Alaryia turned to Dariad with a smile. “So, I assume you’re here because you want to talk to me about something?”
“Er, yes. Well sort of…” he trailed off.
“You’re still wondering what I would have done if you hadn’t accepted my offer to help, aren’t you?” Alaryia asked.
Dariad swallowed and then nodded unhappily. “I am, but I’m not sure that I want to know the answer.”
“I don’t see why not. It should be obvious. I would just have waited until you were forced to abandon the city and then moved in after you’d gone.”
He scowled at her suspiciously, but Kenna nuzzled his ear.
“She’s telling you the truth, your majesty.”
“Okay,” he said hesitantly. “One more question. What are you eating?”
She gave him a surprised look then chuckled. “Not your people, Dariad. I told you that no harm would come to them from accepting my offer and I meant it.”
“But-” he began.
She sighed heavily. “There’s a reason I travel with such a large entourage.”
He stared at her, the memory of her gently covering an exhausted goblin girl playing in his head.
“Oh,” he said. “Of course.”
She smiled at him then broke off and swore in draconic before making a beckoning gesture. “Come!”
There was a fizzing pop and a collared dragon appeared, dragging Draylian with her. She immediately dropped to her knees in front of Matthias.
“Elzaria,” Matthias said. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry!” She cowered back. “I tried to save your son. I really did. I’m sorry. Please don’t hurt me.”
“Hush,” he said. “Show us what happened!”
Dariad recoiled from the images that she broadcast to them. “Why-”
“I was afraid of that,” Alaryia murmured. “To usurp Matthias-idan’s control, he’ll need to be able to mimic him.”
“And he’s going to use Andrew to do that,” Matthias said in a dead tone. “I should have realised!” He shook his head and looked down at Elzaria. “It’s not your fault. Andrew was right to tell you to get Dray out of there. I wonder if he realises what he did there?” He laid a hand on her head. “But what am I going to do with you?”
“Don’t let him have me, please!” she pleaded. “Kill me if you have to!”
“I…” he began.
“But why was Huldre trying to kill us then? They’re apparently allied,” Lydia asked. “Wouldn’t he have known?”
“I suspect he probably intended to use Daniel at first,” Alaryia said. “But then decided Andrew would be more biddable.” She looked up as the gate to Waldhafen re-opened. “You’d better explain to your wife.”
He nodded and moved to intecept Sonia as she emerged. He didn’t speak, he just laid his forehead against hers. After a moment she gave a sob and clung to him.
“We have to stop him!” she said frantically. “We can’t let him do that to Drew!”
“I know, but we don’t know where he is,” he said.
Elzaria made a coughing sound and when they turned to look at her she cocked her head meaningfully at them. “I know.”
Matthias blinked at her a few times then thumped his forehead with the heel of hand. “Of course you do! Will you help me without coercion?”
“I will. I hate failing and my mirian wants me to, anyway,” she said. “He finds Jayden Emms a greater threat than you are.”
“Good,” he said. “But we need a plan.” He winced. “I just hope we have time.”
“A few talori hours,” Alaryia said. “It’ll take him that long to tune it in to Andrew’s mind and smooth out the difference between his and yours. And he’ll need to get his assistants back on their feet first.” She pursed her lips. â€œI’d say six hours, no more than ten.”
“Let’s assume five and try to come up with a workable plan in four,” Matthias said.
“That’s never a bad idea,” Alaryia agreed.
“We should go back to Waldhafen,” Sonia said softly. “Lucas is waiting for Jay and the council have agreed that Ly– Lyrrekka and Alaryia can come as well. I think they’re frantic about Andrew as well and willing to entertain anyone who might be able to help.” She looked over at Lyrrekka, who was talking to Tarian. “I assume you would prefer your new name ?”
Lyrrekka shrugged. “It hardly matters, but friends get to call me Lyr.” She looked over at Matthias. “What are you going to do with Tarian if you can’t collar him?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” he said. “We can discuss it back at Waldhafen once Andrew is safe.”
“Fair enough,” she said. “We should get moving, then.”
“Indeed.” he said. “Halia, would you?”