'You aren't coming, Nayiit-cha. I need you to see those books back to Maati.'
'Anyone can do that,' Nayiit said. 'I'll be of use to you. I've been through Cetani. I was there just weeks ago, when we were coming to Machi. I can-'
'You can't,' Otah said, and took the boy's hand. His son's hand. 'You called a retreat when no one had given the order. In the Old Empire, I'd have had to see you killed for that. I can't have you come now.'
The surprise on Nayiit's face was heartbreaking.
'You said it wasn't my fault,' he said.
'And it isn't. I would have called the retreat myself if you hadn't. What happened to our men, what happened here, to the Dai-kvo . . . none of that's yours to carry. If you'd done differently, it would have changed nothing. But there will be a next time, and I can't have someone calling commands who might do what you've done.'
Nayiit stepped back, just out of his reach. Ah, Maati, Otah thought, what kind of son have we made, you and I?
'It won't,' Nayiit said. 'It won't happen again.'
'I know. I know it won't,' Otah said, making his tone gentle to soften hard words. 'Because you're going back to Machi.'
Udun was a river city. It was a city of bridges, and a city of birds. Sinja had lived there briefly while recovering from a dagger wound in his thigh. He remembered the songs of the jays and the finches, the sound of the river. He remembered Kiyan's stories of growing up a wayhouse keeper's daughter - the beggars on the riverside quays who drew pictures with chalks to cover the gray stone or played the small reed flutes that never seemed to be popular anywhere else; the ca.n.a.ls that carried as much traffic as the streets. The palaces of the Khai Udun spanned the river itself, sinking great stone stanchions down into the river like the widest bridge in the world. As a girl, Kiyan had heard stories about the ghouls that lived in the darkness under those great palaces. She had gone there in boats with her cohort in the dark of night, the way that Sinja himself had dared burial mounds at midnight with his brothers. She had kissed her first lover in the twilight beneath a bridge just north of here. He had spent so little time in Udun, and yet he felt he knew it so well.
The wayhouse where Sinja housed his men was south of the palaces. Its walls were stone and mud and thick as the length of his arm. The shutters were a green so dark they seemed almost black. It hadn't been built to fit as many men as Sinja commanded, but the standards of a soldier were lower than those of a normal traveler. And the standards of a soldier as likely to be mistaken for the enemy by his alleged fellows as killed by the defending armsmen were lower still. The great common room was covered from
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