“I’m sorry to interrupt, your Majesty,” Alayria said, “but I gather the warriors will be moving on soon. I couldn’t help noticing that their clothing was both conspicuous and unsuitable. So I, ah, took the liberty of making something for them.” She offered the package she was holding to Lydia. “Please accept these as a token of my esteem, flame warrior. You may find them useful.” 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.
“Oh, sorry! I should have warned you.” Alaryria apologised. “It’s supposed to do that. It’s adapting to you.”
“I see.” 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. “Thank you.”
“Goblin clothing is a rich gift,” Dariad said. “It’s virtually indestructible and extremely comfortable. It costs a small fortune.”
“I can make you some as part of our agreement if you want, your Majesty,” Alaryria said, but she was staring thoughtfully at Lydia’s tunic the whole time she spoke. “It’s simple enough.”
“Thank you for these gifts, noble Alayria.” 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. Lydia’s eyes shot to Andrew who was examining his cloak, which had shifted to a deep red hue.
“Do the colours mean something?” Lydia asked. “I mean, it’s obviously not related to our powers. Fire isn’t silver.”
“That all depends on what’s burning.” Alayria shrugged. “But you’re right it isn’t affinity that decides colour. It’s nothing that can be easily explained. It doesn’t change their properties, though, so you don’t need to worry about it.”
“I’ve never seen goblin silk do that before,” Dariad said.
“You wouldn’t have. It doesn’t attune to Speakers, so you get stuck with the weaver’s colour.”
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. “Thanks,” she said again. “And not just for this. I haven’t had the chance to thank you before. Thank you for saving me and Bennu!”
“Indeed,” Dariad said. “You seem to make a habit of saving lives, Ambassador. Thank you for earlier.”
“Ah, it was nothing!” She flipped a hand negligently. “Quite 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.”
“What happened earlier?” Eyvindr asked.
“We went down to check on the Mabain upwelling I told you about,” Hried replied. “It was bad.”
“I don’t think I’d have made it back without the ambassador’s help,” Dariad said.
“Oh! Oh dear,” Eyvindr frowned in concern.
“It’s nothing to worry about,” Alayria said. “My people will have the tear capped and the flow drained in no time. We’ve already started work. In fact that’s where I got the raw material for these from.” She gestured to the clothes and then bowed again. “My apologies for the interruption, we will withdraw back to our rooms.”
“Wait! Please.” Dariad was frowning. “Ambassador, I know you don’t work for a dragon, but how much do you know about them?”
She gave him a long thoughtful look. “More than you, I’d wager. Why?”
“Do you have any idea why victims of a raid might be returned?”
“Returned? Alive?” She raised her eyebrows. “What colour dragons are we talking about?”
“Yes, alive, but unconscious,” Dariad said. “And colour?” He looked at Eyvindr questioningly. “Do you know?”
“Mostly blue, I believe,” he said.
“Blue?” Alayria looked even more surprised. “That’s odd. They’ve never had to look outside their borders for food.” She cocked her head when every speaker in the room cringed. “I‘m sorry, but that’s the commonest reason dragons raid.”
“But the Haltia in question weren’t eaten, they were still alive.”
“Not physically anyway, but if a dragon is chewing on you physically it’s for the pain not the meat.” She gave a convulsive shudder. “But if these Haltia were unconscious, it’s likely a dragon fed on their energy. I don’t understand why-”
“Why it didn’t kill them?” Dariad asked.
She shook her head. “Oh, that’s just conservation of resources. I don’t understand why they didn’t keep them to feed off again. That’s what most dragons do if they manage not to kill their prey.”
“You make them sound like vampires,” Lydia said.
“I can see why you’d say that, but psychevores would be more accurate. Very, very hungry ones.” Alayria smiled at her and then turned to Dariad. “Is there anything else, your majesty?”
“Not at the moment,” Dariad replied. He’d gone pale for some reason. “I don’t want to talk about dragons any more for now.”
“Then we will withdraw.” Alayria bowed again and walked out with her attendants.
“Are you all right, Your Majesty?” Hried asked.
“I will be. I just-” He shook his head. “Sometimes when I talk about dragons, I start sensing them even when they aren’t close by. At least I assume none of the rest of you felt anything?”
They all shook their heads.
“I thought not. I’m not sure if it’s my imagination or I inherited my father’s excessive sensitivity to them.” He sat down on his throne. “Brita, could you put together some supplies for the warriors?”
“Of course, Sire.”
“Thank you.” He turned to Hreid. “Escort our guests back to their rooms and then round up every refugee from Elapyron who hasn’t been tested yet and their known associates and bring them here. I want to be able to exile the culprits by tomorrow evening.”