They emerged into a green, flower-dotted alpine meadow surrounded by forbidding mountains, the tips of which glittered with unmelted snow.
Lydia looked around and spotted the glowing nymph sitting on a boulder nearby. Â
“You’re Ilona?” she asked.
The nymph shook her head and her pale hair, which Lydia had thought was white, shimmered with subtle rainbow tones. That must be why they were called irisad.
“Mother will be joining you presently. She asked me to greet you on her behalf since she is still consulting with Kylissan-alran about how to handle this insertion across the border.” She cocked her head at them. “It’s the most dangerous part of the mission, you know.?”
“Not infiltrating the palace?” Daniel asked curiously.
The Irisad see-sawed her hand uncertainly. “It’s a close thing, but I’d say that crossing the border is a touch more dangerous.”
“And hopefully we might avoid having to sneak into the palace.” Another irisad emerged from a hollow nearby. “If we can get them to come out, it’ll be easier to grab your little princess.” She bowed to them. “I am Ilona. It is my pleasure to greet you, warriors.”
Lydia nodded to her but let Karen make the introductions since she knew Jason and Caoilainn. Only when her sister had finished did she speak.
“So how do we intend to get across the border, then?” she asked.
“We’re lucky; it’s been very noisy recently since both sides are constantly testing it,” Ilona said. “We’ll use some of that as cover. This is a larger group than I’ve ever snuck across, but since Gerian will be distracted I should be able to keep the wards from alerting him. It’s just making sure that the noise is enough to cover us but not enough to draw him away from Ystelyan-mirian’s distraction.” She paused and grinned. “Of course, he’ll want distract us from the fact he’s distracted so he might well send someone to make a little noise here. That would be perfect.”
“How close is the border?” Jason asked after a moment.
“About a mile in that direction.” She gestured.
“Hmm. Then we should probably get closer so we’re in position to sneak across when the time comes.”
Lyrrekka was still very pensive, Salia decided, but she seemed to have her appetite back. Or at least she’d cleared her plate at both breakfast and dinner. She seemed different since they’d found that rusty bird, and even more so since her conversation with Tarian. Quieter and with a constant slight frown like mummy had when some particularly knotty problem was bothering her. Mia seemed much the same, so Salia was sure that Lyrrekka had told her what had happened.
Salia wanted to ask about what was bothering her and had just about worked up the courage when there was a quiet knock at the door.
“Lyrrekka-alra, may I come in?” It was Gerian’s voice. “I need your perspective.”
Lyrrekka’s frown deepened. “Of course you may, my mirian.”
The door opened and Gerian came in looking almost sheepish.
“Lyrrekka-alra.” He nodded to her. “Karilya, Salia.” He nodded to them as well, but ignored Mia and Coromel. Lyrrekka scowled at that but merely nodded in response.
“You’re mad at me about something, and since you aren’t saying what I’ll assume it’s one of several things I didn’t want you to know.” He gave a strained smile at her surprised look. “I may not always be good at reading people, my alra, but that scowl is hard to miss. I’m not going to ask what the problem is. I know you well enough to know you won’t answer, but I really do need your perspective on something.”
“What is it?” she asked.
“Ystelyan has attacked the border in force. He’s with his forces in person. Any idea as to why?”
“Hmm…” Lyrrekka stared at the table, apparently deep in thought. “He has a resource shortage after that plague. Maybe he’s hoping to grab some from you? Especially if he’s become aware you’ve sent the majority of your troops to Waldhafen.”
Gerian cocked his head at her and scowled thoughtfully. “That’s possible. You don’t think it could be anything else?” He waited until Lyrrekka shook her head and then nodded. “He was rather badly hit. I wish I knew who caused that. I’d offer them to him trussed up on a platter to get him to withdraw right now.” He sighed heavily. “But I’m not entirely stupid. I retained enough people for an attack, though I was thinking more of the Silvers. I’llÂ take them and handle this. I’m leaving Adrigian-alran in charge here. He’ll be under orders not to interfere with you and your charges.”
“Thank you, my mirian.” Lyrrekka bowed her head. “Luck go with you.”
He gave a genuine, if still somewhat strained smile. “Thank you, my alra.”