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He expected they'd soon stumble across new ones. The termites had apparently given up on fighting him face to face. But the traps were evidence that they hadn't given up on killing him.

Kokata hadn't seen a single winged termite since they had started fleeing, so, obviously, they were using seers to keep track of them. Kokata had no clue how to escape seers.

After a few minutes of excessive optimism, his Lei resumed her weeping and started complaining that he was losing weight, that he would die and leave her and the baby to freeze to death, and everything was hopeless.

To calm her, Kokata solemnly swore he would start eating more. Even that didn't help much.

On their next stop again, Lei just couldn't stop laughing, and apologised for being so silly. Then she told him he was lucky that he wasn't mated to her mother, because that was a woman who could get the most horrible mood swings during pregnancy. Especially in the second half of it.

Kokata listened, and nodded, and assured his Lei that he was very happy that she was nothing like that.


"Please prepare five tubs, for me," said Zoa to the little girl, while stuffing her courier winter-clothing into the box. "I haven't felt clean for days."

"Oh, you poor thing," exclaimed the girl and, in her urgency to get to the tubs, let her mop fall to the floor with a loud bang.

Zoa guiltily glanced to the floor. This time, as the last two times too, she had left visible footprints on it. This time of year many of the floors in the courier center, and the military center too, were muddy. It was all that dirty snow which nobody really had time to knock of their boots before going inside.

Her visits to the Emperor's library had slowly made her far more aware of dirt and dust everywhere else she went.

"I have to ask you a favour," said Zoa, sliding into the first tub.

"What is it?" asked the little bath-house girl.

"I need you to help me clean some jewellery enough so that I can be allowed to bring it to the library."

"Why would you want to bring jewellery there?" asked the girl, wrinkling her nose with confusion and curiosity.

Intellectual property of Nanna Marker.

"It's a secret," said Zoa.

"I'm good at keeping secrets," insisted the little girl.

"Will you help me if I tell you what the secret is?" offered Zoa. She would never be allowed to bring anything with her if it hadn't been approved by the bath-house, and the girl never approved anything she hadn't helped clean.

"Allright," agreed the girl.

"I'm going to ask the librarian to make me a gold sheet copy of a gold sheet," whispered Zoa.

"What for?" asked the girl.

Zoa whispered the explanation, not sure the child was old enough to understand. Judging by the girl's growing giggles, she did understand, though.

"I'll have your gold spotless in no time," promised the girl, when Zoa had finished explaining.

"Thank you," said Zoa.

It wasn't all her gold. Most of it was borrowed. She had had to pull a favour from everyone she knew in the city to borrow enough gold to make a single sheet. The list of who she owed how much had grown quite long before she was done.

Sadly she would still have to melt down her medal to have enough. She could have sold it and gained far more gold than its own weight, but she couldn't bring herself to that. When all this was over, and it was time to remelt the sheet and return the debts, she would cherish her part of it as a reminder of the medal.


"I'm having pregnancy mood-swings, aren't I?" asked his Lei about ten nights after she had started having them.

"I'm not exactly an expert on pregnancy," said Kokata, avoiding the topic.

"Considering how many younger siblings I have, I ought to be," said his Lei and sighed. "My mother would never admit to have mood-swings. When she laughed one moment and started crying or yelling the next, she would always claim there was a reason for it. It always drove the rest of us insane."

"You are not driving me insane," comforted Kokata.

Snow, wind and col

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