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Stone-Made-Soft could not be bound - not without years of work - and so he put aside that hope. If he and Cehmai failed to bind an andat, and quickly, the Galts would destroy them all. Nayiit, Liat, Otah, Eiah. Everyone. So something had to be done. Perhaps they could trick the Galts into believing that an andat had been bound. Perhaps they could delay the armies arrayed against them until the cold shut Machi against invasion. If he could win the long, hard months of winter in which he could scheme . . .

When the answer came to him, it was less like discovering something than remembering it. Not a flash of insight, but a familiar glow. He had, perhaps, known it would come to this.

'I think I know what to do, but we have to find Cehmai,' he began, but when he turned to Nayiit, his son was curled on the floor, head pillowed by his arms. His breath was as deep and regular as tides, and his eyes were sunken and hard shut. Weariness had paled the long face, sharpening his cheeks. Maati walked as softly as he could to his bedchamber, pulled a thick blanket from his bed, and brought it to drape over Nayiit. The thick carpets were softer and warmer than a traveler's cot. There was no call to wake him.

What had happened out there - the battle, the search through the village, the trek back to Machi with this thin gift of useless books - would likely have broken most men. It had likely scarred Nayiit. Maati reached to smooth the hair on Nayiit's brow, but held back and smiled.

'All the years I should have done this,' he murmured to himself. 'Putting my boy to bed.'

He softly closed the door to his apartments. The night was deep and dark, stars s.h.i.+ning like diamonds on velvet, and a distant, eerie green aurora dancing far to the North. Maati stopped at the library proper, tucked the book he needed into his sleeve, and then - though the urge to find Cehmai instantly was hard to resist - made his way to the palaces, and to the apartments that Otah had given Liat.

A servant girl showed him into the main chamber. The only light was the fire in the grate, the shadows of flame dancing on the walls and across Liat's brow as she stared into them. Her hair was disarrayed, wild as a bird's nest. Her hands were in claws, trembling.

'I haven't . . . I haven't found-'

'He's fine,' Maati said. 'He's in my apartments, asleep.'

Liat's cry startled him. She didn't walk to him so much as flow through the air, and her arms were around Maati's shoulders, embracing him. And then she stepped back and struck his shoulder hard enough to sting.

'How long has he been there?'

'Since the army came back,' Maati said, rubbing his bruised flesh. 'He brought books that they salvaged from the Dai-kvo. I was looking them over when-'

'And you didn't send me a runner? There are no servants in the city who you could have told to come to me? I've been sitting here chewing my own heart raw, afraid he was dead, afraid he was still out with Otah

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