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'He was accepted by the Dai-kvo and taken to the village to be trained,' Liat said. 'That was eight years ago. He was talented, well liked, and respected. The Dai-kvo chose him to study for the binding of a fresh andat.'

Kiyan, sitting at Otah's side, leaned forward in a pose of query. 'Don't all the poets train to hold andat?'

'We all try our hands at preparing a binding,' Maati said. 'We all study enough to know how it works and what it is. But only a few apply the knowledge. If the Dai-kvo thinks you have the temperament to take on one that's already bound, he'll send you there to study and prepare yourself to take over control when the poet grows too old. If you're bright and talented, he'll set you to working through a fresh binding. It can take years to be ready. Your work is read by other poets and the Dai-kvo, and attacked, and torn apart and redone perhaps a dozen times. Perhaps more.'

'Because of the consequences of failing?' Kiyan asked. Maati nodded.

'Riaan was one of the best,' Liat said. 'And then three years ago, he was sent back to Nantani. To his family. Fallen from favor. No one knew why, he just appeared one day with a letter for his father, and after that he was living in apartments in the Vaudathat holdings. It was a small scandal. And it wasn't the last of them. Riaan was sending letters every week back to the Dai-kvo. Asking to be taken back, everyone supposed. He drank too much, and sometimes fought in the streets. By the end, he was practically living in the comfort houses by the seafront. The story was that he'd bet he could bed every wh.o.r.e in the city in a summer. His family never spoke of it, but they lost standing in the court. There were rumors of father and son fighting, not just arguing, but taking up arms.

'And then, one night, he disappeared. Vanished. His family said that he'd been summoned on secret business. The Dai-kvo had a mission for him, and he'd gone the same day the letter had come. But there wasn't a courier who'd admit to carrying any letter like it.'

'They might not have said it,' Otah said. 'They call it the gentleman's trade for a reason.'

'We thought of that,' Nayiit replied. He had a strong voice; not loud, but powerful. 'Later, when we went to the Dai-kvo, I took a list of the couriers who'd come to Nantani in the right weeks. None of them had been to the Dai-kvo's village at the right time. The Daikvo wouldn't speak to me. But of the men who would, none believed that Riaan had been sent for.'

Otah could still think of several objections to that, but he held them back, gesturing instead for Liat to go on.

'No one connected the disappearance with a Galtic merchant s.h.i.+p that left that night with half her cargo still waiting to be loaded,' Liat said. 'Except me, and I wouldn't have if I hadn't made it my business to track all things Galtic.'

'You think he was on that s.h.i.+p?' Otah said.

'I'm certain of it.'

'Why?' he asked.

'The wealth

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