Peottre called a halt in the gray of evening and we made a quiet camp. We used two of the tents to erect a makeshift shelter around the sled that the injured men were on so we would not have to move them. The other two were able to speak and eat, but Burrich was still and quiet. I brought Swift food and drink, and sat with him for a time, but after a while, I sensed that he wished to be alone with his father. I left him there and went out to walk under the stars.
There is no true dark to a night in that land. Only the brightest of the stars showed. The night was cold and the constant wind blew, heaping loose snow against the shelters. I could not think of anywhere I wanted to be or anything I wanted to do. Chade and the Prince were crowded into the Narcheska's tent with Peottre's family. There was triumph and rejoicing there; both were foreign emotions to me. The Hetgurd men and the recovered Outislanders were having a reunion of sorts. I walked past a tiny fire where Owl was matter-of-factly burning a dragon-and-serpent tattoo off a man's forearm. The smell of roasting flesh rode the wind while the man grunted and then roared with the pain. Dutiful's Wit coterie, sans Swift, had also crammed themselves into a small tent. I heard Web's deep voice as I went past and caught the gleam of a cat's eye peering out. Doubtless they shared the Prince's triumph. They had freed the dragon and he'd won the Narcheska's regard.
Longwick sat alone before a small fire in front of a darkened tent. I wondered where he had got the brandy I smelled. I nearly walked past him with a silent nod, but something in his face told me that here was where I belonged tonight. I hunkered down and held my hands over the tiny fire. “Captain,” I greeted him.
“Of what?” he retorted. He rolled his head back with a crackling sound, and then sighed. “Hest. Riddle. Deft. Doesn't say much for me that all the men who accompanied me here are dead and I still live.”
“I'm still alive,” I pointed out to him.
He nodded. Then he gestured with his chin toward the tent and said, “Your half-wit's in there, asleep. He looked a bit lost tonight, so I took him in.”
“Thanks.” I knew a moment of guilt, and then asked myself if I should have left Burrich to tend Thick. And reflected that perhaps having someone to oversee had been the best thing for Longwick. He shifted, and then offered me a brandy flask. It was a soldier's flask, dented and scratched, his own hoard of spirits, and a gift to be respected. I drank from it sparingly before returning it to him.
“Sorry about your friend. That Golden fellow.”
“You went back a ways.”
“We were boys together.”
“Were you? Sorry.”
“I hope that bitch died slow. Riddle and Hest were good men.”
“Yes.” I wondered if she had died at all. If she were still alive, could she be any threat to us? Dragon, Rawbread, and Forged servants had all been taken from her. She was Skilled, but I could think of no way she could use that against all of us. If she was alive, she was as alone as I was. Then I sat for a time, wondering which I hoped: whether she was dead or alive and suffering? Finally, it came to me. I was too tired to care.
Some time later, Longwick asked me, “Are you really him? Chivalry's Bastard?”
He nodded slowly to himself, as if that explained something. “More lives than a cat,” he said quietly.
“I'm going to bed,” I told Longwick.
“Sleep well,” he said, and we both laughed bitterly.
I found my pack and bedding and took it into Longwick's tent. Thick stirred slightly as I made my bed alongside him. “I'm cold,” he mumbled.
“Me, too. I'll sleep against your back. That will help.”
I lay down in my blankets but I didn't sleep. I wondered useless things. What had she done to the Fool? How had she killed him? Had he been completely Forged before she killed him? If she'd sent him into the dragon, did that mean he'd felt some final pain when the stone dragon died? Stupid, stupid questions.
Thick shifted heavily against my back. “I can't find her,” he said quietly.
“Who?” I asked sharply. The Pale Woman was large in my thoughts.
“Nettle. I can't find her.”
My conscience smote me. My own daughter, the man who had raised her dying, and I hadn't even thought of reaching out to her.
Thick spoke again. “I think she's afraid to go to sleep.”
“Well. I can't blame her.” Only myself.
“Are we going back home now?”