Otah rose, and the general rose with him. From the servants' niches and from beyond the great archway to the south, their respective people appeared. Hard soldiers from the South, men of the utkhaiem in flowing robes from the North. Otah raised his hands in a pose of command, and let the servants go forward to prepare their way.
The furnaces were near the surface where they could be blocked off from the rest of the city if the fires ever should escape their cells. The air near them was thick with the scent of smoke and oppressive with heat. The noise of the flames was like a waterfall. Otah led Balasar and his men to the huge grates where the scrolls and codices and books were stacked. Generations of history. Philosophic essays composed by minds gone to dust a thousand years before. Maps that predated the First Empire. The surviving sc.r.a.ps of war records from before the first andat. Otah looked upon his culture, his history, the record of all that had come before and that had made the world what it was. The flames licked and leapt.
If only it could have been just the poets' books and treatises on the andat . . . but the Galt had insisted, and Otah had understood. Each history was a footprint in the path, each collection of court poems might contain a hint or reference. With time and attention, someone might put together again what had been torn apart, and it was a chance the Galt had refused to accept. Their tenuous peace required sacrifices, and sacrifice without loss didn't deserve the name.
'Forgive this,' Otah said, to no one. He walked forward, coming to the first pile. The book was leather-bound and worn from years of loving care. Otah let it fall open and looked on Heshai's careful handwriting for the last time. With a sense of sorrow, Otah cast the book into the flames, then raised his hands again, and the servants began to throw the pages into the fire. Parchment darkened and curled in the suddenly white flame. Tiny embers flew out into the air, glowing and going dark, fireflies at sunset. The horror of it all closed his throat, and with it came a strange elation.
A hand touched his arm, and Otah looked at the Galtic general. There were tears in his eyes too.
'It was necessary,' he said.
The night candles were burned down past their first quarter before Otah found his way back to his rooms. Kiyan was already asleep, her face smooth and peaceful. He resisted the urge to touch her, to pull her awake and hope that some of that calm might come with her. It wouldn't. He knew that. Instead he watched the subtle rise and fall of her breath, listened to the small sounds the tunnels made in the darkness, the soft flow of air. He thought of crawling in beside her, still in his robes, pressing his eyes closed until forgetfulness took him as well. But he needed to perform one last errand. He rose quietly and left by the back pa.s.sage, down deeper into the earth.
The physician rose whe
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