Fool's Assassin / Page 269

Page 269



Then, on either side of me, two huge horses appeared. They breasted Priss, and one rider leaned down, seized her headstall, and pulled us round in a tight circle. I started to fall off her, and the other rider grabbed me by the back of my jerkin. With one hand he pulled me off my horse and dropped me. I hit the ground and rolled, nearly going under his horse’s hooves, and someone shouted angrily as white lights flashed all around me.

There was a moment when I knew nothing, and then I was hanging, my mouth full of snow, my head lolling as someone gripped the front of my jerkin. I thought he was shaking me, and then it was the world shaking around me and then it was still. I blinked and blinked, and finally I could see him, a big angry bearded man. He was old, his hair between gray and white, his eyes as blue as a white gander’s. He was roaring at me, furious shouts in a language I didn’t know. He suddenly paused and then, in a thick accent, demanded, “Where other one? Where he go?”

I found my tongue and the wit to lie. “He left me!” I shrieked and I did not need to pretend my distress. I lifted a shaking hand and pointed where Perseverance’s horse had bolted. “He ran away and left me!”

Then I heard a woman’s voice. She was shouting remonstrances breathlessly as she ran down the long carriageway toward us. At a distance behind her, the fog man was coming. He was walking fast but not hurrying. They were quite a distance away. Still clutching my shirtfront, the gray-haired man began to walk back toward her, dragging me and leading his horse, while the other man followed us mounted. He held my jerkin front so tight I could scarcely breathe. We past the spot where I had concealed Perseverance. I knew the area only by my footprints in the snow. I did not look toward the spot. I lifted all my walls and did not even think of him lest somehow they know my deceit. I was his only chance, and the only help I could give him was ignoring him. I kicked feebly and tried to shout, hoping to keep the man’s attention fixed on me.

Then we were past and closing the distance between us and the hurrying woman. She called something over her shoulder to the fog man. He pointed at me and warbled back at her happily. The man dragging me shouted something at her, and she responded in a rebuke. He halted abruptly, and then shifted his grip on me so that he held me by the back of my jerkin collar. He swung me up off my feet so that I hung dangling from his hand and shook me at her. She cried out in horror and he dropped me and laughed. When I tried to scrabble away, he put his foot on me and pressed me down into the snow. He said something to her, something mocking and threatening. Her cries turned to entreaties.

I tried to breathe. It was as much as I could do with his foot pressing down on me. She reached us, and her entreaties suddenly became threats. He laughed again, and lifted his foot. She knelt in the snow beside me.

“Oh, my dear, my darling one!” she exclaimed. “Here you are at last. You poor, poor thing! How frightened you must have been! But it’s all over now. We’re here. You’re safe now, and we’ve come to take you home.” She helped me to sit up. She looked at me so kindly, her round face full of anxiety and fondness. She smelled like lilacs. I tried to take a breath, to say something, and instead I burst into tears.

“Oh, my poor boy!” she exclaimed. “Be calm now. You’ll be fine. You’re safe with us now. You’re finally safe.”

The fog man had drawn closer. He pointed at me and joy suffused his face. “There. That one!” His voice was high and boyish. “The unexpected son. My brother.” His happiness at finding me washed over me, suffused me and filled me. I could not prevent the smile that broke out on my face. It came to me in a wave of joy. They’d come for me, the ones I belonged with. They were here and I would be safe, never lonely, never frightened again. His lolling foolish smile and his wide open arms welcomed me. I opened my arms to him, so glad to finally be gathered in.

Epilogue

A child is bitten by a rat. The parent rushes to comfort him. But the bite on the hand becomes septic and the child’s hand must be taken to preserve his life. That day, the child’s life changes forever.

Or a child is bitten by a rat. The parent rushes to comfort him. The wound heals well without a scar and all is well.

But it isn’t. The memory of the bite and the rat will be carried by the child for the rest of his life. Even as a grown man, the sound of scuttling in the night will make him waken bathed in sweat. He cannot work in barns or around granaries. When his dog brings him a dead rat, he starts back in terror.

Such is the power of memory. It is fully as strong as the most feverish infection, and it lingers not just for a period of sickness but for all the days of a man’s life. As dye soaks fibers, drawn into them to change their color forever, so does a memory, stinging or sweet, change the fiber of a man’s character.


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