He tried what had once been a winning smile. Maati tied the reins to the cart and lowered himself to the road as well.
'Your mother?' Eiah said.
'Yes, miss,' the Galt said.
'Well,' she said, her voice cool. 'At least you weren't a band of those charming liars out selling the promise of women in the low towns. What's in the satchel?'
The Galt looked chagrined and desperate, but he didn't lie.
'Names of men, miss. The ones who wanted wives from Galt.'
'I thought as much,' Eiah said.
'Don't help them,' Vanjit said. She'd climbed to the front of the cart, but hadn't taken up the reins. From the way she held her body, Maati guessed it was a matter of time before she did. He saw the andat's black eyes peering over the cart at him and looked away. Eiah might as well not have heard her.
'We were going to do the right thing with them, miss,' the tall man said. 'There's a man in Acton putting together women who want to come over. We had an arrangement with him. All the money's been taken, but we still have the lists. G.o.d's word, we're going to keep our end of the thing, if we can just get back to Saraykeht.'
'You stole from them,' Eiah said, pulling a leather waterskin from her satchel. 'They stole back from you. Seems to me that leaves you even. Here, drink from this. It's not only water, so don't take more than a couple of swallows, any of you.'
'Eiah-kya,' Irit said. Her voice was high and anxious, but she didn't say more than the name. Large Kae's mount whickered and sidestepped, sensing something uneasing in its rider's posture. Eiah might as easily have been alone.
'These . . . put out your hand. These are lengths of silver. I've put a notch in each of them, so you'll know if someone's trying to switch them. It's enough to pay for a pa.s.sage to Saraykeht. The road you're following now, it will be about another day's walk to the river. Maybe longer. Call it two.'
'Thank you, miss,' one of the other two said.
'I don't suppose we could ride on the back of your cart?' the tall man said, hope in his smile.
'No,' Maati said. There was a limit to what Vanjit would allow, and he wasn't ready for that confrontation. 'We've spent too long at this. Eiah.'
Without a word, without meeting his gaze, Eiah turned back, climbed into the cart, and went back to the wax writing tablets she'd spent her morning over. Maati climbed back up into the cart and started them back down the road, Vanjit at his side.
'She shouldn't have done that,' Vanjit murmured. Soft as the words were, he knew Eiah would hear them.
'There's no harm in it,' Maati said. 'Let it pa.s.s.'
Vanjit frowned, but let the subject go. She spent the rest of the day beside him, as if guarding him f
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