Shadavar had insisted on being allowed down to the Great Hall, in spite of the dryadsâ€™ protests that he was not yet healed enough. His insistence that the entire council should be present to meet the delegation had won out and a small army of Waldhafen residents had been involved in the operation to move him down to the Hall without him having to stand, let alone walk.
â€œAre you sure that itâ€™s safe to let them in here?â€ Daniel asked. He was sitting with Mela and Ebona in a shadowed alcove which Saeaera had created for them. He doubted it would conceal them from the approaching group, though.
Saeaera just shrugged and smiled at him. â€œOf course. Theyâ€™ve bound themselves to a truce, so they canâ€™t attack us unless we attack them first.â€
â€œAnd the nerve of this move intrigues us,â€ Avellana said. â€œI have never heard of dragons trying to negotiate before – and yet what else could we call this?â€
â€œThere are legends among my people,â€ Chiara said. â€œThey say when the first dragon appeared, she was willing to talk and even came to accommodations with some of the clans at the time. In those days, a strange new predator would have seemed nothing to be alarmed about. It was only as more appeared that we realised the true danger they posed. And renegades come from somewhere.â€ She preened her feathers. â€œAnd of course we have our little fictions. After all, itâ€™sÂ an open secret that any time you deal with a goblin, thereâ€™s a good chance they are fronting for their parents. But this… this is far more blatent than usual.â€
â€œWhy deal with them, then?â€ Daniel asked.
Saesaera shrugged. â€œBecause they have things we need and we have things they want.â€
â€œAnd when communities have refused to trade with goblins in the past, the dragons have just taken what they wanted instead,â€ Avellana added. â€œDealing with goblins is a useful political fiction.â€
â€œAnd one the blue dragons seem determined to shatter,â€ Shadavar said. â€œI wonder whatâ€™s so important about Mela that they feel the need to break the illusion. Iâ€™m not sure what they think there is to talk about, but they might let something slip-â€ He broke off as the doors opened and the odd delagation walked in.
Their leader was a tall, slender Haltia whose dark blue hair and creamy skin indicated a water affinity. Her rich garb, regal bearing and the way the mixed group of speakers and goblins deferred to her suggested she had some importance in their draconic patronâ€™s court. She gestured to her escort to wait just inside the door and walked forward alone. She stopped at exactly the proper distance from the dais and curtseyed formally.
â€œGreetings, honoured negotiator,â€ Saeaera said in a studiously neutral tone. â€œYour visit is unexpected.â€
â€œYes, I suppose it would be.â€ The renegade Haltia gave a one-sided smile. â€œI am sorry we couldnâ€™t meet under better circumstances, noble councillors. Permit me to introduce myself. I am Rilletta of the Asrai, called by some the river singer, and chosen consort of Ystelyan-mirian.â€
Beside him Daniel heard Mela make a startled squeak as if she recognised the name. The stunned whispered which broke out among the audience and the frozen shock on the councillorsâ€™ faces proved she wasnâ€™t alone. He touched Ebonaâ€™s mind swiftly.
Who is she?
Exactly who she says, Ebona replied. She should be centuries in her grave…
Haltia live a long time, but not so long that they remember even the youngest of the first twelve appearing, and the first blue one is not the youngest, Ebona said. But the river singer has been in the tales from the start. His appearance myth says that she was waiting when he broke through and calmed his rage with her singing.
They also say she warned the local clans what was coming, allowing them to flee to a safe distance, Mela added. The river singer is an ambiguous figure – half traitor, half-heroine.
Hmm… Could it be a title thatâ€™s passed on– He broke off when Rilletta looked over and shook her head.
â€œNo, that really was me, and considering itâ€™s ancient history the stories are quite accurate,â€ she said. â€œMy longevity is a side-effect of my association with Ystelyan. And Iâ€™m sorry, I know that you didnâ€™t mean me to hear that, but I could tell that you were talking about me.â€ She looked back at the council. â€œMy mission here is two-fold. The captives we returned to you – are they well?â€
â€œThey are,â€ Saeaera replied. â€œThough most are still sleeping. And the ones who have woken up are extremely scared.â€
â€œAh good.â€ Rillettaâ€™s sigh of relief certainly sounded genuine. â€œAfter what happened at Elapyron City we were somewhat concerned.â€
Saeaera didnâ€™t comment on that. She just gave Rilletta a speculative look. â€œIf I may ask,Â why did you return them?â€
â€œYouâ€™re worried itâ€™s some kind of trick?â€ Rilletta shrugged. â€œI assure you it isnâ€™t. Imprisoning them would have made them miserable and Yst prefers not to do that.â€ She gave another crooked half-smile. â€œKyle-alran says Yst prefers his food free-range, whatever that means.â€
Daniel couldnâ€™t help snorting at that. It did make a crazy kind of sense, as well. The Council, however, looked confused.
â€œHe cares if he makes people miserable?â€ Shadavar asked finally.
â€œOf course he does.â€ Rillettaâ€™s half-smile broadened into a full one. â€œHeâ€™s not a sadist.â€
â€œIf thatâ€™s the case then why does he terrorize people?â€ Daniel asked even though the puzzlement he could feel from Ebona suggested that Rilletta was being honest.
â€œHe â€˜terrorizes peopleâ€™ as you put it because he needs to eat and that naturally terrifies Speakers. A dragon can terrorize Speakers just by being close by – unless they can conceal themselves, of course.â€ She cocked her head at him. â€œBut diverting as this discussion of my husbandâ€™s eating habits is, it isnâ€™t why Iâ€™m here. I think itâ€™s time to discuss my second reason for being here.â€ She walked over and smiled down at Mela. â€œHello, Melusine. Darya is very worried about you.â€