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The Khai Cetani's eyes brightened, his shoulders pulled back. With a pit dog's grin, he took a pose that mirrored Cehmai's. The command accepted. Otah nodded.

'Hai! You!' the Khai Cetani yelled toward the servants, bouncing on the b.a.l.l.s of his feet. 'Get the trumpeter. Have him sound the attack. And a blade! Find me a blade, and another for the Emperor!'

'No,' Otah said. 'Not for me. I have my daughter to see to.'

And before anyone could make the mistake of objecting, Otah turned his back on them all, carrying Eiah to the stairway, and then down into darkness.

26.

What would have happened, Balasar wondered, if he had not tried?

It had been a thing from nightmare. Balasar had moved his men like stones on a playing board, s.h.i.+fting them from street to street, building to building. He had kept them as sheltered as possible from the inconstant, killing rain of stones and arrows that fell from the towers. The square that he chose for the rallying point was only a few streets south of the opening where he expected to lead them down into the soft belly of the city, and difficult for the towers to reach. The snow was above his ankles now, but Balasar didn't feel the cold. His blood was singing to him, and he could not keep from grinning. The first of the forces from the palaces was falling back to join his own, the body of his army growing thick. He paced among them, bracing his men and letting himself be seen. It was in their eyes too: the glow of the coming victory, the relief that they would have shelter from the cold. That winter would not take them.

He formed them into ranks, reminded the captains of the tactics they'd planned for fighting in the tunnels. It was to be slow and systematic. The important thing was always to have an open airway; the locals should never be allowed to close them in and kill them with smoke or fire. There would be no hurry - the line mustn't spread thin. Balasar could see in their faces that discipline would hold.

A few local fighters made a.s.saults on the square and were cut down in their turn. Brave men, and stupid. The trumpets of the enemy had sounded out, giving away their positions with their movements, their signals a cacophony of amateur coordination. The white sky was slowly growing gray - the sun setting or else the clouds growing thicker. Balasar didn't know. He'd lost track of time's pa.s.sage. It hardly mattered. His men stood ready. His men. The army that he'd led half across the world to this last battle. He could not have been more proud of them all if they'd been his sons.

The pain came without warning. He saw it pa.s.s through the men like wind stirring gra.s.s, and then it found Balasar himself. It was agonizing, embarra.s.sing, humiliating. And even as he struggled to keep his feet, he knew what it meant.

The andat had been bound. The enemy had turned some captive spirit against them. They'd been a.s.saulted, but they were not dead. Hurt, leaning on wal

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