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Farrer Dasin didn't answer except to relax his gaze, laugh, and tuck the book into his belt. Otah took a pose that ended a meeting. It had a positive nuance that Dasin was unlikely to notice, but Otah didn't mind. It was as much for himself as the Galt.

The walk back to the palaces seemed shorter, less haunted by nostalgia. He returned to his rooms, allowed himself to be changed into formal robes, and began the long, slow work of another day. The court was its customary buzz of rituals and requirements. The constant speculation on the Galtic treaty's fate made every other facet of the economic and political life of the Empire swing like a s.h.i.+p's mast in high seas. Otah did what he could to pour oil on the waters. For the most part, he succeeded.

Before the early sunset of middle autumn, Otah had seen the heads of both Galtic and Khaiate stone masons disputing a contract upon which the Galtic Council had already ruled. He had taken audiences with two other members of the High Council and three of the highest families of the utkhaiem. And, in the brightest moment of his day, a visibly unnerved representative of Obar State had arrived with gifts and a.s.surances of the good relations between his small nation and the cities of the Khaiem.

No courier came from Idaan or Eiah. Likely his sister was still on the roads between Saraykeht and Pathai. There was no reason to expect word back so soon, and yet every time a servant entered his chambers with a folded paper, his belly went tight until he broke the seal.

The night began with a banquet held in the honor of Balasar Gice and the preparation of what the Galtic Council called the second fleet and the utkhaiem, dismissively and in private, the other s.h.i.+ps. The great hall fluttered with fine robes and silk banners. Musicians and singing slaves hidden behind screens filled the air with soft music of Galtic composition. Lanterns of colored gla.s.s gave the light a feeling of belonging to some other, gentler world. Otah sat on his high dais, Balasar at his side. He caught a glimpse of Danat dressed in formal robes of black and gold, sitting among his peers of the high utkhaiem. The group included s.h.i.+ja Radaani. Though Farrer and Issandra Dasin were among the Galts present, Otah did not see Ana. He tried not to find her absence unnerving.

The food and drink had been prepared by the best cooks Otah could find: cla.s.sic Galtic dishes made if not light at least less heavy; foods designed to represent each of the cities of the Khaiem; all of it served with bowls of the best wines the world could offer.

Peace, Otah meant the celebration to say. As we send our armsmen and sailors away to fight and die together, let there be peace between us. If there cannot be peace in the world, at least let it be welcome here. It pleased him to see the youth of both countries sitting together and talking, even as it disturbed him that so many places set aside for the utkhaiem remained empty.

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