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«A Betrayal in Winter», Abraham Daniel

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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


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