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'You served the Khai Machi,' Balasar said.

'Since before he was the Khai, in fact,' Sinja said.

'What can you tell me about him?'

'He has a good wife,' Sinja said. Eustin actually smiled at the joke, but Balasar's head tilted a degree.

'Only one wife?' he asked. 'That's odd for the Khaiem, isn't it?'

'And only one son. It is odd,' Sinja said. 'But he's an odd man for a Khai. He spent his boyhood working as a laborer and traveling through the eastern islands and the cities. He didn't kill his family to take the chair. He's been considered something of an embarra.s.sment by the utkhaiem, he's upset the Daikvo, and I think he's looked on his position as a burden.'

'He's a poor leader then?'

'He's better than they deserve. Most of the Khaiem actually like the job.'

Balasar smiled and Eustin frowned. They understood.

'He hasn't posted scouts,' Eustin pointed out. 'He can't be much of a war leader.'

'No one would post scouts this late in the season,' Sinja said. 'You might as well fault him for not keeping a watch on the moon in case we launched an attack from there.'

'And how was it that a son of the Khaiem found himself working as a laborer?' Balasar asked, eager, it seemed, to change the subject.

As he swayed gently on the horse, Sinja told the story of Otah Machi. How he had walked away from the Dai-kvo to take a false name as a petty laborer. The years in Saraykeht, and then in the eastern islands. How he had taken part in the gentleman's trade, met the woman who would be his wife, and then been caught up in a plot for his father's chair. The uncertain first year of his rule. The plague that had struck the winter cities, and how he had struggled with it. The tensions when he had refused marriage to the daughter of the Khai Utani. Reluctantly, Sinja even told of his own small drama, and its resolution. He ended with the formation of the small militia, and its being sent away to the west, and to Balasar's service.

Balasar listened through it all, probing now and again with questions or comments or requests for Sinja to amplify on some point or aspect of the Khai Machi. Behind them, the sun slid down toward the horizon. The air began to cool, and Sinja pulled his leather cloak back over his shoulders. Dark would be upon them soon, and the moon had still not risen. Sinja expected the meeting to come to its close when they stopped to make camp, but Balasar kept him near, pressing for more detail and explanation.

Sinja knew better than to dissemble. He was here because he had played well up to this point, but if his loyalty to the Galts was ever going to break, it would be soon and all three men knew it. If he held back, hesitated, or gave information that seemed intended to mislead, he would fall from Balasar's grace. So he told his story as clearly and truthfully as he could. There wasn't a great deal that was likely to be of use to the general anyway. Sinja had, after all, never seen Otah lead

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