“Your hair is a mess!” Karen yanked her comb through Lydia’s hair. “Have you brushed it at all since we got here?”
“I don’t think so,” Lydia admitted. “I’ve been a bit distracted.”
Karen snorted. “You forget to brush it home as well. But if we’re going on trial, I want you looking presentable.”
“Home.” Andrew looked down. “Mum, Dad and Daniel must be worried sick.”
“Yeah.” Lydia swallowed the lump in throat. “I hope mum’s okay.”
“Dad and Daniel will look after her,” Karen said confidently. “And they know wherever we went we did it under our own steam since we emptied the fridge and took your rucksack.” She paused. “And dad’ll be worried, but I bet he’s having a field day as well.”
“That’s true. I just hope he has the sense to keep his theories from the pol-” Andrew broke off as Lydia let out a yell. “
“Ow!” She pulled away as Karen accidentally tore out a chunk of tangled hair with the comb.
“Sorry,” Karen said. “Too many lugs.”
“Give that here!” Lydia grabbed the comb from her sister and began combing her hair more carefully. After she dealt with the tangles, she let Karen fuss about arranging it and grinned at her. “Better?”
Karen pursed her lips critically as she observed her handiwork. “It’ll do. What I’d really like is a bath and clean clothes, but I doubt they’ll go for that.”
“Maybe after the trial,” Eyvindr said from where he was sitting with his back against the wall. He’d been dozing last time Lydia looked, but he was awake and watching them now. “All haltia are hospitable to non-enemies.”
“Haltia?” Lydia asked.
“It’s the name of my kind,” he said. “Alfar, sprites, daoine and so on.”
“Oh.” Lydia frowned. “I’ve never heard that word.”
“It’s an old Finnish word for fairy or elf,” Karen said.
“Mythology class again?” Andrew asked.
“Yeah.” Karen looked over at Eyvindr. “You think they’ll let us have a bath after?”
“Presuming we’re aquitted, yes,” he said. “We should be, but the world is so out of kilter at the moment that I don’t trust anything.”
“At least the Core is trustworthy,” Kimi said.
Eyvindr rubbed the golden patch on his forehead and looked away. “I just wish I was sure-” He broke off as the cell door clanged open again and Hreid walked in carrying a torch.
“It’s time,” he said.
“Thank you for receiving us at such short notice, your majesty,” the goblins’ leader said as Brita led her into the throne room.
Dariad turned from studying the mirror again to greet her, but stopped short when he saw her. Goblins were shapeshifters, of course, but they usually betrayed some sign of their speaker parent. But apart from her eyes, with their strange silver colour and cat-like pupils, this one looked almost like a human. She still felt like a goblin, though. Fortunately, he managed to recover while she was busy curtseying to him. If she noticed his surprise, she gave no sign. Her eyes flicked to the guards he’d summoned for this meeting and she gave an amused smile.
“Welcome, honoured ambassador…” he trailed off, waiting for her to supply her name.
“Alaryia,” she said. He recoiled involuntarily because she prounounced it with the liquid L and trilled R a dragon would use. She cocked her head at his reaction and gave a slight smile. “My mother named me.”
“You use the name she gave you?” he asked incredulously.
“It’s the only one I’ve got. My father didn’t give me one,” she replied.
“Ah.” He pulled himself together and forced his mind back to the business of finding out why she was there. “I trust your accomodations are satisfactory?” He waved towards a chair indicating she could sit.
“They are adequate. Better than we had right to expect in the circumstances,” she replied as she settled gracefully into the seat and accepted the goblet of wine her offered her. “I expect you’re wondering why we’re here?”
“I am indeed,” he said. “It’s unusual for your people to send such an embassy without warning.”
“Well, time is of the essence.” She stared into the depths of her goblet. “I believe your miners have recently uncovered a large stream of raw mabain?”
Dariad couldn’t stop his eyes widening. How had she found out about that? Though uncovered wasn’t the wording he’d have used. Fallen into maybe. He’d lost several of the city’s best miners in the disaster.
“I see that my sources were correct,” she said. “That must be worrying for you.” She took a sip of her wine. “We want to buy it from you.”
“What?” he said blankly.
“The Mabain, we want to buy it.”
“You want to buy it?” He shook his head. “Why?”
“Of course we do. We use Mabain in a lot of our creations, and you really need to get rid of it, given the way raw Mabain affects speakers… Not to mention its other problem. The dragons will scent it eventually…” she trailed off meaningfully.
Dariad winced. The dragons were bad at the best of times, but they craved Mabain and had destroyed whole regions to get to it in the past. He didn’t relish the thought of letting goblins set up operations under the mountain, but the alternative was worse.
“And what do you have to offer in return?” he asked.
“Apart from getting it safely away from you and your people? A tithe of the goods we make with it, or our services as crafters.” She paused and frowned. “Perhaps some guards who can actually protect it.”
“That won’t be necessary,” he said curtly. Did she really think he’d let armed goblins into his city? “Goblins will not fight dragons anyway.”
“Not entirely true. We’d fight to protect the Mabain, but I see the idea does not appeal to you.” She inclined her head. “The other offers still apply though. You know how powerful our creations can be – we made the warriors’ weapons after all.”
He gave her a long look. “I will have to think about it, Ambassador Alaryia.” He knew he mangled the pronunciation of her name, but other than a brief twitch of the lips she made no sign of having noticed. “Please accept our hospitality while I consider. We will discuss this further soon, but I have a trial to preside over.”
“I will await your answer then, your majesty.” She rose to her feet and then glanced back at the mirror above the throne. “A trial using that?” Her face was afire with curiousity. He nodded without thinking and her eyes lit up. “Can I stay? I’ve wanted to see a blood and truth mirror in action since I first heard of them.”