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'I'm sorry,' Maati said. 'This wasn't what I intended.'

'Isn't it? I thought the hope was to undo the damage we did with Sterile, no matter what the price.'

Maati started to object, then stopped himself. Outside the great window, a star fell. The smear of light vanished as quickly as it had come.

'I didn't know how far it would go.'

'Would it have mattered? If you had known everything it would take, would you have been able to abandon the project?' Otah asked. He didn't sound angry or accusing. Only like a man who didn't know the answer to a question. Maati found he didn't either.

'If I asked your forgiveness . . .'

Otah was silent, then sighed deeply, his head hanging low.

'Maati-kya, we've been a hundred different people to each other, and tonight I'm too old and too tired. Everything in the world has changed at least twice since I woke up this morning. I think about forgiving you, and I don't know what the word means.'

'I understand.'

'Do you? Well, then you've outpaced me.'

The litter came forward. Eiah helped him onto the makes.h.i.+ft seat, rope and wood creaking under his weight, but solid. The gait of the armsmen swayed him like a branch in the breeze. The Emperor, they left behind to follow in the darkness.

31.

The formal joining of Ana Dasin and Danat Machi took place on Candles Night in the high temple of Utani. The a.s.sembled n.o.bility of Galt along with the utkhaiem from the highest of families to the lowest firekeeper filled every cus.h.i.+on on the floor, every level of balcony. The air itself was hot as a barn, and the smell of perfume and incense and bodies was overwhelming. Otah sat on his chair, looking out over the vast sea of faces. Many of the Galts wore mourning veils, and, to his surprise, the fas.h.i.+on had not been lost on the utkhaiem. He worried that the mourning was not entirely for fallen Galt, but also a subterranean protest of the marriage itself. It was only a small concern, though. He had thousands more like it.

The Galtic ceremony - a thing of dirgelike song and carefully measured wine spilled over rice, all to a symbolic end that escaped him - was over. The traditional joining of his own culture was already under way. Otah s.h.i.+fted, trying to be un.o.btrusive in his discomfort despite every eye in Utani being fixed on the dais.

Farrer Dasin wore a robe of black and a red ocher that suited his complexion better than Otah would have expected. Issandra sat at his side in a Galtic gown of yellow lace over a profoundly celebratory red. Danat knelt before them both.

'Farrer Dasin of House Dasin, I place myself before you as a man before my elder,' Danat said. 'I place myself before you and ask your permission. I would take Ana, your blood issue, to be my wife. If it does not please you, please only say so, and accept my apology.'

The whisperers carried his words out through the hall like wind over wheat. Ana Dasin herself knelt on a cus.h.i.+on o

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