“My mother did what to Aunt Lori?!” Mela interrupted. She was even paler than usual and her fists were clenched. Daniel put a soothing hand on her shoulder.
“She and Prince Maran tortured her to try and get her to release the throne,” he repeated softly. “She’s going to be okay, though.”
Mela hissed furiously and looked up at Daniel. “I wish I’d let you kill her!” she spat.
“No, you don’t. You’re just angry.” Daniel gave her a small hug. “I don’t blame you.” He looked over at his father. “Carry on.”
Matthias continued to relate what Karen’s imp has shown him. When he told them the bit about Huldre managing to injure a dragon he paused and shook his head. “I have no idea what to make of that bit.”
“It’s very unlikely, isn’t it.” Chiara preened at her wing and a glowing feather dropped to the table. “It’s a shame Dariad’s mirror isn’t portable. I’d like to see that.”
“Are you suggesting Karen is mistaken?” Matthias asked. “Or lying?”
“Not at all,” she replied. “I’m just thinking that actually seeing what happened might reveal something she missed. She said the troll mentioned a screen and Hercinian birds are good at piercing screens and illusions.”
“That’s a good point, Matt,” Sonia said. “It sounds like he was hiding something which could explained this.”
“That’s true. We’ll figure something out.” He pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly and continued with the tale.
“Oh, poor little Arava!” Saeaera pressed her hands to her mouth. “She’s such a sweet child, how could anyone do that to her?” she took a breath. “Is the goblin woman sure she’ll be okay?”
He nodded. “Karen says that she’s noticibly improved already. Apparently she ate more venison broth than you’d think would fit in her stomach when she woke up. She and her parents will be travelling back here with Dariad, Valeria, my children and their heart friends. We need to sort a few things out and then I’ll send a reply.”
It was a couple of hours later that a tiny, shadowy imp appeared and flew straight to Karen.
“Well, that took a bit longer than I expected,” she said as she held out her hand to it. “Dad must have been talking to the Council first.”
“Yes, that makes sense,” Dariad said. “So, what does he say?”
“Let’s see.” Karen absorbed the imp. “Hmm.”
“Hmm?” Lydia asked. “That doesn’t sound too good.”
“No, it’s fine. He wants us to travel via the old Morgan house in Cumbria, though, in case it’s true about Maturity. It makes sense, but I’ve only been there twice so it’s going to be harder opening a gate.”
“What’s it got to do with maturity?” Andrew asked.
“Oh, it’s that the old house is very private,” Karen explained. “And he doesn’t want any witnesses if I’m resonant, because it’s obvious in the moment when you hit maturity. The last thing we need right now is to be dodging the Laverne’s assassins.”
“Or any time really,” Lydia said dryly.Â “Was that all he said?”
“No.” Karen turned to look at Valeria. “He’s told the Council of Waldhafen about little Arava and her parents. He says to tell you that no one there blames you.”
“No,” she sighed. “But I still blame myself. I should have seen it coming. I should have realised there was something odd about Huldre.”
“I don’t see how you could have expected that,” Karen said. “You can’t expect what’s theoretically impossible. Dad’s totally flummoxed as well.”
“I-I suppose not, but still…”
“Still nothing, mother,”Â Alban said. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“Anyway,” Karen said. “As soon as we know when we’re travelling I’ll send another message to Dad and he’ll set up a beacon to help me home in on the old place. Is it too late to go and talk to Alaryia?”
“I wouldn’t think so,” Dariad said. “It’s not even tenth bell yet.”
The sound of laughter greeted them when they reached Alaryia’s chambers. The ambassador herself opened the door with Arava perched on her shoulders. The moss child was giggling and tugging at the goblin’s pale hair.
“Lala nice!” Arava announced before anyone else could speak. “Like Lala!”
“She can’t manage my name,” Alaryia explained as she ushered them inside. She lifted Arava down from her shoulder and set her on the floor. The little girl immediately hugged her leg. “But I think she likes me. I guess you’ve come to check on her progress?”
“Yes.” Valeria nodded to the ambassador and to Yvo andÂ Linnea who were sitting by the fire. “We need to know when she’ll be ready to travel home?”
“Home!” Arava let go of Alaryia’s leg, waved her hands excitedly and then made a solemn face. “Wanna go home!”
“That’s right, moppet.” Valeria ruffled Arava’s hair. “You’ll be home soon.” Home was probably safe in the little one’s mind because no one had hurt her there. “You’re safe here as well. No one’s going to hurt you here.”
“She’s well enough now, really, as long as she gets lots of rest and food,” Alaryia replied. “But it’s a little late today. She should go to bed soon, so tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow is good,” Karen said. “I’ll go and send that Imp.” She turned towards the door and then looked back at Yvo and Linnea thoughtfully. “Has anyone told them about the rest of what’s been going on?”
â€œNo,â€ Dariad said. â€œWe should, shouldn’t we?â€
“I’ll do it,” Valeria turned towards them. “Come on, let’s get your moppet to bed and then I’ll tell you the rest.”