'I'm not in the mood to be-'
'Dressed down by a woman who's only breathing because you've chosen to let her? Listen to yourself. You sound like the villain from some children's bedtime story.'
'Idaan-cha,' he said, and then found that he had nothing to follow it.
'I've come to tell you that your old friend and enemy is harnessing G.o.ds, and not for your benefit. It's the most threatening thing I can imagine happening. And what's your response? You knew. You've known for years. What's more, knowing now that he's redoubling his efforts, you can't be bothered even to consider the question until you've cleared your sheet of audiences? I've held a thousand opinions of you over the years, brother, but I never thought you were stupid.'
Otah felt rage bloom in his chest, rising like a fiery wave, only to die with the woman's next words.
'It's the guilt, isn't it?' she said. When he didn't answer at once, she nodded to herself. 'You aren't the only one that's done this, you know.'
'Been Emperor? Are there others?'
'Betrayed the people you loved,' she said. 'Come. Sit down. I still have a little tea.'
Almost to his surprise, Otah walked forward, sitting on a divan while the former exile poured pale green tea into two carved bone bowls.
'After you set me free, I spent years without sleeping through a full night. I'd dream of the people I'd . . . the people I was responsible for. Our father. Adrah. Danat. You never knew Danat, did you?'
'I named my son for him,' Otah said. Idaan smiled, but there was a sorrow in her eyes.
'He'd have liked that, I think. Here. Choose a bowl. I'll drink first if you'd like. I don't mind.'
Otah drank. It was overbrewed and sweetened with honey; sweet and bitter. Idaan sipped at hers.
'After you sent me away, there was a time I went about the business of living with what I'd done by working myself like a war slave,' she said. 'Sunrise to dark, I did whatever it was I was doing until I could fall down at the end half-dead and too tired to dream.' 'It doesn't sound pleasant,' Otah said.
'I did a lot of good,' Idaan said. 'You wouldn't guess it, but I organized a constabulary through half of the low towns in the north. I was actually a judge for a few years, if you'll picture that. I found that meting out justice wasn't something I felt suited for, but I kept a few murderers and rapists from making a habit of it. I made a few places safer. I wasn't utterly ineffective, even though half the time I was too tired to focus my eyes.'
'And you think I'm doing the same thing?' Otah said. 'You don't understand what it is to be an emperor. All respect for whatever you did after Machi, but I have hundreds of thousands of people relying upon me. The politics of empire aren't like a few low towns organizing to keep the local thugs in line
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