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'I know,' she said. Maati waved her closer, and she came to him, skirting around Cehmai as if she feared he would grab her and haul her away to where she was supposed to be. Maati sat on the cold stone floor and she sat with him.

'It isn't safe here,' he said.

'It's safe enough that you can be here. And Papa-kya. And you're the two most important men in the world.'

'I don't know that-'

'He's the Emperor. Even the Khai Cetani says so. And you're going to kill all the Galts. There can't be any place safer than with both of you. Besides, what if something happens and you need a physician?'

'I'll find one of the armsmen or a servant they can spare,' Cehmai said. 'We can at least have her safely-'

'No,' Maati said. 'Let her stay. She reminds me why we're doing this.'

Eiah's grin was the image of relief and joy. Of all the terrors and dangers arrayed before them, hers had been that she might be sent away. He took her hand and kissed it.

'Go sit by the stairs,' he said. 'Don't interrupt me, and if Cehmai-cha tells you to do something, you do it. No asking why, no arguing him out of it. You understand me?'

Eiah flung her hands into a pose of acceptance.

'And Eiah-kya. Understand what I'm doing has risks to it. If I die here - hush, now, let me finish. If I fail the binding and my little protection doesn't do what we think it will, I'll pay the price. If that happens, you have to remember that I love you very deeply, and I've done this because it was worth the risk if it meant keeping you safe.'

Eiah swallowed and her eyes shone with tears. Maati smiled at her, stood again, and waved her back toward the stairs. Cehmai came close, frowning.

'I'm not sure that was a kind thing to tell her,' he said, but a sudden outburst of trumpet calls sounded before Maati could reply. Maati thought he could hear the distant tattoo of drums echoing against the city walls. He gestured to Cehmai.

'Come on. There isn't time. Finish drawing those, then light the candles and close that blasted door. We'll all freeze to death before the andat can have its crack at us.'

'Or we'll have it all in place just in time for the Galts to take it.'

Maati scribbled out the rest of the binding. He'd wanted time to think on each word, each phrase; if he'd had time to paint each word like the portrait of a thought, it would have been better. There wasn't time. He finished just as Cehmai lit the final lantern and walked up the stone steps to the snow door. Before he closed it, the younger poet looked out, peering into the city.

'What do you see?'

'Smoke,' Cehmai said. Then, 'Nothing.'

'Come back down,' Maati said. 'Where are the robes for it?'

'In the back corner,' Cehmai said, pulling the wide wooden doors shut. 'I'll get them.'

Maati went to the cus.h.i.+on in the middle of the room, lowered himself with a grunt, and considered. The wall before him looked more like the scribblings of low-town vandals than a po

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