Lydia sat in her seat in the meeting chamber and stared out of the window. They were waiting for her father and Queen Valeria to join them after speaking with Yemi. The view across the treetops was breathtaking but she was feeling out of sorts. Her mother must have noticed it, because she laid a hand on her forearm.
“Are you feeling alright, Lyd?”
“Yes!” Lydia snapped, then shook her head. “No… I don’t know.” She buried her face in her hands. “I wish Bennu was here. He’s gone hunting again and recently I feel snappish when he isn’t around.”
“Ah, I see.” Her mother sounded amused. “I got like that just before my maturity. I wouldn’t even let Nephele out of my sight for a couple of days. Once it happened, I went back to normal.”
“But why?” Lydia asked.
“I’m not sure, but I suspect Bennu’s presence helps stabilise your essence. It’s not that his absense is causing your bad mood; it’s that him being there ameliorates it. Mood swings aren’t uncommon in the run up to Maturity.”
Lydia cocked her head at her mother and considered this. “That’s intriguing. I wish I had time to look into this.”
“Maybe when you’re older. If you study hard,” Matthias said as he re-entered the room with Valeria in tow. “Yemi is resting. Even though she doesn’t seem to have been mistreated, she’s been through a bit of an ordeal.” He settledÂ in to his seat. “We got her story from her but it didn’t really tell us much at all.”
“How’s your healer dragon?” Sarah asked. “And are we going to Earth to talk to her about what she knows soon?”
“Halia’s okay. Well, that might be over-optimistic. She’s better though, but it’s hard to balance feeding her against the well-being of her food. She’s better at it than I am, but I’m still not one hundred percent sure I can trust her.” He pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly. “And hopefully, yes. I’m still trying to ensure that our visit is as secure as possible. I don’t want the Lavernes discovering us before we’re ready.”
“Indeed.” Sarah shifted in her chair. “We need to be very careful. I did some checking last night and they are getting suspicious. Well, suspicious may be too strong a word but my spy thinks they know something is up. Marian has noticed we’re not around as much as usual and is looking in to it.”
Matthias swore feelingly at that. “It’s too soon. I’m not ready yet.”
“I know,” Sarah said. “But we may not have a choice. Jay and Karen both think Hannah Clitheroe is in danger. Given that her family is on the verge of being absorbed by the Lavernes when her sister marries that brat Adrian, I’m inclined to agree. How could they be so stupid?”
“The Clitheroes?” Karen asked. “Easily I imagine. They’re fairly conservative to start with and Kayleigh turns into a gibbering lump of jelly at the sound of Adrian’s voice. It’s not normal. He went after Hannah as well, but she turned him down.” She rested her chin on her hand and stared into space thoughtfully. “I wouldn’t be as worried if Ema was around, but the fact that she set off on some mysterious errand she didn’t want the Core to know about…” She trailed off. “What if it tells them about Hannah, like it did about mum?”
“It shouldn’t be able to,” Matthias replied. “It’s very hard, but Indirian and I have worked out a way to stop it reaching Earth. It’s not happy but it knows the consequences of removing me, so it’s effectively paralysed. I’ll get some people to keep an eye on her, though.” He tapped his fingers on the table. â€œSo, next thing – we need a plan to rescue Salia. Any thoughts?”
Lydia stared out of the window again as she mulled the question over. “We need a decoy, right? One that Gerian would never think we might be able to pull off?”
“Yes,” her father said slowly. “Did you have something in-” He broke off and his eyes flew wide as she pushed her idea at him. “Bloody hell, Lyd. That’s either brilliant or insane.”
“Hum, would one of you two please explain what you are thinking?” Sonia said.
“It’s quite simple, mum. The blue dragons are insisting they aren’t the enemy and they share a border with the red ones. They also seem to have long running hostilities with them. Why not give them a chance to prove they want to help by providing the decoy?”
“You know,” Valeria said after a long silence. “It’s just barely possible that would work. Even if the Blues aren’t truly friendly, they have reason to want Salia away from Gerian.”
Sarah sighed. “I hate to say, it but you’re right. At the very least we should discuss it with the River Singer.”