Fool's Assassin / Page 166

Page 166



I nodded. In that moment I missed my mother more than I ever had before.

Chapter Seventeen

Assassins

There is, in all honesty, no way to kill someone mercifully. There are those who count it no crime to drown an imperfect newborn in warm water, as if the infant will not struggle desperately to draw air into its lungs. Did it not try to breathe, it would not drown. But they do not hear the screams nor feel the darkening of the mind that the child endures, so they have been merciful. To themselves. This is true of most “mercy killings.” The best an assassin can do is create a setting in which he does not have to witness the pain he causes. Ah, you will say, but what of drugs and poisons that send a man into a deep sleep from which he never emerges? Perhaps, but I doubt it. I suspect that some part of the victim knows. The body knows it is being murdered, and it keeps few secrets from the mind. The strangler, the suffocator, the exsanguinator may all claim that their victims did not suffer. They lie. All they may truly say is that the victim’s suffering was invisible to them. And no one returns to say they were wrong.

Merjok’s Two Hundred Seventy-Nine Ways to Kill an Adult

As I carried her body down the stairs, my little darling trotted before me bearing a candle to light my way. For one terrible moment I felt grateful that Molly was dead and could not witness what I was demanding of our child. At least I had created a long enough diversion that she had not witnessed me killing the messenger. I had used the two blood points in her throat. When I first placed my hands, she had known what I was doing. Her blind and bloody gaze had met mine, and for a moment I read relief and permission on her face. But then, as I applied the pressure, she had reflexively reached up to seize my wrists. She had struggled, fighting for a few more moments of pain-riddled life.

She was too weakened to put up much of a fight. She managed to scratch me a bit. It had been a long, long time since I had killed anyone. I’d never anticipated killing with arousal, as some assassins do. I’d never made it my joy in life, my fulfillment, or even my cherished goal. I’d accepted it as my task in life when I was very young, and I’d done it, efficiently and coldly, and tried not to think too much about it. That night, even with the messenger’s initial permission, even with the knowledge that I was saving her from a lingering and painful death, was probably my worst experience as an assassin.

And here I was, making my small daughter a party to it, and binding her to silence. Had I sought righteously to keep Chade and Kettricken from dragging her into being a Farseer with all the attendant history? They certainly would not have exposed her to anything like this. I had been so proud of how long it had been since I’d killed anyone. Oh, good work, Fitz. Don’t let them put the burdens of being a Farseer on those thin shoulders. Make her an assassin’s apprentice instead.

On an estate like Withywoods there is always, somewhere, a pile of brush and branches waiting to be burned. All end up heaped somewhere out of the way. Ours was at the far side of the lambing pens in a pasture. I carried the bundled messenger and led the way through the tall, snowy grass and the winter night. Bee walked silently behind me. It was an unpleasant walk in the dark and wet. She followed in the trail I broke. We came to a snow-edged mound of brambly and twiggy branches, thorn bushes cut and thrown here, and fallen branches from the trees bordering the pasture that were too skinny to be worth cutting into firewood. It was an ample pile for my task.

There I set down my load, and the bundled body tipped unevenly onto the pile. I pulled the branches over her and made the pile more compact. Bee watched. I thought perhaps I should send her back, tell her to go to my room and sleep. I knew she wouldn’t and suspected that actually witnessing what I had to do would be less horrific than imagining it. Together we went to fetch oil and coals. She watched me fling the oil over the branches and pour it generously over the wrapped body. Then we set it alight. The evergreen branches and brambles were resinous; they caught fire quickly, and their flames dried the thicker branches. I feared they would consume themselves before the body was gone, but the oily featherbed caught and burned well with a harsh stink. I brought more branches to throw on our bone fire, and Bee helped. She was always a pale little creature, and the chill black night chalked her. The red firelight dancing on her face and shock of hair made her some strange little death sprite from an old tale.

The pyre burned well, the flames reaching up higher than my head. Their light pushed the night back. Soon my face was uncomfortably warm and my back still cold. I braced myself against the heat to push the ends of branches in and to add more to the conflagration. The fire spoke, crackling and hissing when I threw on a frost-laden branch. The flames ate our secret.


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