â€œHow may I help you, your majesty?â€
Dariad swallowed. The city wasn’t yet totally pacified and he hadn’t wanted to risk an incident, so he’d come down to the goblins’ apartments to speak with Alaryia rather than summoning her. He was beginning to wish he hadn’t.Â Alaryia was seated in an ornately carved chair which had been placed in the centre of the room, and combined with her silvery silk gown and calm demeanor, she gave the impression that she was the one holding court — even though it was his city.
â€œAmbassador Alaryia, I do apologise for the need to keep your delegation in your chambers like this. Believe me, it implies no distrust of you or your people.â€
â€œI know. You seem to have some serious problems.â€ She smiled at him. â€œWhat is a sign of distrust, however, is bringing a unicorn with you. It suggests you fear I will lie to you. But that is an understandable distrust and no imposition since I have no intention of lying to you.â€ She inclined her head to Karda. â€œGreetings, noble one. Underground is a strange place to find one of your kind.â€
The grey unicorn dipped his shimmering moonstone horn to the floor. â€œGreetings, Ambassador. My affinity lies with earth, so it is not that strange.â€
â€œKarda isnâ€™t just here to vouch for the truth of your words, Ambassador,â€ Dariad said, â€œbut of mine as well. After all, Iâ€™m sure you donâ€™t trust me either.â€
Alaryia grinned at him. â€œI trust you well enough, your majesty. You donâ€™t strike me as the kind to break your own laws by dealing in bad faith.â€
â€œHave you thought over my offer?â€ She made a slight gesture with her hand and one of the other goblins lounging around the edges of the room finally brought him a chair.
â€œI have, but I have a few questions first.â€ He took a breath and plunged ahead. â€œDid a dragon send you here? Your mother perhaps?â€
She threw back her head and laughed. â€œComing here was my idea; no one sent us. And I havenâ€™t spoken to my mother in a very long time.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t approve of her?â€ he asked hopefully.
â€œShe doesnâ€™t approve of me.” Her smile turned wry. â€œI assure you, your majesty, my companions work only for me and I work for no one. Isnâ€™t that true, Karda?â€
â€œShe speaks the truth, your majesty.â€ Karda sounded as baffled as Dariad felt. Occassionally goblins didnâ€™t have a draconic patron, but a group this large and cohesive? Still… No one could lie to a unicorn, so it had to be true. Didnâ€™t it?
Alaryia sighed. â€œYou still look worried, your majesty. I swear that no harm will come to you, your people, or your city if you accept, and you have much to gain if you do.â€
â€œAnd if I refuse it?â€
â€œIâ€™m not going to threaten you, Dariad. Such a thing sours trade negotiations. But I will say this: I can sense Mabain. Thatâ€™s how I knew it was here. I know youâ€™ve been busy, but you really should be keeping an eye on that upwelling. I can feel it growing larger. If you donâ€™t find a way to cap it soon, itâ€™ll dissolve your entire city. The fumes are already filling the caves – which might partly explain your problem. You do know how mild Mabain exposure affects weaker-willed speakers, donâ€™t you? And if it isnâ€™t stopped soon, the exposure wonâ€™t just be mild anymore.â€
Dariad managed not to gasp, but behind him his attendants made startled noises. He turned to Brita. â€œWe need to institute a major vent immediately!â€
â€œYes, your majesty!â€ His chatelaine bowed and headed for the door. She paused and looked back. â€œIâ€™m sorry, I should have thought to institute regular extra venting when it first appeared. It never occured to me it might do this.â€
â€œItâ€™s not your fault. Thereâ€™s never been an upwelling like this before.â€ He paused. â€œYouâ€™d better move our guests as well. The humans will be fine, but Iâ€™m concerned about their heart friends and Eyvindr. Theyâ€™re a bit close to the source here. In fact, weâ€™d best clear the level totally. Can you find somewhere to accomodate them?â€
Brita didnâ€™t look happy but she nodded. â€œThey wonâ€™t be as appropriate as their current accomodations, though. Should I move the ambassadorâ€™s people as well?”
â€œItâ€™s probably not a bad idea.â€ He looked back at Alaryia. â€œIâ€™d rather not have to send anyone down here till the problem is resolved.” He frowned. â€œBut I thought only dragons could sense Mabain that way.â€
â€œItâ€™s a rare talent among goblins, but not unknown,â€ she said. â€œAnd I think youâ€™ll find the humans can too, though they may not know what it is they are sensing.â€
â€œYes, I suppose they would. Now if youâ€™ll excuse me I need to go and check on the state of the upwelling. Itâ€™s not that I donâ€™t believe you, but I need to ascertain the size of the problem.â€
â€œLet me come with you,â€ she said.
â€œI can get closer than you and I need to check how badly itâ€™s undermining the mountain. Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ll have to accept my offer – this mess is beyond your ability to handle. I want to ascertain what equipment I need to stabilise it.â€
He looked at her for a moment and then nodded and turned to Hreid. â€œYouâ€™re with me as well. Letâ€™s go.â€