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The grandest hall of his palaces stood open on a wide garden of night-blooming plants. A network of whisperers stood on platforms, ready to repeat the ceremonial greetings and ritual out to the farthest ear. Otah didn't doubt that runners were waiting at the edge of the gardens to carry reports of the event even farther. The press of bodies was intense, the sound of voices so riotous that the musicians and singers set to wander the garden in serenade had all been sent home.

Otah sat on the black lacquer chair of the Khai Saraykeht, his spine straight and his hands folded as gracefully as he could manage. Cus.h.i.+ons for Danat and Sinja and all of Otah's highest officers were arrayed behind him, perhaps two-thirds filled. The others were, doubtless, in the throng of silk and gems. There was nowhere else to be tonight. Not in Saraykeht. Perhaps not in the world.

Danat brought him a bowl of cold wine, but it was too loud to have any conversation beyond the trading of thanks and welcome. Danat took his place on the cus.h.i.+on at Otah's side. Farrer Dasin, Otah saw, had been given not a chair but a rosewood bench. Issandra and Ana were on cus.h.i.+ons at his feet. All three looked overwhelmed about the eyes. Otah caught Issandra's gaze and adopted a pose of welcome, which she returned admirably.

He turned his attention to her husband. Farrer Dasin, stern and gray. Otah found himself wondering how best to approach the man about this new proposal. Though he knew better, he could not help thinking of Galt and his own cities as separate, as two empires in alliance. Farrer Dasin - indeed, most of the High Council - were sure to be thinking in the same ways. They were all wrong, of course, Otah included. They were marrying two families together, but more than that they were binding two cultures, two governments, two histories. His own grandchildren would live and die in a world unrecognizably different from the one Otah had known; he would be as foreign to them as Galt had been to him.

And here, on this clear, crowded night, the cycle of ages was turning. He found himself irrationally certain that Farrer Dasin could be persuaded to lead, or at least to sponsor, a campaign against the pirates at Chaburi-Tan. They had done this. They could do anything.

The signal came: flutes and drums in fanfare as the cloth lanterns rose to the dais. Otah stood up and the crowd before him went silent. Only the sound of a thousand breaths competed with the songbirds and crickets.

Otah gave his address in the tones appropriate to his place, practiced over the course of years. He found himself changing the words he had practiced. Instead of speaking only of the future, he also wanted to honor the past. He wanted every person there to know that in addition to the world they were making, there was a world - in some ways good, in others evil - that they were leaving behind.

They listened to him as if he were a singer, their eyes fastened to him, th

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