'To the first low town,' he said. 'I'll take you that far, and no farther.'
'That's all we can ask,' Eiah said.
Maati thought he heard Small Kae mutter, I could ask more than that, but he was too busy pulling the plank into position to respond. It was a tricky business, guiding all three women into the boat, but Maati and the second managed it, soaking only Small Kae's hem. Maati, when at last he pulled himself onto the boat, was cold water and black mud from waist to boots. He made his miserable way to the stern, sitting as near the kiln as the boatman would allow. Eiah called out for him, following the sound of his voice until she sat at his side. The boatman and his second wouldn't speak to either of them or meet Maati's eyes. The second walked to the bow, manipulated something Maati couldn't make out, and called out. The boatman replied, and the boat s.h.i.+fted, its wheel clattering and pounding. They lurched out into the stream.
They were leaving Vanjit behind. The only poet in the world, her andat on her hip, alone in the forest with autumn upon them. What would she do? How would she live, and if she despaired, what vengeance would she exact upon the world? Maati looked at the dancing flames within the kiln.
'South would be faster,' Maati said. The boatman glanced at him, shrugged, and sang out something Maati couldn't make out. The second called back, and the boatman turned the rudder. The sound of the paddle wheel deepened, and the boat lurched.
'Uncle?' Eiah asked.
'It's all fallen apart,' Maati said. 'We can't manage this from here. Tracking her through half the wilds south of Utani? We need men. We need help.'
'Help,' Eiah said, as if he'd suggested pulling down the stars. Maati tried to speak, but something equally sorrow and rage closed his throat. He muttered an obscenity and then forced the words free.
'We need Otah-kvo,' Maati said.
'Will you go back?' Ana asked. 'When this is over, I mean.'
'It depends on what you mean by over,' Idaan said. 'You mean once my brother talks the poets into bringing back all the dead in Galt and Chaburi-Tan, rebuilding the city, killing the pirates, and then releasing the andat and drowning all their books? Because if that's what over looks like, you're waiting for yesterday.'
Otah s.h.i.+fted, pretending he was still asleep. The sun of late morning warmed his face and robes, the low chuckle of the river against the sides of the boat and the low, steady surge of the paddle wheel became a kind of music. It had been easy enough to drowse, but his body ached and pinched and complained despite three layers of tapestry between his back and the deck. If he rose, there would be conversations and planning and decisions. As long as he could maintain the fiction of unconsciousness, he could allow himself to drift. It pa.s.sed poorly for comfort, but it pa.s.sed.
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