Fools assassin, p.39
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       Fools Assassin, p.39
 

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

  I chalked my paths through my warren, and swept cobwebs and mouse droppings to one side. I hung bunches of the fragrant herbs along my path to my little chamber, so that even in full darkness I could scent the way. I quickly memorized it, but never forgot that terrifying night.

  I found that the warren of paths in the walls was more extensive than my father had told me. I wondered if he knew and had lied to me, or if the openings were so small that he had dismissed them. I had to set exploring aside for another time. I had many old Dreams to record, and each writing must be as detailed as I could wring from my memory. I wrote my dream of the flying buck and the one about the tapestry with the tall ancient kings with golden eyes. It took six pages for me to write my dream about the fish-white boy in the boat with no oars and how he sold himself as a slave. I wrote a dream I’d had of my father cutting open his chest and taking out his heart and pressing it into a stone until there was no blood left in it.

  I did not understand the dreams I wrote down but I thought that one day someone might, and so I recorded them. I wrote until my fingers were all colors of ink and my hands ached abominably. I stole more paper and wrote some more.

  And at night, when I put myself to bed, I read. My mother had owned three books that were completely hers. One was the herbal that Patience had given her. It was one that my father had given to Patience, and I believe she had sent it to Molly when they both believed he was dead. The other was a book of flowers and the third was a book on bees. This she had written herself, and it was not a proper book or scroll but a collection of pages bound together with ribbon laced through punched holes. It was more her journal of her hives than anything else, and it was my favorite. From the first pages to the last, I watched her lettering and her spelling become more certain, and her observations more acute as she increased her knowledge of the craft. I read it over and over, and promised myself that by spring I would tend her hives better.

  Patience had spent her lifetime acquiring books and manuscripts. Many had been pilfered from the library at Buckkeep Castle. Some were very expensive books, bound with covers of oak and straps of leather and silver studs, gifts given in the hope of winning influence with her when Chivalry had been King-in-Waiting and everyone had presumed that one day she would be Queen Patience. There were not many of these lovely volumes. Most of them she had sold off during the dark days of the war against the Red-Ship Raiders. Those that remained were heavy and sadly boring, being mostly historical accounts of exaggerated glory of previous Farseer royalty, tales written more to curry favor than to educate. In many places Patience had written scathingly skeptical notes about the veracity of what she was reading. Often they made me giggle uncontrollably: it was a glimpse into her that no one else had shared with me. Her notes were fading, so I renewed them in black ink as I found them.

  Patience’s own books were a far more eclectic and battered collection. There was a book on horseshoeing and smithing, with notes in Patience’s hand about her own experiments. There were books on butterflies and birds and famous highwaymen and legends of sea monsters. There was an old vellum on the managing of pecksies and how to bind them so that they must do all your housework, and a set of little scrolls on distilling and flavoring spirits. There were three old tablets, much worn, on ways a woman might make herself fecund.

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  But I quickly discovered that they were not the most interesting books in Withywoods. The most fascinating ones were the ones hidden and forgotten. In Patience’s disorderly old study, I found her bundled letters. The oldest, in a box with blossoms so old they had lost all color and fragrance, were tied up with a strand of leather. They were heartfelt missives from a young man of great passion and greater restraint, promising her that he would make something of himself and acquire a fortune and a reputation that might make up for his lack of noble birth. He begged her to wait until he could come to her father and claim honorably the right to court her. The last one was much crumpled and stained as if a girl had wept over it often. In it, he was chiding her for wanting to run off with him regardless of what it might do to her reputation or how it would break her father’s heart. I puzzled out that they had been seen sharing a kiss and young Lady Patience was being whisked off to visit Bingtown and Jamaillia with relatives, to benefit from exposure to art and culture and to separate her from ardent young stable hands. Lady Patience would be gone the better part of two years. The young man promised her that he would wait for her, that he would continue to think of her and work hard. He had heard there was a call for soldiers, hard work but much better pay. While she was away, he would seek his fortune and acquire what they needed for him to stand proudly before her father and beg to rightfully court her.

  The next set of letters were dated some four years later and were from Prince Chivalry, begging her pardon for being so presumptuous as to send her such a personal gift on such a brief acquaintanceship but that he could not help himself, the tiny gold earrings were almost as delicate and graceful as she was. And would she allow him to call on her soon?

  The next five letters were equally apologetic for his continuing gifts and missives, each with an invitation for her to travel to Buckkeep Castle and join him for a feast or a hunt or a special performance by Jamaillian acrobats. I did not possess her replies but judged that she had rebuffed him over and over.

  I knew the day on which her heart warmed toward him. He wrote that he saw no reason why a young lady should not be fascinated by iron smithing and that he hoped the scrolls and small anvil and tools he was sending to her would aid her in following that interest. His next letter expressed undying gratitude for the spoon she had sent him as evidence of her new skill. He declared it his treasure and said he was sending her some excellent iron ingots from Forge to further experiment with.

  Their letters after that became more frequent and eventually so romantic that my interest in them waned. It was intriguing to ponder that the first set of love letters was from Burrich, who raised my father and later wed my mother, raising my sister as if she were his own child and fathering six boys of his own with her. So his first love had been Lady Patience, wife to my grandfather? And later he had raised my father, before marrying my mother? The contorted branches of my family tree dizzied and fascinated me. And that fascination led to pilfering more scrolls from my father’s study.

  I did not begin with the intention of spying upon him. It was my quest for good paper that led me to take a dozen sheets of the precious stuff from his supply. Only after I was safely in my hidey-hole with it did I discover that the top sheet alone was blank. Evidently my father had set a clean sheet down on a stack of written ones. I gathered them up to return them to his desk but my eyes snagged on his clean, firm penmanship and I soon found myself drawn into his tale.

  It was a simple account of an incident in his childhood. At the time I recall that I wondered why he had written it down. He obviously recalled it clearly; why bother to record it on paper? Only later was I to learn from my own obsessive journaling of my dreams that sometimes the best way to understand something is to write it down. His account began with him musing on friendships, on how they begin and how they end, and also on friendships that never happened or perhaps never should have happened. Then he recounted his tale.

  It was a simple incident that he recorded, but in his meticulous fashion he had noted that it happened at the hour when the dew had burned off the gardens at Buckkeep but the sun had not yet warmed them. My father and his dog named Nosy were sneaking away from the castle to follow the steep wooded path that went down to Buckkeep Town. He was shirking his chores to do so, and already felt guilty, but longing to see children of his own age and have some time to play had conquered his dread of the chastisement he’d get for absenting himself.

  As he was leaving the gardens he happened to look back and saw another youngster sitting on top of the wall looking down on him. “Pale as an egg, and as fragile looking. ” The boy
sat cross-legged, his elbows on his knees and his cheeks in his long-fingered hands as he stared down at my father. My father had felt with great certainty that the boy longed to leap down and follow them. He suspected that if he had so much as smiled or tossed his head, he would have joined him.

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  But he did not. He was still the New Boy in the gaggle of town children that he ran with, and barely sure of his acceptance there. To bring another stranger with him, especially one so pale and odd, dressed in the motley of a jester, would risk all he had gained. He feared then that he either would have been excluded along with the pale fellow or, worse, would have had to choose between defending him from a beating and joining in with fists and feet to prove he was one with his new friends. And so he had turned his back and hurried on with his dog and left the pale boy perched there.

  I lifted the last sheet, expecting to find more of the story, but there were only a few smudged words there, the ink so run with water that I could not read what he had begun to write. I restacked his pages and tapped them into alignment. The ink on the pages was dark and new; this was something he had written not years ago, but days at most. And so he would probably look for it soon, perhaps to finish it, and discover it missing. That might be disastrous for me.

  And yet I could not resist the urge to read it over again before I crept back to his study to return it and filch more paper. But that was not all I took.

  I had always known that my father spent time almost every evening with pen and ink. I had always assumed that it had to do with the estate accounts, keeping track of wages paid and how many sheep were sheared and how many lambs born in the spring and what the grape harvest had been like. Indeed, when I later explored his ordinary study, that was what I found in his papers. But here, in his private study, was quite a different assortment of writing. I was certain it was writing that he had never expected to share with anyone.

  My mother was a pragmatic reader, given only to deciphering texts that had some use to her. She had come to letters late in her life, and though she had mastered them, they had never become her good friends. So doubtless my father would have judged her unlikely to pore over his papers. Nor were most of our servants lettered folk, save Revel; my father did not employ a clerk to keep the accounts or write his correspondence, preferring to do that for himself. And his private study was not an area where the servants tidied or came and went at all. My father kept its disorder to a level he found tolerable, and no one else ventured in.

  Except for me.

  And so his private writings were hidden in plain sight. I did not take many, only a handful, and those from the dustiest shelves. I restored the ones I had taken by accident to his stack of papers and then absconded with this new supply of fascinating reading. I began to do this as an everyday exercise, reading, replacing, and stealing more. It opened a window onto my father’s life that I otherwise would never have glimpsed.

  I sensed that I had picked up his tale in the middle, for the earliest journals were musings on coming to Withywoods and taking up residence with my mother. He recounted how he presented himself as Lady Molly’s husbandman, a commoner born and simply the caretaker of Lady Nettle’s estate. It explained to me why they had chosen to live so simply; he was still hiding from any who might suspect that FitzChivalry Farseer had not died in Prince Regal’s dungeons, but had risen from his grave and become Tom Badgerlock. That was a tale I discerned in bits and pieces from his writing. I suspected that somewhere, perhaps in Buckkeep Castle, there was a full accounting of that portion of his life. I longed to know why he had been put to death and how he had survived, and a thousand other things about him. I discovered, in bits, that Nettle was indeed my full sister. That was a revelation. My father, I quickly saw, was not the man I had thought he was. The lies and deceptions cloaked and covered him in so many layers that it woke fear in me. To discover that all I thought I knew about both my parents was based on falsehoods and deliberate deceptions shook me.

  If he was FitzChivalry Farseer, firstborn son of a king who had abdicated the throne, then who was I? Princess Bee? Or simply Bee Badgerlock, daughter of the stepfather of Lady Nettle? Snatches of overheard conversations between my parents, thoughts my mother had had while pregnant with me, comments from Nettle all began to fall into order and make an astonishing sense.

  I had just returned to my bedchamber late on the third day of my discovery about my father. I had exited from my little den via the entrance in the pantry and, in the dark, crept up the stairs and regained the safety of my room. I had dared to take one of my father’s documents with me. He had noted on the top that it was a fresh copy of an old manuscript. It was titled Instructing Potential Skill-Students in Guarding One’s Mind. Lately, he had had some rather strange material on his desk. There had been a written copy of a song called “Crossfire’s Coterie. ” And a manuscript about mushrooms with lovely painted illustrations. I was trying to read the one on guarding the mind when I heard my father’s tap at my door. I dived onto my bed, pushed the paper under my pillow, and burrowed hastily under my blankets. As he opened the door, I turned toward him slowly as if roused from sleep.

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  “I’m sorry, dear. I know it’s late. ” He gave a small sigh and then lied, “I’m sorry I’ve had so little time for you in the past few days. There’s been a great deal to do to get ready for our cousin, and it has made me realize how far behind I am on the upkeep of the house. But tomorrow is the day that Shun will arrive. So I wanted to talk to you tonight, to see if you had any questions. ”

  I studied his face for a moment in the flickering light from the hearth fire. I dared myself. I spoke. “Actually, I do. I wondered what about my dream made you so angry. ”

  For a short time, he just looked at me. His eyes weren’t angry, I saw, but full of pain. Was that why he had been avoiding me? I could almost feel him thinking about whether he would lie or not. Then he said quietly, “Your dream made me think of someone I knew a long time ago. He was a very pale man, and he often had peculiar dreams. And when he was a child, he wrote his dreams down, just as you said you would do. ”

  I watched his face, waiting. He lifted his hand, covering his mouth as he rubbed his bearded cheeks. Perhaps he was thinking, but to me he looked as if he were holding words in. He sighed again, heavily. “We were very good friends for a long, long time. We did hard things for each other. Risked our lives. Gave up our lives and faced death, and then faced life again. You might be surprised to find that facing life can be much harder than facing death. ” He stopped talking and was silent for a time, thinking about something. When he blinked and looked back at me, he seemed almost surprised to see me. He took a deep breath. “Well. So when you said you had a dream with a pale man in it, and that he was dead, well … it was alarming. ” He looked away from me, to a shadowy corner of the room. “I was a bit silly to take it so seriously, I admit. So. Let’s talk about your cousin coming, shall we?”

  I shrugged. I was still mulling over his answer. “I don’t think I’ll have any questions about her until I’ve met her. Except … what is she going to help you do?”

  “Oh, well, that isn’t quite decided yet. ” He smiled evasively. I think the smile would have fooled anyone who did not know him as well as I did. “We’ll get to know her, and see what she’s good at doing, and then give those sorts of things to her to do,” he added brightly.

  “Does she do beekeeping?” I asked in sudden alarm. When spring came, I did not want anyone except myself to touch my mother’s dormant hives.

  “No. I’m quite sure of that. ” My father sounded as emphatic in his response as I had been. I felt a sense of relief. He came and sat on the foot of my bed. It was a very large bed; it still felt as if he were across the room. My mother would have sat down beside me, close enough to touch me. Gone. The thought blew cold through me again. My father looked as if he felt that same chill wind, but he d
id not move closer to me.

  “What happened to your pale friend?”

  He flinched and then pasted a casual smile on his face. He shrugged stiffly. “He went away. ”

  “Where?”

  “Back to the place where he had first come from. A land far to the south of here. Clerres, he called it. I don’t know exactly where. He never told me. ”

  I thought for a time. “Did you send him a message to say you missed him?”

  He laughed. “Moppet, you have to know where a letter must go in order to send it. ”

  I hadn’t meant a letter. I meant that other kind of reaching out that he and my sister did. Since he had started holding himself inside his own mind, I heard far less of it than I once had. And ever since I had felt it tug at me and try to shred me away into nothing, I’d always hung back from trying to understand it. I’d felt him do it a dozen times at least in the last few days, but hadn’t really known to whom he reached or what he conveyed. Not his pale friend, though.

  “Will he come back someday?” I wondered out loud. Would he come and take my father away from me?

  My father fell into that stillness again. Then he slowly shook his head. “I don’t think so. I think if he was going to come back or send me a letter, he would have done it by now. He told me before he left that the work he and I were to do was done, and that if he stayed near me, we might accidentally undo it. And that would mean that all we had gone through would have been for naught. ”

  I tried to put this together in my mind. “Like the puppeteers’ mistake. ”

  “What?”

  “That time the puppeteers came in the storm and Mother let them in. Remember? They set up a little stage in the Great Hall and even though they were very tired, they put on a show for us. ”

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  “I do remember that. But what was the mistake?”

 
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