'That's a brave thing to say, General. It's only the two of us in here.'
'If you attacked me, I'd kill you where you stood,' Balasar said in the same tone of voice he'd used before, and Sinja believed him. Balasar smiled gently and nudged him forward, toward the table.
'Let me show you why ally would be the better choice.'
Still, Sinja held back.
'I'm not an idiot,' he said. 'If you tell me you plan to take over the Khaiem by flying through the sky on winged dogs, I'll still clap you on the back and swear I'm your ally.'
'Of course you will. You'll say you're my dearest friend and solidly behind me. I'll thank you and distrust you and keep you unarmed and under guard. We'll each avoid turning our backs on the other. I think we can take that all as given,' Balasar said with a dismissive wave. 'I don't care what you say or do, Captain. I care what you think.'
Sinja felt a genuine smile blooming on his lips. When he laughed, Balasar laughed with him.
'Well,' Sinja said. 'As long as we're agreed on all that. Go ahead. Convince me that you're going to prevail against the poets.'
They talked for what seemed like the better part of the evening. Outside, the storm slackened, the clouds broke. By the time a servant boy came to light the lanterns, a moon so full it seemed too heavy to rise glowed in the indigo sky. Gnats and midges buzzed through the open windows, ignored by both men as they discussed Balasar's intentions and strategies. The general was open and forthcoming and honest, and with every unfolding scheme, Sinja understood that his life was worth whatever Balasar Gice said it was worth. It was up to him to convince the general that letting him live after he'd heard all this wouldn't be a mistake. It was a clever tactic, all the more so because once Sinja understood the trick, it lost none of its power.
Afterward, armsmen escorted him to a small, well-appointed bedchamber with windows too narrow to crawl out and a bar on the outside of the door. Sinja lay in the bed, listening to the nearly inaudible hiss and tick of the candle flame. His body felt poorly attached, likely to slip free of his mind at any moment. Light-headed, he washed his face in cold water, cracked his knuckles, anything to bring his mind to something real and immediate. Something the Galtic general had not just torn away.
It was as if he had fallen into a nightmare, or woken to something worse than one. He felt as if he'd just watched a man he knew well die by violence. The Galt's plan would end the world he had known. If it worked. And in his bones, he knew it would.
The hours pa.s.sed, the night seeming to stretch on without end. Sinja paced his room or sat or lay sleepless on the bed, remembering the illness he had felt after his first battle. This was the same disease, back again. But the more he thought about it, the more his mind tracked across the maps he and the general had considered, the more his
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