'That seems wise,' Maati said and sipped his tea. It was still scalding hot, but its taste was comforting.
'Ashti Beg wants to come with me,' she said. 'I don't know what to do about that.'
He put down his bowl.
'What are you thinking?' he asked.
'That she might leave. After today, I'm afraid she's been soured on the work.'
Maati snorted and waved the concern away.
'She'll move past it,' Maati said. 'It's finished. Vanjit overstepped, and she's seen it. I don't think Ashti's so petty as to hold things past that.'
'Perhaps,' Eiah said. 'You think I should take her with me, then?'
'Certainly. There's no reason not to, and it will give you another pair of hands on the road. And besides, we're a school, not a prison. If she truly wants to leave, she should be able to.'
'Even now?' Eiah asked.
'What option do we have?' Maati asked. 'Chain her to a tree? Kill her? No, Eiah-kya. Ashti Beg won't abandon the work, but if she does, we have no choice but to let her.'
Eiah was silent for five slow breaths together. When she looked up, he was surprised by her grim expression.
'I still can't quite bring myself to believe Vanjit did that.'
Eiah frowned, her hands clasped together. Some distant shutter's ties had slipped; wood clapping against stone. A soft wind pushed at the windows and unsettled the fire in the grate.
'She's a poet,' Eiah said. 'She's the poet.'
'Poets are human,' Maati said. 'We err. We can be petty on occasion. Vindictive. Small. Her world has been turned on its head, and she hasn't come yet to understand all that means. Well, of course she hasn't. I'd have been more surprised if she'd never made a misstep.'
'You don't think we have a problem then?' Eiah said.
'She's a reasonable girl. Given power, she's misbehaved once. Once.' Maati shook his head. 'Once is as good as never.'
'And if it becomes twice?' Eiah asked. 'If it becomes every time?'
'It won't,' Maati said. 'That isn't who she is.'
'But she's changed. You said it just now. The binding gave her power, and power changes people.'
'It changes their situation,' Maati said. 'It changes the calculations of what things they choose to do. What they forbear. It doesn't change their souls.'
'I've cut through a hundred bodies, Uncle. I've never weighed out a soul. I've never judged one. When I picked Vanjit, I hope I did the right thing.'
'Don't kill yourself with worry,' Maati said. 'Not yet, at any rate.'
Eiah nodded slowly. 'I've been thinking about who to send letters to. I've picked half-a-dozen names. I'll hire a courier when we reach Pathai. I won't be there long enough to bring back replies.'
'That's fine,' Maati said. 'All we need is enough time to perfect Wounded.'
Eiah took a pose that agreed and also ended the conversation. She walked away into the darkened hall, her s
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