'If burning the library is really one of his demands, then maybe,' Kiyan said. 'I can't think he'd want the books and scrolls burned if he hoped to bind more andat of his own.'
Otah nodded, and lay back, his gaze turned toward the ceiling above him, dark as a moonless sky.
'I'm not sure he's wrong,' Otah said.
Wordless, she drew his mouth to hers, guided his hands. He would have thought himself too tired for the physical act of love, but she proved him wrong. Afterward, she lay at his side, her fingertips tracing the ink that had been worked into his skin when he had been an eastern islander leading one of his previous lives. He slept deeply and with a feeling of peace utterly unjustified by the situation.
He woke alone, called in the servants who bathed and dressed a Khai. Or, however briefly, an Emperor. Black robes, shot with red. Thick-woven wool layered with waxed silk. Robes of colors chosen for war and designed for cold. He took himself up through the great galleries, rising toward the surface and the light, being seen by the utkhaiem of both Machi and Cetani, by the common laborers hurrying to throw vast cartfuls of rubble into the minor entrances to the underground, by the merchants and couriers. The food sellers and beggars. The city.
The sky was white and gray, vast and empty as a blank page. Crows commented to one another, their voices dispa.s.sionate and considering as low-town judges. High above, the towers of Machi loomed, and smoke rose from the sky doors - the sign that men were up there in the thin, distant air burning coal and wood to warm their hands, preparing for the battle. Otah stood on the steps of his palace, the bitter cold numbing his cheeks and biting at his nose and ears, the world smelling of smoke and the threat of snow. Distant and yet clear, like the voice of a ghost, bells began to ring in the towers and great yellow banners unfurled like the last, desperate unfallen leaves of the vast stone trees.
The Galts had come.
Snow fell gently that morning, drifting down from the sheet of clouds above them in small, hard flakes. Balasar stood on the ridgeline of the hills south of the city. Frost had formed on the folds of his leather cloak, and the snow that landed on his shoulders didn't melt. Before him, the stone towers rose, seeming closer than they were, more real than the snow-grayed mountains behind them. No enemy army had marched out to meet him, no party of utkhaiem marred the thin white blanket, still little more than ankle-deep, that separated Balasar from Machi. Behind him, his men were gathered around the steam wagons, pressed around the furnace grates that Balasar had ordered opened. The medics were already busy with men suffering from the cold. The captains and masters of arm
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