'I have an ear in the palaces anytime I need it. Otah won't be able to mount any kind of action against me without warning finding me. You can trust to that.'
'You have to tell us more,' Idaan said.
'He doesn't,' Cehmai said, sharply. 'He doesn't have to offer me protection because I'm not going to do the work. I'm done, love. I'm finished. I want a few more years with you and a quiet death, and I'll be quite pleased with that.'
'The world needs you,' Maati said.
'It doesn't,' Cehmai said. 'You've come a long way, Maati-kvo, and I've disappointed you. I'm sorry for that, but you have my answer. I used to be a poet, but I'm not anymore. I can reconsider as long as we both keep breathing, and we'll come to the same place.'
'We can't stay on here,' Idaan said. Her voice was soft. 'I've loved it here too. This place, these years . . . we've been lucky to have them. But Maati-cha's right. This season, and perhaps five or ten after it, we'll make do. But eventually the work will pa.s.s us. We're not getting younger, and we can't hire on hands to help us. There aren't any.'
'Then we'll leave,' Cehmai said. 'We'll do something else, only not that.'
'Why not?' Maati asked.
'Because I don't want to kill any more people,' Cehmai said. 'Not the girls you're encouraging to try this, not the foreigners who would try to stop us, not whatever army came in the next autumn's war.'
'It doesn't have to be like that,' Maati said.
'It does,' Cehmai said. 'We held the power of G.o.ds, and the world envied us and turned against us, and they always will again. I can't say I think much of where we stand now, but I remember what happened to bring us here, and I don't see how making poets of women instead of men will make a world any different or better than the one we had then.'
'It may not,' Maati said, 'but it will be better than the one we have now. If you won't help me, then I'll do without you, but I'd thought better of you, Cehmai. I'd thought you had more spine.'
'Rice is getting cold,' Idaan said. Her voice was controlled rage. 'Perhaps we should eat it before it goes bad.'
They finished the meal alternating between artificially polite conversation and strained silence. After, Cehmai took the bowls away to clean and didn't return. Idaan led Maati to a small room near the back with a straw pallet and a night candle already burning. Maati slept poorly and found himself still upset when he woke. He left in the dark of the morning without speaking again to either of his hosts, one from disappointment and shame and the other, though he would never have said it, from fear.
Nantani was the nearest port to the lands of Galt, but the scars of war were too fresh there and too deep. Instead, the G.o.ds had conspired to return Otah to the city of his childhood: S
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