We haven't even begun to climb it yet. Thick is distracted and moving slowly.
Not distracted! Again, I was jolted by how easily Thick had picked up thoughts I had not intended for him. Listening to the music, that's all. Except that you keep breaking it.
Chade's Skilling was like oil on water. I've asked Peottre if we'll be stopping for the night soon and he says we will. Once you crest the ridge, you should see us easily. He has already pointed out our campsite to me. As there is no sort of shelter at all, you won't have any difficulty spotting our cook fires.
Cook fires? Food soon?
Yes, Thick, food soon. Probably almost as soon as you get here. I've brought some sweets with me from the ship. I'll share them with you, if you get here before I've eaten them all.
I had to admire Dutiful's cunning, even as I shook my head at it. It distracted Thick from his “music” and he consented to follow in my footsteps and let me do the snow probing. I thought that Peottre's caution was a bit exaggerated anyway. Surely if the entire party had already passed over a section of glacier, it would withstand one more crossing. And that proved to be true. We climbed the ridge in their tracks, stopping several times to allow Thick to finish coughing and catch his breath.
When we crested the ridge, I could instantly see their campsite below. The snow staves were posted at intervals around it, with bright ribbons attached to the tops. Evidently Peottre had established what he considered a safe area for the party. The larger tents for the Prince and Narcheska had already sprung up like mushrooms. In the dimming light, the Fool's colorful one was like a blossom cast on the snow. Illuminated from within, the bright panels gleamed like stained-glass windows. What had seemed random designs suddenly resolved into dragons and serpents cavorting. Well, he had declared his allegiance clearly.
There were two small campfires for the drab tents of the rest of our group. The Hetgurd men had pitched their tents a little away from ours, and kindled their own tiny fire, as if to proclaim to the gods that they were not of our party and did not deserve to share our fate.
I saw no sign of the Black Man, or any place where one might have hidden. Yet this did not dismiss my concerns but only heightened them.
As we made our way down to the camp, we encountered our first fissure in the glacier. It was a narrow, snaking crack, no more than that, and I simply stepped over it. Thick halted, staring down at the depths that shaded from pale blue to black. “Come on,” I encouraged him. “It's not far to camp. I think I can smell the food they're cooking.”
“That's deep.” He lifted his eyes from his contemplation of it. “Peottre was right. It could swallow me and gulp me down, snap!” He stepped back from it.
“No it can't. It's all right, Thick. It's not something alive; it's just a crack in the ice. Come on.”
He took a deep breath, and then coughed. When he was finished, he said, “No. I'm going back.”
“You can't, Thick. It will be dark soon. It's only a crack. Just step over it.”
“No.” He shook his head on his short neck, his chin brushing his collar. “It's dangerous.”
In the end, I stepped back over it and took his hand to persuade him to cross. I nearly slipped and fell when his awkward and exaggerated leap over it took me off guard in mid-stride. As I tottered, for one breathless moment I imagined myself wedged in the crack, out of reach of helping hands and yet preserved from slipping further. Thick sensed my fear and comforted me with “See, I told you it was dangerous. You nearly fell in and died.”
“Let's just go down to the camp,” I suggested.
As promised, they had hot food waiting for us. Riddle and Hest had finished eating already. They were conversing quietly with Longwick as he directed a watch schedule for the night. I settled Thick on top of my pack beside the fire and fetched food that Deft ladled out for both of us. Supper was a stew made from salt meat, and it suffered from that, as well as a too-brief cooking time. I grinned briefly at myself as I pondered how swiftly I had once again become accustomed to Buckkeep's succulent fare. Had I forgotten how to subsist on a guard's rations? There had been times in my life when I'd had far worse to eat at the end of a long, cold day, or nothing at all. I took another bite.That thought should have made the tough meat taste better, but it didn't. I glanced surreptitiously at Thick, expecting he would soon complain about it. But he was staring at the fire wearily, his bowl balanced precariously on his knee. “You should eat, Thick,” I reminded him, and he started as if from a dream. I caught the bowl before it tipped enough to spill and handed it back to him. He ate, but wearily, not showing any of his usual enthusiasm for food, and stopping often to cough. It worried me. I finished my food hastily and rose, leaving Thick watching the dwindling flames of the small fire and chewing methodically.