Assassins Apprentice: The Illustrated Edition | Chapter 31 of 53

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The lady came two steps closer. “But he has never taught you better, has he? He has never counseled you against drunkenness, has he?”

There is a saying from the Southlands that there is truth in wine. There must be a bit of it in ale, also. I spoke it that night. “Actually, my lady, he would be greatly displeased with me right now. First, he would berate me for not arising when a lady spoke to me.” And here I lurched to my feet. “And then, he would lecture me long and severely about the behavior expected from one who carries a prince’s blood, if not his titles.” I managed a bow, and when I succeeded, I distinguished myself by straightening up with a flourish. “So, good evening to you, fair lady of the garden. I bid you good night, and I shall remove my oafish self from your presence.”

I was all the way to the arched entryway in the wall when she called out, “Wait!” But my stomach gave a quietly protesting grumble, and I pretended not to hear. She did not come after me, but I felt sure she watched me, and so I kept my head up and my stride even until I was out of the kitchen courtyard. I took myself down to the stables, where I vomited into the manure pile and ended up sleeping in a clean empty stall because the steps up to Burrich’s loft looked entirely too steep.

But youth is amazingly resilient, especially when feeling threatened. I was up at dawn the next day, for I knew Burrich was expected home by afternoon. I washed myself at the stables and decided the tunic I had worn for the last three days needed to be replaced. I was doubly conscious of its condition when in the corridor outside my room the lady accosted me. She looked me up and down, and before I could speak, she addressed me.

“Change your shirt,” she told me. And then added, “Those leggings make you look like a stork. Tell Mistress Hasty they need replacing.”

“Good morning, lady,” I said. It was not a reply, but those were the only words that came to me in my astonishment. I decided she was very eccentric, even more so than Lady Thyme. My best course was to humor her. I expected her to turn aside and go on her way. Instead she continued to hold me with her eyes.

“Do you play a musical instrument?” she demanded.

I shook my head mutely.

“You sing, then?”

“No, my lady.”

She looked troubled as she asked, “Then perhaps you have been taught to recite the Epics and the knowledge verses, of herbs and healings and navigation…that sort of thing?”

“Only the ones that pertain to the care of horses, hawks, and dogs,” I told her, almost honestly. Burrich had demanded I learn those. Chade had taught me a set about poisons and antidotes, but he had warned me they were not commonly known, and were not to be casually recited.

“But you dance, of course? And you have been instructed in the making of verse?”

I was totally confused. “Lady, I think you have confused me with someone else. Perhaps you are thinking of August, the King’s nephew. He is but a year or two younger than I and—”

“I am not mistaken. Answer my question!” she demanded, almost shrilly.

“No, my lady. The teachings you speak of are for those who are…wellborn. I have not been taught them.”

At each of my denials, she had appeared more troubled. Her mouth grew straighter, and her hazel eyes clouded. “This is not to be tolerated,” she declared, and turning in a flurry of skirts, she hastened off down the hallway. After a moment I went into my room, changed my shirt, and put on the longest pair of leggings I owned. I dismissed the lady from my thoughts and threw myself into my chores and lessons for the day.

It was raining that afternoon when Burrich returned. I met him outside the stables, taking his horse’s head as he swung stiffly down from the saddle. “You’ve grown, Fitz,” he observed, and looked me over with a critical eye, as if I were a horse or hound that was showing unexpected potential. He opened his mouth as if to say something more, then shook his head and gave a half snort. “Well?” he asked, and I began my report.

He had been gone scarcely more than a month, but Burrich liked to know things down to the smallest detail. He walked beside me, listening, as I led his horse to stall and proceeded to care for her.

Sometimes it surprised me how much like Chade he could be. They were very alike in the way they expected me to recall exact details, and to be able to relate the doings of last week or last month in correct order. Learning to report for Chade had not been that difficult; he had merely formalized the requirements that Burrich had long expected of me. Years later I was to realize how similar it was to the reporting of a man-at-arms to his superior.

Another man would have gone off to the kitchens or the baths after hearing my summarized version of everything that had gone on in his absence. But Burrich insisted on walking through his stables, stopping here to chat with a groom and there to speak softly to a horse. When he came to the lady’s old palfrey, he stopped. He looked at the horse for a few minutes in silence.

“I trained this beast,” he said abruptly, and at his voice the horse turned in the stall to face him and whickered softly. “Silk,” he said softly, and stroked the soft nose. He sighed suddenly. “So the Lady Patience is here. Has she seen you yet?”

Now there was a question difficult to answer. A thousand thoughts collided in my head at once. The Lady Patience, my father’s wife, and by many accounts, the one most responsible for my father’s withdrawal from the court and from me. That was who I had been chatting with in the kitchen, and drunkenly saluting. That was who had quizzed me this morning on my education. To Burrich I muttered, “Not formally. But we’ve met.”

He surprised me by laughing. “Your face is a picture, Fitz. I can see she hasn’t changed much, just by your reaction. The first time I met her was in her father’s orchard. She was sitting up in a tree. She demanded that I remove a splinter from her foot, and took her shoe and stocking off right there so I could do it. Right there in front of me. And she had no idea at all of who I was. Nor I, her. I thought she was a lady’s maid. That was years ago, of course, and even a few years before my prince met her. I suppose I wasn’t much older than you are now.” He paused, and his face softened. “And she had a wretched little dog she always carried about with her in a basket. It was always wheezing and retching up wads of its own fur. Its name was Featherduster.” He paused a moment, and smiled almost fondly. “What a thing to remember, after all these years.”

“Did she like you when she first met you?” I asked tactlessly.

Burrich looked at me and his eyes became opaque, the man disappearing behind the gaze. “Better than she does now,” he said abruptly. “But that’s of small import. Let’s hear it, Fitz. What does she think of you?”

Now there was another question. I plunged into an accounting of our meetings, glossing over details as much as I dared. I was halfway through my garden encounter when Burrich held up a hand.

“Stop,” he said quietly.

I fell silent.

“When you cut pieces out of the truth to avoid looking like a fool, you end up sounding like a moron instead. Let’s start again.”

So I did, and spared him nothing, of either my behavior or the lady’s comments. When I was finished, I waited for his judgment. Instead, he reached out and stroked the palfrey’s nose. “Some things are changed by time,” he said at last. “And others are not.” He sighed. “Well, Fitz, you have a way of presenting yourself to the very people you should most ardently avoid. I am sure there will be consequences from this, but I have not the slightest idea what they will be. That being so, there’s no point to worrying. Let’s see the rat dog’s pups. You say she had six?”

“And all survived,” I said proudly, for the bitch had a history of difficult whelping.

“Let’s just hope we do as well for ourselves,” Burrich muttered as we walked through the stables, but when I glanced up at him, surprised, he seemed not to have been talking to me at all.


I’D HAVE THOUGHT YOU’D have the good sense to avoid her,” Chade grumbled at me.

It was not the greeting I had looked for after more than two months’ absence from his chambers. “I didn’t know it was the Lady Patience. I’m surprised there was not gossip about her arrival.”

“She strenuously objects to gossip,” Chade informed me. He sat in his chair before the small fire in the fireplace. Chade’s chambers were chilly, and he was ever vulnerable to cold. He looked weary as well tonight, worn by whatever he had been doing in the weeks since I’d last seen him. His hands, especially, looked old, bony and lumpy about the knuckles. He took a sip of his wine and continued. “And she has her eccentric little ways of dealing with those who talk about her behind her back. She has always insisted on privacy for herself. It is one reason she would have made a very poor queen. Not that Chivalry cared. That was a marriage he made for himself rather than for politics. I think it was the first major disappointment he dealt his father. After that, nothing he did ever completely pleased Shrewd.”

I sat still as a mouse. Slink came and perched on my knee. It was rare to hear Chade so talkative, especially about matters relating to the royal family. I scarcely breathed for fear of interrupting him.

“Sometimes I think there was something in Patience that Chivalry instinctively knew he needed. He was a thoughtful, orderly man, always correct in his manners, always aware of precisely what was going on around him. He was chivalrous, boy, in the best sense of that word. He did not give in to ugly or petty impulses. That meant he exuded a certain air of restraint at all times. So those who did not know him well thought him cold or cavalier.

“And then he met this girl…and she was scarcely more than a girl. And there was no more substance to her than to cobwebs and sea foam. Thoughts and tongue always flying from this to that, nitterdy-natterdy, with never a pause or connection I could see. It used to exhaust me just to listen to her. But Chivalry would smile, and marvel. Perhaps it was that she had absolutely no awe of him. Perhaps it was that she didn’t seem particularly eager to win him. But with a score of more eligible ladies, of better birth and brighter brains, pursuing him, he chose Patience. And it wasn’t even timely for him to wed; when he took her to wife, he shut the gate on a dozen possible alliances that a wife could have brought him. There was no good reason for him to get married at that time. Not one.”

“Except that he wanted to,” I said, and then I could have bitten out my tongue. For Chade nodded, and then gave himself a bit of a shake. He took his gaze off the fire and looked at me.

“Well. Enough of that. I won’t ask you how you made such an impression on her, or what changed her heart toward you. But last week she came to Shrewd and demanded that you be recognized as Chivalry’s son and heir and given an education appropriate to a prince.”

I was dizzied. Did the wall tapestries move before me, or was it a trick of my eyes?

“Of course he refused,” Chade continued mercilessly. “He tried to explain to her why such a thing is totally impossible. All she kept saying was, ‘But you are the King. How can it be impossible for you?’ ‘The nobles would never accept him. It would mean civil war. And think what it would do to an unprepared boy, to plunge him suddenly into this.’ So he told her.”

“Oh,” I said quietly. I couldn’t remember what I had felt for the one instant. Elation? Anger? Fear? I only knew that the feeling was gone now, and I felt oddly stripped and humiliated that I had felt anything at all.

“Patience, of course, was not convinced at all. ‘Prepare the boy,’ she told the King. ‘And when he is ready, judge for yourself.’ Only Patience would ask such a thing, and in front of both Verity and Regal. Verity listened quietly, knowing how it must end, but Regal was livid. He becomes overwrought far too easily. Even an idiot should know Shrewd could not accede to Patience’s demand. But he knows when to compromise. In all else, he gave way to her, mostly I think to stop her tongue.”

“In all else?” I repeated stupidly.

“Some for our good, some for our detriment. Or at least, for our damned inconvenience.” Chade sounded both annoyed and elated. “I hope you can find more hours in the day, boy, for I’m not willing to sacrifice any of my plans for hers. Patience has demanded that you be educated as befits your bloodlines. And she has vowed to undertake such educating herself. Music, poetry, dance, song, manners…I hope you’ve a better tolerance for it than I did. Though it never seemed to hurt Chivalry. Sometimes he even put such knowledge to good use. But it will take up a good part of your day. You’ll be acting as page for Patience as well. You’re old for it, but she insisted. Personally, I think she regrets much and is trying to make up for lost time, something that never works. You’ll have to cut back your weapons training. And Burrich will have to find himself another stable boy.”

I didn’t give a peg about the weapons training. As Chade had often pointed out to me, a really good assassin worked close and quietly. If I learned my trade well, I wouldn’t be swinging a long blade at anyone. But my time with Burrich—again I had the odd sensation of not knowing how I felt. I hated Burrich. Sometimes. He was overbearing, dictatorial, and insensitive. He expected me to be perfect, yet bluntly told me that I would never be rewarded for it. But he was also open, and blunt, and believed I could achieve what he demanded….

“You’re probably wondering what advantage she won us,” Chade went on obliviously. I heard suppressed excitement in his voice. “It’s something I’ve tried for twice for you, and been twice refused. But Patience nattered at Shrewd until he surrendered. It’s the Skill, boy. You’re to be trained in the Skill.”

“The Skill,” I repeated, without sense of what I was saying. It was all going too fast for me.

“Yes.”

I scrabbled to find thoughts. “Burrich spoke of it to me, once. A long time ago.” Abruptly I remembered the context of that conversation. After Nosy accidentally betrayed us. He had spoken of it as the opposite of whatever was the sense I shared with animals. The same sense had revealed to me the change in the folk of Forge. Would training in one free me of the other? Or would it be a deprivation? I thought of the kinship that I had shared with horses and dogs when I knew Burrich was not around. I remembered Nosy, in a mingling of warmth and grief. I had never been so close, before or since, to another living creature. Would this new training in the Skill take that away from me?

“What’s the matter, boy?” Chade’s voice was kindly, but concerned.

“I don’t know.” I hesitated. But not even to Chade could I dare to reveal my fear. Or my taint. “Nothing, I guess.”

“You’ve been listening to old tales about the training,” he guessed, totally incorrectly. “Listen, boy, it can’t be that bad. Chivalry went through it. So did Verity. And with the threat of the Red-Ships, Shrewd has decided to go back to the old ways, and extend the training to other likely candidates. He wants a coterie, or even two, to supplement what he and Verity can do with the Skill. Galen is not enthused, but I suspect it’s a very good idea. Though, being a bastard myself, I was never allowed the training. So I’ve no real idea how the Skill might be employed to defend the land.”

“You’re a bastard?” The words burst out of me. All my tangled thoughts were suddenly sliced through by this revelation. Chade stared at me, as shocked at my words as I by his.

“Of course. I thought you’d figured that out long ago. Boy, for someone as perceptive as you are, you’ve got some very odd blind spots.”

I looked at Chade as if for the first time. His scars, perhaps, had hidden it from me. The resemblance was there. The brow, the way his ears were set, the line of his lower lip. “You’re Shrewd’s son,” I guessed wildly, going only by his appearance. Even before he spoke, I realized how foolish my words were.

“Son?” Chade laughed grimly. “How he would scowl to hear you say that! But the truth makes him grimace even more. He is my younger half brother, boy, though he was conceived in a wedded bed and I on a military campaign near Sandsedge.” Softly he added, “My mother was a soldier when I was conceived. But she returned home to bear me, and later wedded a potter. When my mother died, her husband put me on a donkey, gave me a necklace she had worn, and told me to take it to the King at Buckkeep. I was ten. It was a long, hard road from Woolcot to Buckkeep, in those days.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Enough of this.” Chade straightened himself up sternly. “Galen will be instructing you in the Skill. Shrewd browbeat him into it. He finally acceded, but with reservations. No one is to interfere with any of his students during the training. I wish it were otherwise, but there’s nothing I can do about it. You’ll just have to be careful. You know of Galen, don’t you?”

“A little,” I said. “Only what other people say about him.”

“What do you know by yourself?” Chade quizzed me.

I took a breath and considered. “He eats alone. I’ve never seen him at table, either with the men-at-arms, or in the dining hall. I’ve never seen him just standing about and talking, not in the exercise yard or the washing court or in any of the gardens. He’s always going somewhere when I see him, and he’s always in a hurry. He’s bad with animals. The dogs don’t like him, and he overcontrols the horses so much that he ruins their mouths and their temperaments. I guess he’s about Burrich’s age. He dresses well, almost as fancy as Regal. I’ve heard him called a queen’s man.”

“Why?” Chade asked quickly.

“Um, it was a long time ago. Gage. He’s a man-at-arms. He came to Burrich one night, a bit drunk, a bit cut up. He’d had a fight with Galen, and Galen hit him in the face with a little whip or something. Gage asked Burrich to fix him up, because it was late, and he wasn’t supposed to have been drinking that night. His watch was coming up, or something. Gage told Burrich that he’d overheard Galen say that Regal was twice as royal as Chivalry or Verity, and it was a stupid custom that kept him from the throne. Galen had said that Regal’s mother was better born than Shrewd’s first queen. Which everyone knows is true. But what angered Gage enough to start the fight was that Galen said Queen Desire was more royal than Shrewd himself, for she’d Farseer blood from both her parents, and Shrewd’s was just from his father. So Gage swung at him, but Galen sidestepped and struck him in the face with something.”

I paused.

“And?” Chade encouraged me.

“And so he favors Regal, over Verity or even the King. And Regal, well, accepts him. He’s friendlier with him than he usually is with servants or soldiers. He seems to take counsel of him, the few times I’ve seen them together. It’s almost funny to watch them together; you’d think Galen was aping Regal, from the way he dresses and walks as the Prince does. Sometimes they almost look alike.”

“They do?” Chade leaned closer, waiting. “What else have you noticed?”

I searched my memory for more firsthand knowledge of Galen. “That’s all, I guess.”

“Has he ever spoken to you?”

“No.”

“I see.” Chade nodded as if to himself. “And what do you know of him by reputation? What do you suspect?” He was trying to lead me to some conclusion, but I could not guess what.

“He’s from Farrow. An Inlander. His family came to Buckkeep with King Shrewd’s second queen. I’ve heard it said that he’s afraid of the water, to sail or to swim. Burrich respects him, but doesn’t like him. He says he’s a man who knows his job and does it, but Burrich can’t get along with anyone who mistreats an animal, even if it’s out of ignorance. The kitchen folk don’t like him. He’s always making the younger ones cry. He accuses the girls of getting hair in his meals or having dirty hands, and he says the boys are too rowdy and don’t serve food correctly. So the cooks don’t like him either, because when the apprentices are upset, they don’t do their work well.” Chade was still looking at me expectantly, as if waiting for something very important. I racked my brains for other gossip.

“He wears a chain with three gems set in it. Queen Desire gave it to him, for some special service he did. Um. The Fool hates him. He told me once that if no one else is around, Galen calls him freak and throws things at him.”

Chade’s brows went up. “The Fool talks to you?”

His tone was more than incredulous. He sat up in his chair so suddenly that his wine leaped out of his cup and splashed on his knee. He rubbed at it distractedly with his sleeve.

“Sometimes,” I admitted cautiously. “Not very often. Only when he feels like it. He just appears and tells me things.”

“Things? What kind of things?”

I realized suddenly that I had never recounted to Chade the fitz-fits-fats riddle. It seemed too complicated to go into just then. “Oh, just odd things. About two months ago he stopped me and said the morrow was a poor day to hunt. But it was fine and clear. Burrich got that big buck that day. You remember. It was the same day that we came up on a wolverine. It tore up two of the dogs badly.”

“As I recall, it nearly got you.” Chade leaned forward, an oddly pleased look on his face.

I shrugged. “Burrich rode it down. And then he cursed me down as if it were my fault, and told me that he’d have knocked me silly if the beast had hurt Sooty. As if I could have known it would turn toward me.” I hesitated. “Chade, I know the Fool is strange. But I like it when he comes to talk to me. He speaks in riddles, and he insults me, and makes fun of me, and gives himself leave to tell me things he thinks I should do, like wash my hair, or not wear yellow. But…”

“Yes?” Chade prodded as if what I were saying was very important.

“I like him,” I said lamely. “He mocks me, but from him, it seems a kindness. He makes me feel, well, important. That he could choose me to talk to.”

Chade leaned back. He put his hand up to his mouth to cover a smile, but it was a joke I didn’t understand. “Trust your instincts,” he told me succinctly. “And keep any counsel the Fool gives you. And, as you have, keep it private that he comes and speaks to you. Some could take it amiss.”

“Who?” I demanded.

“King Shrewd, perhaps. After all, the Fool is his. Bought and paid for.”

A dozen questions rose to my mind. Chade saw the expression on my face, for he held up a quelling hand. “Not now. That’s as much as you need to know right now. In fact, more than you need to know. But I was surprised by your revelation. It’s not like me to tell secrets not my own. If the Fool wants you to know more, he can speak for himself. But I seem to recall we were discussing Galen.”

I sank back in my chair with a sigh. “Galen. So he is unpleasant to those who cannot challenge it, dresses well, and eats alone. What else do I need to know, Chade? I’ve had strict teachers, and I’ve had unpleasant ones. I think I’ll learn to deal with him.”

“You’d better.” Chade was deadly earnest. “Because he hates you. He hates you more than he loved your father. The depth of emotion he felt for your father unnerved me. No man, not even a prince, merits such blind devotion, especially not so suddenly. And you he hates, with even more intensity. It frightens me.”

Something in Chade’s tone brought a sick chill stalking up from my stomach. I felt an uneasiness that almost made me sick. “How do you know?” I demanded.

“Because he told Shrewd so when Shrewd directed him to include you among his pupils. ‘Does not the bastard have to learn his place? Does not he have to be content with what you have decreed for him?’ Then he refused to teach you.”

“He refused?”

“I told you. But Shrewd was adamant. And he is King, and Galen must obey him now, for all that he was a queen’s man. So Galen relented and said he would attempt to teach you. You will meet with him each day. Beginning a month from now. You are Patience’s until then.”

“Where?”

“There is a tower top, called the Queen’s Garden. You will be admitted there.” Chade paused, as if wanting to warn me, but not wishing to scare me. “Be careful,” he said at last, “for within the walls of the garden, I have no influence. I am blind there.”

It was a strange warning, and one I took to heart.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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