Sitting now on his dais, watching the s.h.i.+ps recede and vanish, Otah thought the phrase had been intended as last words. Do what needs doing. Meaning, more specifically, find Eiah. The sun rose from its morning home in the east; the seafront surged with a hundred languages, creoles, pidgins. Where the armsmen of the palace ended, merchants set up their tall, thin stalls and proclaimed their wares. When Otah took his leave, they would do the same in the s.p.a.ce he now inhabited. Returning to the palaces would be like taking his finger out of water. It wouldn't leave a hole. He wondered, sometimes, if the whole world wasn't the same.
Back at the palaces, Otah suffered through the ritual change of robes, the closing ceremony that followed seeing off the fleet. He dearly hoped that when Balasar's reinforcements departed, he could avoid repeating the entire pointless exercise. He hoped, but doubted it. Once the last cymbal had chimed, the last priest intoned the final pa.s.sage, and Otah had done his duty as Emperor, he went back to his rooms. Danat and Issandra were waiting there.
Otah greeted them both with a single pose appropriate to near family. If it was still an optimism, the Galtic woman didn't comment on it. She put down a bowl of tea she'd been drinking from, and Danat rose to his feet.
'Thank you for joining me,' Otah said. 'I wanted to know the . . . the status of your work.'
The pair exchanged glances. Issandra spoke.
'In one respect, I think you could say we're doing quite well. Ana's request that her father add himself to your naval adventure has caused something of a strain between her and Hanchat. He seems to think she's being disloyal to Galt in general and therefore him in particular.'
'I can understand that,' Otah said, lowering himself to a cus.h.i.+on. 'The G.o.ds all know she surprised me with it.'
'The problem is that she feels she's cleared all accounts by the gesture,' Issandra said. 'Any sense of obligation she might have felt toward Danat-cha from her misbehavior or his clemency toward Hanchat is done.'
'I see,' Otah said.
'There's something else,' Danat said. 'I think s.h.i.+ja-cha has . . .'
'The imitation lover has developed ambitions,' Issandra said. 'Apparently you've entrusted her uncle with some particularly delicate task?'
s.h.i.+ja Radaani. Ashua's niece.
'I have,' Otah said.
'She's taken that fact and the request that she act as Danat's escort, and drawn the most remarkable conclusion,' Issandra said. 'She thinks that Danat-cha is in love with her, and intends to sabotage his connection to Ana on her behalf.'
'It's not only that,' Danat said. 'This is my fault. I . . . I lost my perspective. It was . . .'
'You bedded her,' Otah said.
Danat's blush could have lit houses. It was as Otah had feared. Issandra sighed.
'This Radaani woma
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