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'Don't. Don't apologize. Don't be sorry. Just know it. Just know we wanted you back. Not the Khai and not the Emperor. You. Remember that you are a good man and I love you.'

He raised her chin and kissed her, wondering how she knew so well the way to fill him with joy without asking him to abandon his sorrow.

'It's Maati's now,' Otah whispered. 'If he can bind Seedless before the spring thaw, this will all be over.'

He felt an odd relaxation in her body, as if by saying the thing, he'd freed her from some secret effort she'd been making.

'And if he can't?' she asked. 'If it's all going to fall apart anyway, can we run? You and me and the children? If I take them and go, are you going to come with us, or stay here and fight?'

He kissed her again. She rested her hands against his shoulders, leaning into him. Otah didn't answer, and he knew from the sound of her breath that she understood.

'If we take the nuance of movement-away in nurat and the symbol set you worked up for the senses of continuance,' Maati said, 'I think then we'll have something we can work with.'

Cehmai's eyes were bloodshot, his hair wild from another long evening of combing frustrated fingers through it. Around them, the lamplight shone on a bedlam of paper. The library would have seemed a rat's nest to any but the two of them: books laid open; scrolls unfurled and weighted by other scrolls which were themselves unfurled; loose pages of a dozen codices stacked together. The ma.s.s of information and inference, grammar and poetry and history would have been overwhelming, Maati thought, to anyone who didn't know how profoundly little it was. Cehmai ran his fingertips down the notes Maati had made and shook his head.

'It's still the same,' he said. 'Nurat is modified by the fourth case of adat, and then it's exactly the same logical structure as the one Heshai used.'

'No, it isn't,' Maati said, slapping the table with an open palm. 'It's different.'

Cehmai took a long, slow breath, raising his hands palms-out. It wasn't a formal gesture, but Maati understood it all the same. They were both worn raw. He sat back in his chair, feeling the knots in his back and neck. The brazier in the corner made the wide room smell warm without seeming to actually heat it.

'Look,' Maati said. 'Let's put it aside for the day. We need to move the library underground soon anyway. It's going to be too cold up here to do more than watch our fingers turn blue.'

Cehmai nodded, then looked around at the disarray. Maati could read the despair in his face.

'I'll put it back together,' Maati said. 'Then a dozen slaves with strong backs, and I'll put it all together in the winter quarters in two days' time.'

'I should move the poet's house down too,' Cehmai said. 'I feel like I haven't been there in weeks.'

'I'm sorry.'

'Don't be. The place seems too big without Stone-Made-Soft anyway. Too quiet. It reminds me of . . . well, of everything.'

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