'I am afraid Sinja will have to do without my aid,' Balasar said, his voice ironic and bleak. 'It seems I'll be in no condition to sail.'
Otah leaned against the window's ledge, his shadow falling over Balasar. The general turned toward him. His voice was banked rage, his expression impotence.
'Did you know, Otah? Did you know what they were doing?'
'This wasn't my doing,' Otah said. 'I swear that.'
'My life was taking your G.o.d-ghosts out of the world. I thought we'd done it. Even after what you b.a.s.t.a.r.ds did to me, to all of us, I was content trying to make peace. I lost my men to it, and I lived with that because the loss meant something. However desperate the cost, at least we'd be rid of the f.u.c.king andat. And now . . .'
Balasar struck the table with an open palm, the report like stone breaking. Otah lifted his hands toward a pose that offered comfort, and then stopped and let his arms fall to his sides.
'I'm sorry,' Otah said. 'I will send my best agents to find the new poet and resolve this. Until then, all of you will be cared for and-'
Balasar's laughter was a bark.
'Where do I begin, Most High? We will all be cared for? Do you really think this has only happened to the Galts who came to your filthy city? I will wager any odds you like that everyone back home is suffering the same things we are. How many fishermen were on their boats when it happened? How many people were traveling the roads? You could no more care for all of us than pluck the moon out of the sky.'
'I'm sorry for that,' Otah said. 'Once we've found the poet and talked to . . .' He stumbled on his words, caught between the expected him and the more likely her.
Balasar gestured to him, palms up as if displaying something small and obvious.
'If it wasn't your pet andat that did this, then what hope do you have of resolving anything?' Balasar asked. 'They may have left you your sight for the moment, but there's nothing you can do. It's the andat. There's no defense. There's no counterattack that means anything. Gather your armsmen. Take to the field. Then come back and die beside us. You can do nothing.'
This is my daughter's work, Otah thought but didn't say. I can hope that she still loves me enough to listen.
'You've never felt this,' Balasar said. 'The rest of us? The rest of the world? We know what it is to be faced with the andat. You can't end this. You can't even negotiate. You have no standing now. The best you can do is beg.'
'Then I will beg,' Otah said.
'Enjoy that,' Balasar said, sitting back in his chair. It was like watching a showfighter collapse at the end of a match. The vitality, the anger, the violence snuffed out, and the general was only a small Galtic man with crippled eyes, waiting for some kind soul to take away the remains of his uneaten meal. Otah rose and walked quietly from the room.
All through the city, the scenes
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