“I didn't know I was doing it. Then, after a time, I became aware of her. In my dreams. We talked there, in the dream worlds she made. It took me a while to realize that she was manifesting the Skill, in a way I'd never seen it used before her. But I never . . . She doesn't, that is, she doesn't know—” And suddenly I couldn't go any further. My throat had crushed the words unsaid.
“I know. If you had told her I wasn't her father, I'd have known.”
I nodded wordlessly. It was strange to see how he would perceive such a telling. I thought only of telling her who her father was; Burrich saw it as telling her who was not her father.
He cleared his throat and changed the subject. “She will have to be taught how to manage her magic, or the Skill can steal her mind. I know that is so, from what Chivalry taught me of it.”
“Nettle should be taught,” I conceded. “It has become dangerous for her to go further without being taught. But she will, if we don't intervene. She must be taught.”
“By you?” he asked quickly.
“By someone,” I amended. And there we left it. I listened to the sound of tools crunching into snow and ice and the ever-present whooshing of the wind over the glacier. It was like a strange music, one interspersed with the upraised voices of the workers as they exhorted one another. But when we arrived at the lip of the ice quarry, work ceased almost immediately.
Chade stood at the edge of our excavation and spoke to them all, explaining his exploding powder and what he intended to do with it. I felt oddly apart from all of it. I looked from face to uplifted face, seeing concern on Web's and intrigue on Cockle's. Some of the men reverted to being boys immediately, with boyish enthusiasm for testing the unknown. Chade went down the ramp with his kettles and I followed with mine. He inspected the holes that Dutiful and Longwick had caused to be dug. One he wanted deepened and another he declined, requesting that a new hole be dug close to the mouth of the caved-in tunnel. All would be in a row, along the deepest fractures that the dragon had made in the ice. Here Chade judged the ice to be weakest and that the powder would have the most efficacy. He chose six men to build the fires in the pots, and Burrich walked slowly down the line of them, giving each kindling and fuel and coals from his fire kettle. Then Chade sent him out of the pit. Chade remained, moving slowly from firepot to firepot, making sure that each was set well in its hole in the ice and that the fire would have a deep foundation of coals for the powder vessels to nestle into. Several times as his chosen men were kindling the fires in their pots, he repeated how these were actually rather small doses of the powder, not enough to do harm to the dragon, only enough to further crack the ice around him so that we might move it more swiftly.
Each man stood as he judged that his pot was burning well enough. In each case, Chade moved down the line, added more fuel, and then sent the man up to stand with the others at the edge of the excavation. Each container of powder was left sitting on the ice, two spans away from the fire. When Chade and I alone remained in the hole, he came to me and spoke quietly. “I will join the others at the edge of the pit. When I nod to you, move swiftly down the kettles. Drop each container of powder into the kettle that matches it. Then come quickly to join me. It will take some little time for the fire to burn through to the powder, but I judge it best that you do not linger here.”
He paused as if he would say something more, then shook his head wordlessly at me. I wondered again if his will warred with his action. Then I watched him climb up the ramp and join the row of men standing at the edge of the pit looking down at me. It struck me that the walls that had first divided us were gone. Hetgurders, guardsmen, and Wit coterie mingled. Burrich stood beside Chade. Swift was next to Web. Civil's Wit-cat was belly down on the ice, peering down at me curiously.
I took a deep breath, walked to the end of the row, and lifted the first powder vessel. I dropped it into the first burning kettle and sparks flew up around it. The second likewise; the third landed badly and had to be nudged deeper into the flames. I heard the watchers mutter as I did so. The fourth was easy. The fifth stuck to the ice and it seemed to take a year before it gave way to my tugging. Its lid came loose as it did so, and a small quantity of powder leaped from the mouth of it. I put the top back on and brushed it clean. As I set it into its firepot, the flames licked eagerly at the powder-smeared side, sparking and burning white. I reminded myself that quite a lot of time had elapsed before Chade's original flask had exploded in my fireplace. The sixth was as easy as the first, and then I gave in to my impulse and burst into a run. I fled up the ramp and joined the others on the edge of the pit. The fifth pot suddenly burst into a fountaining roar of flames, sparks, and sulfurous fumes. I heard gasps of amazement and fear from the watchers, but as I gained the lip of the pit, the leaping white fire grew less and subsided. The pot that had held it cracked loudly and we heard a hiss as melted water met fire.