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'I know how it feels,' Liat said. 'I only have a trading house to look after, and there's days I wish that it would all go away. Granted, I have men who work the books and the negotiations and appeals before the low judges and the utkhaiem . . .'

'I have all the low judges and the utkhaiem appealing to me,' Otah said. 'It's never enough.'

'There's always the descent into decadence and self-absorption,' Liat said, smiling. It was only half a joke. 'They say the Khai Chaburi-Tan only gets sober long enough to bed his latest wife.'

'Tempting,' Otah said, 'but somewhere between taking the chair to protect Kiyan and tonight, it became my city. I came from here, and even if I'm not much good at what I do, I'm what they have.'

'That makes sense,' Liat said.

'Does it? It doesn't to me.'

Liat put down her bowl and rose. He thought her gaze spoke of determination and melancholy, but perhaps the latter was only his own. She stepped close and kissed him on the cheek, a firm peck like an aunt greeting a favorite nephew.

'Amat Kyaan would have understood,' she said. 'I won't tell Nayiit about this. If anyone asks, I'll deny it unless I hear differently from you.'

'Thank you, Liat-cha.'

She stepped back. Otah felt a terrible weariness bearing him down, but forced a charming smile. She shook her head.

'Thank you, Most High.'

'I don't think I've done anything worth thanking me.'

'You let my son live,' Liat said. 'That was one of the decisions you had to make, wasn't it?'

She took his silence as an answer, smiled again, and left him alone. Otah poured the last of the wine from carafe to bowl, and then watched the light die in the west as he finished it; watched the stars come out, and the full moon rise. With every day, the light lasted longer. It would not always. High summer would come, and even when the days were at their warmest, when the trees and vines grew heavy with fruit, the nights would already have started their slow expansion. He wondered whether Danat would get to play outside in the autumn, whether the boy would be able to spend a long afternoon lying in the sunlight before the snows came and drove them all down to the tunnels. He was raising a child to live in darkness and planning for his death.

There had been a time Otah had been young and sure enough of himself to kill. He had taken the life of a good man because they both had known the price that would have to be paid if he lived. He had been able to do that.

But he had seen forty-eight summers now. There were likely fewer seasons before him than there were behind. He'd fathered three children and raised two. He could no longer hold himself apart from the world. It was his to see that the city was a place that Danat and Eiah and children like them could live safe and cared for until they too grew old and uncertain.

He looked at the swirl of red at the bottom of his bowl. Too much wine, and too much memory. It was making him maudl

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