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“She flew tirelessly. From the time I climbed up behind her and the powerful beat of her dragon's wings lifted us through the canopy of tree limbs until the moment that we landed on the black sand beaches of Aslevjal, she took no rest. Nor did I. At first, we flew through blue summer skies of the lands beyond Mountain Kingdom. Then higher we flew, until my heart pounded and I was giddy, over the snowy peaks and trodden passes of the Mountains, and then back into summer. We flew over the villages of the Mountain Kingdom. They nestle into the crooks and flanks of the mountains, and their flocks are scattered over the steep pastures like white apple blossoms litter the orchard meadow after a spring windstorm.”

I saw it, in my mind, and smiled faintly when he spoke of flying over a Six Duchies hamlet early in the morning, and the one lad who looked up and saw them and ran whooping into his cottage. And on he spoke, of rivers like silver seams in the land and planted fields like patchwork when seen from above, and of the ocean, wrinkling like paper tipped with silver. In my mind, I flew with him.

I must have fallen asleep, lulled by his strange story. When I awoke, night was deep all around us. The camp outside our tent was still, and his pot fire held only a single flickering flame on a wick in the oil. I was huddled beneath one of his blankets, fallen over sideways on his bed. He slept, curled like a kitten, his brow nearly touching mine, on the other end of his pallet. His breathing was deep and even, and one long hand was palm up on the blankets between us, as if in offering, or beseeching something of me. Sleepily I reached over and set my hand in his. He did not seem to wake. Strangely, I felt at peace. I closed my eyes and sank down into a deep and dreamless slumber.

Chapter 19

BELOW THE ICE

The Outislanders have always been raiders. In the years before the Red Ship War, there were raiding incidents, as it seemed there had always been. Individual ships led by the kaempra of a clan would make a quick strike, carrying off stock, harvested crops, and occasionally captives. Bearns took the brunt of these clashes, and seemed to relish them much as Shoaks enjoyed its border disputes with Chalced. The Duke of Bearns seemed content that they were his concern, and made little complaint of dealing with them.

But with the appearance of the red-hulled ships of Kebal Rawbread, the rules of engagement changed. Suddenly, the ships appeared in groups, and seemed more intent on rape and ruin than on a quick acquisition of goods. They burned or spoiled what they could not carry off, slaughtering herds and flocks, torching grain in the field and storehouses. They killed even those who did not resist them. A new malice had appeared in these raids, one that delighted not just in theft, but also in destruction and devastation.

At that time, we did not even know of the Pale Woman and her influence over Rawbread.

— SCRIBE FEDWREN, “A HISTORY OF THE RED SHIP WAR”

In the morning, when we reached the edge of our pit, both Riddle and I groaned. Then we went to work, lifting and flinging the snow that had blown in to half-fill our excavation of the day before. This snow was lighter and unpacked, but for all that, it was frustrating work. It was like shoveling feathers, and half of what we lifted floated free to drift back to the bottom of the hole. It was nearly noon before we had cleared it all down to where we had left off the evening before. Then out came the picks, and we began to break ice and scrape it up and shovel it out again.

I ached at first, and then I didn't, and then I began to hurt in new places. That night, I dropped into an exhausted sleep, deeper than dreams or regret. The wind blew again. Every night, the wind blew. Every morning, we began our task by clearing the previous night's drifted snow. Yet slowly, relentlessly, we toiled and the pit deepened. When we could no longer throw the ice out of the pit, we dug a ramp at one end. After that, we shoveled the ice onto one of the sleds and two men would drag it up out of the pit and away to dump it. The task was beyond tedious. And we found no sign of a dragon in the bottom. Worse, my Wit-sense of him grew fainter, not stronger.

The workforce grew after the first day. Our first addition was Prince Dutiful rolling back his sleeves and taking up a pickaxe. Chade limited his participation to supervising. He reminded me of Civil's cat, who perched at the edge of the pit and watched us with supreme disinterest.

When the Narcheska entered the pit, Dutiful stopped his work to warn her that the flying ice from his pick might injure her. She gave him an odd little smile, between sad and flirtatious, and cautioned him to be wary of the flying ice that her own pick might free. And then she set to work beside him, swinging her pick with a country girl's competence. “She used to help dig the rocks out, when we were preparing the new fields in spring,” Peottre observed. I turned to find him watching her with a mixture of pride and chagrin. “Here, give me your shovel for a time, while you rest yourself.”

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