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Peottre nodded, and then said reluctantly, “Very sure. They had—” He stopped speaking suddenly. When he resumed, he said flatly, “He was dead. He could not have lived through that. He was dead.” He took a breath and then sighed it out slowly. “They are calling for you, down at the camp. The boy, Swift, he is with the dying man. They want you there.”

The dying man. Burrich. He jolted back into my thoughts like one of Chade's explosions. Yes. I would lose him, too. It was too much, far too much. I put my face down in my hands and curled up, rocking back and forth in the snow. Too much. Too much.

“I think you should hurry.” Blackwater's voice reached me from some distant place. Then I heard someone else say quietly, “You go tend to your own people. I'll see to mine.”

I heard someone working his way down the slope of ice to me, but I didn't care. I just sat there, trying to die, trying to let go of a life where I failed everyone I cared about. Then a hand fell heavily on my shoulder and Web said, “Get up, FitzChivalry. Swift needs you.”

I shook my head childishly. I would never, never, let anyone depend on me again.

“Get up!” he said more sternly. “We've lost enough people today. We're not going to lose you, too.”

I lifted my head and looked up at him. I felt Forged. “I was lost a long time ago,” I told him. Then I took a deep breath, stood up, and followed him.

Chapter 26

HEALINGS

The Chalcedean practice of tattooing one's slaves with a special mark of ownership began as a fashion among the nobility. In the early days of it, only the most valuable slaves, slaves one expected to own for a lifetime, were so marked. The custom seems to have escalated when Lord Grart and Lord Porte, both powerful nobles in the Chalcedean court, entered a rivalry to display their wealth. Jewelry, horses, and slaves were the measure of wealth at that time, and Lord Grart chose to have all of his horses prominently branded and all of his slaves tattooed. Ranks of both accompanied him everywhere he went. It is said that Lord Porte, in imitation of his rival, actually bought hundreds of cheap slaves of little or no standing as craftsmen or academics, simply for the purpose of tattooing them as his and displaying them.

At that time in Chalced, some slave craftsmen and artisans and courtesans were allowed by their masters to accept outside commissions. Occasionally one of these privileged slaves would earn enough to purchase his freedom. Many masters were understandably reluctant to let such valuable slaves go. As tattoos of ownership could not be removed from the slave's face without substantial scarring, and freedom papers were widely falsified, it was difficult for former slaves to prove they had earned their freedom. Slave owners took advantage of this by creating expensive “freedom rings,” earrings of gold or silver, often with jewels, the design unique to each noble family, that indicated a particular slave had earned his freedom. Often it took a slave years of service, after he had bought his freedom, to purchase the expensive earring that showed he was truly free to move about Chalced as he pleased, on his own recognizance.

— FEDWREN'S “HISTORY OF CHALCED'S SLAVE CUSTOMS”

I am no stranger to the aftermath of battle. I've walked across bloody earth and stepped over hacked bodies. Yet never before had I been in a place where the futility of war was so clearly illustrated. Warriors bound up the wounds they had dealt to one another, and Outislanders who had fought us now anxiously asked the Hetgurd men for news of relatives and clan lands left years ago. Like men waked from a legendary sleep they were, groping after lost lives, trying to cross a rift of years. It was too clear that they well remembered all that they had done as servants of the Pale Woman. I recognized one of the guards who had dragged me before her. He looked hastily aside from my gaze, and I did not confront him. Peottre had already told me the only thing I needed to know.

I made my way through our camp. With an almost unseemly haste, it was being struck. Two badly injured men, both from the Pale Woman's force, were already loaded on the sleds, and the tents were coming down. A hasty ice cairn was being assembled over three dead men. All of them had belonged to her. Icefyre had eaten Eagle, the Hetgurd man who had fallen to the dragon. There would be no entombment for him. The other two men we had lost, Fox and Deft, had already been buried in the collapse of the pit. No sense digging them up only to bury them again, I suppose. It seemed a hasty and irreverent way to leave our fallen, but I sensed the emotion that drove it. There was an aura of haste to this departure, as if the sooner we could leave this place, the faster the Pale Woman would become a creature of the past. I hoped that she too was entombed beneath the immense fall of ice.

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