'All apologies, Most High,' Sinja said. He hadn't bothered to wipe up the spilled wine. 'Why is this the first I'm hearing of it?'
'It came at a bad time,' Otah said. 'Kiyan was dying. It was hopeless. The andat are gone, and there's no force in the world that can bring them safely back.'
'You're sure of that?' Idaan asked. 'Because Maati-cha didn't think it was hopeless. The man is many things, but he isn't dim.'
'It hardly matters,' Sinja said. 'Just the word that this is happening, and that - may all the G.o.ds keep it from happening - you knew he was thinking of it. That you've known for years . . .'
'It's a dream!' Otah shouted. 'Maati was dreaming, that's all. He wants something back that's gone beyond his reach. Well, so do I. Anyone who has lived as long as we have knows that longing, and we know how useless it is. What's gone is gone, and we can't have it back. So what would you have had me do? Send the message back with an a.s.sa.s.sin? Announce to the world that Maati Vaupathai was out, trying to bind the andat, so they should all send invading armies at their first convenience?'
'Why didn't you?' Idaan asked. 'Send the a.s.sa.s.sin, I mean. The invading armies, I understand. For that, why did you let them go at the end of the war?'
'I am not in the mood, Idaan-cha, to be questioned by a woman who killed my father, schemed to place the blame on me, and is only breathing air now because I chose to let her. I understand that you would have happily opened their throats.'
'Not Cehmai's,' she said softly. 'But then I know why I wouldn't have done it. It doesn't follow that I should know why you didn't. The two aren't the same.'
Otah rocked back in his chair. His face was hot. Their gazes locked, and he saw her nod. Idaan took a pose that expressed both understanding and contrition while unmasking the question.
'That isn't true,' she said. 'Thinking for a moment, I suppose they are.'
Otah took the bowl Sinja held out to him. The wine was unwatered, rich and astringent. He drank it dry. Sinja looked nervous.
'There's nothing I can do about any of this tonight,' Otah said. 'I'm tired. I'm going to bed. If I decide it needs talking of further, it'll be another time.'
He rose, taking a pose that ended an audience, then feeling a moment's shame, s.h.i.+fted to one that was merely a farewell.
'Otah-cha,' Sinja said. 'One last thing. I'm sorry, but you left standing orders. If she came back, I was supposed to kill her.'
'For plotting to take my chair and conspiring with the Galts,' Otah said. 'Well. Idaan-cha? Are you hoping to become Emperor?'
'I wouldn't take your place as a favor,' she said.
'Find apartments for her,' he said. 'Lift the death order. The girl we sent out in the snow migh
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