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Chade came back one day. He had grown his beard long and he wore a wide-brimmed hat like a peddler, but I knew him all the same. Burrich wasn't at home when he arrived, but I let him in. I did not know why he had come. "Do you want some brandy?" I asked, thinking perhaps that was why he had come. He looked closely at me and almost smiled.
"Fitz?" he said. He turned his head sideways to look into my face. "So. How have you been?"
I didn't know the answer to that question, so I just looked at him. After a time, he put the kettle on. He took things out of his pack. He had brought spice tea, some cheese and smoked fish. He took out packets of herbs as well and set them out in a row on the table. Then he took out a leather pouch. Inside it was a fat yellow crystal, large enough to fill his hand. In the bottom of the pack was a large shallow bowl, glazed blue inside. He had set it on the table and filled it with clean water when Burrich returned. Burrich had gone fishing. He had a string with six small fish on it. They were creek fish, not ocean fish. They were slippery and shiny. He had already taken all the guts out.
"You leave him alone now?" Chade asked Burrich after they had greeted one another.
"I have to, to get food."
"So you trust him now?"
Burrich looked aside from Chade. "I've trained a lot of animals. Teaching one to do what you tell it is not the same as trusting a man."
Burrich cooked the fish in a pan and then we ate. We had the cheese and the tea also. Then, while I was cleaning the pans and dishes, they sat down to talk.
"I want to try the herbs," Chade said to Burrich. "Or the water, or the crystal. Something. Anything. I begin to think that he's not really...in there."
"He is," Burrich asserted quietly. "Give him time. I don't think the herbs are a good idea for him. Before he...changed, he was getting too fond of herbs. Toward the end, he was always either ill, or charged full of energy. If he was not in the depths of sorrow, he was exhausted from fighting or from being King's Man to Verity or Shrewd. Then he'd be into the elfbark instead of resting. He'd forgotten how to just rest and let his body recover. He'd never wait for it. That last night...you gave him carris seed, didn't you? Foxglove said she'd never seen anything like it. I think more folk might have come to his aid, if they hadn't been so frightened of him. Poor old Blade thought he had gone stark raving mad. He never forgave himself for taking him down. I wish he could know the boy hadn't actually died."
"There was no time to pick and choose. I gave him what I had to hand. I didn't know he'd go mad on carris seed."
"You could have refused him," Burrich said quietly.
"It wouldn't have stopped him. He'd have gone as he was, exhausted, and been killed right there."
I went and sat down on the hearth. Burrich was not watching me. I lay down, then rolled over on my back and stretched. It felt good. I closed my eyes and felt the warmth of the fire on my flank.
"Get up and sit on the stool, Fitz," Burrich said.
I sighed, but I obeyed. Chade did not look at me. Burrich resumed talking.
"I'd like to keep him on an even keel. I think he just needs time, to do it on his own. He remembers. Sometimes. And then he fights it off. I don't think he wants to remember, Chade. I don't think he really wants to go back to being FitzChivalry. Maybe he liked being a wolf. Maybe he liked it so much he's never coming back."
"He has to come back," Chade said quietly. "We need him."
Burrich sat up. He'd had his feet up on the woodpile, but now he set them on the floor. He leaned toward Chade. "You've had word?"
"Not I. But Patience has, I think. It's very frustrating, sometimes, to be the rat behind the wall."
"So what did you hear?"
"Only Patience and Lacey, talking about wool."
"Why is that important?"
"They wanted wool to weave a very soft cloth. For a baby, or a small child. "It will be born at the end of our harvest, but that's the beginning of winter in the Mountains. So let us make it thick,' Patience said. Perhaps for Kettricken's child."
Burrich looked startled. "Patience knows about Kettricken?"
Chade laughed. "I don't know. Who knows what that woman knows? She has changed much of late. She gathers the Buckkeep Guard into the palm of her hand, and Lord Bright does not even see it happening. I think now that we should have let her know our plan, included her from the beginning. But perhaps not."
"It might have been easier for me if we had." Burrich stared deep into the fire.
Chade shook his head. "I am sorry. She had to believe you had abandoned Fitz, rejected him for his use of the Wit. If you had gone after his body, Regal might have been suspicious. We had to make Regal believe she was the only one who cared enough to bury him."
"She hates me now. She told me I had no loyalty, nor courage." Burrich looked at his hands and his voice tightened. "I knew she had stopped loving me years ago. When she gave her heart to Chivalry. I could accept that. He was a man worthy of her. And I had walked away from her first. So I could live with her not loving me, because I felt she still respected me as a man. But now, she despises me. I . . ." He shook his head, then closed his eyes tightly. For a moment all was still. Then Burrich straightened himself slowly and turned to Chade. His voice was calm as he asked, "So, you think Patience knows that Kettricken fled to the Mountains?"
"It wouldn't surprise me. There has been no official word, of course. Regal has sent messages to King Eyod, demanding to know if Kettricken fled there, but Eyod replied only that she was the Six Duchies Queen and what she did was not a Mountain concern. Regal was angered enough by that to cut off trade to the Mountains. But Patience seems to know much of what goes on outside the keep. Perhaps she knows what is happening in the Mountain Kingdom. For my part, I should dearly love to know how she intends to send the blanket to the Mountains. It's a long and weary way."
For a long time, Burrich was silent. Then he said, "I should have found a way to go with Kettricken and the Fool. But there were only the two horses, and only supplies enough for two. I hadn't been able to get more than that. And so they went alone." He glared into the fire, then asked, "I don't suppose anyone has heard anything of King-in-Waiting Verity?"
Chade shook his head slowly. "King Verity," he reminded Burrich softly. "If he were here." He looked far away. "If he were coming back, I think he'd be here by now," he said quietly. "A few more soft days like this, and there will be Red Ship Raiders in every bay. I no longer believe Verity is coming back."
"Then Regal truly is King," Burrich said sourly. "At least until Kettricken's child is born and comes of age. And then we can look forward to a civil war if the child tries to claim the crown. If there is still a Six Duchies left to be ruled. Verity. I wish now that he had not gone questing for the Elderlings. At least while he was alive, we had some protection from the Raiders. Now, with Verity gone and spring getting stronger, nothing stands between us and the Red Ships. . . ."
Verity. I shivered with the cold. I pushed the cold away. It came back and I pushed it all away. I held it away. After a moment, I took a deep breath.
"Just the water, then?" Chade asked Burrich, and I knew they had been talking but I had not been hearing.
Burrich shrugged. "Go ahead. What can it hurt? Did he use to scry things in water?"
"I never tried him. I always suspected he could if he tried. He has the Wit and the Skill. Why shouldn't he be able to scry as well?"
"Just because a man can do a thing does not mean he should do a thing."
For a time, they looked at one another. Then Chade shrugged. "Perhaps my trade does not allow me so many niceties of conscience as yours," he suggested in a stiff voice.
After a moment, Burrich said gruffly, "Your pardon, sir. We all served our king as our abilities dictated."
Chade nodded to that. Then he smiled.
Chade cleared the table of everything but the dish of water and some candles. "Come here," he said to me softly, so I went back to the table. He sat me in his chair and put the dish in front of me. "Look in the water," he told me. "Tell me what you see."
I saw the water in the bowl. I saw the blue in the bottom of the bowl. Neither answer made him happy. He kept telling me to look again but I kept seeing the same things. He moved the candle several times, each time telling me to look again. Finally he said to Burrich, "Well, at least he answers when you speak to him now."
Burrich nodded, but he looked discouraged. "Yes. Perhaps with time," he said.
I knew they were finished with me then, and I relaxed.
Chade asked if he could stay the night with us. Burrich said of course. Then he went and fetched the brandy. He poured two cups. Chade drew my stool to the table and sat again. I sat and waited, but they began talking to one another again.
"What about me?" I asked at last.
They stopped talking and looked at me. "What about you?" Burrich asked.
"Don't I get any brandy?"
They looked at me. Burrich asked carefully, "Do you want some? I didn't think you liked it."
"No, I don't like it. I never liked it." I thought for a moment. "But it was cheap."
Burrich stared at me. Chade smiled a small smile, looking down at his hands. Then Burrich got another cup and poured some for me. For a time they sat watching me, but I didn't do anything. Eventually they began talking again. I took a sip of the brandy. It still stung my mouth and nose, but it made a warmth inside me. I knew I didn't want any more. Then I thought I did. I drank some more. It was just as unpleasant. Like something Patience would force on me for a cough. No. I pushed that memory aside as well. I set the cup down.
Burrich did not look at me. He went on talking to Chade. "When you hunt a deer, you can often get much closer to it simply by pretending not to see it. They will hold position and watch you approach and not stir a hoof as long as you do not look directly at them." He picked up the bottle and poured more brandy in my cup. I snorted at the rising scent of it. I thought I felt something stirring. A thought in my mind. I reached for my wolf.
My brother? I sleep, Changer. It is not yet a good time to hunt.
Burrich glared at me. I stopped.
I knew I did not want more brandy. But someone else thought that I did. Someone else urged me to pick up the cup, just to hold it. I swirled it in the cup. Verity used to swirl his wine in the cup and look into it. I looked into the dark cup.
I set the cup down. I got up and walked around the room. I wanted to go out, but Burrich never let me go out alone, and not at all at night. So I walked around the room until I came back to my chair. I sat down in it again. The cup of brandy was still there. After a time I picked it up, just to make the feeling of wanting to pick it up go away. But once I held it in my hand, he changed it. He made me think about drinking it. How warm it felt in my belly. Just drink it quick, and the taste wouldn't last long, just the warm, good feeling in my belly.
I knew what he was doing. I was beginning to get angry.
Just another small sip then. Soothingly. Whispery. Just to help you relax, Fitz. The fire is so warm, you've had food. Burrich will protect you. Chade is right there. You needn't be on guard so much. Just another sip. One more sip.
A tiny sip, then, just getting your mouth wet.
I took another sip to make him stop making me want to. But he didn't stop, so I took another. I took a mouthful and swallowed it. It was getting harder and harder to resist. He was wearing me down. And Burrich kept putting more in my cup.
Fitz. Say, "Verity's alive." That's all. Say just that.
Doesn't the brandy feel nice in your belly? So warm. Take a little more.
"I know what you're trying to do. You're trying to get me drunk. So I can't keep you out. I won't let you." My face was wet.
Burrich and Chade were both looking at me. "He was never a crying drunk before," Burrich observed. "At least, not around me." They seemed to find that interesting.
Say it. Say, "Verity's alive." Then I'll let you go. I promise. Just say it. Just once. Even as a whisper. Say it. Say it.
I looked down at the table. Very softly, I said, "Verity's alive."
"Oh?" said Burrich. He was too casual. He leaned too quickly to tip more brandy into my cup. The bottle was empty. He gave to me from his own cup.
Suddenly I wanted it. I wanted it for myself. I picked it up and drank it all off. Then I stood up. "Verity's alive," I said. "He's cold, but he's alive. And that's all I have to say." I went to the door and worked the latch and went out into the night. They didn't try to stop me.
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King Shrewd is dead at the hands of his son Regal. As is Fitz—or so his enemies and friends believe. But with the help of his allies and his beast magic, he emerges from the grave, deeply scarred in body and soul. The kingdom also teeters toward ruin: Regal has plundered and abandoned the capital, while the rightful heir, Prince Verity, is lost to his mad quest—perhaps to death. Only Verity’s return—or the heir his princess carries—can save the Six Duchies.
But Fitz will not wait. Driven by loss and bitter memories, he undertakes a quest: to kill Regal. The journey casts him into deep waters, as he discovers wild currents of magic within him—currents that will either drown him or make him something more than he was.
Praise for Robin Hobb and Assassin’s Quest
“Fantasy as it ought to be written . . . Robin Hobb’s books are diamonds in a sea of zircons.” —George R. R. Martin
“An enthralling conclusion to this superb trilogy, displaying an exceptional combination of originality, magic, adventure, character, and drama.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Superbly written, wholly satisfying, unforgettable: better than any fantasy trilogy in print—including mine!” —Melanie Rawn
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