Vanjit sat beside him, the andat wrapped in her cloak. Her expression was blank. Dark smudges of fatigue marked her eyes, and the andat squirmed and fussed. The wide wheels tossed bits of hard-packed snow up into the cart, and Maati brushed them away idly. It would be an hour or more to the high road, and then perhaps a day before they turned into the network of tracks and roads that connected the low towns that would take them to the grand palaces of Utani, center of the Empire. Maati found himself wondering whether Otah-kvo would have returned there, to sit on the gold-worked seat. Or perhaps he would still be in Saraykeht, scheming to haul countless thousands of blinded women from Kirinton, Acton, and Marsh.
He tried to picture his old friend and enemy, but he could conjure only a sense of his presence. Otah's face escaped him, but it had been a decade and a half since they had seen each other. All memory faded, he supposed. Everything, eventually, pa.s.sed into the white veil and was forgotten.
The snow made roadway and meadow identical, so the first bend in the road was marked by a stand of thin trees and a low ridge of stone. Maati watched the dark buildings vanish behind the hillside. It was unlikely that he would ever see them again. But he would carry his memories of the warmth of the kitchens, the laughter of women, the first binding done by a woman, and the proof that his new grammar would function. Better that than the death house it had been when the Galts had come down this same road, murder in their minds. Or the mourning chambers for boys without families before that.
Vanjit shuddered. Her face was paler. Maati freed his hands and took a pose that expressed concern and offered comfort. Vanjit shook her head.
'He's never been away,' she said. 'He's leaving home for the first time.'
'It can be frightening,' Maati said. 'It will pa.s.s.'
'No. Worse, really. He's happy. He's very happy to be leaving,' Vanjit said. Her voice was low and exhausted. 'All the things we said about the struggle to hold them. It's all truth. I can feel him in the back of my mind. He never stops pus.h.i.+ng.'
'It's the nature of the andat,' Maati said. 'If you'd like, we can talk about ways to make bearing the burden easier.'
Vanjit looked away. Her lips were pale.
'No,' she said. 'We'll be fine. It's only a harder day than usual. We'll find another place, and see you cared for, and then all will be well. But when the time comes to bind Wounded, there are things I'll do differently.'
'We can hope it never comes to that,' Maati said.
Vanjit s.h.i.+fted, her eyes widening for a moment, and the soft, almost flirting smile came to her lips.
'Of course not,' she said. '
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