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16.

'Yes,' Nayiit said. 'That's him.'

Otah's mount whickered beneath him as he looked up at the Daikvo's body. It had been tied to a stake at the entrance to his high offices; the man had been dead for days. The brown-robed corpses of the poets lay at his feet, stacked like cordwood.

They had taken it all for granted. The andat, the poets, the continuity of one generation following upon another as they always had. It grew more difficult, yes. An andat would escape and for a time the city it had left would suffer, yes. They had not conceived that everything might end. Otah looked at the slaughtered poets, and he saw the world he had known.

The morning after the battle had been tense. He had risen before dawn and paced through the camps. Several of the scouts had vanished, and at first there was no way to know whether they had been captured by the Galts or killed or if they had simply taken their horses, set their eyes on the horizon, and fled. It was only when the reports began to filter back that the shape of things came clear.

The Galts had fallen back, their steam wagons and horses making a fast march to the east, toward the village of the Dai-kvo. There was no pursuit, no rush to find the survivors of that b.l.o.o.d.y field and finish the work they'd begun. Otah's army had been broken easily, and the Galts' contempt for them was evident in the decision that they were not worth taking the time to kill.

It was humiliating, and still Otah had found himself relieved. More of his men would die today, but only from wounds they already bore. They had given Otah a moment to rest and consider and see how deep the damage had gone.

Four hundred of his men lay dead in the mud and gra.s.s beside perhaps a third as many Galts, perhaps less. Another half thousand were wounded or missing. A few hours had cost him a third of what he had, and more than that. The men who had survived the retreat were different from the ones he had spoken to at their cook fires before the fight. These men seemed stunned, lost, and emptied. The makes.h.i.+ft spears and armor that had once seemed to speak of strength and resourcefulness now seemed painfully naive. They had come to battle armed like children and they had been killed by men. Otah found himself giving thanks to any G.o.ds that would listen for all the ones who had lived.

The scouting party left two days later. It was made of twenty hors.e.m.e.n and as many on foot, Otah himself at the lead. Nayiit asked permission to come, and Otah had granted it. It might not have been keeping the boy safe the way he'd promised Maati, but as long as Nayiit blamed himself for the carnage and defeat, it was better that he be away from the wounded and the dying. The rest of the army would stay behind in the camp, tend to the men who could be helped, ease the pa.s.sing of those past hope, and, Otah guessed, slip away one by one or else in groups. He couldn't think they would follow him into battle again.

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