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'Tomorrow morning,' Riaan said. 'I will need a servant to attend me today and through the night. At first light tomorrow, I will prove that the Dai-kvo was a fool to send me away. And then I shall march to my father's house with your army behind me like a flood.'

Balasar grinned. He had never seen a man so shortsighted, vain, and petty, and he'd spent three seasons in Acton with his father and the High Council. As far as the poet was concerned, none of this was for anything more important than the greater glory of Riaan Vaudathat.

'How can we serve you in this?' Balasar asked.

'Everything is already prepared. I must only begin my meditations.'

It sounded like dismissal to Balasar. He rose, bowing to the poet.

'I will send my most trusted servant,' he said. 'Should anything more arise, only send word, and I will see it done.'

Riaan smiled condescendingly and nodded his head. But as Balasar was just leaving the garden, the poet called his name. A cloud had come over the man, some ghost of uncertainty that had not risen from the prospect of binding.

'Your men,' the poet said. 'They have been instructed that my family is not to be touched, yes?'

'Of course,' Balasar said.

'And the library. The city is, of course, yours to do with as you see fit, but without the libraries of the Khaiem, binding a second andat will be much more difficult. They aren't to be entered by any man but me.'

'Of course,' Balasar said again, and the poet took a pose accepting his a.s.surances. The concern didn't leave Riaan's brow, though. So perhaps the man wasn't quite as dim as he seemed. Balasar told himself, as he strode back through the covered pathways to his own rooms, that he would have to be more careful with him in the future. Not that there was much future for him. Win or lose, Riaan was a dead man.

The day seemed more real than the ones that had come before it: the sunlight clearer, the air more alive with the scents of flowers and sewage and gra.s.s. The stones of the walls seemed more interesting, the subtle differences in color and texture clear where previous days had made them only a field of gray. Even Balasar's body hummed with energy. It was like being a boy again, and diving into the lake from the highest cliff - the one all the other boys feared to jump from. It was dread and joy and the sense of no longer being able to take his decision back. It was what Balasar lived for. He knew already that he would not sleep.

Eustin was waiting for him in the entrance hall.

'There's someone wants a word with you, sir.'

Balasar paused.

'The Khaiate captain. He wanted to speak about fallback plans for his men.'

Eustin nodded to a side room. There was distrust in his expression, and Balasar waited a long moment for him to speak. Eustin added nothing. Balasar went to the wide, dark oaken door, knocked once, and went in. It was a preparation room for servants - muddy boots cast beside benches and waiting to

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