His rage was gone, and he missed it. All his fantasies of Otah Machi apologizing, of Otah Machi debased before him, melted like sugar in water when faced with the man himself. Maati felt small and alone, and perhaps that was merely accurate. He had lost everything now except perhaps Eiah. Irit was gone, and the wisest of them all for fleeing. He couldn't imagine Large Kae and Small Kae would return to him. Ashti Beg had left once already. And then Vanjit. All of his little family was gone now.
His family. Ashti Beg's voice returned to him. Vanjit and Clarity-of-Sight and the need for family.
'Oh,' he said, almost before he knew what he meant. And then, 'Oh.'
Maati made his unsteady way to the bow, touching crates with his fingertips to keep from stumbling. Otah and Danat turned at the sound of his approach, but said nothing. Maati reached them short of breath and oddly elated. His smile seemed to surprise them.
'I know where she's gone,' he said.
Udun had been a river city. A city of birds.
Otah remembered the first time he'd come to it, a letter of introduction from a man he had known briefly years before limp in his sleeve. After years of life in the eastern islands, it was like walking into a dream. Ca.n.a.ls laced the city, great stone quays as busy as the streets. Great humped bridges with stairs cut in each side rose up to let even the tallest boats pa.s.s. On the sh.o.r.es, tree branches bent under the brightly colored burden of wings and beaks and a thousand kinds of song. The street carts sold food and drink as they did everywhere, but with each paper basket of lemon fish, every bowl of rice and sausage, there would be a twist of colored cloth.
Open the cloth, and seeds would spill out, and then within a heartbeat would come the birds. Fortunes were told by which birds reached you. Finches for love, sparrows for pain, and so on, and so on. Wealth, birth, death, love, s.e.x, and mystery all spelled out in feathers and hunger for those wise enough to see or credulous enough to believe.
The palaces of the Khai Udun had spanned the wide river itself, barges disappearing into the seemingly endless black tunnel and then emerging again into the light. Beggars sang from rafts, their boxes floating at the side. The firekeepers' kilns had all been enameled the green of the river water and a deep red Otah had never seen elsewhere. And at a wayhouse with a little garden, there had been a keeper with a fox-sharp face and threads of white in her black hair.
He had entered the gentleman's trade there, become a c
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