Prilkop too made his farewells to us within the cave. “Take care of him,” I told the Black Man. “I'll be back tomorrow. Make sure he eats.”
He shook his head to my words. “Not that soon,” he cautioned me. “Already, you have used the portals too many times, too close together.” He made a motion as if he dragged something out of his chest. “It takes from you, and if you do not have enough left for yourself, it can keep you.”
He peered into my eyes, as if trying to be sure I had understood him. I hadn't, but I nodded and assured him, “I'll be careful.”
“Farewell, Thick man. Farewell, Fool's Changer.” Then, with a tip of his head toward the Fool, he added quietly, “I will watch over him. More than that, none of us can do.” And then, as if embarrassed to ask, he said, “The small man said cheese?”
“Cheese. Yes. I will bring you cheese. And tea, and spices and fruit. As much as I can carry.”
“When it is safe for you to come again, that would be nice.” He was beaming as we thanked him again for all he had done for us, and then left. The wind had come up and the night was chill. Thick had stubbornly refused to abandon his pack, clinging to every single possession in it, so he came laden behind me as we edged up the steep and narrow path to the crack in the rock face. The trickle of moisture had iced it narrow again, and again I had to draw my sword and clash ice away in the darkness. Thick whimpered at the dark and the wind and kept insisting that he wanted to go home, not seeming to connect that I must first open the way so we could.
I was finally able to squeeze through. I pulled Thick after me, though he wedged there for a moment. He followed me in, going slower and slower the closer we came to the unnatural light. “I don't like this,” he warned me. “I don't think this is the way home. This is going in a rock. We should go back.”
“No, Thick, it's all right. It's just an old magic. We'll be fine. Just follow me.”
“You had better be right!” he warned me. He followed me, looking all around himself at every step. The deeper we went, the more cautious he became. When we reached the first Elderling carvings, he gasped and stepped back. “The dragon dreams. Those were in the dragon dreams!” he exclaimed. Then, abruptly, as if I had been tricking him, “Oh, I have been here before. Now I know. But why is it so cold? It didn't used to be so cold.”
“Because we are under ice. That makes it cold. Come on, now. Stop walking so slowly.”
“Not this cold,” he replied cryptically, and followed me again, but no faster than he had before. I thought I had fixed the path in my mind. Despite that, I turned wrong twice. Each time I had to retrace my steps, Thick became more doubtful of me. But eventually, despite his laggard steps and my faulty memory, we reached the map room.
“Don't touch anything,” I warned him. I studied the map and the rune by the four tiny gems near Buckkeep. Those gems, I was convinced, represented the Witness Stones. For generations, they had been regarded as a place of power and truth, a gateway to the gods. Now I suspected I knew the origin of that legend. I fixed the rune carefully in my mind. “Come, Thick,” I told him. “It's time to go home.”
He made no reply, and even when I touched his shoulder, he looked up at me slowly. He had sunk down to sit on the floor. With one hand, he had rubbed the dusty tiles clean to reveal a piece of a pastoral scene. His face had an almost dazed expression. “They liked it here,” he said softly. “They played a lot of music.”
“Put your walls up, Thick,” I bade him, but did not feel that he obeyed me. I took his hand and held it firmly in mine. I wasn't sure he was listening, but as I led him up the stairs to the pillar room, I explained to him several times that we would hold tight to each other and walk through the pillar and be home. His breathing had become deep and even as if he slept heavily. Uneasily I wondered if the city itself were affecting him.
I did not give myself time to wonder if the ancient and worn Witness Stones would still function as Skill-pillars. The Fool had used one, hadn't he, and his Skill was much less than mine. I drew a deep breath, gave Thick's hand a small shake in an attempt to win his attention, and then stepped determinedly into the pillar, drawing him behind me.
Again there was that breathlessly long pause in my being, almost familiar now. There seemed to pass a star-speckled blackness of indeterminate length and then I stepped out onto the grassy sward of the hillside near Buckkeep. Thick was still with me. I felt a moment's giddiness, and Thick stumbled past me and sat down flat on the turf. The warmth of summer touched our skins and the smells of a summer night filled my nostrils. I stood still, letting my eyes adjust. The four Witness Stones loomed behind me, pointing at the night sky. I drew a deep breath of the warm air. I smelled sheep pastured nearby, and the more distant smell of the sea. We were home.