Sample text for Assassin's quest / Robin Hobb.
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After crowning himself King of the Six Duchies, Prince Regal Farseer essentially abandoned the Coastal Duchies to their own devices. He had stripped Buckkeep itself and a good part of Buck Duchy of as much coin as he could wring from it. From Buckkeep, horses and stock had been sold off, with the very best taken inland to Regal's new residence at Tradeford. The furnishings and library of the traditional royal seat had been plundered as well, some to feather the new nest, some divvied out to his Inland dukes and nobles as favors or sold outright to them. Grain warehouses, wine cellars, the armories, all had been plundered and the loot carried off inland.
His announced plan had been to move the ailing King Shrewd, and the widowed and pregnant Queen-in-Waiting Kettricken, inland to Tradeford, that they might be safer from the Red Ship raids that plagued the Coastal Duchies. This, too, was the excuse for the looting of furnishings and valuables from Buckkeep. But with the death of Shrewd and the disappearance of Kettricken, even this flimsy reason vanished. Nonetheless he left Buckkeep as soon after his coronation as he could. The tale has been told that when his Council of Nobles questioned his decision, he told them that the Coastal Duchies represented only war and expense to him, that they had always been a leech upon the resources of the Inland Duchies and he wished the OutIslanders the joy of taking such a rocky and cheerless place. Regal was later to deny having ever uttered such words.
When Kettricken vanished, King Regal was left in a position for which there was no historical precedent. The child Kettricken carried had obviously been next in line for the crown. But both Queen and unborn child had vanished, under very suspicious circumstances. Not all were certain that Regal himself had not engineered it. Even if the Queen had remained at Buckkeep, the child could not assume even the title of King-in-Waiting for at least seventeen years. Regal became very anxious to assume the title of King as swiftly as possible, but by law he needed the recognition of all Six Duchies to claim it. He bought the crown with a number of concessions to his Coastal Dukes. The major one was Regal's promise that Buckkeep would remain manned and ready to defend the coast.
The command of the ancient keep was foisted off on his eldest nephew, heir to the title Duke of Farrow. Lord Bright, at twenty-five, had grown restless waiting for his father to pass power to him. He was more than willing to assume authority over Buckkeep and Buck, but had little experience to draw on. Regal took himself inland to Tradeford Castle on the Vin River in Farrow, while young Lord Bright remained at Buckkeep with a picked guard of Farrow men. It is not reported that Regal left him any funds to operate from, so the young man endeavored to wring what he needed from the merchants of Buckkeep Town, and the already embattled farmers and shepherds of surrounding Buck Duchy. While there is no indication that he felt any malice toward the folk of Buck or the other Coastal Duchies, neither did he have any loyalty toward them.
Also in residence at Buckkeep at this time were a handful of minor Buck nobility. Most landholders of Buck were at their own lesser keeps, doing what little they could to protect their local folk. The most notable to remain at Buckkeep was Lady Patience, she who had been Queen-in-Waiting until her husband Prince Chivalry abdicated the throne to his younger brother Verity. Manning Buckkeep were the Buck soldiers, as well as Queen Kettricken's personal guard, and the few men who remained of King Shrewd's guard. Morale was poor among the soldiers, for wages were intermittent and the rations poor. Lord Bright had brought his own personal guard with him to Buckkeep, and obviously preferred them to the Buck men. The situation was further complicated by a muddled chain of command. Ostensibly the Buck troops were to report to Captain Keffel of the Farrow men, the commander of Lord Bright's guard. In reality, Foxglove of the Queen's Guard, Kerf of the Buckkeep Guard, and old Red of King Shrewd's guard banded together and kept their own counsel. If they reported regularly to anyone, it was Lady Patience. In time the Buck soldiers came to speak of her as the Lady of Buckkeep.
Even after his coronation, Regal remained jealous of his title. He sent messengers far and wide, seeking word of where Queen Kettricken and the unborn heir might be. His suspicions that she might have sought shelter with her father, King Eyod of the Mountain Kingdom, led him to demand her return of him. When Eyod replied that the whereabouts of the Queen of the Six Duchies was no concern for the Mountain folk, Regal angrily severed ties with the Mountain Kingdom, cutting off trade and attempting to block even common travelers from crossing the boundaries. At the same time, rumors that almost certainly began at Regal's behest began to circulate that the child Kettricken carried was not of Verity's getting and hence had no legitimate claim to the Six Duchies throne.
It was a bitter time for the small folk of Buck. Abandoned by their king and defended only by a small force of poorly provisioned soldiers, the common folk were left rudderless on a stormy sea. What the Raiders did not steal or destroy, Lord Bright's men seized for taxes. The roads became plagued with robbers, for when an honest man cannot make a living, folk will do what they must. Small crofters gave up any hope of making a living and fled the coast, to become beggars, thieves, and whores in the inland cities. Trade died, for ships sent out seldom came back at all.
Chade and I sat on the bench in front of the hut and talked. We did not speak of portentous things, nor the significant events of the past. We did not discuss my return from the grave or the current political situation. Instead, he spoke of our small shared things as if I had been gone on a long journey. Slink the weasel was getting old; the past winter had stiffened him, and even the coming of spring had not enlivened him. Chade feared he would not last another year. Chade had finally managed to dry pennant plant leaves without them mildewing, but had found the dried herb to have little potency. We both missed Cook Sara's pastries. Chade asked if there was anything from my room that I wanted. Regal had had it searched, and had left it in disarray, but he did not think much had been taken, nor would be missed if I chose to have it now. I asked him if he recalled the tapestry of King Wisdom treating with the Elderlings. He replied that he did, but that it was far too bulky for him to drag up here. I gave him such a stricken look that he immediately relented and said he supposed he could find a way.
I grinned. "It was a joke, Chade. That thing has never done anything save give me nightmares when I was small. No. There's nothing in my room that's important to me now."
Chade looked at me, almost sadly. "You leave behind a life, with what, the clothes on your back and an earring? And you say there's nothing there you'd wish brought to you. Does that not strike you as strange?"
I sat thinking for a moment. The sword Verity had given me. The silver ring King Eyod had given me, that had been Rurisk's. A pin from Lady Grace. Patience's sea-pipes had been in my room I hoped she had got them back. My paints and papers. A little box I had carved to hold my poisons. Between Molly and me there had never been any tokens. She would never allow me to give her any gifts, and I had never thought to steal a ribbon from her hair. If I had...
"No. A clean break is best, perhaps. Though you've forgotten one item." I turned the collar of my rough shirt to show him the tiny ruby nestled in silver. "The stickpin Shrewd gave me, to mark me as his. I still have that." Patience had used it to secure the grave cloth that had wrapped me. I set aside that thought.
"I'm still surprised that Regal's guard didn't rob your body. I suppose the Wit has such an evil reputation they feared you dead as well as alive."
I reached to finger the bridge of my nose where it had been broken. "They did not seem to fear me much at all, that I could tell."
Chade smiled crookedly at me. "The nose bothers you, does it? I think it gives your face more character."
I squinted at him in the sunlight. "Really?"
"No. But it's the polite thing to say. It's not so bad, really. It almost looks as if someone tried to set it."
I shuddered at the jagged tip of a memory. "I don't want to think about it," I told him honestly.
Pain for me clouded his face suddenly. I looked away from it, unable to bear his pity. The recollections of the beatings I had endured were more bearable if I could pretend that no one else had known of them. I felt shamed at what Regal had done to me. I leaned my head back against the sun-soaked wood of the cabin wall and took a long breath. "So. What is happening down there where people are still alive?"
Chade cleared his throat, accepting the change in topic. "Well. How much do you know?"
"Not much. That Kettricken and the Fool got away. That Patience may have heard Kettricken got safely to the Mountains. That Regal is angry with King Eyod of the Mountains and has cut his trade routes. That Verity is still alive, but no one has heard from him."
"Whoa! Whoa!" Chade sat up very straight. "The rumor about Kettricken...you remember that from the night Burrich and I discussed it."
I looked aside from him. "In the way that you might remember a dream you once had. In underwater colors, and the events out of order. Only that I heard you say something about it."
"And that about Verity?" The sudden tension in him put a chill of dread down my spine.
"He Skilled to me that night," I said quietly. "I told you then that he was alive."
"DAMN!" Chade leaped to his feet and hopped about in rage. It was a performance I had never witnessed before and I stared at him, caught between amazement and fear. "Burrich and I gave your words no credence! Oh, we were pleased to hear you utter them, and when you ran off, he said, "Let the boy go, that's as much as he can do tonight, he remembers his prince.' That's all we thought it was. Damn and damn!" He halted suddenly and pointed a finger at me. "Report. Tell me everything."
I fumbled after what I recalled. It was as difficult to sort it out as if I had seen it through the wolf's eyes. "He was cold. But alive. Either tired or hurt. Slowed, somehow. He was trying to get through and I was pushing him away so he kept suggesting I drink. To get my walls down, I suppose..."
"Where was he?"
"I don't know. Snow. A forest." I groped after ghostly memories. "I don't think he knew where he was."
Chade's green eyes bored into me. "Can you reach him at all, feel him at all? Can you tell me he still lives?"
I shook my head. My heart was starting to pound in my chest.
"Can you Skill to him now?"
I shook my head. Tension tightened my belly.
Chade's frustration grew with every shake of my head. "Damn it, Fitz, you must!"
"I don't want to!" I cried out suddenly. I was on my feet.
Run away! Run away fast!
I did. It was suddenly that simple. I fled Chade and the hut as if all the devils of the OutIslander hell-islands were after me. Chade called after me but I refused to hear his words. I ran, and as soon as I was in the shelter of the trees, Nighteyes was beside me.
Not that way, Heart of the Pack is that way, he warned me. So we bolted uphill, away from the creek, up to a big tangle of brambles that overhung a bank where Nighteyes sheltered on stormy nights. What was it? What was the danger? Nighteyes demanded.
He wanted me to go back, I admitted after a time. I tried to frame it in a way that Nighteyes would understand. He wanted me to...be not a wolf anymore.
A sudden chill went up my back. In explaining to Nighteyes, I had brought myself face-to-face with the truth. The choice was simple. Be a wolf, with no past, no future, only today. Or a man, twisted by his past, whose heart pumped fear with his blood. I could walk on two legs, and know shame and cowering as a way of life. Or run on four, and forget until even Molly was just a pleasant scent I recalled. I sat still beneath the brambles, my hand resting lightly on Nighteyes' back, my eyes staring into a place only I could see. Slowly the light changed and evening deepened to dusk. My decision grew as slowly and inevitably as the creeping dark. My heart cried out against it, but the alternatives were unbearable. I steeled my will to it.
It was dark when I went back. I crept home with my tail between my legs. It was strange to come back to the cabin as a wolf again, to smell the rising wood smoke as a man's thing, and to blink at the fire's glow through the shutters. Reluctantly I peeled my mind free of Nighteyes'.
Would you not rather hunt with me?
I would much rather hunt with you. But I cannot this night.
I shook my head. The edge of decision was so thin and new, I dared not test it by speaking. I stopped at the edge of the woods to brush the leaves and dirt from my clothes and to smooth back my hair and retie it in a tail. I hoped my face was not dirty. I squared my shoulders and forced myself to walk back to the cabin, to open the door and enter and look at them. I felt horribly vulnerable. They'd been sharing information about me. Between the two of them they knew almost all of my secrets. My tattered dignity now dangled in shreds. How could I stand before them and expect to be treated as a man? Yet I could not fault them for it. They had been trying to save me. From myself, it was true, but save me all the same. Not their fault that what they had saved was scarcely worth having.
They were at table when I entered. If I had run off like this a few weeks ago, Burrich would have leaped up, to shake me and cuff me when I returned. I knew we were past that sort of thing now but the memory gave me a wariness I could not completely disguise. However, his face showed only relief, while Chade looked at me with shame and concern.
"I did not mean to press you that hard," he said earnestly, before I could speak.
"You didn't," I said quietly. "You but put your finger on the spot where I had been pressing myself the most. Sometimes a man doesn't know how badly he's hurt until someone else probes the wound."
I drew up my chair. After weeks of simple food to see cheese and honey and elderberry wine all set out on the table at once was almost shocking. There was a loaf of bread as well to supplement the trout Burrich had caught. For a time we just ate, without talk other than table requests. It seemed to ease the strangeness. But the moment the meal was finished and cleared away, the tension came back.
"I understand your question now," Burrich said abruptly. Chade and I both looked at him in surprise. "A few days ago, when you asked what we would do next. Understand that I had given Verity up as lost. Kettricke
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Assassins Fiction