“What is it?” I asked Web in a low voice.
“It's the Old Blood. As well you know.” He spoke softly, not turning to look at me. “It works best Wit to Wit as you would say. But even on those who have no Wit, one can exert a drawing closer. I've had Swift practicing. Today was a sterner test than I wished to set him. But he's done well.”
“Yes. I can see that he has.” There was a look of trust on Thick's face as the boy led him toward the boarding plank. He hesitated there, halting. Then Swift spoke softly to him and, still holding the little man's hand, led him up the gangway. I debated before next I spoke, but curiosity dragged the words from me. “I know how to push someone away from me with the Wit. I think I've always known how to do that. But how do you draw someone closer with it?”
“Ah. Well. The pushing-away might come by instinct. Usually the drawing-close does, too. I would have thought you knew it; now I understand why you've never used it with Thick.” He cocked his head and looked at me appraisingly. “Sometimes, the things you don't know baffle me. As if you'd forgotten or somehow lost some part of yourself.” I think he saw the uneasiness that his words woke in me, for he suddenly changed his tone and spoke in generality. “I think all creatures use that drawing force, to some extent, with their young or when they wish to attract a mate. Perhaps you've used it without realizing it. But, you see, that is why a man given this magic should make an effort to learn about it. To be aware of how he's using it.” He let a silence fall, then added, “I'll offer again to teach you what you need to know.”
“I have to go and see to Thick and get him settled.” I turned hastily to go.
“Yes. I know that you do. You've many tasks and duties, and I won't claim to know all that you do for our prince. I'm sure that at any moment of the day, you can find some reason to be too busy for this. But a man makes time for what is important in his life. So. I'll be hoping that you'll come to me. This is the last time I'll make the offer. Now it's up to you to accept it.”
And before I could hurry away, he turned and quietly left me there. Overhead, Risk lifted off from our mast with a lonely cry that rode down the wind. Lines were tossed, the planks were pulled in, and in the little boats men leaned to their oars to pull us away from the docks and out to where the wind could catch us. I promised myself that I'd find the time, today, to speak to Web about privately learning about my magic. I hoped I didn't lie.
But nothing is ever simple. With the Narcheska, her father Arkon Bloodblade, and her uncle Peottre on board, most of Dutiful's and Chade's social time was taken up with one or another of them. I had little private conversation with either of them. Instead, as before, I was confined to Thick's companionship. As he was miserable, he saw no reason why I shouldn't be also. The minor bruises and scrapes he had given me on the previous voyage were renewed, and there was little I could do about it. Putting up walls against his subtle Skill-influence would have reduced my awareness of Chade and Dutiful. So I endured.
To make it worse, the water we crossed was nasty. We battled currents and tides that always seemed to oppose us. For two days of our journey, our ship rocked badly and Thick was genuinely seasick, as were Cockle, Swift, and Civil. The rest of us ate little and moved from one handhold to another. I glimpsed a very pale Narcheska taking a walk on the deck on Peottre's arm. Neither of them looked as if they were enjoying themselves. The slow days crawled by.
I did not find an opportunity to discuss the Wit with Web. From time to time, I would recall my intention, but it always seemed to come to me at a moment when a dozen other things wanted my attention. I tried to pretend it was circumstance that kept me from approaching him. In reality, I could not name what held me back.
Our destination finally appeared on the horizon. Even from a distance, Aslevjal looked a dismal place. It is among the northernmost of the Out Islands, a toothy isle of grim visage. Summer never really triumphs there. The milder days of summer's brief visit are not sufficient to melt the snow of the previous winter on its mountains. Most of the island is locked under the glacier that squats within the pronged hold of its peaks. Some say it is actually two islands, bridged by the ice of the glacier, but I do not know the basis for that belief. Low tide bares black sand beaches around it like a dreary skirt. A barren and stony stretch of beach and a bit of cliff are permanently exposed at one end of it. In other places, rocky stretches thrust up through the glacier's pale coat. I could not tell if the cloudiness around the island was the ice smoking in the sunlight or snow blown by the continuous north wind we were encountering.