Through Frost and Fire

Dorothy J. Heydt

His feet were actually on the Stair before the light died. He took the next three steps from memory, before the image of the rough granite vanished from his eyes in the blank white phosphorescence of the snow. After that he had to pick his way, slowly sliding his feet along each step till he found its edge, testing the drop to the next step, finally lowering his foot onto it. Twice he found no step at all below the one he stood on, and had to work his way back upward and across before trying to descend again.

The second time he stopped to catch his breath, leaning against the donkey's shaggy head. He mustn't let himself give up. If he went on working his way downward carefully enough, he would eventually fetch up against some part of Maclidan Keep's curtain walls and could make his way to the gate. Or in an hour the sun would rise. He tried not to remind himself that the wind was growing colder, cold enough perhaps to fell even a monk if he got tired enough. There was nothing to do but go on. He had neither the breath to pray aloud nor the concentration to pray in silence. He didn't know what he might ask for, anyway, nor what it might accomplish. He was walking not through snow and rock but through the wills of higher powers, and he could only acknowledge that he was in their hands and keep moving as they permitted. He led the donkey a dozen paces sideways along the shelf they stood on, and then began to descend again. And he heard a voice.

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