smooth his forehead with her palm. 'Could you explain this to me?'

'No,' she said.

After that, it was simple. They wouldn't remain in Saraykeht, not when they'd so nearly been discovered. The Emperor's daughter asked favors of the port master, of the customs men on the roads, of the armsmen paid by the city to patrol and keep the violence in the low towns to an acceptable level. Her quarry weren't smugglers or thieves. They weren't expert in covering their tracks. In two days, she knew where they were. Eiah quietly packed what things she needed from her apartments in the palace, took a horse from the stables, and rode out of the city as if she were only going to visit an herb woman in one of the low towns.

As if she were coming back.

She found them at a wayhouse on the road to Shosheyn-Tan. The winter sun had set, but the gates to the wayhouse courtyard were still open. The carriage Eiah had heard described was at the side of the house, its horses unhitched. The two women, she knew, were presenting themselves as travelers. The man-old, fat, unpleasant to speak withwas posing as their slave. Eiah let the servant take her horse to be cared for, but instead of going up the steps to the main house, she followed him back to the stables. A small shack stood away at an angle. Quarters for servants and slaves. Eiah felt her lips press thin at the thought. Rough straw ticking, thin blankets, whatever was left to eat after the paying guests were done.

'How many servants are here now?' Eiah asked of the young maneighteen summers, so four years old when it had happened-brushing down her horse. He looked at her as if she'd asked what color ducks laid the eggs they served at table. She smiled.

'Three,' the servant said.

'Tell me about them,' she said.

He shrugged.

'There's an old woman came in two days ago. Her master's laid up sick. Then a boy from the Westlands works for a merchant staying on the ground floor. And an old bastard just came in with two women from Chaburi- Tan.'


'What they said,' the servant replied.

Eiah took two lengths of silver from her sleeve and held them out in her palm. The servant promptly forgot about her horse.

'When you're done,' she said, 'take the woman and the Westlander to the back of the house. Buy them some wine. Don't mention me. Leave the old man.'

The servant took a pose of acceptance so total it was just short of an open pledge. Eiah smiled, dropped the silver in his palm, and pulled up a shoeing stool to sit on while she waited. The night was cool, but still not near as cold as her home in the north. An owl hooted deep and low. Eiah pulled her arms up into her sleeves to keep her fingers warm. The scent of roasting pork wafted from the wayhouse, and the sounds of a flute and a voice lifted together.

The servant finished his work and with a deferential nod to Eiah, made his way to the servants' house. It was less than half a hand before he emerged with a thin woman and a sandy-haired Westlands boy trailing him. Eiah pushed her hands back through her sleeves and made her way to the small, rough shack.

He was sitting beside the fire, frowning into the flames and eating a mush of rice and raisins from a small wooden bowl. The years hadn't been kind to him. He was thicker than he'd been when she knew him, an unhealthy fatness that had little to do with indulgence. His color was poor; what remained of his hair was white stained yellow by neglect. He looked angry. He looked lonesome.

'Uncle Maati,' she said.

He startled. His eyes flashed. Eiah couldn't tell if it was anger or fear. But whatever it was had a trace of pleasure to it.

'Don't know who you mean,' he said. 'Name's Daavit.'

Eiah chuckled and stepped into the small room. It smelled of bodies and smoke and the raisins in Maati's food. Eiah found a small chair and pulled it to the fire beside the old poet, her chosen uncle, the man who had destroyed the world. They sat silently for a while.

'It was the way they died,' Eiah said. 'All the stories you told me when I was young about the prices that the andat exacted when a poet's binding failed. The one whose blood turned dry. The one whose belly swelled up like he was pregnant, and when they cut him open it was all ice and seaweed. All of them. I started to hear stories. What was that, four years ago?'

At first she thought he wouldn't answer. He cupped two thick fingers into the rice and ate what they lifted out. He swallowed. He sucked his teeth.

'Six,' he said.

'Six years,' she said. 'Women started appearing here and there, dead in strange ways.'

He didn't answer. Eiah waited for the space of five slow breaths together before she went on.

'You told me stories about the andat when I was young,' she said. 'I remember most of it, I think. I know that a binding only works once. In order to bind the same andat again, the poet has to invent a whole new way to describe the thought. You used to tell me about how the poets of the Old Empire would bind three or four andat in a lifetime. I thought at the time you envied them, but I saw later that you were only sick at the waste of it.'

Maati sighed and looked down.

'And I remember when you tried to explain to me why only men could be poets,' she said. 'As I recall, the arguments weren't all that convincing to me.'

'You were a stubborn girl,' Maati said.

'You've changed your mind,' Eiah said. 'You've lost all your books. All the grammars and histories and records of the andat that have come before. They're gone. All the poets gone but you and perhaps Cehmai. And in the history of the Empire, the Second Empire, the Khaiem, the one thing you know is that a woman has never been a poet. So perhaps, if women think differently enough from men, the bindings they create will succeed, even with nothing but your own memory to draw from.'

'Who told you? Otah?'

'I know my father had letters from you,' Eiah said. 'I don't know what was in them. He didn't tell me.'

'A women's grammar,' Maati said. 'We're building a women's gram„ mar.

Eiah took the bowl from his hands and put it on the floor with a clatter. Outside, a gust of wind shrilled past the shack. Smoke bellied out from the fire, rising into the air, thinning as it went. When he looked at her, the pleasure was gone from his eyes.

'It's the best hope,' Maati said. 'It's the only way to… undo what's been done.'

'You can't do this, Maati-kya,' Eiah said, her voice gentle.

Maati started to his feet. The stool he'd sat on clattered to the floor. Eiah pulled back from his accusing finger.

'Don't you tell that to me, Eiah,' Maati said, biting at the words. 'I know he doesn't approve. I asked his help. Eight years ago, I risked my life by sending to him, asking the Emperor of this pisspot empire for help. And what did he say? No. Let the world be the world, he said. He doesn't see what it is out here. He doesn't see the pain and the ache and the suffering. So don't you tell we what to do. Every girl I've lost, it's his fault. Every time we try and fall short, it's because we're sneaking around in warehouses and low towns. Meeting in secret like criminals-'


'I can do this,' the old poet continued, a fleck of white foam at the corner of his mouth. 'I have to. I have to retrieve my error. I have to fix what I broke. I know I'm hated. I know what the world's become because of me. But these girls are dedicated and smart and willing to die if that's what's called for. Willing to die. How can you and your great and glorious father tell me that I'm wrong to try?'

'I didn't say you shouldn't try,' Eiah said. 'I said you can't do it. Not alone.'

Maati's mouth worked for a moment. His fingertip traced an arc down to the fire grate as the anger left him. Confusion washed through his expression, his shoulders sagging and his chest sinking in. He reminded Eiah of a puppet with its strings fouled. She rose and took his hand as she had the dead woman's.

'I haven't come here on my father's business,' Eiah said. 'I've come to help.'

'Oh,' Maati said. A tentative smile found its way to his lips. 'Well. I… that is…'

He frowned viciously and wiped at his eyes with one hand. Eiah stepped forward and put her arms around

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