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Authors: Abraham Daniel

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A Betrayal in Winter (lpq-2)

BOOK: A Betrayal in Winter (lpq-2)
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A Betrayal in Winter
( Long Price Quartet - 2 )
Abraham Daniel

Daniel Abraham

A Betrayal in Winter

 

 

To Kat and Scarlet

 

This book and this series would not be as good if I hadn't had the help

of Walter Jon Williams, Melinda Snodgrass, Yvonne Coates, Sally Gwylan,

Emily Mah-Tippets, S. M. Stirling, Terry England, Ian "I regellis, Sage

Walker, and the other members of the New Mexico Critical Mass Workshop.

 

I also owe debts of gratitude to Shawna McCarthy and Danny Baror for

their enthusiasm and faith in the project, to James Frenkel for his

unstinting support and uncanny ability to take a decent manuscript and

make it better, and to 'lbm Doherty and the staff at Tor for their

kindness and support of a new author.

 

And I am especially indebted to Paul Park, who told me to write what I fear.

 

""]'here's a problem at the mines," his wife said. "One of your

treadmill pumps."

 

Biitrah Machi, the eldest son of the Khai Machi and a man of fortyfive

summers, groaned and opened his eyes. The sun, new-risen, set the

paper-thin stone of the bedchamber windows glowing. Iliarni sat beside him.

 

"I've had the boy set out a good thick robe and your seal hoots," she

said, carrying on her thought, "and sent him for tea and bread."

 

Biitrah sat up, pulling the blankets off and rising naked with a grunt.

A hundred things came to his half-sleeping mind. It'r a pump-the

engineers can fix it or Bread an,-1 tea? Ain I a prisoner? or Take that

robe off, dove-let's have the mines care for themselves fora morning.

But he said what he always did, what he knew she expected of him.

 

"No time. I'll cat once I'm there."

 

"Take care," she said. "I don't want to hear that one of your brothers

has finally killed you."

 

"When the time comes, I don't think they'll come after me with a

treadmill pump."

 

Still, he made a point to kiss her before he walked to his dressing

chamber, allowed the servants to array him in a robe of gray and violet,

stepped into the sealskin boots, and went out to meet the bearer of the

had tidings.

 

"It's the I)aikani mine, most high," the man said, taking a pose of

apology formal enough for a temple. "It failed in the night. They say

the lower passages are already half a man high with water."

 

Biitrah cursed, but took a pose of thanks all the same. Together, they

walked through the wide main hall of the Second Palace. The caves

shouldn't have been filling so quickly, even with a failed pump. Some

thing else had gone wrong. He tried to picture the shape of the Daikani

mines, but the excavations in the mountains and plains around Machi were

numbered in the dozens, and the details blurred. Perhaps four

ventilation shafts. Perhaps six. He would have to go and see.

 

His private guard stood ready, bent in poses of obeisance, as he came

out into the street. Ten men in ceremonial mail that for all its glitter

would turn a knife. Ceremonial swords and daggers honed sharp enough to

shave with. Each of his two brothers had a similar company, with a

similar purpose. And the time would come, he supposed, that it would

descend to that. But not today. Not yet. He had a pump to fix.

 

He stepped into the waiting chair, and four porters came out. As they

lifted him to their shoulders, he called out to the messenger.

 

"Follow close," he said, his hands flowing into a pose of command with

the ease of long practice. "I want to hear everything you know before we

get there."

 

They moved quickly through the grounds of the palaces-the famed towers

rising above them like forest trees above rabbits-and into the

black-cobbled streets of Machi. Servants and slaves took abject poses as

Biitrah passed. The few members of the utkhaiem awake and in the city

streets took less extreme stances, each appropriate to the difference in

rank between themselves and the man who might one day renounce his name

and become the Khai Machi.

 

Biitrah hardly noticed. His mind turned instead upon his passionthe

machinery of mining: water pumps and ore graves and hauling winches. He

guessed that they would reach the low town at the mouth of the mine

before the fast sun of early spring had moved the width of two hands.

 

They took the south road, the mountains behind them. They crossed the

sinuous stone bridge over the Tidat, the water below them still smelling

of its mother glacier. The plain spread before them, farmsteads and low

towns and meadows green with new wheat. Trees were already pushing forth

new growth. It wouldn't be many weeks before the lush spring took root,

grabbing at the daylight that the winter stole away. The messenger told

him what he could, but it was little enough, and before they had reached

the halfway point, a wind rose whuffling in Biitrah's ears and making

conversation impossible. The closer they came, the better he recalled

these particular mines. They weren't the first that House Daikani had

leased from the Khai-those had been the ones with six ventilation

shafts. "These had four. And slowly-more slowly than it once had-his

mind recalled the details, spreading the problem before him like

something written on slate or carved from stone.

 

By the time they reached the first outbuildings of the low town, his

fingers had grown numb, his nose had started to run from the cold, he

had four different guesses as to what might have gone wrong, and ten

questions in mind whose answers would determine whether he was correct.

He went directly to the mouth of the mine, forgetting to stop for even

bread and tea.

 

HIAMI SAT BY THE BRAZIER, KNOTTING A SCARF FROM SILK TIIREAD AND

LIStening to a slave boy sing old tunes of the l- mpire.

Almost-forgotten emperors loved and fought, lost, won, and died in the

high, rich voice. Poets and their slave spirits, the andat, waged their

private battles sometimes with deep sincerity and beauty, sometimes with

bedroom humor and bawdy rhymes-but all of them ancient. She couldn't

stand to hear anything written after the great war that had destroyed

those faraway palaces and broken those song-recalled lands. The new

songs were all about the battles of the Khaiem-three brothers who held

claim to the name of Khai. Two would die, one would forget his name and

doom his own sons to another cycle of blood. Whether they were laments

for the fallen or celebrations of the victors, she hated them. They

weren't songs that comforted her, and she didn't knot scarves unless she

needed comfort.

 

A servant came in, a young girl in austere robes almost the pale of

mourning, and took a ritual pose announcing a guest of status equal to

Hiami's.

 

"Idaan," the servant girl said, "Daughter to the Khai Machi."

 

"I know my husband's sister," Hiami snapped, not pausing in her

handwork. "You needn't tell me the sky is blue."

 

The servant girl flushed, her hands fluttering toward three different

poses at once and achieving none of them. Hiami regretted her words and

put down the knotting, taking a gentle pose of command.

 

"Bring her here. And something comfortable for her to sit on."

 

The servant took a pose of acknowledgment, grateful, it seemed, to know

what response to make, and scampered off. And then Idaan was there.

 

Hardly twenty, she could have been one of Hiami's own daughters. Not a

beauty, but it took a practiced eye to know that. Her hair, pitch dark,

was pleated with strands of silver and gold. Her eyes were touched with

paints, her skin made finer and paler than it really was by powder. Her

robes, blue silk embroidered with gold, flattered her hips and the swell

of her breasts. To a man or a younger woman, Idaan might have seemed the

loveliest woman in the city. Hiami knew the difference between talent

and skill, but of the pair, she had greater respect for skill, so the

effect was much the same.

 

They each took poses of greeting, subtly different to mark Idaan's blood

relation to the Khai and Hiami's greater age and her potential to become

someday the first wife of the Khai Machi. The servant girl trotted in

with a good chair, placed it silently, and retreated. Hiami halted her

with a gesture and motioned to the singing slave. The servant girl took

a pose of obedience and led him off with her.

 

Hiami smiled and gestured toward the seat. Idaan took a pose of thanks

much less formal than her greeting had been and sat.

 

"Is my brother here?" she asked.

 

"No. There was a problem at one of the mines. I imagine he'll be there

for the day."

 

Idaan frowned, but stopped short of showing any real disapproval. All

she said was, "It must seem odd for one of the Khaiem to be slogging

through tunnels like a common miner."

 

"Men have their enthusiasms," Hiami said, smiling slightly. Then she

sobered. "Is there news of your father?"

 

Idaan took a pose that was both an affirmation and a denial.

 

"Nothing new, I suppose," the dark-haired girl said. "The physicians are

watching him. He kept his soup down again last night. That makes almost

ten days in a row. And his color is better."

 

"But?"

 

"But he's still dying," Idaan said. Her tone was plain and calm as if

she'd been talking about a horse or a stranger. Hiami put down her

thread, the half-finished scarf in a puddle by her ankles. The knot she

felt in the back of her throat was dread. The old man was dying, and the

thought carried its implications with it-the time was growing short.

Biitrah, Danat, and Kaiin Machi-the three eldest sons of the Khaihad

lived their lives in something as close to peace as the sons of the

Khaiem ever could. Utah, the Khai's sixth son, had created a small storm

all those years ago by refusing to take the brand and renounce his claim

to his father's chair, but he had never appeared. It was assumed that he

had forged his path elsewhere or died unknown. Certainly he had never

caused trouble here. And now every time their father missed his howl of

soup, every night his sleep was troubled and restless, the hour drew

nearer when the peace would have to break.

 

"How are his wives?" Hiami asked.

 

"Well enough," Idaan said. "Or some of them are. The two new ones from

Nantani and Pathai are relieved, I think. They're younger than I am, you

know."

 

"Yes. They'll be pleased to go back to their families. It's harder for

the older women, you know. Decades they've spent here. Going back to

cities they hardly remember ..."

 

Hiami felt her composure slip and clenched her hands in her lap. ldaan's

gaze was on her. Hiami forced a simple pose of apology.

 

"No. I'm sorry," Idaan said, divining, Hiami supposed, all the fear in

her heart from her gesture. Hiami's lovely, absent-minded, warm, silly

husband and lover might well die. All his string and carved wood models

and designs might fall to disuse, as abandoned by his slaughter as she

would be. If only he might somehow win. If only he might kill his own

brothers and let their wives pay this price, instead of her.

 

"It's all right, dear," Hiami said. "I can have him send a messenger to

VOL] when he returns if you like. It may not he until morning. If he

thinks the problem is interesting, he might be even longer."

 

"And then he'll want to sleep," Idaan said, half smiling, "and I might

not see or hear from him for days. And by then I'll have found some

other way to solve my problems, or else have given tip entirely."

 

Hiami had to chuckle. The girl was right, and somehow that little shared

intimacy made the darkness more bearable.

 

"Perhaps I can be of some use, then," Hiami said. "What brings you here,

sister?"

 

To Hiami's surprise, ldaan blushed, the real color seeming slightly

false under her powder.

 

"I've ... I wanted 13iitrah to speak to our father. About Adrah. Adrah

Vaunyogi. He and I ..."

 

"Ah," Hiami said. "I see. Have you missed a month?"

 

It took a moment for the girl to understand. I Ier blush deepened.

 

"No. It's not that. It's just that I think he may be the one. He's from

a good family," Idaan said quickly, as if she were already defending

him. "They have interests in a trading house and a strong bloodline and..."

 

Hiami took a pose that silenced the girl. Idaan looked down at her

hands, but then she smiled. The horrified, joyous smile of new love

discovered. Hiami remembered how once it had felt, and her heart broke

again.

 

"I will talk to him when he comes back, no matter how dearly he wants

his sleep," Hiami said.

 

"Thank you, Sister," Idaan said. "I should ... I should go."

BOOK: A Betrayal in Winter (lpq-2)
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