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There wasn't a great deal more, but Otah told it. He pulled on his robes by himself. The servants could adjust them when the meeting ended. Sinja drank another bowl of tea. The water in the bath grew still and as clear as air.

'Well,' Sinja said when he had finished, 'that's unexpected all around.'

'You think Ana-cha interceded for us.'

'I can't think anything else,' Sinja said. 'She's an interesting girl, that one. Quick to anger and about as tough as boiled leather if confronted, but I think you made her feel for you. It was clever.'

'I didn't mean it as a ploy,' Otah said.

'That's likely what made the ploy work,' Sinja said. 'Issandra and Danat should hear more of it. You know that little conspiracy is beginning to slip its st.i.tches?'

'What do you mean?'

'Danat's false lover. s.h.i.+ja Radaani? It seems your boy is starting to fall in love with her. Or if not love, at least bed. That was the other gossip this morning. s.h.i.+ja went to Danat's rooms last night and hasn't yet come out.'

Otah tugged at the sleeves, his eyebrows trying to crawl up his forehead. Sinja nodded.

'Perhaps it's part of Issandra's plan?' Otah said.

'If it is, she's more of a gambler than I am.'

'I'll look into it,' Otah said.

'Don't bother. I've already sent word to all the parties who need to know.'

'Meaning Issandra.'

'And n.o.body else,' Sinja said. 'You worry about finding Maati and his poet girls. And your sister. Whatever you're doing, keep one eye toward her.'

Otah was halfway to objecting, but Sinja only tilted his head. Idaan had killed Otah's brothers. His father. She was capable of casual slaughter, and everyone knew it. There was no point in pretending the world was something it wasn't. Otah took a pose that accepted the advice and promised his best effort.

In point of fact, Idaan was waiting in his rooms when he returned from his breakfast and the morning of audiences that he could not postpone. She wore a borrowed robe of blue silk as dark as a twilight sky. Her arms and shoulders were thicker than the robe allowed, the fabric straining. Her hair was pulled back in a gray tail as thick as a mane. She did not smile.

'Idaan-cha,' he said.

'Brother,' she replied.

He sat across from her. Her long face was cool and unreadable. She touched the papers and scrolls on the low table between them. The scents of cedar and apples should have made the room more comfortable.

'I'm not done,' she said. 'But I doubt a year and ten clerks would be enough to do a truly thorough job. With just the pair of us, and you off half the time at court, we can't really hope for more than a weighted guess.'

'Then we should get to work,' he said. 'I'll have them bring us food and-'

'Before that,' Idaan said. 'Before that, there's something we should discuss. Alone.'

Otah considered her eyes. They were the same black-brown as his own. Her jaw was softer, her mouth pale and lined. He could still

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