Daniel frowned as he watched Andrew head for his room, then turned to where his father was kneeling beside his mother.
“You should go to sleep as well, Sonia,” Matthias suggested. “You’re still recovering.”
She just shook her head. “We’ll sleep late anyway, since neither you nor Dan will be up before noon. So now might be a good time to have that conversation with the River Singer, if Ebona is willing.” She cast a questioning look at Daniel.
“We’ll ask her,” he said. “But I don’t see why she wouldn’t be.”
“You know that bloody renegade is likely to be asleep by now, don’t you?” Sarah said.
“No, I don’t think so,” Sonia said. “From the way she’s always popping up, she doesn’t sleep much. Anyway, someone in her chambers will be awake. If they say she’s sleeping, we can try again later.” She sighed. “Look, I know you and Matt don’t want to talk to her, but I’m certain we need to.”
Sarah closed her eyes. “I don’t want to, but you’re right. I’m not sure why but I can feel that too.” She glanced over at Matt. “Sorry, Matt.”
“It’s okay.” He gave a defeated shrug. “I trust you two. If you think we need to we need to. But will she talk to me?”
“I guess we’ll find out.” Sonia rose to her feet. “Let’s go and get Ebona then.”
When they reached Daniel’s rooms, Lorelei was there as well. She and Mela were both curled up in the bath, asleep. Ebona was lying next to them, munching on the remains of the venison steak she’d selected for her supper. Daniel glanced at the sleeping mermaids and lowered his voice to a near whisper.
“Eb,” he said. “Mum wants to go and speak with the River Singer and she wants you to accompany us for obvious reasons. Will you do that?”
“Of course.” Ebona rose to her feet. “But what about Mela and her aunt?”
“I’ll get Nephele to watch them,” Sonia said. “Though they should be safe enough.”
“It would ease my mind,” Ebona replied. “Something is on Mela’s mind and she’s refusing to talk about it.”
“Oh, we found out what that is. Elaranor told us. We’ll tell you on the way,” Sonia said. “Let me call Neph. She said something about hunting.”
“The first dragon did what?!” Ebona asked. “And Mela thinks we’ll think she’s a renegade because of it? She’s a silly girl sometimes.”
“Well she’s only fourteen, Ebona,” Sonia said. “She’s allowed to be silly sometimes. And speakers can be quick to jump to conclusions sometimes.”
“I know, but she should know we wouldn’t-” Ebona broke off as they reached the door to the River Singer’s suite.
“I’ll talk to her tomorrow, Eb,” Daniel said as his mother knocked. “Tell her we know and not to worry about it.”
“Good evening.” Rilletta opened the door herself and surveyed the gathering there without any apparent surprise. She looked at them expectantly.
“We were wondering if you would have time to answer a few questions, please.” Sonia said politely.
“Now is as good a time as any I guess.” She stood aside from the door. “Please come in. I’m afraid we probably won’t have enough spare chairs for everyone, but we’ll try.”
“We’ll manage,” Sonia said. She settled into one of the free seats near the window. “We’re sorry to bother you so late.”
“It’s no bother, I don’t sleep much. Haltia sleep less with age and I am very old.” Rilletta leaned against the wall. “Now what do you want to know about?”
“Dragons,” Sonia said.
“A wide and complicated subject, wind warrior. Could you be a touch more specific?”
“If some dragons aren’t evil, why have none of them ever helped us?” Sarah asked bluntly.
“Who says that they haven’t? Help isn’t always immediately obvious,” Rilletta said mildly. “And really after that mess when the Core was created would you have accepted open help if it was offered?”
“I… No, I guess not,” Sarah said. “But what unseen help have dragons given us?”
“Well the obvious example is drawing their attention and troops away from the Heartland. You’re naturally focused here, so you rarely notice what’s happening on the borders between the courts.” She rubbed her forehead. “To be honest we’d like to help more than we do, but Yst spends a lot of his time stabilising the boundaries of his section of the reaches. I suspect the others do the same, but it’s only got worse for us since the plague.”
Daniel frowned to himself. That was the second time someone had mentioned the Heartland and the outer reaches, but he had no idea what they meant.
The stories say that most of the world became uninhabitable to Speakers when the Heart was destroyed, Ebona told him. The heartland and the reaches are all that was left. It’s said that it’s not as bad for humans and dragons. I thought it was just a story and there would be other lands beyond those held by the dragons, but Rilletta seems to think it’s true and she’d know.
Ah. Daniel considered this. What happened to the rest?
“The Core could hold together what was still stable, but not recover what had already crumbled.” Rilletta’s reply made Daniel jump. He hadn’t realised that they were thinking publically. From Ebona’s startled neigh she felt the same.
“You were, you are,” his father said. “Leakage is another symptom of approaching maturity, don’t worry about it.”
“But we’re getting off subject,” Rilletta said. “Was that all you wanted to know about dragons?”