Balasar laughed. It felt good to laugh, and to smile, and to be reminded that the foul mood that had come on him was something he often suffered. In truth, he had forgotten. He took Eustin's hand in his own.
'Good to have you back,' Balasar said. 'I didn't know you'd returned.'
'I would have sent a runner to pa.s.s the news, but it seemed faster if I came myself.'
'Come up,' Balasar said. 'Tell me what's happened.'
'It might be best if I saw a bathhouse, sir . . .'
'Later,' Balasar said. 'If you can stand the reek, I can. And besides, you deserve some discomfort after that birthing comment. Come up, and I'll have them send us wine and food.'
'Yes, sir,' Eustin said.
They sat on couches while pine logs burned in the grate, sap hissing and popping and sending up sparks. True to his word, Balasar sent for rice wine infused with cherries and the stiff salty brown cheese that was a local delicacy of Tan-Sadar. Eustin recounted his season - the attack on Pathai, his decision to split the force before moving on to the poet's school. Pathai hadn't been as large or as wealthy as a port city like Nantani, but it was near the Westlands. Moving what wealth it had back to Galt would be simpler than the other inland cities.
'And the school?' Balasar said, and a cloud pa.s.sed over Eustin's face.
'They were younger than I'd thought. It wasn't the sort of thing they sing about. Unless they're singing laments. Then, maybe.'
'It was necessary.'
'I know, sir. That's why we did it.'
Balasar poured him another cup of the wine, and then one for himself, and they drank in silence together before Eustin went on with his report. The men they'd sent to take the southern cities had managed quite well, apart from an incident with poisoned grain in Lachi and a fire at the warehouses of Saraykeht. That matched with what Balasar himself had heard. All the poets had been found, all the books had been burned. No Khai had lived or left heir.
In return, Balasar shared what news he had from the North. Tan-Sadar, the nearest city to the Dai-kvo, had known about the destruction of the village for weeks before Balasar's prisoner-envoys had arrived. The story was also widely known of the battle; one of the Khaiem in the winter cities had fielded an army of sorts. The estimates of the dead went from several hundred to thousands. Few, if any, had been Coal's. The retelling of that tale as much as the sacking of Udun had broken the back of Utani and Tan-Sadar.
A letter in Coal's short, understated style had come south after Amnat-Tan had fallen. Another courier was due any day bringing the news of Cetani and Machi. But if Coal had kept to the pace he'd intended, those cities were also fallen.
'It'll be good t
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