â€œIâ€™m sorry to interrupt, your Majesty,â€ Alayria said, â€œbut I gather the warriors will be moving on soon. I couldnâ€™t help noticing that their clothing was both conspicuous and unsuitable. So I, ah, took the liberty of making something for them.â€ She offered the package she was holding to Lydia. â€œPlease accept these as a token of my esteem, flame warrior. You may find them useful.â€ Her attendants carried their bundles to Karen and Andrew as she spoke.
Lydia took the bundle and opened it cautiously. Inside lay a long silvery tunic with a sash and a matching cloak. When she lifted the tunic to examine it, the fabric shimmered and a shock ran up her arms. She dropped it with a startled cry.
â€œOh, sorry! I should have warnedÂ you.â€ Alaryria apologised. â€œItâ€™s supposed to do that. Itâ€™s adapting to you.â€
â€œI see.â€ Lydia lifted the tunic again. This time she was braced for the shock and it soon faded. The fabric shimmered again before settling back to the silvery shade. â€œThank you.â€
â€œGoblin clothing is a rich gift,â€ Dariad said. â€œItâ€™s virtually indestructible and extremely comfortable. It costs a small fortune.â€
â€œI can make you some as part of our agreement if you want, your Majesty,â€ Alaryria said, but she was staring thoughtfully at Lydiaâ€™s tunic the whole time she spoke. â€œItâ€™s simple enough.â€
â€œThank you for these gifts, noble Alayria.â€ Karen was holding up the tunic from her own parcel. It shimmered as the fabric shifted colour towards a light purple shade and then stabilised. Lydiaâ€™s eyes shot to Andrew who was examining his cloak, which had shifted to a deep red hue.
â€œDo the colours mean something?â€ Lydia asked. â€œI mean, itâ€™s obviously not related to our powers. Fire isnâ€™t silver.â€
â€œThat all depends on whatâ€™s burning.” Alayria shrugged. â€œBut youâ€™re right it isnâ€™t affinity that decides colour. Itâ€™s nothing that can be easily explained. It doesnâ€™t change their properties, though, so you donâ€™t need to worry about it.â€
â€œIâ€™ve never seen goblin silk do that before,â€ Dariad said.
â€œYou wouldnâ€™t have. It doesnâ€™t attune to Speakers, so you get stuck with the weaverâ€™s colour.â€
Lydia frowned at Alayria. She was sure the ambassador could explain the colour shift if she wanted, but she could also sense a determination not to explain that no amount of pushing would break. â€œThanks,â€ she said again. â€œAnd not just for this. I havenâ€™t had the chance to thank you before. Thank you for saving me and Bennu!â€
â€œIndeed,â€ Dariad said. â€œYou seem to make a habit of saving lives, Ambassador. Thank you for earlier.â€
â€œAh, it was nothing!â€ She flipped a hand negligently. â€œQuite apart from the fact that a power vacuum in Caerdu would be awkward for me and downright dangerous for your people right now, I like you.â€
â€œWhat happened earlier?â€ Eyvindr asked.
â€œWe went down to check on the Mabain upwelling I told you about,â€ Hried replied. â€œIt was bad.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think Iâ€™d have made it back without the ambassadorâ€™s help,â€ Dariad said.
â€œOh! Oh dear,â€ Eyvindr frowned in concern.
â€œItâ€™s nothing to worry about,â€ Alayria said. â€œMy people will have the tear capped and the flow drained in no time. Weâ€™ve already started work. In fact thatâ€™s where I got the raw material for these from.â€ She gestured to the clothes and then bowed again. â€œMy apologies for the interruption, we will withdraw back to our rooms.â€
â€œWait! Please.â€ Dariad was frowning. â€œAmbassador, I know you donâ€™t work for a dragon, but how much do you know about them?â€
She gave him a long thoughtful look. â€œMore than you, Iâ€™d wager. Why?â€
â€œDo you have any idea why victims of a raid might be returned?â€
â€œReturned? Alive?â€ She raised her eyebrows. â€œWhat colour dragons are we talking about?â€
â€œYes, alive, but unconscious,â€ Dariad said. â€œAnd colour?â€ He looked at Eyvindr questioningly. â€œDo you know?â€
â€œMostly blue, I believe,â€ he said.
â€œBlue?â€ Alayria looked even more surprised. â€œThatâ€™s odd. Theyâ€™ve never had to look outside their borders for food.” She cocked her head when every speaker in the room cringed. â€œIâ€˜m sorry, but thatâ€™s the commonest reason dragons raid.â€
â€œBut the Haltia in question werenâ€™t eaten, they were still alive.â€
â€œNot physically anyway, but if a dragon is chewing on you physically itâ€™s for the pain not the meat.â€ She gave a convulsive shudder. â€œBut if these Haltia were unconscious, itâ€™s likely a dragon fed on their energy. I donâ€™t understand why-â€
â€œWhy it didnâ€™t kill them?â€ Dariad asked.
She shook her head. â€œOh, thatâ€™s just conservation of resources. I donâ€™t understand why they didnâ€™t keep them to feed off again. Thatâ€™s what most dragons do if they manage not to kill their prey.â€
â€œYou make them sound like vampires,â€ Lydia said.
â€œI can see why youâ€™d say that, but psychevores would be more accurate. Very, very hungry ones.â€ Alayria smiled at her and then turned to Dariad. â€œIs there anything else, your majesty?â€
â€œNot at the moment,â€ Dariad replied.Â Heâ€™d gone pale for some reason. â€œI donâ€™t want to talk about dragons any more for now.â€
â€œThen we will withdraw.â€ Alayria bowed again and walked out with her attendants.
â€œAre you all right, Your Majesty?â€ Hried asked.
â€œI will be. I just-â€ He shook his head. â€œSometimes when I talk about dragons, I start sensing them even when they arenâ€™t close by. At least I assume none of the rest of you felt anything?”
They all shook their heads.
â€œI thought not. Iâ€™m not sure if itâ€™s my imagination or I inherited my fatherâ€™s excessive sensitivity to them.â€ He sat down on his throne. â€œBrita, could you put together some supplies for the warriors?â€
â€œOf course, Sire.â€
â€œThank you.â€ He turned to Hreid. â€œEscort our guests back to their rooms and then round up every refugee from Elapyron who hasnâ€™t been tested yet and their known associates and bring them here. I want to be able to exile the culprits by tomorrow evening.â€