Korrig didnâ€™t even look up at Lydiaâ€™s question, let alone answer it. She tapped her foot impatiently but he didnâ€™t seem to have heard her. After a few moments, she reached out and tapped his shoulder. As she did, the impression of an intense mental conflict overwhelmed her and she jerked back. He finally looked up at her and even though heâ€™d attacked them, she couldnâ€™t help wincing at the misery in his eyes.
Lydia shook her head. Never mind sympathy, they needed to get to the bottom of this.
“Whereâ€™s the honour in keeping an oath in word but not spirit?â€ she asked.Â â€œTrue you didnâ€™t exactly lie to us, but it was still a underhanded trick.”
He glared at her through his tears for a moment, then bowed his head. “I concede both the battle and your point.” His voice faltered and he grimaced and then continued with obvious effort. â€œBut I swear I never intended to betray you when we met…â€ He trailed off and grimaced again.
â€œThen why did you?â€ Lydia asked.
Korrig opened his mouth as if to reply, but instead clutched his head and gave a pained cry.
â€œHe was like this before he attacked me,â€ Bennu said. â€œWe were talking and then he went weird and warned me to get away. If he hadnâ€™t he would probably have got me with the first shot.â€
â€œThatâ€™s weird.â€ Lydia frowned at Korrig. So the conflict sheâ€™d sensed wasnâ€™t just him?Â â€œThereâ€™s someone else in there with you? Thatâ€™s who attacked us?â€
Korrig shook his head, but she got the feeling it wasnâ€™t of his own volition. She reached out and grabbed his wrist. This time she was prepared and didnâ€™t cringe away from the battle she sensed. She closed her eyes and found herself looking at a mental image of Korrig struggling against writhing razor sharp bonds. She reached out and started pulling at the bonds. Even though she knew it wasnâ€™t physically, real it felt like they were tearing into her hands.
She swore and aimed some of her inner fire into the bonds. As she did, she heard a furious screech as they caught fire and vanished. She heard Korrig give a relieved sob and opened her eyes again. Her hands still hurt and she clenched them, telling herself it was all in her mind.
The dwarf was lying unconscious on the ground by the log, and Karen and Andrew were staring at her.
â€œWhat-â€ Andrew began but she interrupted him.
â€œSomeone was controlling him,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™ll find out more when he wakes up.â€
â€œYour hands are bleeding,â€ Karen said.
â€œWhat?” Lydia looked down and saw that her hands were indeed bleeding as if sheâ€™d really grabbed razor wire. â€œBloody hell! Must be some sort of psychic feedback.â€
â€œBloody is the right word.” Karen picked up the first aid kit which was still lying by her from where Lydia had patched up her shoulder. â€œYouâ€™ll have to talk me through how to do this.â€
By the time Karen had finished bandaging up Lydiaâ€™s hands surprisingly well. Korrig was awake again and watching them nervously.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, really I am,â€ he said.
“I know,” Lydia said, â€œand I know it wasnâ€™t your fault, but I want your oath that youâ€™ll never attack us again or help anyone else who wants to.â€
He looked at her in surprise. “You arenâ€™t going to kill me?” he asked blankly. “But I attacked you.”
“Not of your own free will,” she said. â€œAnd even if you had, killing someone whoâ€™s surrendered is wrong. But I want your oath, because unless I misunderstood what just happened, the person who forced you to attack us couldnâ€™t force you to break your word.”
â€œWhoever it was didn’t dare force him to go against an oath by the Core, I think,” Kimi said in a disturbed tone. â€œBut that would mean…” she trailed off.
“So you arenâ€™t going to kill me or bind me into slavery?” Korrig said before Lydia could ask Kimi what the matter was. He sounded smug. â€œI knew he was wrong.â€
“Do what?” Lydia exclaimed. “Of course not. Slaveryâ€™s appalling. It belongs in the past.”
“He said you would if I didnâ€™t stop you. I told him he was wrong and I trusted you. He got angry and did that to me.”
“Who did? This Mountain King you mentioned?”
“No, no King Dariad doesnâ€™t care about humans either way, and he would never do that. It was an old troll friend… well not friend, I guess.â€ Korrig said.
Kimi made an unhappy sound. â€œAnother speaker did it. I was afraid of that. Thatâ€™s…â€
â€œUnheard of until the last couple of years, yes.” Korrig nodded. â€œHuldre came to me via a dream-speaking last night.”
“Dammit! Your nightmare! Thatâ€™s when it happened. I should have let Andrew wake you,” Lydia said. â€œI wonder if he was deliberately lying or just prejudiced against humans like so many of the speakers seem to be.” Lydia pushed the musing aside. “More importantly do we have your word?”
“Itâ€™s a good thought. It wonâ€™t help you much if a non-speaker does that to me as they wonâ€™t care about the Core, but you have it,” he said and then continued in a formal tone. “I, Korrig, do hereby vow before the Core that I will take no aggressive action against the three of you or your heart friends. I do further swear that I will neither aid â€“ actively or passively â€“ nor advise anyone speaker, human, goblin or dragon who wishes you harm. I also vow to keep this oath in word and spirit and to take no loophole I may find in it. May peace reign between us henceforth.” He stopped and looked at her. “Is that sufficient for you?”
“Eminently. Thank you,” Lydia said.
Bennu came down to perch on her shoulder. He was still transformed, even though Karen was recovered and Korrig no longer posed a threat. Not that she was complaining; his fire was offsetting the unpleasant chill of the region.
“Thereâ€™s something else,” Korrig said. “Huldre said Queen Valeria has Karenâ€™s heart friend prisoner at her castle. I think he intended me to tell you about it if I lost, but you canâ€™t avoid going after him anyway. And at least if I tell youâ€™ll be going informed.”
“It is a trap then,” Lydia said and he nodded.
“Huldre said they caught him trying to make his way to you near the flame palace.” He paused. â€œI can tell you one thing that will give you a edge. I know where the Light Heart Bracelet is. If you already have it when you go to rescue her heart friend, she wonâ€™t have to go through what Andrew did. My business takes me in the other direction, so I can’t take you but I can give you a map.”
“You donâ€™t have to go to all this trouble,” said Lydia.
“It is the least that I can do for saving me,â€ he said.
â€œThanks,â€ Lydia turned to Andrew, who was staring up at the Ice Cave with a thoughtful expression. â€œWhatâ€™s wrong, Drew?â€
â€œThose alfer who the spiders had captured. The chief said there was something odd about their behaviour but they couldnâ€™t get them to talk.â€
â€œYou think they might have been controlled as well?â€
â€œYes, and one of them was still alive. I donâ€™t want to leave them to be eaten, especially if itâ€™s not their fault.â€
Lydia considered this, then nodded. â€œYouâ€™re right, we should go and talk to them. Let me get my coat if weâ€™re going back in there.â€