Fool's Assassin / Page 35

Page 35



“I know,” I reminded him. “I’ll return each scroll as it’s translated. And keep a copy secreted at Withywoods. You should rest.”

“I will,” he promised.

He leaned back on his multitude of pillows and closed his eyes, exhausted. I slipped quietly from the room. And before the sun had set, I was well on my way home.

Chapter Four

Preservation

I did not know who my father was until I arrived at Buckkeep Castle. My mother was a foot soldier in the Farseer army in the two years that the Six Duchies forces were massed on the border of Farrow and Chalced. Her name was Hyacinth Fallstar. Her parents had been farmers. In the year of the choking sickness they both died. My mother was unable to keep up the farm by herself, so she leased the land to her cousins and went to Byslough to seek her fortune. There she became a soldier for Duchess Able of Farrow. She was instructed in swordplay and showed an affinity for it. When war broke out along the borderlands and the King of the Six Duchies himself came to lead his troops into battle, she was there. She remained with the forces on the Chalcedean border until the invaders’ army was pushed back into their own territory and a new boundary established.

She returned to her farm in Farrow and there gave birth to me. A man named Rogan Hardhands followed her back to her farm, and she took him to husband. He had soldiered alongside her. He loved her. Toward me, her bastard son and not his at all, he did not feel so kindly, and I returned his sentiments with vigor. Yet we both loved my mother and were loved by her, and so I will speak fairly of him. He knew nothing of farming, but he tried. He was the father I knew until the day my mother died, and though he was a callous man who found me an unwelcome nuisance, I have seen far worse fathering. He did what he thought a father should do with a boy: He taught me to obey, to work hard, and not to question those in authority. Moreover, he toiled alongside my mother to find coin that I might go to a local scribe and be taught to read and figure, skills he did not possess, but my mother thought vital. I do not think he ever considered whether or not he loved me. He did right by me. I hated him, of course.

Yet in those final days of my mother’s life, we were united in our grieving. Her death shocked us both for it was so useless and foolish a fate to befall a strong woman. Climbing up to the loft in the cow byre, she slipped on the old ladder and took a deep splinter in her wrist. She pulled it out and it scarcely bled. But the next day, her whole arm was swollen and on the third day, she died. It was that swift. Together we buried her. The following morning, he put me on the mule with a satchel that held late apples, biscuits, and twelve strips of dried meat. Two silvers he gave me also, and told me not to leave the King’s highway and eventually I would get to Buckkeep Castle. Into my hands he put a scroll, much battered, for me to deliver to the King of the Six Duchies. I have never seen that scroll since the day I gave it over, hand-to-hand, to the King. I know that Rogan Hardhands had no letters. It must have been written by my mother. I read only the one line on the outside of it: “To be opened only by the King of the Six Duchies.”

My Early Days, Chade Fallstar

Chade’s intrusion was like a whisper by my ear. Except that I could have slept through a whisper. A Skill-intrusion cannot be ignored.

Do you ever regret writing it all down, Fitz?

Chade never slept. Not when I was a lad, and it seemed to me that the older he got, the less sleep he needed. As a result, he assumed that I never slept, and if I dozed off after a hard day of physical labor without my wards set tight around my mind, he was prone to intrude into my sleeping thoughts with no greater sense of my privacy than he had had about entering my bedchamber when I lived at Buckkeep Castle. When I was a boy, he had simply triggered the secret door to my room and come down the hidden staircase from his concealed tower room to my chamber in the keep. Now, a lifetime later and days away, he could simply step into my thoughts. The Skill, I thought to myself, is truly a wonderful magic, and an incredible nuisance in the hands of an old man.

I rolled over in my bed, disoriented. His voice always echoed in my thoughts with the same command and urgency as it had when I was a boy and he was a much younger man and my mentor. But it wasn’t just the force of his words. It was that his Skill-contact with my mind brought with it the imprint of his impression of me. Just as Nettle had once seen me as more wolf than man, and her sense that I was a wild and wary beast still tinged our Skill-conversations, so with Chade I would always be twelve years old and an apprentice completely at his disposal.

I mustered my Skill-strength and reached back to him. I was asleep.

Surely it’s not that late! I became aware of his surroundings. A comfortable room. He leaned back on a cushioned chair, staring into a small hearth fire. A table was at his elbow, and I smelled the rich red wine that he lifted in a delicate glass and the applewood burning on his hearth. All so different from his assassin’s workroom above my boyhood bedroom at Buckkeep Castle. The secret spy who had served the royal Farseer family was now a respected elder statesman, advisor to King Dutiful. I wondered sometimes if his new respectability bored him. Certainly it did not seem to tire him!


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