The Fool coughed. “Down here.” We had let go of one another, but still stood close enough for our bodies to touch. He was huddled at my feet, and I felt him doing something, and then a pale, greenish light opened out from his hands. I blinked, at first seeing no more than the glow, and then realizing that it came from a small box in his hands. “This won't last long,” he warned me, his face ghastly in the corpse-light. “At most a day. It is Elderling magic, of the most expensive and rare sort. Not all of my fortune went for gambling and brandy. A good portion of it is right here in my hand.”
“Thank the gods for that,” I said heartily. For a fleeting instant, I wondered if that was the sole true prayer that Web had once referred to. Dim as the light was, it was still an immeasurable comfort to me. It was just enough to light both our faces as we looked at one another. The Fool's hat had stayed on his head. His pack dangled from one strap, the other torn free from him. I was shocked it had stayed with him at all. My sword belt and sword were gone. As I watched him, he strapped his little pack shut again. We did not speak for a moment or two as we shook snow from our clothing, and then lifted our eyes to peer at our surroundings.
We could see nothing of them. Our light was too dim to show us more than the slide of snow we had emerged from and ourselves. We were in an under-ice hollow or cavern, but the Elderling lantern could not reach the walls of it. No light trickled down from above. I decided that the flood of snow that had followed us had resealed whatever crack we had fallen through. Then, “Thick! Oh, Eda, give him the sense to Skill to Dutiful and Chade what has happened. I hope he just stays where he is on the sled. But when night and cold comes, what then for him? Thick!” I suddenly bellowed the word, thinking of the vague little man left sitting alone on a sled in a world of ice.
“Shush!” The Fool reprimanded me sharply. “If he hears you shout, he may get off the sled and come toward the crack. Be quiet. His danger is less than ours, and I'm afraid you must leave him to face it alone. He'll Skill out, Fitz. His mind is not swift, perhaps, but it works well enough and he will have plenty of time to think what to do next.”
“Perhaps,” I conceded. My heart felt squeezed. Of all the times to be deprived of my Skill, this was the worst. And then in the next instant, the loss of Nighteyes gutted me again. I missed his instincts and survivor's outlook. My heart caught in my chest. I was alone.
And drowning in self-pity. The thought was as acid as if it had truly come from Nighteyes. Get up and do something. The Fool's survival depends on you, and possibly Thick's.
I took a deep breath and lifted my eyes. The fickle green light of the little box showed me nothing, but that did not mean there was nothing to see. If there was no other way out, then we must risk causing another cascade of snow by trying to dig up through it. If there was a way out, then we should find it. It was that simple. Standing here whining like a lost cub would not avail me anything. I reached down and pulled the Fool to his feet. “Come. There is no going back up. Let us see where we are. Moving will keep us warmer.”
“Very well.” He spoke the words so trustingly that they nearly broke my heart.
I would have welcomed one of our snow poles, but there was no guessing where they were buried now. So, the Fool held his little box of light out in front of us, and we groped our way forward.
We encountered nothing. If we stood still and held our breaths, we could hear water dripping and the bone-deep slow breath of the ice around us. Under our feet, the ice was gritty. We could not see a ceiling above us. We were in a starless night, and our only contact with the world was the solidity under our feet and each other. We did not even see the blackness of a wall before us until we blundered against it.
We both stood touching it for a time, saying nothing. In that stillness, I became aware of the Fool shivering and the shuddering of his breath. “Why didn't you tell me you were that cold?” I demanded of him.
He sniffed, and then laughed weakly. “Aren't you? It seemed a useless thing to speak of it.” He dragged in another chattering breath and asked, “Is that ice or rock?”
“Lift the light.” He did. I peered at it. “I still can't tell. But it's something we can't pass. Let's follow it.”
“It may take us right back to where we came.”
“It may, and there's no help for that if it does. If we go all the way round and come right back to here again, at least we'll know there is no way out. Here. A moment.” I set my hand to shoulder height on the wall, and then reached for my belt knife. It was gone. Of course. The Fool still had his, and I borrowed it to scratch a rough mark on the wall. It seemed a futile gesture.