Authors: Abraham Daniel
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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 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
"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,
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
"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."