Ana folded the letter. Thousands of pages of letters to the Empress who had died. The last Empress before her.

'I don't know what to do,' Danat said.

'I love you. You know I love you more than anything except the children?'

'Of course.'

'If you burn these, I will leave you. Honestly, love. You've lost enough of him. You have to keep these.'

Danat took a deep shuddering breath and closed his eyes. His hands pressed flat on his thighs. Another tear slipped down his cheek, and Ana leaned forward to smooth it away with her sleeve.

'I want to,' Danat said. 'I want to keep them. I want to keep him. But it was what he asked.'

'He's dead, love,' Ana said. 'He's dead and gone. Truly. He doesn't care anymore.

When Danat had finished crying, his body heavy against her own, the sun had set. The apartments were a collection of shadows. Somewhere in the course of things, they had made their way to Otah Machi's beda soft mattress that smelled of roses and had, so far as Ana could tell, never been slept in. She stroked Danat's hair and listened to the chorus of crickets in the gardens. Her husband's breath became deeper, more regular. Ana waited until he was deeply asleep, then slipped out from under him, lit a candle, and by its soft light gathered the letters and began to put them in order.

And as it is for spring flowers, so it is for us.

The World itself seemed to have conspired to make the day somber.

Gray clouds hung low over the city, a cold constant mist of rain darkening the mourning cloths, the stones, the newly unfurled leaves of the trees. The pyre stood in the center of the grand court, stinking of coal oil and pine resin. The torches that lined the pyre spat and hissed in the rain.

The assembly was huge. There weren't enough whisperers to take any words he said to the back edges of the crowd. If there was a back. As far as he could see from his place at the raised black dais, there were only faces, an infinity of faces, going back to the edge of the horizon. Their murmuring voices were a constant roll of distant thunder.

The Emperor was dead, and whether they mourned or celebrated, no one would remain unmoved.

At his side, Ana held his hand. Calin, in a pale mourning robe and a bright red sash, looked dumbstruck. His eyes moved restlessly over everything. Danat wondered what the boy found so overwhelming: the sheer animal mass of the crowd, the realization that Danat himself was no longer emperor regent but actually emperor, as Calin himself would be one day, or the fact that Otah was gone. All three, most likely.

Danat rose and stepped to the front of the dais. The crowd grew louder and then eerily silent. Danat drew a sheaf of papers from his sleeve. His farewell to his father.

'We say that the flowers return every spring,' Danat said, 'but that is a lie. It is true that the world is renewed. It is also true that that renewal comes at a price, for even if the flower grows from an ancient vine, the flowers of spring are themselves new to the world, untried and untested.

'The flower that wilted last year is gone. Petals once fallen are fallen forever. Flowers do not return in the spring, rather they are replaced. It is in this difference between returned and replaced that the price of renewal is paid.

'And as it is for spring flowers, so it is for us.'

Danat paused, the voices of the whisperers carrying his words out as far as they would travel. As he waited, he caught sight of Idaan and Cehmai standing before the pyre. The old poet looked somber. Idaan's long face carried an expression that might have been amusement or anger or the distance of being lost in her own thoughts. She was unreadable, as she always was. He saw, not for the first time, how much she and Otah resembled each other.

The rain tapped on the page before him as if to recall his attention. The ink was beginning to blur. Danat began again.

'My father founded an empire, something no man living can equal. My father also took a wife, raised children, struggled with all that it meant to have us, and there are any number of men and women in the cities or in Galt, Eymond, Bakta, Eddensea, or the world as a whole who have taken that road as well.

'My father was born, lived his days, and died. In that he is like all of us. All of us, every one, without exception. And so it is for that, perhaps, that he most deserves to be honored.'

The ink bled, Danat's words fading and blurring. He looked up at the low sky and thought of his father's letters. Page after page after page of saying what could never be said. He didn't know any longer what he'd hoped to achieve with his own speech. He folded the pages and put them back in his sleeve.

'I loved my father,' Danat said. 'I miss him.'

He proceeded slowly down the wide stairs to the base of the pyre. A servant whose face he didn't know presented Danat with a lit torch. He took it, and walked slowly around the base of the pyre, cool raindrops dampening his face, his hair. He smelled of soft rain. Danat touched flame to tinder as he went, the coal oil flaring and stinking.

The fire roared. Smoke rose through the falling rain, carrying the body of Otah Machi with it. And pale petals of almond blossoms floated over the crowd and the pyre, the palaces and the city, like the announcement that spring had come at last.

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