could get. Sooty and Ruddy. I’d hidden them at the smith’s, to make sure Regal couldn’t sell them off as well. The only food I could get was what I could pilfer from the guardroom. It was the only thing I could think to do. ”

  “And Queen Kettricken and the Fool got away on them. ” The names fell strangely off my tongue. I did not want to think of them, to recall them at all. When I had last seen the Fool, he had been weeping and accusing me of killing his king. I had insisted he flee in the King’s place, to save his life. It was not the best parting memory to carry of one I had called my friend.

  “Yes. ” Burrich brought the pot of porridge to the table and set it there to thicken. “Chade and the wolf guided them to me. I wanted to go with them, but I couldn’t. I’d only have slowed them down. My leg . . . I knew I couldn’t keep up with the horses for long, and riding double in that weather would have exhausted the horses. I had to just let them go. ” A silence. Then he growled, lower than a wolf’s growl, “If ever I found out who betrayed us to Regal . . . ”

  “I did. ”

  His eyes locked on mine, a look of horror and incredulity on his face. I looked at my hands. They were starting to tremble.

  “I was stupid. It was my fault. The Queen’s little maid, Rosemary. Always about, always underfoot. She must have been Regal’s spy. She heard me tell the Queen to be ready, that King Shrewd would be going with her. She heard me tell Kettricken to dress warmly. Regal would have to guess from that that she would be fleeing Buckkeep. He’d know she’d need horses. And perhaps she did more than spy. Perhaps she took a basket of poisoned treats to an old woman. Perhaps she greased a stair tread she knew her queen would soon descend. ”

  I forced myself to look up from the spikes, to meet Burrich’s stricken gaze. “And what Rosemary did not overhear, Justin and Serene did. They were leeched onto the King, sucking Skill-strength out of him, and privy to every thought he Skilled to Verity, or had from him. Once they knew what I was doing, serving as King’s Man, they began to Skill-spy on me as well. I did not know such a thing could be done. But Galen had discovered how, and taught it to his students. You remember Will, Hostler’s son? The coterie member? He was the best at it. He could make you believe he wasn’t even there when he was. ”

  I shook my head, tried to rattle from it my terrifying memories of Will. He brought back the shadows of the dungeon, the things I still refused to recall. I wondered if I had killed him. I didn’t think so. I didn’t think I’d got enough poison into him. I looked up to find Burrich watching me intently.

  “That night, at the very last moment, the King refused to go,” I told him quietly. “I had thought of Regal as a traitor so long, I had forgotten that Shrewd would still see him as a son. What Regal did, taking Verity’s crown when he knew his brother was alive . . . King Shrewd didn’t want to go on living, knowing Regal was capable of that. He asked me to be King’s Man, to lend him the strength to Skill a farewell to Verity. But Serene and Justin were waiting. ” I paused, new pieces of the puzzle falling into place. “I should have known it was too easy. No guards on the King. Why? Because Regal didn’t need them. Because Serene and Justin were leeched onto him. Regal was finished with his father. He had crowned himself King-in-Waiting; there was no more good to be had out of Shrewd for him. So they drained King Shrewd dry of Skill-strength. They killed him. Before he could even bid Verity farewell. Probably Regal had told them to be sure he did not Skill to Verity again. So then I killed Serene and Justin. I killed them the same way they had killed my king. Without a chance of fighting back, without a moment of mercy. ”

  “Easy. Easy now. ” Burrich crossed swiftly to me, put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me down in a chair. “You’re shaking as if you’re going into a seizure. Calm yourself. ”

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  I could not speak.

  “This is what Chade and I could not puzzle out,” Burrich told me. “Who had betrayed our plan? We thought of everyone. Even the Fool. For a time we feared we had sent Kettricken off in the care of a traitor. ”

  “How could you think that? The Fool loved King Shrewd as no one else did. ”

  “We could think of no one else who knew all our plans,” Burrich said simply.

  “It was not the Fool who was our downfall. It was I. ” And that, I think, was the moment when I came fully back to myself. I had said the most unsayable thing, faced my most unfaceable truth. I had betrayed them all. “The Fool warned me. He said I would be the death of kings, if I did not learn to leave things alone. Chade warned me. He tried to make me promise I would set no more wheels in motion. But I would not. So my actions killed my king. If I had not been helping him to Skill, he would not have been so open to his killers. I opened him up, reaching for Verity. But those two leeches came in instead. The King’s assassin. Oh, in so many, many ways, Shrewd. I am so sorry, my king. So sorry. But for me, Regal would have had no reason to kill you. ”

  “Fitz. ” Burrich’s voice was firm. “Regal never needed a reason to kill his father. He needed only to run out of reasons to keep him alive. And you had no control over that. ” A sudden frown creased his brow. “Why did they kill him right then? Why did they not wait until they had the Queen as well?”

  I smiled at him. “You saved her. Regal thought he had the Queen. They thought they’d stopped us when they kept you from getting horses out of the stables. Regal even bragged of it to me, when I was in my cell. That she’d had to leave with no horses. And with no warm winter things. ”

  Burrich grinned hard. “She and the Fool took what had been packed for Shrewd. And they left on two of the best horses ever to come out of Buckkeep’s stables. I’ll wager they got to the Mountains safely, boy. Sooty and Rud are probably grazing in Mountain pastures now. ”

  It was too thin a comfort. That night I went out and ran with the wolf, and Burrich made no rebuke to me. But we could not run far enough, nor fast enough, and the blood we shed that night was not the blood I wished to see run, nor could the hot fresh meat fill the void inside me.

  So I remembered my life and who I had been. As the days passed, Burrich and I began to speak openly as friends again. He gave over his dominance of me, but not without mockingly expressing his regrets for that. We recalled our old ways with one another, old ways of laughing together, old ways of disagreeing. But as things steadied between us and became normal, we were both reminded, all the more sharply, of all we no longer had.

  There was not enough work in a day to busy Burrich. This was a man who had had full authority over all of Buckkeep’s stables and the horses, hounds, and hawks that inhabited them. I watched him invent tasks to fill the hours, and knew how much he pined for the beasts he had overseen for so long. I missed the bustle and folk of court, but hungered most keenly for Molly. I invented conversations I would have had with her, gathered meadowsweet and daysedge flowers because they smelled like her, and lay down at night recalling the touch of her hand on my face. But these were not the things we spoke of. Instead, we put our pieces together to make a whole, of sorts. Burrich fished and I hunted, there were hides to scrape, shirts to wash and mend, water to haul. It was a life. He tried to speak to me, once, of how he had come to see me in the dungeon, to bring me the poison. His hands worked with small twitching motions as he spoke of how he had had to walk away, to leave me inside that cell. I could not let him go on. “Let’s go fishing,” I suddenly proposed. He took a deep breath and nodded. We went fishing and spoke no more that day.

  But I had been caged, and starved, and beaten to death. From time to time, when he looked at me, I knew he saw the scars. I shaved around the seam down my cheek, and wa
tched the hair grow in white above my brow where my scalp had been split. We never spoke about it. I refused to think about it. But no man could have come through that unchanged.

  I began to dream at night. Short vivid dreams, frozen moments of fire, searing pain, hopeless fear. I awoke, cold sweat sleeking my hair, queasy with fear. Nothing remained of those dreams when I sat up in darkness, not the tiniest thread by which I could unravel them. Only the pain, the fear, the anger, the frustration. But above all, the fear. The overwhelming fear that left me shaking and gulping for air, my eyes tearing, sour bile up the back of my throat.

  The first time it happened, the first time I sat bolt upright with a wordless cry, Burrich rolled from his bed, to put his hand on my shoulder, to ask if I was all right. I shoved him away from me so savagely he crashed into the table and nearly overset it. Fear and anger crested into an instant of fury when I would have killed him simply because he was where I could reach him. At that moment I rejected and despised myself so completely that I desired only to destroy everything that was me, or bordered on myself. I repelled savagely at the entire world, almost displacing my own consciousness. Brother, brother, brother, Nighteyes yelped desperately within me, and Burrich staggered back with an inarticulate cry. After a moment I could swallow and mutter to Burrich, “A nightmare, that was all. Sorry. I was still dreaming, just a nightmare. ”

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  “I understand,” he said brusquely, and then, more thoughtfully, “I understand. ” He went back to his bed. But I knew what he understood was that he could not help me with this, and that was all.

  The nightmares did not come every night, but often enough to leave me dreading my bed. Burrich pretended to sleep through them, but I was aware of him lying awake as I fought my night battles alone. I had no recollection of the dreams, only the wrenching terror they brought me. I had felt fear before. Often. Fear when I had fought Forged ones, fear when we had battled Red Ship warriors, fear when I had confronted Serene. Fear that warned, that spurred, that gave one the edge to stay alive. But the night fear was an unmanning terror, a hope that death would come and end it, because I was broken and knew I would give them anything rather than face more pain.

 
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