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The food and fuel, Kiyan had kept for herself. Other people had been tasked with seeing to the wool, to arranging the movement of the summer belongings into the storage of the high towers, the preparation of the lower city - the tunnels below Machi. Liat had volunteered to act as Kiyan's messenger and go-between in the management of the farms and crops, gathering the food that would see them through the winter. Being the lover of a poet - even a poet who had never bound one of the andat - apparently lent her enough status in court to make her interesting. And as the rumors began to spread that Cehmai and Maati were keeping long hours together in the library and the poet's house, that they were preparing a fresh binding, Liat found herself more and more in demand. In recent days it had even begun to interfere with her work.

She had let herself spend time in lush gardens and high-domed dining halls, telling what stories she knew of Maati's work and intentions - what parts of it he'd said would be safe to tell. The women were so hungry for good news, for hope, that Liat couldn't refuse them. After telling the stories often enough, even she began to take hope from them herself. But tea and sweet bread and gossip took time, and they took attention, and she had let it go too far. The second wheat crop would be short, and no amount of pleasant high-city chatter now would fill bellies in the spring. a.s.suming they lived. If the Galts appeared tomorrow, it would hardly matter what she'd done or failed to do.

'There's going to be enough food,' Kiyan said softly. 'We may wind up killing more of the livestock and eating the grain ourselves, but even if half the crop failed, we'd have enough to see us through to the early harvest.'

'Still,' Liat said. 'It would have been good to have more.'

Kiyan took a pose that both agreed with Liat and dismissed the matter. Liat responded with one appropriate for taking leave of a superior. It was a nuance that seemed to trouble Kiyan, because she leaned forward, her fingertips touching Liat's arm.

'Are you well?' Kiyan asked.

'Fine,' Liat said. 'It's just my head has been tender. It's often like that when the Khai Saraykeht changes the tax laws again or the cotton crops fail. It fades when the troubles pa.s.s.'

Kiyan nodded, but didn't pull back her hand.

'Is there anything I can do to help?' Kiyan asked.

'Tell me that Otah's come back with Nayiit, the Galts all conquered and the world back the way it was.'

'Yes,' Kiyan said. Her eyes lost their focus and her hand slipped back to her side of the table. Liat regretted being so glib, regretted letting the moment's compa.s.sion fade. 'Yes, it would be pretty to think so.'

Liat took her leave. The palaces were alive with servants and slaves, the messengers of the merchant houses and the utkhaiem keeping the life of the court active. Liat walked through the wide halls with their distant tiled ceilings and down staircases of marble

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