'Let the place air out a bit,' he said. 'It's warm enough for it now. And what's your day been, Eiah-kya?'
'Father,' she said. 'He was in a mood to have a family, so I had to stay in the palaces all morning. He fell asleep after midday, and Mother said I could leave.'
'I'm surprised. I wasn't under the impression Otah slept anymore. He always seems hip-deep in running the city.'
Eiah shrugged, neither agreeing nor voicing her denial. She paced the length of the room, squinting out the door at nothing. Maati folded his hands together on his belly, considering her.
'Something's bothering you,' he said.
The girl shook her head, but the frown deepened. Maati waited until, with a quick, birdlike motion, Eiah turned to face him. She began to speak, stopped, and gathered herself visibly.
'I want to be married,' she said.
Maati blinked, coughed to give himself a moment to think, and leaned forward in his chair. The wood and cloth creaked slightly beneath him. Eiah stood, her arms crossed, her gaze on him in something almost like accusation.
'Who is the boy?' Maati said, regretting the word boy as soon as it left his mouth. If they were speaking of marriage, the least he could do was say man. But Eiah's impatient snort dismissed the question.
'I don't know,' she said. 'Whoever.'
'Anyone would do?'
'Not just anyone. I don't want to be tied to some low town firekeeper. I want someone good. And I should be able to. Father doesn't have any other daughters, and I know people have talked with him. But nothing ever happens. How long am I supposed to wait?'
Maati rubbed a palm across his cheeks. This was hardly a conversation he'd imagined himself having. He turned through half a hundred things he might say, approaches he might take, and felt a blush rising in his cheeks.
'You're young, Eiah-kya. I mean . . . I suppose it's natural enough for a young woman to . . . be interested in men. Your body is changing, and if I recall the age, there are certain feelings that it's . . .'
Eiah looked at him as if he'd coughed up a rat.
'Or perhaps I've misunderstood the issue,' he said.
'It's not that,' she said. 'I've kissed lots of boys.'
The blush wasn't growing less, but Maati resolved to ignore it.
'Ah,' he said. 'Well, then. If it's that you want apartments of your own, something outside the women's quarters, you could always-'
'Talit Radaani's being married to the third son of the Khai Pathai,' Eiah said, and then a heartbeat later, 'She's half a year younger than I am.'
It was like feeling a puzzle box click open in his fing
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