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Chade and Dutiful were at the other campfire with the rest of Dutiful's Wit coterie. There was talk there, and even some laughter, and for a moment I envied their companionship. It took me a moment to realize that the Fool was not there. He was probably within his own tent already. And then I noticed the other absence. Peottre and the Narcheska were also missing from the gathering. I glanced at the tent pitched for them. It was dark and still. Did they sleep already? Well, perhaps that was the best idea. Doubtless Peottre would rouse us all early to travel on.

I think Chade noticed me standing idly at the edges of the firelight. He left the circle of light as if going to relieve himself and I followed noiselessly. I stood beside him in the blackness and spoke quietly. “I'm concerned about Thick. He seems oddly distracted. From one moment to the next, his temper changes from irritable to frightened to elated.”

Chade nodded slowly. “There is something about this island . . . I have no name for it, and yet it tugs at me. I feel dread and worry, beyond what I should feel, and then the feelings go. This land seems to speak to me through my Skill. And if it can reach one as feeble as me in that talent, how must it speak to Thick?”

I heard bitterness in the self-deprecation of his magic. “You grow stronger in the Skill every day,” I assured him. “But I think perhaps you are right. I've felt nameless worry nibbling at me all day. Such, at times, is my nature. But this does seem more formless than usual. Could it have anything to do with the memories trapped in the stone?”

He made a sound of resignation. “How could we possibly know? All we can do for Thick is see that he eats and sleeps well at night.”

“He is growing stronger in the Skill.”

“I've noticed that. It makes my own paltry ability seem all the more meager.”

“Time, Chade. It will come with time and patience. You're doing well, for someone who began so late and has not been long in training.”

“Time. Time is the only thing we have, when all is said and done, and yet we never have enough of it. You can be calm about it; you've had as much of magic as you've ever wanted, and more, all your life. While I've had to claw and scratch for a tiny shred of it at the end of my days. Where is the justice of fate, when a half-wit has in abundance and values not at all that which I so desperately lack?” He turned on me. “Why did you always have so much Skill, bursts of it, and never wanted with your whole heart to master it as I have longed to do all my life?”

He was starting to frighten me. “Chade. I think this place preys on our minds, finding both our fears and our despairs. Set your walls against it, and trust only your logic.”

“Humph. I have never been prey to my emotions. But this time would be better spent in rest than in talk, by either of us. Care for Thick as best you can. I'll watch over the Prince. He too seems prey to a darker mood than is usual for him.” He rubbed his gloved hands together. “I'm old, Fitz. Old. And tired. And cold. I shall be glad when all of this is over and we are safely on our way home again.”

“And I,” I agreed heartily. “But I had another bit of news I wished to share with you. Odd, isn't it? Once I thought Skilling was private and secret. Yet, still I must seek you out to whisper to you. I don't think Thick is ready for me to ask this favor of him. He still resents and blames me. It might come better from you or the Prince.”

“What?” Chade demanded impatiently. He shifted restlessly and I knew the cold was biting into his skinny old bones.

“Nettle has gone to Buckkeep Castle. I think our bird must have reached the Queen and she sent someone to Burrich. She's gone to the castle for safety's sake. And she knows that the threat to her is connected to our quest for the dragon's head.” I could not quite bring myself to tell Chade that she now knew I was her father. I wanted to be clear on just how much Burrich had told her before that secret ceased being a secret.

Chade grasped the implications immediately. “And Thick speaks to Nettle in his dreams. We can communicate with Buckkeep and the Queen.”

“Almost. I think we need to approach it cautiously. Thick is still not pleased with me, and might make mischief if he knew it would upset me. And Nettle is angry with me, also. I cannot reach her directly, and I don't know how much heed she would give to messages from me that went through Thick.”

He gave a disgruntled noise. “Too late you fall in with my plans for her. Fitz, I do not relish rebuking you. But if you had allowed us to bring Nettle in as soon as we knew her potential, she would never have been in danger. Nor would quarrels between you and her have crippled us in this way. Either the Prince or I could reach her instead of you, if she had been properly prepared to use her magic. We could have had communication with Buckkeep Castle all this time.”

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