I shifted in the bed, groaning as my aching muscles complained. “I don't think I thought much about it. Chade has been telling me what to do for so long that I simply accepted I should go. But I would like to know what has happened to Riddle and Hest. And I'd like to see if Thick recovers himself when he's moved away from the dragon's influence. And—” I shifted and groaned again. “I wouldn't mind a few days of doing anything other than shoveling.”
He was quiet. I was too, pondering his silence. I wondered what was making him take so long to make up his mind. Then I laughed aloud. “Ah, yes. I nearly forgot. I am the Catalyst, the one who makes changes. And this would be a change in what you think you should do. So, you cannot decide whether to oppose it or not.”
The silence stretched so long I thought he had fallen asleep. The day had been the warmest we had had so far, making sodden work of our task. I listened to the wind, and hoped the night's cold would crust the surface of the glacier and keep the wind from blowing snow into our excavation. I had almost dropped off to sleep myself when he said, “You frighten me, sometimes, when you give voice to my thoughts. We will go, tomorrow. We'll take this tent for shelter, shall we?”
“That sounds fine to me,” I said as I drowsed off.
And so the next morning we set off. Longwick issued us three days of supplies, which, he told us, should be ample for us to reach the beach. We struck the Fool's elegant tent and packed it on the sled while Longwick gave us last-minute directives. If we reached the beach without encountering the others, we should warn the guard there of our sightings of the Black Man. If we encountered evidence that the others had met with foul play, we should return to the camp immediately and report. If we met the others coming back, we should simply turn around and come back with them. Web's bird would check on us, from time to time. I nodded as I arranged the Fool's tent and bedding for three onto the sled. As predicted, we had to load Thick onto the sled. He could not be persuaded to walk. It was not that he resisted; he simply didn't cooperate. He would take a few steps, and then become lost once more in his musings. Dutiful and Chade both came to bid us farewell. Dutiful snugged Thick's cap down around his ears. I know that he tried desperately to stir Thick with the Skill. I could not feel it, but I saw the intensity in Dutiful's face. Thick turned his head slowly to look at the Prince. “I'm fine,” he said sluggishly. And then he stared off in the distance again.
“Take care of him, Tom,” the Prince told me gruffly.
“I will, my lord. We'll try to make a quick trip of it.” And so saying, with Thick sitting on the great sled bundled up like a cocoon, I took up the lines and began to pull.
The heavily waxed runners moved easily over the snow. Almost too easily, for we were now going downhill rather than up. I had to stop and set the drag to keep the sled from running over the top of me. The Fool went ahead of us, his pack riding high on his shoulders, prodding the snow to make sure our path was sound, even though we were following the line of stakes that Peottre had set up to mark our path for us.
The day was warm, and snow collected, heavy, on my boots. When our path leveled for a time, the runners of the sled began to stick. The sled was cutting a deeper path upon our old one, and as the runners sank into the snow, heavy damp snow began to ride on the tops of the runners. But the day was pleasant and pulling Thick on the sled was still less strenuous than shoveling ice out of a pit. The gaudy sword the Fool had given me tapped against my leg as I strode along, for Longwick had insisted that I, at least, should go armed. We were traversing the trail much more swiftly than we had before, for the path was clearly marked with Peottre's stakes, and there was at least a slight downhill slope for all of it. Thick's humming, the squeak of the runners, and the crunch of our footsteps on the softened crust of the glacier were not the only sounds. The warmth had wakened the glacier. We heard one distant fall of ice, a thunder that went on for some time. It was followed by lesser creakings and crashes, but always at a distance.
The Fool began to whistle, and I was much cheered when I saw Thick sit up and take notice of the music. He still hummed breathlessly to himself, but I began to make comments on the scenery, uniformly white as it was, and occasionally elicited a response from him. That cheered me unreasonably, but also left me pondering. The Skill was not a magic bounded by distance, and yet Thick seemed to be recovering more of his own awareness of the world the farther we got from the buried dragon. I had no answer to why that might be so, and wished I could discuss it with Dutiful and Chade.