Several times I attempted in vain to reach out with the Skill. A legless man trying to jump would have had more success. The magic was simply gone. If I dwelt on that, I felt a cold pit in the bottom of my belly. I pushed the thought aside. There was nothing I could do about it now.
The daily cycle of warmth and chill combined with the nightly wind had smoothed all the edges of our previous passage's trail. I made a few vain attempts to read it, trying to discern if Riddle and Hest and their sled had passed this way, with no success. We had a wide view of the snowy lands below us. Nothing moved on them, certainly nothing so large as a sled and two men. It was possible that they had lingered at the beach, I told myself, or that some mishap had delayed their return. I tried not to stack their disappearance with the theft of my Skill and the sightings of the Black Man. I had too few facts to make them add up to anything. Instead, I tried to enjoy the freshness of the day. At one point, I heard the high cry of a seabird, and looked up to see a gull describe a wide circle over us. I lifted a hand and waved a greeting at Risk, wondering if that acknowledgment would be relayed to Web.
We passed our previous campsite while we still had plenty of daylight and energy to continue, so we did. That night, we pitched the tent on the trail behind the sled. Thick still periodically hummed to himself, but also expressed both an interest in and then dismay at the simple dinner I prepared. The little tent was a bit more crowded with the three of us, but also warmed more quickly. The Fool told simple children's stories that night until we were all more than ready for sleep. With every passing tale, Thick hummed less and asked more questions. At one time the constant interruptions to the story would have annoyed me. Now they filled me with relief.
“Would you tell Chade and Dutiful good night for me?” I asked Thick as he settled into his blankets.
“Do it yourself,” he suggested grumpily.
“I can't. I ate some bad food, and now I can't find them in my mind.”
He sat up on one elbow and stared at me. “Oh. Yes. Now I remember. You're gone. That's too bad.” He was silent for a time, then said, “They say good night, and thanks for letting them know. And maybe I should stay at the beach, but they'll decide later.” He drew a deep, satisfied breath and dropped back into his blankets.
It was my turn to sit up. “Thick. You aren't coughing anymore. Or wheezing.”
“No.” He rolled over, managing to kick me in the process. I nearly complained but then he said, “He told me, ‘Mend yourself. Don't be dumb, mend yourself, don't be annoying.' So I did.”
“Who told you that?” I asked, even as I was stricken with guilt. Why hadn't Chade and Dutiful and I thought of trying to heal Thick? It now seemed obvious. I was ashamed we hadn't done it.
“Huh,” Thick sighed out consideringly. “His name is a story, too long to tell. I'm sleepy. Stop talking to me.”
And that was that. He went off into a deep sleep. I wondered if Icefyre had another name, a dragon name.
I woke once in the night, thinking I heard cautious footsteps outside our tent. I crept to the door flap, and then reluctantly stepped outside into the clear cold. I saw nothing and no one, even when I had made a full circuit of the tent.
When morning came, I made a wider circuit of the camp while the Fool tried to heat water for tea for us. I brought my news back to them. “Someone came to see us last night,” I said, trying to keep my voice light. “He walked all around our camp in a big circle. Then he lay down in the snow over there for a while. Then he went away, that way, the same way he came. Do you think I should go see where he went?”
“Why?” Thick asked, even as the Fool said thoughtfully, “I think Lord Chade and Prince Dutiful might want to know about that.”
“I think they would, too.” I looked at Thick. He sighed wearily, and then turned his gaze inward.
A few moments later, he said, “They said, ‘Go to the beach.' Dutiful says he thinks he left maple candy in a bag there. They say we should hurry there, and come back with the stuff, and tell the guards there to come back with us. ‘Don't go looking for where the footprints go right now.' ”
“Then that is what we'll do.” How I wished to be able to hear Chade's thoughts on this for myself.
We packed up the tent and loaded it on the sled. Thick matter-of-factly climbed onto it. I thought it over and decided it was the simplest solution to traveling with him. Dragging him was easier than matching his slow pace. As before, the Fool went on before us, testing the trail while I pulled. The day was fine, a warm wind blowing across the snowy face of the world. I expected that we might reach the beach by the next afternoon if we held our present progress. Thick suddenly spoke.