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Eiah turned to him, her expression empty. He gestured to Vanjit's back. His hand trembled.

'Before your binding,' he said, 'we should be sure that it's safe for you. Or, that is, as safe as we can make it. You . . . you understand.'

Eiah sighed. When she spoke again, her voice was distant and reflective.

'I knew a physician in Lachi. She told me about being in a low town when one of the men caught blood fever. He was a good person. Well-liked. This was a long time ago, so he had children. He'd gone out hunting and come back ill. She had them smother him and burn the body. His children stayed in their house and screamed the whole time they did it. She didn't sleep well for years afterward.'

Her eyes were focused on nothing, her jaw forward as if she was facing someone down. Man or G.o.d or fate.

'You're saying it's not her fault,' Maati said softly, careful not to speak Vanjit's name. 'She was a little girl who had her family slaughtered before her. She was a lost woman who wanted a child and could never have one. What's wrong with her mind was done to her.'

Eiah took a pose that disagreed.

'I'm saying no matter how little my physician friend slept, she saved those children's lives,' Eiah said. 'There are some herbs. When we stop for the night, I can gather them. I'll see it's done.'

'No. No, I'll do the thing. If it's anyone, it should-'

'It will have to be quick,' Eiah said. 'She mustn't know it's coming. You can't do that.'

Maati took a pose that challenged her, and Eiah folded his hands gently closed.

'Because you still want to save her,' she said. Something about weariness and determination made her look like her father.

Otah, who had killed a poet once too.

23.

Otah rose in the mornings with stiff, aching joints and a pain in his side that would not fade. The steamcarts allowed each of them the chance to sleep for a hand or two in the late mornings or just after the midday meal. Without the rest, Otah knew he wouldn't have been able to keep pace with the others.

The courier found them on the road. His outer robe was the colors of House Siyanti and mud-spattered to the waist. His mount cantered alongside the carts now, cooling down from the morning's travel as its rider waited for replies. The man's satchel held a dozen letters at least, but only one had occasioned his speed. It was written on paper the color of cream, sewn with black thread, and the imprint in the wax belonged to Balasar Gice. Otah sat in his saddle, afraid to open it and afraid not to.

The thread ripped easily and the pages unfolded. Otah skimmed the letter from beginning to end, then began again, reading more slowly, letting the full import of the words wash over him. He folded the letter and slipped it into his sleeve, his heart heavy.

Danat drew closer, his hands in a pose that both called for inclusion and offered sympathy. The boy might not know what had happened, but he'd drawn the fact that it wasn

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