'There is a second section,' he said. 'He says . . . well.'
Otah smoothed the page with his fingers, tracing the words as he spoke.
'Still, I was your age once too. If good judgment were part of being young, there would be no reason to grow old. In G.o.d's name write back to tell us you're well. Your mother's sick that you'll fall off the trail and get eaten by dogs, and I'm half-sick that you'll come back wed and pregnant,' Otah said. 'He goes on to offer a brief a.n.a.lysis of my own intelligence. I'll skip that.'
Ana chuckled and wiped away a tear. Otah grinned and kept the smile in his voice when he went on.
'He ends by saying that he loves you. And that he trusts you to do what's right.'
'You're lying,' Ana said.
Otah took a pose that denied an unjust accusation, then flapped his hands in annoyance. The physical language of the Khaiem was a difficult habit to put aside.
'Why would I lie?' he asked.
'To be polite? I don't know. But my father? Farrer Dasin putting on paper that he trusts his little girl's judgment? The stars would dance on treetops first. The wed-and-pregnant part sounded like him, though.'
'Well,' Otah said, placing the folded page into her fingers. 'He might surprise you. Keep this, and you can read it for yourself once we've fixed all this mess.'
Ana took a pose that offered thanks. It wasn't particularly well done.
'You are always welcome,' Otah said.
They sat in silence until Danat and the other water bearers returned. Then Otah left his seat to Danat and crawled into the sleeping tent, where, true to expectations, he s.h.i.+fted from discomfort to discomfort until the sun rose again.
They reached Pathai at midday. Silk banners streamed from the towers and the throng that met them at the western arch cheered and sang and played flutes and drums. Men and women hung from lattices of wood and rope to get a better view of Otah and Danat, their armsmen, the steamcarts. The air was thick with the scents of honeyed almonds and mulled wine and bodies. The armsmen of Pathai met them, made an elaborate ritual obeisance, and then cleared a path for them until they reached the palaces.
A feast had been prepared, and baths. Servants descended on the group like moths, and Otah submitted to being only emperor once again.
The celebration of his arrival was as annoying as it was pointless. Dish after dish of savory meat and sweet bread, hot curry and chilled fish, all accompanied by the best acrobats and musicians that could be sc.r.a.ped together with little notice. And Ana Dasin sitting at his table, her empty eyes a constant, unintentional reproach. Finding Maati and this new poet was going to be like hunting quail with a circus. He would have to do something to let them move discreetly. He didn't yet know what that would be.
The rooms he'd been given wer
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