At least theyâ€™d been kind enough to give them some light in the cell, Lydia reflected . Even if it wasnâ€™t very much, it was a relief after the stygian darkness theyâ€™d walked through since entering the shadow of the dark mountain. At least they could see now – once their eyes had adapted, anyway.
The dim light was, however, the only comfort in the cell theyâ€™d been tossed into. The walls were bare and damp, and the space was clearly not meant for so many. A single bare cot lay in the corner but was clearly not intended for a human sized individual.
As soon as the door clanged shut Karen sank onto it and curled up sobbing; more out of relief than anything else. Lydia knelt by her and rubbed her shoulders.
â€œItâ€™s okay, Kaz,â€ she murmered. â€œIâ€™m sure itâ€™ll be okay.â€
â€œToo dark,â€ Karen sobbed.
Lydia winced in sympathy. The dark seemed to affecting Karen like the ice cave had afftected her, and theyâ€™d been in the darkness longer than sheâ€™d been in the ice cave.
â€œItâ€™s not dark in here,â€ she said soothingly.
â€œBut we have to go back out there.â€ Karen rolled over and looked at her, then sat up as the door opened and a tall svart alf strode in.
â€œBracelets!â€ he snapped without preamble.
â€œEh?â€Â Lydia said.
â€œYour bracelets, give them to me. King Dariad doesnâ€™t want you to be able to attack us during your trial.â€
â€œBut-â€ she began.
â€œI think youâ€™ll be okay as long as you donâ€™t do anything while you havenâ€™t got it,â€ Kimi said, â€œAs long as as youâ€™re the one who takes it off, anyway.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t want to find out what will happen if we have to take them by force,â€ the alf added.
â€œThat sound ominous,â€ Lydia murmered as she slipped the bracelet from her wrist and handed it to him. She braced herself for the return of the exhaustion sheâ€™d felt before she found it. Her head swam for a moment and her vision clouded but it passed as quickly as it came. She looked up in time to see Andrew hand his bracelet over.
The alf turned to Karen and opened his mouth, obviously intending to demand hers as well, but then stopped and stared at her. â€œYou donâ€™t have your bracelet yet, do you?â€ he said.
Karen shook her head and lifted her arms to show him her bare wrists.
â€œVery well,â€ he said and turned to Eyvindr. â€œEyvindr!â€ His eyes widened. â€œYouâ€™re alive! No one told me it was you. But why are you in resting form, cousin?â€
â€œI doubt they recognised me, Hreid. I’m not well known here.” Eyvindr shrugged. â€œMy heart stone was cracked when these good warriors rescued me. A long story best kept for the trial, I think.â€
â€œIt sounds like it,â€ Hreid said. He looked round at them and it seemed to Lydia his expression had softened somewhat. â€œYour trial is in a few hours, try and rest. Iâ€™ll make sure the guards feed you.â€
â€œSo what do you think, Hreid?â€ Dariad had his back to the door and was staring into the polished obsidian mirror which hung above his throne.
â€œItâ€™ll take the trial to tell for sure, sire, but I donâ€™t think they did it. For one, my ljos cousin Eyvindr is with them and he seems to be acting of his own volition. He says they rescued him.â€
â€œHmm… ljos and cold-blooded murder donâ€™t really go together do they,â€ he agreed. â€œIf thatâ€™s one reason, what are the others?â€
â€œThe light warrior is with them,â€ Hreid said. Dariad whipped round and stared at him.
â€œYouâ€™re sure?â€ he asked sharply.
â€œYes, I recognised her. Itâ€™s her, but Prince Alban isnâ€™t with her.â€
â€œNo, Val will be trying to keep them apart.â€ Dariad made a thoughtful noise in his throat. â€œThis complicates things, though. Even if theyâ€™re guilty – and I canâ€™t imagine that girl murdering anyone – I canâ€™t take action that will harm someone who wasnâ€™t even there.â€
â€œAnd what Huldre told Hardmar doesnâ€™t feel right anyway. Even the Dark Rider hasnâ€™t sunk that low.â€
â€œI know. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m insisting on a trial. The mirror will clarify things-â€ he broke off as someone banged on the throne rooms doors. â€œEnter!â€
Brita, his chatelaine, burst in. â€œSire! Why wasnâ€™t I told about the goblins!â€
â€œCalm down!â€ he ordered. â€œWhatâ€™s this about goblins?â€
â€œThereâ€™s a trade delegation here, now!â€ The oread flapped her hands around in an agitated fashion, sending stone dust floating to the floor from her granite skin. â€œNo one told me. Where am I going to put them?â€
â€œBrita!â€ Dariad snapped at her and she stopped. â€œNo trade delegation is due. Youâ€™d best start at the beginning.â€
She shook her head slightly. â€œThereâ€™s not much to tell, sire. They arrived at the gates not two bells ago and all their documents are in order, so we canâ€™t turn them away without creating an incident.â€ She stopped and scowled. â€œIt canâ€™t be coincidence. If there are uninvited goblins here now, someone sent them.â€ Her eyes narrowed and Dariad could see her thinking about their defenses.
â€œAnd by someone you mean a dragon,â€ Hreid muttered. â€œAt least we can fight goblins. What colour are their eyes?â€
â€œMostly silver, the odd few purple,â€ she replied promptly.
â€œHmm…â€ Hried said. â€œThatâ€™s unusual I would have expected black or red.â€
â€œIndeed,â€ Dariad said. â€œBrita, bring the delegation leader here. I think we have some free rooms for our unexpected guests in the outer reaches, donâ€™t we?â€
â€œIndeed, and they are easily watched there. But theyâ€™re hardly suitable for such a delegation.â€
â€œIf they arrive without warning, they can take what theyâ€™re given. Assign Faf and his troops to watch them. I want Hardmar as far away from the prisoners as possible until after the trial and this is a good excuse.â€ He turned to Hreid. â€œAnd you, look after the prisoners and make sure theyâ€™re not mistreated. Feelings are running high at the moment. Higher than I can account for.â€
â€œYes, sire.â€ They bowed simultaneously and departed to do his bidding.