Valeria recognized Alison even before they were introduced. Not only was she was the youngest girl in the group but as soon as she’d entered the room, the girl had squeaked and hidden behind one of the adults. Valeria had expected to feel to same rage as she had when she met Julie â€“ or even more, since this girl was the one who had actually killed her husband â€“ but Alison looked terrified and so fragile that she found that she couldn’t really hold on to her anger in the face of such obvious pain and fear. The man she had hidden behind stepped to one side and put his arm around her shoulder before looking at Valeria.
“You are Queen Valeria?” he asked.
“I am,” she said. “And this is my daughter Salia.” She squeezed Salia’s shoulder reassuringly. “You know why we’re here?”
“I believe we do, your majesty,” he said politely. “You need to talk to my foster daughter.”
“I do–” Valeria began but was interrupted by Salia wriggling free and stomping up to Alison.
“You! You killed my daddy!” She kicked Alison in the shin.
Alison yelped and looked down at Salia before dropping to one knee so their eyes were on the same level.
“Yes, I’m afraid that I did,” she said softly. “I really am very sorry.” Tears trickled down her cheeks.
“Sorry won’t bring daddy back!” Salia shook her head angrily. “Do you know how much I miss him?”
“As much as I miss my mother, I’d imagine,” Alison replied sadly. “I owe you a debt that I can never repay, princess. What do you want from me?”
“Want… ah…” Salia looked surprised.
“That’s why we’re here, moppet,” Valeria said. “To decide what to do with her.”
“Oh.” Salia looked back at Alison. “Could you stop your father coming after me again? That would be a start.”
“Uh?” Alison said. “Why is he after you? You’re just a kid.”
“He wants to recruit her,” Valeria said. “He’s already kidnapped her once.”
“I can talk to him, I suppose,” Alison said dubiously. “But I’d be about as successful as King Canute trying to turn back the tide. He tends to be as stubborn as hell.”
â€œIt’s the defining characteristic of reds, Alison-alra,â€ Lyrrekka said.
Valeria looked around in surprise; she hadn’t realised that Lyrrekka had followed them. Alison looked equally surprised.
â€œLyrrekka-alra! You outwalked?â€
â€œActually I’m an ida,â€ Lyrrekka said. â€œI was in hiding but your father pushed me too far.â€
â€œYes, he does that.â€ Alison looked back at Salia. â€œI’ll talk to him, princess, but I’m not sure it will help.â€ She looked up at Valeria. â€œBut that isn’t enough. What sort of blood price do you require of me, your majesty?â€
â€œI-â€ Valeria hesitated. â€œI’m not sure yet. I need to know exactly how culpable in your own actions you were first. Would you be willing to let the mind warrior have a look inside your head and see?â€ She turned to the man who had called Alison his foster daughter and who looked like he might protest. â€œLucas won’t hurt her and I need to know.â€
â€œBut–â€ he began.
â€œIt’s okay,â€ Alison interrupted. â€œIt’s a fair request. I’ll do it.â€