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'Not at all,' Otah said, stepping in. 'I've come for your help actually.'

Maati took a pose of query. His hands were not perfectly steady, and Liat stifled a giggle. Both of them were more than a little drunk. A bowl of warmed wine sat on the edge of the brazier, a silver serving cup hooked to the rim. Otah glanced at it, and Maati waved him on. There were no bowls, so Otah drank from the serving cup.

'What can I do, Most High?' Maati asked with a grin that was for the most part friendly.

'I need a book. Something with children's stories in it. Fables, or light epics. History, if it's well enough written. Danat's asking me to tell stories, and I don't really know any.'

Liat chuckled and shook her head, but Maati nodded in understanding. Otah sat beside his sleeping daughter while Maati considered. The wine was rich and deep, and the spices alone made Otah's head swim a little.

'What about the one from the Dancer's Court?' Liat said. 'The one with the stories about the half-Bakta boy who intrigued for the Emperor.'

Maati pursed his lips.

'They're a bit b.l.o.o.d.y, some of them,' he said.

'Danat's a boy. He'll love them. Besides, you read them to Nayiit without any lasting damage,' Liat said. 'Those and the green book. The one that was all political allegories where people turned into light or sank into the ground.'

'The Silk Hunter's Dreams,' Maati said. 'That's a thought. I have a copy of that one too, where I can put my hand on it. Only, Otah-kvo, don't tell him the one with the crocodile. Nayiit-kya wouldn't sleep for days after I told him that one.'

'I'll trust you,' Otah said.

'Wait,' Maati said, and with a grunt he pulled himself to standing. 'You two stay here. I'll be back with it in three heartbeats.'

An uncomfortable silence fell on Otah and Liat. Otah turned to consider Eiah's sleeping face. Liat s.h.i.+fted in her chair.

'She's a lovely girl,' Liat said softly. 'We spent the day together, the three of us, and I was sure she'd wear us thin by the end of it. Still, we're the ones that lasted longest, eh?'

'She doesn't have a head for wine yet,' Otah said.

'We didn't give her wine,' Liat said, then chuckled. 'Well, not much anyway.'

'If the worst she does is sneak away to drink with the pair of you, I'll be the luckiest man alive,' Otah said. As if hearing him, Eiah sighed in her sleep and s.h.i.+fted away, pressing her face to the cus.h.i.+ons.

'She looks like her mother,' Liat said. 'Her face is that same shape. The eyes are your color, though. She'll be stunning when she's older. She'll break hearts. But I suppose they all do. Ours if no one else's.'

Otah looked up. Liat's expression had darkened, the shadows of lantern-light gathering on the curves of her face. It had been another lifetime, it seemed, when Otah had first known her. Only four years older than Eiah was now. And he'd been younger than Nayiit. Babies, it seemed. Too young to know what they were doi

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