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A singing slave occupied the garden outside Eiah's apartments. Eiah left the shutters open so that the songs could come through more clearly. A fire burned in the grate and candles glowed in gla.s.s towers. A Galtic clock marked the hours of the night in soft metallic counterpoint to the singer, and as she pulled off her robes and prepared for sleep, Eiah was amazed to see how early it was. The night had hardly exhausted its first third. It had seemed longer. She put out the candles, pulled herself into her bed, and drew the netting closed.

The night pa.s.sed, and the day that followed it, and the day that followed that. Eiah's life in Saraykeht had long since taken on a rhythm. The mornings she spent at the palaces working with the court physicians, the afternoons down in the city or in the low towns that spread out from Saraykeht. To those who didn't know her, she gave herself out to be a visitor from Cetani in the north, driven to the summer cities by hards.h.i.+p. It wasn't an implausible tale. There were many for whom it was true. And while it couldn't be totally hidden, she didn't want to be widely known as her father's daughter. Not here. Not yet.

On a morning near the end of her second month in the city - two weeks after Candles Night - the object of her hunt finally appeared. She was in her rooms, working on a guide to the treatment of fevers in older patients. The fire was snapping and murmuring in the grate and a thin, cold rain tapped at the shutters like a hundred polite mice asking permission to enter. The scratch at the door startled her. She arranged her robe and opened the door just as the slave outside it was raising her hand to scratch again.

'Eiah-cha,' the girl said, falling into a pose that was equal parts apology and greeting. 'Forgive me, but there's a man . . . he says he has to speak with you. He has a message.'

'From whom?' Eiah demanded.

'He wouldn't say, Most High,' the slave said. 'He said he could speak only with you.'

Eiah considered the girl. She was little more than sixteen summers. One of the youngest in the cities of the Khaiem. One of the last.

'Bring him,' Eiah said. The girl made a brief pose that acknowledged the command and fled back out into the damp night. Eiah shuddered and went to add more coal to the fire. She didn't close the door.

The runner was a young man, broad across the shoulder. Twenty summers, perhaps. His hair was soaked and sticking to his forehead. His robe hung heavily from his shoulders, sodden with the rain.

'Eiah-cha,' he said. 'Parit-cha sent me. He's at his workroom. He said he has something and that you should come. Quickly.'

She caught her breath, the first movements of excitement lighting her nerves. The other times one or another of the physicians and healers and herb women of the city had sent word, it had been with no sense of urgency. A man ill one day was very likely to be ill the next as well. This, then, was something different.

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