'What would you advise?' Otah asked.
'She'll be distracted,' Idaan said. 'Go in with a bowman. Put an arrow in the back of her head just where the spine touches it.'
'No,' Maati shouted.
'No,' Eiah said. 'Even if killing her is the right thing, think of the risk. If she suspects, she can always lash out, and we haven't got any protection against her.'
'There doesn't need to be anyone there for her to be suspicious,' Idaan said. 'If she's frightened by shadows, the end is just as b.l.o.o.d.y.'
'So we're giving up on Galt,' Ana said. Her voice was flat. 'I listen to all of you, and the one thing I never hear mentioned is all the people who've died because they happened to be like me.'
Maati stepped forward, taking the girl's hand. Otah, watching her, didn't believe she needed comfort. It wasn't pain or sorrow in her expression. It was resolve.
'They don't think they can move her to mercy,' Maati said. 'I will do everything I can, Ana-cha. I'll swear to anything you like that I will-'
'Take me with you,' Ana said. 'I'm no threat to her, and I can speak for Galt. I'm the only one here who can do that.'
Her orders were met by silence until Idaan made a sound that was equally laughter and cough.
'She told me to come alone,' Maati said. 'If she sees me leading a blind Galt to her-'
'Vanjit has the right to see her mistakes,' Otah said. 'She's done this. She should look at it. We all should look at what we've done to come here.'
Maati looked at him as if seeing him for the first time. There was a deep confusion in the old poet's face. Otah took a pose that asked a favor between equals. As a friend to a friend.
'Take Ana,' Otah said.
Maati's jaw worked as if he were chewing possible replies.
'No,' he said.
Otah took a pose that was at once a query and an opportunity for Maati to recant. Maati shook his head.
'I have trusted you, Otah-kvo. Since we were boys, I have had to come to you with everything, and when you weren't there, I tried to imagine what you might have done. And this time, you are wrong. I know it.'
'Trust me,' Maati hissed. 'For once in your life trust me. Ana-cha must not go.'
Otah's mouth opened, but no words came forth. Maati stood before him, his breath fast as a boy's who had just run a race or jumped from a high cliff into the sea. Maati had defied Otah. He had betrayed him. He had never in their long history refused him.
For a moment, Otah felt as if they were boys again. He saw in Maati the balled fists and jutting chin of a small child standing against an older one, the bone-deep fear mixed with a sudden, surprising pride in his own unexpected courage. And in Otah's own breast, an answering sorrow and even shame.
He took a pose that
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