Fools assassin, p.69
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       Fools Assassin, p.69
 

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

  “Back to bed,” I told him. “If you eat and rest for a few days, perhaps we can begin small healings to set you back on the path to health. ”

  He stirred and when I took his arm, he tottered to his feet. “As soon as we can, please begin. I must get stronger, Fitz. I must live and I must defeat them. ”

  “Well. Let’s begin by getting a night’s sleep,” I suggested to him.

  I guided him back to the bed and saw him well covered. I tried to be quiet as I tidied the room and added wood to the fire. I refilled my brandy cup. It was blackberry brandy, and of a much better quality than I’d ever been able to afford when I was a youngster. Nonetheless, the lingering taste of berries and blossoms put me in mind of those days. I sank down into Chade’s chair with a sigh and stretched out my feet toward the fire.

  “Fitz?”

  “I’m here. ”

  “You haven’t asked me why I came back. Why I came seeking you. ” His voice was drenched with weariness.

  “The messenger said you were looking for your son. Your unexpected son. ”

  “Without much hope, I fear. I dreamed I had found him, there in that market town. ” He shook his head. His voice sank low. I strained to hear his words. “He is what they want. The Servants. They thought I knew he existed. For quite a time they questioned me, trying to wring from me a secret I did not know. And when finally they told me, plainly, what they sought, I still knew nothing of him. They didn’t believe that, of course. Over and over, they demanded to know where he was and who had borne him. For years, I insisted it was impossible. I even asked them, ‘If such a child existed, would I leave him?’ But they were so certain, I came to believe they must be right. ”

  He fell silent. I wondered if he had fallen asleep. How could he, in the midst of such a harrowing tale? When he spoke again, his voice was thick. “They believed I lied to them. That is when they … took me. ” He stopped speaking. I heard how he fought for a steady voice when he said, “When first we returned, they honored Prilkop and me. There were long evenings of feasting and they encouraged us, over and over, to tell every moment of what we had seen and done. Scribes took it all down. It … it went to my head, Fitz. To be so honored and praised. Prilkop was more reserved. Then one day, he was gone. They told me he had decided to visit the place of his birth. But as months passed, I began to suspect that something was wrong. ” He coughed and cleared his throat. “I hope he escaped or is dead. It’s terrible to imagine they have him still. But that is when their endless questioning of me began. And then, after they revealed what they sought and I still had no answers for them, they took me one night from my apartments. And the torment began. At first, it was not so bad. They insisted I knew, and that if I fasted long enough or endured cold long enough, I would remember something, a dream or an event. So I began to believe them. I tried to remember. But that was when I first sent messengers out, to warn those who might know to hide such a child until I came for him. ”

  A mystery solved. The missive sent to Jofron and her wariness of me all made sense now.

  “I thought I had been so discreet. But they found out. ” He sniffed. “They took me back to where they had been holding me. And they brought me food and drink and asked me nothing. But I could hear what they did to those who had aided me. Oh, Fitz. They were scarcely more than children!” He choked suddenly and then wept harshly. I wanted to go to him but I had no comfort for him. And I knew that he wanted no sympathetic words or kindly touch just then. He wanted nothing of what he had not been able to give to those victims. So I wiped the tears silently from my own cheeks and waited.

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  He coughed at last and said in a strained voice, “Still. There were those who stayed loyal to me. From time to time they would get a message to me, to let me know that another two had escaped and set out to warn my friends. I wanted to tell them to stop, but I had no way to respond to their messages. The Servants began on me in earnest in those years. Times of pain followed by periods of isolation. Starvation, cold, the relentless light and heat of the sun, and then such clever torture. ”

  He stopped talking. I knew his story was not finished, but I thought he had told me as much as he could bear to now. I stayed where I was, listening to the flames, to a log settling in the fire. There were no windows in this chamber but I heard the distant howl of wind past the chimney top and knew that the storm had risen again.

  The Fool began whispering. It took a short time for my hearing to sort his words from the storm wind. “… believed them. He existed, somewhere. They stopped asking me questions about him, but they kept on hurting me. When they stopped that … I suspected the Servants had found him. I didn’t know if they would keep him to use, or destroy him to thwart him from changing the world. If they did or didn’t, they’d never tell me. Funny. So many years ago, I sent to you to find my son for me. And one of those messengers was the one to get through. Too late to save my son. Years too late. ” His voice was running down, draining off into sleep.

  I spoke softly, not wanting to wake him if he was asleep but too curious to contain my question. “Years ago, you gave up? The messenger took years to reach me?”

  “Years,” he said wearily. “Years ago, when I still had hope. When I still believed the Servants could be shown a better way. If I could get to the boy first. ” His voice fell silent. I stared into the flames, and Bee came into my thoughts. She’d be asleep in her bed by now. Sometime tomorrow afternoon, if the pigeons flew swiftly, Revel would let her know that a bird had arrived and that I was safe at Buckkeep. I should take paper tonight and write her a letter and send it by messenger. I needed to explain to her why I’d left her so suddenly and that I might be gone longer than I’d first expected. I toyed with the idea of sending for her. Every child should experience a Winterfest at Buckkeep Castle! But then I realized she could not possibly arrive in time for that. I also could not think of anyone I’d trust enough to take her on the long winter journey from Withywoods to Buckkeep. Next year, I promised myself. Next year, we’d leave Withywoods in plenty of time and ride to Buckkeep Castle, just her and me.

  The plan gave me such pleasure until I suddenly thought of the Fool and his unexpected son in that context. He had never known his child. Did that mean he had never dreamed of sharing things with him? I spoke to the fire. “The messenger couldn’t tell me where to look for the child. And I had no idea of how old the boy might be. ”

  “Nor did I. Nor where. Only that there were so many, many prophecies that seemed to speak of such a child. The Servants seemed so sure that such a child must exist. They asked me in every way they could imagine. They would not believe I did not know of such a child. They would not believe I could no longer see where or who such a child might be. ” He groaned suddenly and moved abruptly in the bed. “It has been so long … my belly. Oh. ” He coiled briefly and then rolled to the edge of the bed. “Is there a garderobe in this chamber?” he asked desperately.

  His stomach made terrible noises as I guided him to the narrow door. He remained inside for so long that I began to be concerned for him. Then the door opened and he groped his way out. I took his arm and guided him back to the bed. He crawled weakly onto the bed and I covered him. For a time, he simply breathed. Then he said, “Maybe there never was such a son. That is my desperate hope. That he never existed, so they never found him, never destroyed him, never took him as their gamepiece. ” He groaned again and shifted restlessly on the bed. “Fitz?”

  “I’m right here. Do you want anything? Brandy? Water?”

  “No. Thank you. ”

  “Go to sleep. You need rest. Tomorrow, we will both be more intelligent about what you eat. I have to build you up before the coterie can attempt a healing. ”

  “I’m stronger than I look. Stronger now than when you found me. ”

  “Perhaps. But I no longer take risks unless I must. ”

  A long silence. The brandy and the food were
affecting me. The weariness of the day suddenly wrapped me. I walked to the other side of the bed and kicked off my boots. I shed my outer garments and burrowed into the big bed beside the Fool. The featherbed was deep and soft. I shouldered deeper into it and closed my eyes.

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  “Fitz. ”

  “What?”

  “Would you kill for me?”

  I didn’t need to think about it. “Yes. If I had to. But you’re safe here, Fool. The stout walls of Buckkeep Castle are all around you. And I am at your side. No one knows where you are. Sleep without fear. ”

  “Would you kill for me if I asked you to?”

  Was his mind wandering that he had repeated his question? I spoke soothingly. “You wouldn’t have to ask me to. If someone were threatening you, I’d kill him. Simple as that. ” I didn’t tell him to go to sleep. It isn’t that easy, after you’ve experienced torture. There were still nights when I woke with a jolt, thinking myself back in Regal’s dungeon. The smallest thing could trigger a sudden rush of terror: the smell of a certain kind of charcoal, a creak like a rope tightening, a clang that sounded like a cell door slamming. Even just the dark. Just being alone. In the dark, I reached out and set my hand on his shoulder. “You’re safe. I’ll keep watch if you want me to. ”

  “No. ” He reached up and put his bony hand on top of mine. The logs in the fire crackled softly and I listened to him breathe. He spoke again.

  “That isn’t what I meant. It’s the message I sent with the last four messengers. The favor I hated to ask. I was ashamed to ask it, ashamed to ask anything of you after I had used you so mercilessly. But there was no one else I could ask, anywhere. I tried to do it myself. They’d stopped questioning me. They’d begun to leave me alone. And one day they were careless. Perhaps. I escaped. I thought I escaped. I found friends and took shelter and rested. I knew what I had to do. Knew what must be done, and I prepared for it as well as I could. And I tried. But they were expecting me. They caught me and the ones who had given me shelter and aid. They took me back and that time, they didn’t bother with finesse or questions. Just brutality. Breaking my bones. Taking my sight. ”

  “What had you done?” My breath felt short.

  “I tried and botched it badly. They mocked me. They told me I’d always fail. But you wouldn’t. You’d know how. You had all the training. And you were good at it. ”

  The warmth of the bed could not dispel the chill that was building in me. I shifted away but his hand suddenly gripped mine, tight as death. “You were good at it, once. At killing people. Chade trained you and you were good at it. ”

  “Good at killing people,” I said in a wooden voice. Those words did not make sense when I said them aloud. Good at creating death. A silence thicker than darkness separated us.

  He spoke again. Desperation filled his voice. “I hate to ask it. I know you have set it out of your life. But I must. When I am rested, when I explain it to you, you will understand. They have to be stopped, and only death will do it. There is only you between them and what they would do. Only you. ”

  I did not speak. He was not himself. The Fool would never have asked this of me. He was blinded and ill and in pain. He had lived in terrible fear. He still feared. But he was safe now. As he became better, his mind would clear. He’d be himself again. He’d apologize. If he even remembered this conversation.

  “Please, Fitz. Please. They must be killed. It’s the only way to stop them. ” He took in a painful gasp of air. “Fitz, would you assassinate them? All of them. Put an end to them and the horrible things they are doing?” He paused and added the words I’d dreaded hearing. “Please. For me. ”

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  The Raid

  According to the locals, only once in each generation is a true White Prophet born. Often enough, the child is born into a family that had no awareness that they carried such blood in their veins. If the family is in a region where the White Prophets are venerated, there is rejoicing and celebration. The wondrous child is raised at home until he or she is ten years of age. At that time, the family makes a pilgrimage to the Pale Isle, thought to have been the homeland of the White folk and now the location of the Servants of the Archives, those who dedicate themselves to the preservation of the records and prophecies of the White Prophets. There the child will be greeted with joy and taken into their custody.

  It is said that every dream the child relates will be recorded there. Until his twentieth year, he is prohibited from reading any of the preserved prophecies of other White Prophets, lest their information taint the purity of his vision. When he attains his twentieth birthday, his education in the Archives begins.

  Then this traveler was told the sad tale of a White infant born in a distant village where folk had no knowledge of the White Prophets. When the time for a new White Prophet to be born had passed with no such child being reported, the Servants of the Archives undertook to read for themselves all prophecies that might relate to such a lack. Their research led them to send messengers to that remote region, looking for the child. They came back with a tale of a pale child deemed a freak and an idiot, left to starve in his cradle.

  Page 258

 

  Shakerloom’s Travels, Repple Shakerloom

  We returned to Withywoods in the dark and cold. FitzVigilant was not as good a driver as my father or Riddle. The horses knew the way home, but he did not keep the wheels of the wagon in the ruts as my father did, so they rubbed up against the edges of the banked snow and lurched or sawed along. In the darkness and with the road hidden under the ever-deepening snow, I am sure driving the team was more difficult than it looked. I huddled under some blankets in the back of the wagon, worrying about my father, and wondering about the beggar and wishing we were already home. I was very tired and rather miserable at how quickly I’d been abandoned. It did not help that all the way home, Shun and FitzVigilant huddled together on the wagon seat, well bundled in lap robes, and conversed in low, outraged tones about all that had happened in town. They spoke of my father and Riddle in a way that made it seem they thought me deaf, or dismissed my feelings as unimportant.

  They’d seen the incident with the dog, but had hung back to avoid whatever sort of trouble it might bring them. Shun fervently hoped that no gossip in Oaksbywater would connect her to the madman that Tom Badgerlock had become over a dog. She had been humiliated enough by how he had spoken to her in the tavern, in front of everyone! FitzVigilant could not make sense of what my father and Riddle had done regarding the beggar, not why nor how, and that seemed to offend both of them most of all. That they’d been left out of any detailed explanation seemed incredibly rude to them, yet that entire long ride back from Gallows Hill they spoke not a word to me. As we jolted slowly homeward, the cold took me in its fist and squeezed me ever tighter. I kept falling into an uncomfortable sleep and then being jolted out of it.

  By the time we reached the estate, I was half-sick from the lurching and bumping. I woke a final time when FitzVigilant pulled the horses in before the tall doors of the manor house and jumped down shouting for a stable boy. He handed Shun down carefully and told her to hurry into the house and get warm. She wondered aloud why there was no servant waiting on the steps with a lantern to guide her. FitzVigilant agreed that the staff was very lax indeed and needed training. They had known we would return that night. They should have been waiting.

  The falling snow had added damp weight to the blankets that had covered me. My muscles were reluctant to move from sitting still and yet not still from the wagon’s lurching. I was struggling to get out from under my coverings as FitzVigilant came to the back of the wagon. “Come here, Bee,” he said.

  “I’m trying,” I replied. He huffed impatiently, seized the edge of one wrap, and dragged them all off me, sending the mounded cold snow cascading over me. I gasped at the shock, and tried in vain not to let it become a sob. He looked appalled at what he
had done to me but spoke sternly. “Now, don’t be a baby. It’s just snow. We’re all tired and cold, but we’re home. Come here, and we’ll get you into the house and warmed up. ”

  I didn’t reply. The sharp motion of the blanket had overset my market bag. I felt about in the darkness, trying to gather my precious purchases from the dark wagon bed. They were scattered everywhere now, under snow and the hodgepodge of blankets he had dropped. He probably could not see what I was doing as he said, “Come now, Bee, or I’ll leave you here. ”

  I found a breath and pushed some words out. “I don’t care. Please go. ”

  “I mean it!”

  I didn’t respond, and after standing for a silent moment he turned and stalked toward the house. A stable boy had come with a lantern, and was standing by to take the wagon and team on to the stables to be unharnessed. He cleared his throat.

  “I’m trying to hurry,” I said in a choked voice.

  “You don’t need to hurry,” he said, and suddenly it was Perseverance. He lifted the lantern higher, and both light and shadows filled the wagon bed.

  “I just need to find the things Papa bought for me,” I said. Tears were trying to force a way out of me but I would not let them. He didn’t say anything. He just climbed up the wheel and into the bed of the wagon, where he began to carefully lift blankets and wraps. He shook each one free of snow and folded it before he set it on the seat, and little by little our purchases were revealed. I gathered them up, putting them carefully back into my basket.

 
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