'No,' she said. 'Food first. Then rest.'

Eiah suffered them to take her satchel, but refused the sable cloak they offered against the night air. It really wasn't that cold.

'Is there word from my father?' she asked as they walked along the wide, empty paths.

'No, Eiah-cha,' the servant replied. 'Nor from your brother. There have been no couriers today.'

Eiah kept her pleasure at the news from her expression.

The palaces of Saraykeht had suffered less under their brief Galtic occupation than many others had. Nantani had been nearly ruined. Udun had been razed and never rebuilt. In Saraykeht, it was clear where statues had once been and were gone, where jewels had been set into the goldwork around the doorways and been wrenched out, but all the buildings except the Khai's palace and the library still stood. The utkhaiem of the city hadn't restored the damage or covered it over. Like a woman assaulted but with unbroken spirit, Saraykeht wore her scars without shame. Of all the cities of the Khaiem, she was the least devastated, the strongest, and the most arrogant in her will to survive. Eiah thought she might love the city just a little, even as it made her sad.

A singing slave occupied the garden outside Eiah's apartments. Eiah left the shutters open so that the songs could come through more clearly. A fire burned in the grate and candles glowed in glass towers. A Galtic clock marked the hours of the night in soft metallic counterpoint to the singer, and as she pulled off her robes and prepared for sleep, Eiah was amazed to see how early it was. The night had hardly exhausted its first third. It had seemed longer. She put out the candles, pulled herself into her bed, and drew the netting closed.

The night passed, and the day that followed it, and the day that followed that. Eiah's life in Saraykeht had long since taken on a rhythm. The mornings she spent at the palaces working with the court physicians, the afternoons down in the city or in the low towns that spread out from Saraykeht. To those who didn't know her, she gave herself out to be a visitor from Cetani in the north, driven to the summer cities by hardship. It wasn't an implausible tale. There were many for whom it was true. And while it couldn't be totally hidden, she didn't want to be widely known as her father's daughter. Not here. Not yet.

On a morning near the end of her second month in the city-two weeks after Candles Night-the object of her hunt finally appeared. She was in her rooms, working on a guide to the treatment of fevers in older patients. The fire was snapping and murmuring in the grate and a thin, cold rain tapped at the shutters like a hundred polite mice asking permission to enter. The scratch at the door startled her. She arranged her robe and opened the door just as the slave outside it was raising her hand to scratch again.

'Eiah-cha,' the girl said, falling into a pose that was equal parts apology and greeting. 'Forgive me, but there's a man… he says he has to speak with you. He has a message.'

'From whom?' Eiah demanded.

'He wouldn't say, Most High,' the slave said. 'He said he could speak only with you.'

Eiah considered the girl. She was little more than sixteen summers. One of the youngest in the cities of the Khaiem. One of the last.

'Bring him,' Eiah said. The girl made a brief pose that acknowledged the command and fled back out into the damp night. Eiah shuddered and went to add more coal to the fire. She didn't close the door.

The runner was a young man, broad across the shoulder. Twenty summers, perhaps. His hair was soaked and sticking to his forehead. His robe hung heavily from his shoulders, sodden with the rain.

'Eiah-cha,' he said. 'Parit-cha sent me. He's at his workroom. He said he has something and that you should come. Quickly.'

She caught her breath, the first movements of excitement lighting her nerves. The other times one or another of the physicians and healers and herb women of the city had sent word, it had been with no sense of urgency. A man ill one day was very likely to be ill the next as well. This, then, was something different.

'What is it?' she asked.

The runner took an apologetic pose. Eiah waved it away and called for a servant. She needed a thick robe. And a litter; she wasn't waiting for the firekeeper. And now, she needed them now. The Emperor's daughter got what she wanted, and she got it quickly. She and the boy were on the streets in less than half a hand, the litter jouncing uncomfortably as they were carried through the drizzle. The runner tried not to seem awed at the palace servants' fear of Eiah. Eiah tried not to bite her fingernails from anxiety. The streets slid by outside their shelter as Eiah willed the litter bearers to go faster. When they reached Parit's house, she strode through the courtyard gardens like a general going to war.

Without speaking, Parit ushered her to the back. It was the same room in which she'd seen the last woman. Parit sent the runner away. There were no servants. There was no one besides the two physicians and a body on the wide slate table, covered by a thick canvas cloth soaked through with blood.

'They brought her to me this morning,' Parit said. 'I called for you immediately.'

'Let me see,' Eiah said.

Parit pulled back the cloth.

The woman was perhaps five summers older than Eiah herself, darkhaired and thickly built. She was naked, and Eiah saw the wounds that covered her body: belly, breasts, arms, legs. A hundred stab wounds. The woman's skin was unnaturally pale. She'd bled to death. Eiah felt no revulsion, no outrage. Her mind fell into the patterns she had cultivated all her life. This was only death, only violence. This was where she was most at home.

'Someone wasn't happy with her,' Eiah said. 'Was she a soft-quarter whore?'

Parit startled, his hands almost taking a pose of query. Eiah shrugged.

'That many knife wounds,' she said, 'aren't meant only to kill. Three or four would suffice. And the spacing of them isn't what I've seen when the killer had simply lost control. Someone was sending a message.'

'She wasn't stabbed,' Parit said. He took a cloth from his sleeve and tossed it to her. Eiah turned back to the corpse, wiping the blood away from a wound in the dead woman's side. The smear of gore thinned. The nature of the wound became clear.

It was a mouth. Tiny rosebud lips, slack as sleep. Eiah told her hand to move, but for a long moment her flesh refused her. Then, her breath shallow, she cleaned another. And then another.

The woman was covered with babies' mouths. Eiah's fingertips traced the tiny lips that had spilled the woman's lifeblood. It was a death as grotesque as any Eiah had heard in the tales of poets who had tried to bind the andat and fallen short.

Tears filled her eyes. Something like love or pity or gratitude filled her heart to bursting. She looked at the woman's face for the first time. The woman hadn't been pretty. A thick jaw, a heavy brow, acne pocks. Eiah held back from kissing her cheek. Parit was confused enough as it stood. Instead, Eiah wiped her eyes on her sleeve and took the dead woman's hand.

'What happened?' she asked.

'The watch saw a cart going west out of the soft quarter,' Parit said. 'The captain said there were three people, and they were acting nervous. When he hailed them, they tried to run.'

'Did he catch them?'

Parit was staring at Eiah's hand clasping the dead woman's fingers.

'Parit,' she said. 'Did he catch them?'

'What? No. No, all three slipped away. But they had to abandon the cart. She was in it,' Parit said, nodding at the corpse. 'I'd asked anything unusual to be brought to me. I offered a length of silver.'

'They earned it,' Eiah said. 'Thank you, Parit-kya. I can't tell you how much this means.'

'What should we do?' Parit asked, sitting on his stool like a fresh apprentice before his master. He'd always done that when he felt himself at sea. Eiah found there was warmth in her heart for him even now

'Burn her,' Eiah said. 'Burn her with honors and treat her ashes with respect.'

'Shouldn't we… shouldn't we tell someone? The utkhaiem? The Emperor?'

'You already have,' Eiah said. 'You've told me.'

There was a moment's pause. Parit took a pose that asked clarification. It wasn't quite the appropriate one, but he was flustered.

'This is it, then,' he said. 'This is what you were looking for.'

'Yes,' Eiah said.

'You know what happened to her.'


'Would you…' Parit coughed, looked down. His brow was knotted. Eiah was half-tempted to go to him, to

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