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An Autumn War



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About The Author

Daniel AbrahamDaniel Abraham

Daniel Abraham won the International Horror Award for best short story. His previous novels include A Shadow in Summer and A Betrayal in Winter, the first two volumes of the Long Price Quartet, and the final book in the series, The Price of Spring. He has recently been a... More

photo: Kat Abraham

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EXCERPT

Chapter One

It had rained for a week, the cold gray clouds seeming to drape themselves between the mountain ranges to the east and west of the city like a wet canopy. The mornings were foggy, the afternoons chill. With the snowdrifts of winter almost all melted, the land around Machi became a soupy mud whose only virtue was the spring crop of wheat and snow peas it would bring forth. Travel was harder now even than in the deadly cold of deep winter.

And still, the travelers came.

“With all respect, this exercise, as you call it, is ill-advised,” the envoy said. His hands still held a pose of deference though the conversation had long since parted from civility. “I am sure your intentions are entirely honorable, however it is the place of the Dai-kvo—“

“If the Dai-kvo wants to rule Machi, tell him to come north,” the Khai Machi snapped. “He can pull my puppet strings from the next room. I’ll make a bed for him.”

The envoy’s eyes went wide. He was a young man, and hadn’t mastered the art of keeping his mind from showing on his face. Otah, the Khai Machi, waved away his own words and sighed. He had gone too far, and he knew it. Another few steps and they’d be pointing at each other and yelling about which of them wanted to create the Third Empire. The truth was that he had ruled Machi these last fourteen years only by necessity. The prospect of uniting the cities of the Khaiem under his rule was about as enticing as scraping his skin off with a rock.

The audience was a private one, in a small room lined with richly carved blackwood, lit by candles that smelled like rich earth and vanilla, and set well away from the corridors and open gardens where servants and members of the utkhaiem might unintentionally overhear them. This wasn’t business he cared to have shared over the dances and dinners of the court. Otah rose from his chair and walked to the window, forcing his temper back down. He opened the shutters, and the city stretched out before him, grand towers of stone stretching up toward the sky, and beyond them the wide plain to the south, green with the first crops of the spring. He pressed his frustration back into yoke.

“I didn’t mean that,” he said. “I know that the Dai-kvo doesn’t intend to dictate to me. Or any of the Khaiem. I appreciate your concern, but the creation of the guard isn’t a threat. It’s hardly an army, you know. A few hundred men trained up to maybe half the level of a Westlands garrison could hardly topple the world.”

“We are concerned for the stability of all the cities,” the envoy said.  “When one of the Khaiem begins to study war, it puts all the others on edge.”

“It’s hardly studying war to hand a few men knives and remind them which end’s the handle.”

“It’s more than any of the Khaiem have done in the past hundred years. And you must see that you haven’t made it your policy to ally yourself with . . . well, with anyone.”

Well, this is going just as poorly as I expected, Otah thought.

“I have a wife, thank you,” Otah said, his manner cool. But the envoy had clearly reached the end of his patience. Hearing him stand, Otah turned. The young man’s face was flushed, his hands folded into the sleeves of his brown poet’s robes.

“And if you were a shopkeeper, having a single woman would be admirable,” the envoy said. “But as the Khai Machi, turning away every woman who’s offered to you is a pattern of insult. I can’t be the first one to point this out. From the time you took the chair, you’ve isolated yourself from the rest of the Khaiem, the great houses of the utkhaiem, the merchant houses. Everyone.”

Otah ran through the thousand arguments and responses—the treaties and trade agreements, the acceptance of servants and slaves, all of the ways in which he’d tried to bind himself and Machi to the other cities. They wouldn’t convince the envoy or his master, the Dai-kvo. They wanted blood—his blood flowing in the veins of some boy child whose mother had come from south or east or west. They wanted to know that the Khai Yalakeht or Pathai or Tan-Sadar might be able to hope for a grandson on the black chair in Machi once Otah had died. His wife Kiyan was past the age to bear another child, but men could get children on younger women. For one of the Khaiem to have only two children, and both by the same woman—and her a wayhouse keeper from Udun . . . They wanted sons from him, fathered on women who embodied wise political alliances. They wanted to preserve tradition, and they had two empires and nine generations of the Khaiate court life to back them. Despair settled on him like a thick winter cloak.

There was nothing to be gained. He knew all the reasons for all the choices he had made, and he could as easily explain them to a mine dog as to this proud young man who’d traveled weeks for the privilege of taking him to task. Otah sighed, turned, and took a deeply formal pose of apology.

“I have distracted you from your task, Athai-cha. That was not my intention. What was it again the Dai-kvo wished of me?”

The envoy pressed his lips bloodless. They both knew the answer to the question, but Otah’s feigned ignorance would force him to restate it. And the simple fact that Otah’s bed habits were not mentioned would make his point for him. Etiquette was a terrible game.

“The militia you have formed,” the envoy said. “The Dai-kvo would know your intention in creating it.”

“I intend to send it to the Westlands. I intend it to take contracts with whatever forces there are acting in the best interests of all the cities of the Khaiem. I will be pleased to draft a letter saying so.”

Otah smiled. The young poet’s eyes flickered. As insults went, this was mild enough. Eventually, the poet’s hands rose in a pose of gratitude.

“There is one other thing, Most High,” the envoy said. “If you take any aggressive act against the interests of another of the Khaiem, the Dai-kvo will recall Cehmai and Stone-Made-Soft. If you take arms against them, he will allow the Khaiem to use their poets against you and your city.”

“Yes,” Otah said. “I understood that when I heard you’d come. I am not acting against the Khaiem, but thank you for your time, Athai-cha. I will have a letter sewn and sealed for you by morning.”

After the envoy had left, Otah sank into a chair and pressed the heels of his hands to his temples. Around him, the palace was quiet. He counted fifty breaths, then rose again, closed and latched the door, and turned back to the apparently empty room.

“Well?” he asked, and one of the panels in the corner swung open, exposing a tiny hidden chamber brilliantly designed for eavesdropping.

The man who sat in the listener’s chair seemed both at ease and out of place. At ease because it was Sinja’s nature to take the world lightly, and out of place because his suntanned skin and rough, stained leathers made him seem like a gardener on a chair of deep red velvet and silver pins fit for the head of a merchant house or a member of the utkhaiem. He rose and closed the panel behind him.

“He seems a decent man,” Sinja said. “I wouldn’t want him on my side of a fight, though. Overconfident.”

“I’m hoping it won’t come to that,” Otah said.

“For a man who’s convinced the world he’s bent on war, you’re a bit squeamish about violence.”

Otah chuckled.

“I think sending the Dai-kvo his messenger’s head might not be the most convincing argument for my commitment to peace,” he said.

“Excellent point,” Sinja agreed as he poured himself a bowl of wine. “But then you are training men to fight. It’s a hard thing to preach peace and stability and also pay men to think what’s the best way to disembowel someone with a spear.”

“I know it,” Otah said, his voice dark as wet slate. “Gods. You’d think having total power over a city would give you more options, wouldn’t you?”

Otah sipped the wine. It was rich and astringent and fragrant of late summer, and it swirled in the bowl like a dark river. He felt old. Fourteen years he’d spent trying to be what Machi needed him to be— steward, manager, ruler, half-god, fuel for the gossip and backbiting of the court. Most of the time, he did well enough, but then something
like this would happen, and he would be sure again that the work was beyond him.

“You could disband it,” Sinja said. “It’s not as though you need the extra trade.”

“It’s not about getting more silver,” Otah said.

“Then what’s it about? You aren’t actually planning to invade Cetani, are you? Because I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Otah coughed out a laugh.

“It’s about being ready,” he said.

“Ready?”

“Every generation finds it harder to bind fresh andat. Every one that slips away becomes more difficult to capture. It can’t go on forever. There will come a time that the poets fail, and we have to rely on something else.”

“So,” Sinja said. “You’re starting a militia so that someday, generations from now, when some Dai-kvo that hasn’t been born yet doesn’t manage to keep up to the standards of his forebears—”

“There will also be generations of soldiers ready to keep the cities safe.”

Sinja scratched his belly and nodded.

“You think I’m wrong?”

“Yes. I think you’re wrong,” Sinja said. “I think you saw Seedless escape. I think you saw Saraykeht suffer the loss. You know that the Galts have ambitions, and that they’ve put their hands into the affairs of the Khaiem more than once.”

“That doesn’t make me wrong,” Otah said, unable to keep the sudden anger from his voice. So many years had passed, and the memory of Saraykeht had not dimmed. “You weren’t there, Sinja-cha. You don’t know how bad it was. That’s mine. And if it lets me see farther than the Dai-kvo or the Khaiem—”

“It’s possible to look at the horizon so hard you trip over your feet,” Sinja said, unfazed by Otah’s heat. “You aren’t responsible for everything under the sky.”

But I am responsible for that, Otah thought. He had never confessed his role in the fall of Saraykeht to Sinja, never told the story of the time he had killed a helpless man, of sparing an enemy and saving a friend. The danger and complexity and sorrow of that time had never entirely left him, but he could not call it regret.

“You want to keep the future safe,” Sinja said, breaking the silence, “and I respect that. But you can’t do it by shitting on the table right now. Alienating the Dai-kvo gains you nothing.”

“What would you do, Sinja? If you were in my place, what would you do?”

“Take as much gold as I could put on a fast cart, and live out my life in a beach hut on Bakta. But then I’m not particularly reliable.” He drained his bowl and put it down on the table, porcelain clicking softly on lacquered wood. “What you should do is send us west.”

“But the men aren’t ready—”

“They’re near enough. Without real experience, these poor bastards would protect you from a real army about as well as sending out all the dancing girls you could find. And now that I’ve said it, girls might even slow them down longer.”

Otah coughed a mirthless laugh. Sinja leaned forward, his eyes calm and steady.

“Put us in the Westlands as a mercenary company,” he said. “It gives real weight to it when you tell the Dai-kvo that you’re just looking for another way to make money if we’re already walking away from our neighboring cities. The men will get experience; I’ll be able to make contacts with other mercenaries, maybe even strike up alliances with some of the Wardens. You can even found your military tradition. But besides that, there are certain problems with training and arming men, and then not giving them any outlet.”

Otah looked up, meeting Sinja’s grim expression.

“More trouble?” Otah asked.

“I’ve whipped the men involved and paid reparations,” Sinja said, “but if the Dai-kvo doesn’t like you putting together a militia, the fine people of Machi are getting impatient with having them. We’re paying them to play at soldiers while everybody else’s taxes buy their food and clothes.”

Otah took a simple pose that acknowledged what Sinja said as truth.

“Where would you take them?”

“Annaster and Notting were on the edge of fighting last autumn. Something about the Warden of Annaster’s son getting killed in a hunt. It’s a long way south, but we’re a small enough group to travel fast, and the passes cleared early this year. Even if nothing comes of it, there’ll be keeps down there that want a garrison.”

“How long before you could go?”

“I can have the men ready in two days if you’ll send food carts out after us. A week if I have to stay to make the arrangements for the supplies.”

Otah looked into Sinja’s eyes. The years had whitened Sinja’s temples but had made him no easier to read.

“That seems fast,” Otah said.

“It’s already under way,” Sinja replied, then seeing Otah’s reaction, shrugged. “It seemed likely.”

“Two days, then,” Otah said. Sinja smiled, stood, took a rough pose that accepted the order, and turned to go. As he lifted the door’s latch, Otah spoke again. “Try not to get killed. Kiyan would take it amiss if I sent you off to die.”

The captain paused in the open door. What had happened between Kiyan and Sinja—the Khai Machi’s first and only wife and the captain of his private armsmen—had found its resolution on a snow-covered field ten years before. Sinja had done as Kiyan had asked him and the issue had ended there. Otah found that the anger and feelings of betrayal had thinned with time, leaving him more embarrassed than wrathful. That they were two men who loved the same woman was understood and unspoken. It wasn’t comfortable ground for either of them.

“I’ll keep breathing, Otah-cha. You do the same.”

The door closed softly behind him, and Otah took another sip of wine. It was fewer than a dozen breaths before a quiet scratching came at the door. Rising and straightening the folds of his robes, Otah prepared himself for the next appearance, the next performance in his ongoing, unending mummer’s show. He pressed down a twinge of envy for Sinja and the men who would be slogging through cold mud and dirty snow. He told himself the journey only looked liberating to someone who was staying near a fire grate. He adopted a somber expression, held his body with the rigid grace expected of him, and called out for the servant to enter.

There was a meeting to take with House Daikani over a new mine they were proposing in the South. Mikah Radaani had also put a petition with the Master of Tides to schedule a meeting with the Khai Machi to discuss the prospect of resurrecting the summer fair in Amnat-Tan. And there was the letter to the Dai-kvo to compose, and a ceremony at the temple at moonrise at which his presence was required, and so on through the day and into the night. Otah listened patiently to the list of duties and obligations and tried not to feel haunted by the thought that sending the guard away had been the wrong thing to do.
 
Eiah took a bite of the almond cake, wiping honey from her mouth with the back of her hand, and Maati was amazed again by how tall she’d grown. He still thought of her as hardly standing high as his knees, and here she was—thin as a stick and awkward, but tall as her mother. She’d even taken to wearing a woman’s jewelry—necklace of gold and silver, armbands of lacework silver and gems, and rings on half her fingers. She still looked like a girl playing dress-up in her mother’s things, but even that would pass soon.

“And how did he die?” she asked.

“I never said he did,” Maati said.

Eiah’s lips bent in a frown. Her dark eyes narrowed.

“You don’t tell stories where they live, Uncle Maati. You like the dead ones.”

Maati chuckled. It was a fair enough criticism, and her exasperation was as amusing as her interest. Since she’d been old enough to read, Eiah had haunted the library of Machi, poking here and there, reading and being frustrated. And now that she’d reached her fourteenth summer, the time had come for her to turn to matters of court. She was the only daughter of the Khai Machi, and as such, a rare chance for a marriage alliance. She would be the most valued property in the city, and worse for her and her parents, she was more than clever enough to know it. Her time in the library had taken on a tone of defiance, but it was never leveled at Maati, so it never bothered him. In fact, he found it rather delightful.

“Well,” he said, settling his paunch more comfortably in the library’s deep silk-covered chair, “as it happens, his binding did fail. It was tragic. He started screaming, and didn’t stop for hours. He stopped when he died, of course, and when they examined him afterwards, they found slivers of glass all through his blood.”

“They cut him open?”

“Of course,” Maati said.

“That’s disgusting,” she said. Then a moment later, “If someone died here, could I help do it?”

“No one’s likely to try a binding here, Eiah-kya. Only poets who’ve trained for years with the Dai-kvo are allowed to make the attempt, and even then they’re under strict supervision. Holding the andat is dangerous work, and not just if it fails.”

“They should let girls do it too,” she said. “I want to go to the school and train to be a poet.”

“But then you wouldn’t be your father’s daughter anymore. If the Dai-kvo didn’t choose you, you’d be one of the branded, and they’d turn you out into the world to make whatever way you could without anyone to help you.”

“That’s not true. Father was at the school, and he didn’t have to take the brand. If the Dai-kvo didn’t pick me, I wouldn’t take it either. I’d just come back here and live alone like you do.”

“But then wouldn’t you and Danat have to fight?”

“No,” Eiah said, taking a pose appropriate to a tutor offering correction. “Girls can’t be Khai, so Danat wouldn’t have to fight me for the chair.”

“But if you’re going to have women be poets, why not Khaiem too?”

“Because who’d want to be Khai?” she asked and took another piece of cake from the tray on the table between them.

The library stretched out around them—chamber after chamber of scrolls and books and codices that were Maati’s private domain. The air was rich with the scent of old leather and dust and the pungent herbs he used to keep the mice and insects away. Baarath, the chief librarian and Maati’s best friend here in the far, cold North, had kept it before him. Often when Maati arrived in the morning or remained long after dark, puzzling over some piece of ancient text or obscure reference, he would look up, half-wondering where the annoying, fat, boisterous, petty little man had gotten to, and then he would remember.

The fever had taken dozens of people that year. Winter always changed the city, the cold driving them deep into the tunnels and hidden chambers below Machi. For months they lived by firelight and in darkness. By midwinter, the air itself could seem thick and stifling. And illnesses spread easily in the dark and close, and Baraath had grown ill and died, one man among many. Now he was only memory and ash. Maati wasthe master of the library, appointed by his old friend and enemy and companion Otah Machi. The Khai Machi, husband of Kiyan, and father to this almost-woman Eiah who shared his almond cakes, and to her brother Danat. And, perhaps, to one other.

“Maati-kya? Are you okay?”

“I was just wondering how your brother was,” he said.

“Better. He’s hardly coughing at all anymore. Everyone’s saying he has weak lungs, but I was just as sick when I was young, and I’m just fine.”

“People tell stories,” Maati said. “It keeps them amused, I suppose.”

“What would happen if Danat died?”

“Your father would be expected to take a new, younger wife and produce a son to take his place. More than one, if he could. That’s part of why the utkhaiem are so worried about Danat. If he died and no brothers were forthcoming, it would be bad for the city. All the most powerful houses would start fighting over who would be the new Khai. People would probably be killed.”

“Well, Danat won’t die,” Eiah said. “So it doesn’t matter. Did you know him?”

“Who?”

“My real uncle. Danat. The one Danat’s named for?”

“No,” Maati said. “Not really. I met him once.”

“Did you like him?”

Maati tried to remember what it had been like, all those years ago. The Dai-kvo had summoned him. That had been the old Dai-kvo— Tahi-kvo. He’d never met the new one. Tahi-kvo had brought him to meet the two men, and set him the task that had ended with Otah on the chair and himself living in the court of Machi. It had been a different lifetime.

“I don’t recall liking him or disliking him,” Maati said. “He was just a man I’d met.”

Eiah sighed impatiently.

“Tell me about another one,” she said.

“Well. There was a poet in the First Empire before people understood that andat were harder and harder to capture each time they escaped. He tried to bind Softness with the same binding another poet had used a generation before. Of course it didn’t work.”

“Because a new binding has to be different,” Eiah said.

“But he didn’t know that.”

“What happened to him?”

“His joints all froze in place. He was alive, but like a statue. He couldn’t move at all.”

“How did he eat?”

“He didn’t. They tried to give him water by forcing it up his nostrils, and he drowned on it. When they examined his body, all the bones were fused together as if they had never been separate at all. It looked like one single thing.”

“That’s disgusting,” she said. It was something she often said. Maati grinned.

They talked for another half a hand, Maati telling tales of failed bindings, of the prices paid by poets of old who had attempted the greatest trick in the world and fallen short. Eiah listened and passed her own certain judgment. They finished the last of the almond cakes and called a servant girl in to carry the plates away. Eiah left just as the sun peeked out between the low clouds and the high peaks in the west, brightness flaring gold for a long moment before the city fell into its long twilight. Alone again, Maati told himself that the darkness was only about the accidents of sunlight, and not his young friend’s absence.

He could still remember the first time he’d seen Eiah. She’d been tiny, a small, curious helplessness in her mother’s arms, and he had been deeply in disfavor with the Dai-kvo and sent to Machi in half-exile for treading too near the line between the poets and the politics of the court. The poets were creatures of the Dai-kvo, lent to the Khaiem. The Dai-kvo took no part in the courtly dramas of generational fratricide. The Khaiem supported the Dai-kvo and his village, sent their excess sons to the school from which they might be plucked to take the honor of the brown robes, and saw to the administration of the cities whose names they took as their own. The Khai Machi, the Khai Yalakeht, the Khai Tan-Sadar. All of them had been other men once, before their fathers had died or become too feeble to rule. All of them had killed their own brothers on the way to claiming their positions. All except Otah.

Otah, the exception.

A scratching at the door roused Maati, and he hauled himself from his chair and went forward. The night had nearly fallen, but torches spattered the darkness with circles of light. Even before he reached the door, he heard music coming from one of the pavilions nearby, the young men and women of the utkhaiem boiling up from the winter earth and celebrating nightly, undeterred by chill or rain or heartbreak. And at the door of his library were two familiar figures, and a third that was only expected. Cehmai, poet of Machi, stood with a bottle of wine in each hand, and behind him the hulking, bemused, inhuman andat Stone-Made-Soft raised its wide chin in greeting. The other—a slender young man in the same brown robes that Cehmai and Maati himself wore—spoke to Cehmai. Athai Vauudun, the envoy from the Dai-kvo.
 
“He is the most arrogant man I have ever met,” the envoy said to Cehmai, continuing a previous conversation. “He has no allies, only one son, and no pause at all at the prospect of alienating every other city of the Khaiem. I think he’s proud to ignore tradition.”

“Our guest has met with the Khai,” Stone-Made-Soft said, its voice low and rough as a landslide. “They don’t appear to have impressed each other favorably.”

“Athai-kvo,” Cehmai said, gesturing awkwardly with one full bottle. “This it Maati Vaupathai. Maati-kvo, please meet our new friend.”

Athai took a pose of greeting, and Maati answered with a welcoming pose less formal than the one he’d been offered.

“Kvo?” Athai said. “I hadn’t known you were Cehmai-cha’s teacher.”

“It’s a courtesy he gives me because I’m old,” Maati said. “Come in, though. All of you. It’s getting cold out.”

Maati led the others back through the chambers and corridors of the library. On the way, they traded the kind of simple, common talk that etiquette required—the Dai-kvo was in good health, the school had given a number of promising boys the black robes, there were discussions of a possible new binding in the next years—and Maati played his part. Only Stone-Made-Soft didn’t participate, considering as it was the thick stone walls with mild, distant interest. The inner chamber that Maati had prepared for the meeting was dim and windowless, but a fire burned hot behind iron shutters. Books and scrolls lay on a wide, low table. Maati opened the iron shutters, lit a taper from the flames, and set a series of candles and lanterns glowing around the room until they were all bathed in shadowless warm light. The envoy and Cehmai had taken chairs by the fire, and Maati lowered himself to a wide bench.

“My private workroom,” Maati said, nodding at the space around them. “I’ve been promised there’s no good way to listen to us in here.”

The envoy took a pose that accepted the fact, but glanced uneasily at Stone-Made-Soft.

“I won’t tell,” the andat said, and grinned, baring its unnaturally regular stone-white teeth. Promise.”

“If I lost control of our friend here, telling what happened in a meeting wouldn’t be the trouble we faced,” Cehmai said.

The envoy seemed somewhat mollified. He had a small face, Maati thought. But perhaps it was only that Maati had already taken a dislike to the man.

“So Cehmai has been telling me about your project,” Athai said, folding his hands in his lap. “A study of the prices meted out by failed bindings, is it?”

“A bit more than that,” Maati said. “A mapping, rather, of the form of the binding to the form that its price took. What it was about this man’s work that his blood went dry, or that one’s that made his lungs fill with worms.”

“You might consider not binding us in the first place,” Stone-Made-Soft said. “If it’s so dangerous as all that.”

Maati ignored it. “I thought, you see, that there might be some way to better understand whether a poet’s work was likely to fail or succeed if we knew more of how older failures presented themselves. It was an essay Heshai Antaburi wrote examining his own binding of Removingthe-Part-That-Continues that gave me the idea. You see his binding succeeded—he held Seedless for decades—but in having done the thing and then lived with the consequences, he could better see the flaws in his original work. Here . . .”

Maati rose up with a grunt and fished through his papers for a moment until the old, worn leather-bound book came to hand. Its cover was limp from years of reading, the pages growing yellow and smudged. The envoy took it and read a bit by the light of candles.

“But this is too much like his original work,” Athai said as he thumbed through the pages. “It could never be used.”

“No, of course not,” Maati agreed. “But he made the attempt to examine the form of the binding, you see, in hopes that showing the kinds of errors he’d made might help others avoid things that were similar. Heshai-kvo was one of my first teachers.”

“He was the one murdered in Saraykeht, ne?” Athai asked, not looking up from the book in his hands.

“Yes,” Maati said.

Athai looked up, one hand taking an informal pose asking excuse.

“I didn’t mean anything by asking,” he said. “I only wanted to place him.”

Maati brought himself to smile and nod.

“The reason I wrote to the Dai-kvo,” Cehmai said, “was the application Maati-kvo was thinking of.”

“Application?”

“It’s too early yet to really examine closely,” Maati said. He felt himself starting to blush, and his embarrassment at the thought fueled the blood in his face. “It’s too early to say whether there’s anything in it.”

“Tell him,” Cehmai said, his voice warm and coaxing. The envoy put Heshai-kvo’s book down, his attention entirely on Maati now.

“There are . . . patterns,” Maati said. “There seems to be a structure that links the form of the binding to its . . . its worst expression. Its price. The forms only seem random because it’s a very complex structure. And I was reading Catji’s meditations—the one from the Second Empire, not Catji Sano—and there are some speculations he made about the nature of language and grammar that . . . that seem related.”

“He’s found a way to shield a poet from paying the price,” Cehmai said.

“I don’t know that’s true,” Maati said quickly.

“But possibly,” Cehmai said.

The envoy and the andat both shifted forward in their seats. The effect was eerie.

“I thought that, if a poet’s first attempt at a binding didn’t have to be his last—if an imperfect binding didn’t mean death . . .”

Maati gestured helplessly at the air. He had spent so many hours thinking about what it could mean, about what it could bring about and bring back. All the andat lost over the course of generations that had been thought beyond recapture might still be bound if only the men binding them could learn from their errors, adjust their work as Heshai had done after the fact. Softness. Water-Moving-Down. Thinking-in-Words. All the spirits cataloged in the histories, the work of poets who had made the Empire great. Perhaps they were not past redemption.

He looked at Athai, but the young man’s eyes were unfocused and distant.

“May I see your work, Maati-kvo?” he asked, and the barely suppressed excitement in his voice almost brought Maati to like him for the moment. Together, the three men stepped to Maati’s worktable. Three men, and one other that was something else.

Excerpted from AN AUTUMN WAR by Daniel Abraham.
Copyright © 2008 by Daniel Abraham.
Published in July 2008 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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