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Then they were spiraling together. His deep cries were a challenge to all the world, but her higher calls were a defiance and mockery of him alone. He was above her for a moment, and then she tipped her wings and slid away from him. So I thought. Instead he clapped his wings to his body and fell upon her, his wide-open jaws so scarlet that even at that distance I perceived it before his teeth clamped onto her outstretched neck. Then his larger wings overshadowed hers, and suddenly their beating synchronized. He pulled her tight against him, his longer tail wrapping hers as he arched around her.

I knew what I witnessed. By that mating flight, there would be dragons in our skies again. I stared up at that wonder, at their casual flaunting of their return to life, and wondered what we had restored to the world.

“I do not understand!” the Narcheska exclaimed in horror. “She came all this way to save him and now he attacks her. Look at them fight!”

Dutiful cleared his throat. “I don't think they're fighting.”

“Then . . . Yes they are! Look how he bites her! Why does he seize her like that, if not to hurt her?” Elliania shaded her eyes with one hand as she looked up in wonder at them. Her dark hair fell tangled down her shoulders and back and her uplifted chin bared the long straight column of her neck. Her tunic strained over her breasts. Dutiful made a small sound in his throat. He lifted his eyes from looking at her and his gaze went from me to Peottre. Her uncle had one arm around his sister's shoulders and held Kossi in his other. I think the Prince decided that our opinion of the matter no longer concerned him. He stepped closer to Elliania and took her in his arms. “I'll show you,” he said to her astonishment. He clasped her firm and close, and lowered his mouth to hers.

Despite all that had befallen me that day, despite every loss I had sustained, I found myself smiling. That which surged between the dragons above must affect any man sensitive to the Skill. The Narcheska broke the kiss at last. Lowering her brow to his shoulder, she laughed softly. “Oh,” she said. Then she lifted her face again to be kissed. I looked aside.

Oerttre did not. She was scandalized. Despite her rags and filth, her reaction was regal. “Peottre! You allow a farmer to kiss our narcheska?”

He laughed aloud. I was shocked to realize it was the first time I'd ever heard the man laugh. “No, my sister. But she does, and she allots to him what he has earned. There is much explaining to do yet. But I promise you, what happens there is not against her will.” He smiled. “And what is a man that he should oppose the will of a woman?”

“It is not proper,” Oerttre replied primly, and despite her stained dress and caked hair, her words were that of a narcheska of the Out Islands. It struck me how completely she had come back to herself.

Abruptly it came to me that if the Fool still lived, then with the dragon's death, whatever Forging had been done to him would have come undone as well. Wild hope leaped in me and the world lurched around me. “The Fool!” I exclaimed, and then when Peottre looked at me in disapproval, to see if I mocked the Prince, I clarified, “The tawny man. Lord Golden. He might yet live!”

I turned and ran over the crusted snow. I reached the edge of what had been our pit and tried to find a safe way down into it. The upheaval of the dragons had made it a treacherous place. The opening that Peottre and the Narcheska had emerged from was gone. Rawbread's final landing in the side of the pit and his struggles to get out of it had obscured that gap into the Pale Woman's palace. But I knew where it had been and surely, surely, it could not be buried that deeply. I set out down the unstable slope, trying to hurry and yet keep my footing as the broken ice crunched and then cascaded past me. I halted and forced myself to walk more carefully. I picked my way down the sliding slope, hating the delay. Every chunk of ice I dislodged now was yet another I must move. The opening had been at the deepest end of the pit. I was nearly to it when I heard someone call my name. I halted and looked over my shoulder. Peottre stood at the edge of the excavation, looking down on me. He shook his head, his eyes full of pity. He spoke bluntly.

“Give it up, Badgerlock. He's dead. Your comrade is dead. I'm sorry. We saw him when we were searching the cells for our people. I had promised myself that if he were still alive, we would try to steal him, too. But he wasn't. We were too late. I'm sorry.”

I stood staring up at him. Suddenly I couldn't see him. The contrast between the brightness of the day and his dark silhouette seemed to blind me. Cold crept up me, followed by a wave of numbness. I thought I would faint. I sat down very slowly in the ice. I hated the stupid words that came from my mouth. “Are you sure?”

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