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“Must I phrase it like that?” I asked reluctantly.

“Well . . . perhaps you can modify it. Oh, tell her whatever you like, so long as she goes to Buckkeep immediately and understands that the danger to her is real. I will write a brief message to my mother and send it by bird, just to be sure all understand that this is not to be disputed.” He stood, heaving a great sigh. “And now I am going to sleep, in a real bed behind a closed door instead of displayed on a plank in a common room like a choice game trophy. I can't remember when I've been this tired.”

I was glad to leave the cabin. I took a turn about the deck. The wind was fresh, Risk swept the sky ahead of our ship, and the day was fine. I could not tell if I dreaded or anticipated the task before me. Dutiful had not said that I must tell Nettle she was my daughter. Yet sending her to Buckkeep Castle was setting her on the path to that knowledge. I shook my head. I no longer knew what I hoped for. I knew one thing I dreaded, however. The Prince's words about Tintaglia had shaken me. Had I been too serene about Nettle's ability to foil the dragon? Could the beast know where she lived?

The day passed slowly for me. I checked on Thick twice. He remained in his bunk, his face turned to the wall, insisting he was sick. In truth, I suspected he was becoming accustomed to sea voyages despite himself. When I told him he didn't seem sick to me and perhaps he'd enjoy coming out on deck, he nearly succeeded in making himself puke on my feet with his wild retching. Instead, he went off in a fit of genuine coughing, throaty and deep, and I decided I was wiser to leave the little man in peace. On my way out, I “accidentally” clipped my shoulder on the doorframe. Thick laughed.

Nursing my new bruise, I went out on the deck. Out on the foredeck, I found Riddle with a square of canvas and a handful of beach pebbles, trying to teach the Stone game to two of the crewmen. I left that unsettling sight, and found Swift with Civil. His cat had climbed one of the masts and they were trying to persuade him to come down, much to the annoyance of our captain and the amusement of several Outislanders.

Risk lighted in the rigging just out of the cat's reach and teased him, with partially uplifted wings and squawks, until Web came to order her to cease and aid in getting the cat down.

And so the day went, and the dreaded and longed-for nightfall came. I returned to the cabin I shared with Thick. Swift had brought him his dinner, and the empty dishes on the floor seemed to indicate his appetite was intact. I stacked them and set them aside, only to stumble over them a moment later. A low chuckle from Thick was the only sign he had witnessed my clumsiness. When I offered him good night, he ignored me.

He had the sole bunk. I lay down in my blankets on the floor and spent a good amount of time trying to find enough calmness to approach sleep and that suspended place between sleep and wakefulness where I could dream-walk. It was wasted time. No matter how I sought Nettle, I could not find her. It worried me enough that I could not sleep, but made fruitless forays into dream-walks for most of the night. But the more I looked for her, the more she wasn't there.

In the darkness of the stuffy little cabin, I told myself that if something had befallen Nettle, surely I would know of it. We were Skill-linked. Surely she would have cried out to me if she had been in danger. I consoled myself that my daughter had blocked me from her dreams before; and she had been irritated with me for “allowing” the Prince into our shared place the last time we had visited. Perhaps this was my punishment from her. But, as I lay in the darkness and stared at black, it came to me that the last time I had seen Tintaglia, the dragon had claimed she could block me from Nettle if she chose to. What had the dragon said to Nettle? “You are quite alone, if I decide you are.” Where was my daughter right now? Trapped in a nightmare, tormented by a dragon? No, I promised myself. Nettle had shown she could competently defend herself there. I cursed the logic Chade had taught me, for it said that then the dragon, to gain what she wanted, would shift the battlefield to one more to her liking. Such as physically hunting down my daughter.

How fast could a dragon fly? Fast enough to get from the Rain Wild River to Buck in a single night? Surely not. But I did not know, I could not be sure. I shifted on the wooden floor and struggled with the short blankets.

When morning came at last, I rose, sandy-eyed, and lurched to my feet. Somehow I tangled my feet in the blankets and slipped, banging my shins. Thick appeared to sleep through my cursing. I left the cabin and went directly to report to the Prince. He listened in grim silence. Neither he nor Chade told me how foolish I had been to leave my daughter defenseless against a dragon in the name of protecting her. The Prince merely said, “Let us hope she is only angry with you. The bird flew yesterday. And as soon as he reaches Buckkeep, my mother will not be slow in sending for Nettle. I told her the danger was great, and not to waste time. We have done all we can, FitzChivalry.”

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