â€œYour hair is a mess!â€ Karen yanked her comb through Lydiaâ€™s hair. â€œHave you brushed it at all since we got here?â€
â€œI donâ€™t think so,â€ Lydia admitted. â€œIâ€™ve been a bit distracted.â€
Karen snorted. â€œYou forget to brush it home as well. But if weâ€™re going on trial, I want you looking presentable.â€
â€œHome.â€ Andrew looked down. â€œMum, Dad and Daniel must be worried sick.â€
â€œYeah.â€ Lydia swallowed the lump in throat. â€œI hope mumâ€™s okay.â€
â€œDad and Daniel will look after her,â€ Karen said confidently. â€œAnd they know wherever we went we did it under our own steam since we emptied the fridge and took your rucksack.â€ She paused. â€œAnd dadâ€™ll be worried, but I bet heâ€™s having a field day as well.â€
â€œThatâ€™s true. I just hope he has the sense to keep his theories from the pol-â€ Andrew broke off as Lydia let out a yell. â€œ
â€œOw!â€ She pulled away as Karen accidentally tore out a chunk of tangled hair with the comb.
â€œSorry,â€ Karen said. â€œToo many lugs.â€
â€œGive that here!â€ 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. â€œBetter?â€
Karen pursed her lips critically as she observed her handiwork. â€œItâ€™ll do. What Iâ€™d really like is a bath and clean clothes, but I doubt theyâ€™ll go for that.â€
â€œMaybe after the trial,â€ Eyvindr said from where he was sitting with his back against the wall. Heâ€™d been dozing last time Lydia looked, but he was awake and watching them now. â€œAll haltia are hospitable to non-enemies.â€
â€œHaltia?â€ Lydia asked.
â€œItâ€™s the name of my kind,â€ he said. â€œAlfar, sprites, daoine and so on.â€
â€œOh.â€ Lydia frowned. â€œIâ€™ve never heard that word.â€
â€œItâ€™s an old Finnish word for fairy or elf,â€ Karen said.
â€œMythology class again?â€ Andrew asked.
â€œYeah.â€ Karen looked over at Eyvindr. â€œYou think theyâ€™ll let us have a bath after?â€
â€œPresuming weâ€™re aquitted, yes,â€ he said. â€œWe should be, but the world is so out of kilter at the moment that I donâ€™t trust anything.â€
â€œAt least the Core is trustworthy,â€ Kimi said.
Eyvindr rubbed the golden patch on his forehead and looked away. â€œI just wish I was sure-â€ He broke off as the cell door clanged open again and Hreid walked in carrying a torch.
â€œItâ€™s time,â€ he said.
â€œThank you for receiving us at such short notice, your majesty,â€ the goblinsâ€™ 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 heâ€™d summoned for this meeting and she gave an amused smile.
â€œWelcome, honoured ambassador…â€ he trailed off, waiting for her to supply her name.
â€œAlaryia,â€ 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. â€œMy mother named me.â€
â€œYou use the name she gave you?â€ he asked incredulously.
â€œItâ€™s the only one Iâ€™ve got. My father didnâ€™t give me one,â€ she replied.
â€œAh.â€ He pulled himself together and forced his mind back to the business of finding out why she was there. â€œI trust your accomodations are satisfactory?â€ He waved towards a chair indicating she could sit.
â€œThey are adequate. Better than we had right to expect in the circumstances,â€ she replied as she settled gracefully into the seat and accepted the goblet of wine her offered her. â€œI expect youâ€™re wondering why weâ€™re here?â€
â€œI am indeed,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s unusual for your people to send such an embassy without warning.â€
â€œWell, time is of the essence.â€ She stared into the depths of her goblet. â€œI believe your miners have recently uncovered a large stream of raw mabain?â€
Dariad couldnâ€™t stop his eyes widening. How had she found out about that? Though uncovered wasnâ€™t the wording heâ€™d have used. Fallen into maybe. Heâ€™d lost several of the cityâ€™s best miners in the disaster.
â€œI see that my sources were correct,â€ she said. â€œThat must be worrying for you.â€ She took a sip of her wine. â€œWe want to buy it from you.â€
â€œWhat?â€ he said blankly.
â€œThe Mabain, we want to buy it.â€
â€œYou want to buy it?â€ He shook his head. â€œWhy?â€
â€œOf 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…â€ 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 didnâ€™t relish the thought of letting goblins set up operations under the mountain, but the alternative was worse.
â€œAnd what do you have to offer in return?â€ he asked.
â€œApart from getting it safely away from you and your people? A tithe of the goods we make with it, or our services as crafters.â€ She paused and frowned. â€œPerhaps some guards who can actually protect it.â€
â€œThat wonâ€™t be necessary,â€ he said curtly. Did she really think heâ€™d let armed goblins into his city? â€œGoblins will not fight dragons anyway.â€
â€œNot entirely true. Weâ€™d fight to protect the Mabain, but I see the idea does not appeal to you.â€ She inclined her head. â€œThe other offers still apply though. You know how powerful our creations can be – we made the warriorsâ€™ weapons after all.â€
He gave her a long look. â€œI will have to think about it, Ambassador Alaryia.â€ 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. â€œPlease accept our hospitality while I consider. We will discuss this further soon, but I have a trial to preside over.â€
â€œI will await your answer then, your majesty.â€ She rose to her feet and then glanced back at the mirror above the throne. â€œA trial using that?â€ Her face was afire with curiousity. He nodded without thinking and her eyes lit up. â€œCan I stay? Iâ€™ve wanted to see a blood and truth mirror in action since I first heard of them.â€