The door was opened by a slim, athletic, red-haired woman in the livery of a guard. She couldnâ€™t be more than three and half foot tall. When she saw them she stepped back to admit them and bowed politely.
â€œWelcome back, warriors,â€ she said as she closed the door. She walked back towards her chair on one side of the door. â€œI-I wanted to apologise for my uncleâ€™s action, and so will he once he is himself again. Thank you for trying to save my father.â€ She bowed a second time and sat down.
â€œKorrig was your father?â€ Lydia asked.
â€œYes.â€ The dwarf woman nodded sadly.
â€œIâ€™m sorry for your loss,â€ Lydia said.
â€œThank you. Uncle wouldnâ€™t let me go to the trial because I didnâ€™t believe youâ€™d done it. The whole story seemed off somehow. But my uncle was utterly convinced they were true. The healers are still trying to unpick the inserted thoughts from his mind. He was more thoroughly worked over than most.â€
â€œMost people recovered as soon as the perpetrators were banished,â€ Hreid said. â€œBut Hardmarâ€™s mind is a mess. They didnâ€™t just push him or control him, they rewrote whole sections.â€
â€œWhich means they had more plans for him,â€ Lydia mused.
â€œYe-â€ Hreid began then broke off as one of the doors creaked open and Alaryia emerged into the room.
â€œWelcome back.â€ She smiled warmly at them. â€œThe Light Warrior is in here, but sheâ€™s finally sleeping. Please donâ€™t disturb her.â€ Her smile turned to a frown as she looked at Lydia. â€œWhat have you been doing? You look exhausted.â€
â€œI had to help someone out,â€ Lydia said. She walked slowly towards the chairs by the fireplace. â€œI need to sit down.â€
â€œHere, let me help.â€ Alaryia put an arm around her waist and helped her to the nearest chair. As she sat her down she touched the bracelet Felaria had left Lydia with a fleeting fingertip. â€œHow interesting,â€ she said so softly that Lydia was sure she was the only one who heard. Then she continued in her more normal voice. â€œNow what happened?â€
Lydia sank back into the chair gratefully and told her about Ignifer.
â€œGood job,â€ Alaryia said when she finished. Then she tutted to herself and turned to Hreid. â€œBut really Dariad should have told me about this. Several of my people could have helped.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s this ?â€ A golden skinned Haltia woman appeared in the same doorway Alaryia had entered from. Her yellow eyes were rimmed red as if sheâ€™d been weeping. She took in Lydia and Andrew and a strained smile appeared on her face. â€œAh, you must be Karenâ€™s brother and sister.â€
â€œYour majesty.â€ Hreid bowed. â€œThey are indeed. This is the Ice Warrior Andrew and the Flame Warrior Lydia.â€ He turned to them. â€œThis is the Storm Queen Valeria.â€ He looked back at Valeria and added in a sly tone. â€œLydia just saved Igniferâ€™s life.â€
â€œShe did?â€ Queen Valeria stared at Lydia for a moment before nodding to her. â€œYou have my thanks, flame warrior.â€
â€œYouâ€™re welcome.â€ Lydia looked back Alaryia. â€œIs Karen really okay?â€
â€œWell, right now sheâ€™s very sick and I only just got through pulling the fragments of metal from her wound, but she will be. It was a close thing but they got her here in time.â€
â€œCan we see her?â€ Andrew asked. He was studiously looking anywhere but at Valeria.
â€œOf course,â€ Alaryia said. â€œBut as I said, sheâ€™s sleeping. Please donâ€™t disturb her, she needs it to recover.â€
â€œOf course we wonâ€™t.â€ Lydia started to rise but her legs still felt weak. Alaryia helped her to her feet.
â€œYou need to sleep yourself,â€ Alaryia said. â€œEating would help as well.â€
â€œIâ€™ll organise some food for them,â€ Hreid said.
â€œAsk my cook to prepare it for her,â€ Alaryia said. â€œSheâ€™s needs more than just meat.â€
â€œThatâ€™s a good idea,â€ he agreed as he he left the room.
â€œCome on then.â€ Alaryia led them into the large bedchamber.
Karen lay in the bed with her eyes closed. She was deathly pale except for her cheeks which were flushed.
A haltia boy with pale skin, long gold hair and clear blue eyes sat by her holding her hand. He looked up when they entered.
â€œHello,â€ he whispered. â€œYou must be Karenâ€™s siblings.â€
â€œYeah.â€ Lydia nodded to him as Alaryia helped her into another chair. â€œYou must be Alban.â€
â€œI am.â€ His eyes returned to Karenâ€™s face for a moment, before he looked over at Valeria. â€œAre you okay, mother?â€ Valeria shook her head and he made a sympathetic sound. â€œIâ€™m worried too , but Iâ€™m sure Salâ€™s alive. That dragon didnâ€™t go to all this trouble in order to kill her.â€ He looked back that Karen. â€œIâ€™m afraid it may be rather more serious than that.â€
â€œI know.â€ She sank into a nearby chair. â€œThat just makes it worse. My poor little moppet. Sheâ€™ll be so scared.â€
Lydia blinked at that. Moppet was such a human word and sounded different from the rest of the statement.
â€œWhat in the world is a moppet?â€ Hreid asked.
Valeria gave him a sad smile. â€œI have no idea, but itâ€™s what Uncle Indirianâ€™s heart friend used to call me and I like the way it sounds. I think itâ€™s an endearment.â€
â€œIt is.â€ Lydia stopped as Karen murmered something and turned over in her sleep. â€œWeâ€™d better be quiet though. She needs her sleep.â€
â€œYes, and so do you.â€ Alaryia hauled Lydia to her feet. â€œYou should have a nap yourself until your food is ready. Karen will be fine and Iâ€™ll wake you myself if thereâ€™s any change.â€ She looked over at Valeria. â€œYou too, your majesty. Youâ€™ve had a very rough day, but pushing yourself this way wonâ€™t help.â€