“That was strange,” Salia said after Gerian had left.
“Yes,” Lyrrekka agreed thoughtfully. “It was. He was almost polite. If he hadn’t ignored Mia and Coromel I would have dropped the almost.” She stared up at the ceiling with a thoughtful scowl. “He seemed so uncertain and I don’t think it’s just about this thing with Ystelyan-mirian. I don’t like it.”
“Do you think he was pretending for some reason?” Coromel asked.
Lyrrekka’s scowl deepened and she shook her head. “No,” she said. “He was really upset and trying to hide it. Something has shaken him up. Reds don’t respond well to that, and he’s already in descent. It could make him worse.”
“You keep using that word and I don’t know what you mean by it,” Salia complained.
“Descent, you mean?” Lyrrekka asked. “That’s a little complicated.” She pinched the bridge of her nose as she considered how to answer. “It’s different for each colour, but for reds it’s when their self-confidence turns to hubris and stubborness.”
“What about yellows then?” Coromel asked. Lyrrekka gave a wry smile.
“Too many shocks to our idealism and we succumb to despair or zealotism, at which point we’re capable ofÂ anything.” Her expression became haunted. “Shalriya-miria succumbed to despair and became the monster she is today.”
“Being pushed too far and becoming capable of anything is the one thing which defines descent for all colours,” Mia said.
Salia stared at the polished wood of the table and thought about this.
“Oh! Is that why you said you weren’t quite stubborn enough to be a red?” she asked.
“Yes,” Lyrrekka nodded.
“But your friend seemed uncertain last night. Isn’t he red?”
Lyrrekka chuckled and nodded. “Tarian’s red. He supports Gerian’s agenda for the most part but he finds his methods objectionable. He was on the verge of descending and knew it. It’s not the first time he’s come to me to talk him back up.”
“The first time she did it she ended up with me!” Karilya said.
“Wait,” Salia said. “He’s your father?”
Lyrrekka blushed fiercely and nodded. “Yes, he’s Kari’s father.” She looked out of the window and her eyes took on a distant look. After a moment she shook her head and seemed to come to decision. “You girls should get to bed as soon as you’ve sent your imps.”
“Eh! But it’s still early, mummy!” Karilya complained. “And we haven’t done the homework Per gave us.”
An odd expression crossed Lyrrekka’s face at the mention of homework, but she just shook her head. “We’ll talk about that when you get up! Now, imps.” She rose to her feet and looked over at Mia. “I need to check on a few things. Make sure the girls get to bed soon.”
Mia gave a puzzled frown, thenÂ her eyes widened and she nodded. “Of course, mother.”
Andrew was restless. They’d reached the border in good time, but now they were waiting for something. Nightfall or whatever distraction Ilona had arranged, he supposed. He just wanted to get going, but he supposed they couldn’t rush in. He climbed out of the hollow they were concealed in and went to join Ilona and Lydia, who were crouched behind some rocks looking down into the valley.
“Is the river the border?” Lydia was asking Ilona as he reached them.
Ilona shook her head. “Not exactly. It’s not set, it moves too much, and wherever the territories of two of the first meet there’s always some blending at the edges. The last traces of Gerian’s influence dies out about a stone’s throw in that direction.” She pointed down into the valley. “Al’s currently fades out somewhere over the other side ofÂ this valley. If we can get across here without triggering his alarms we’ll probably be okay.”
“And that’s going to be difficult?” Andrew asked.
Ilona smiled up at him. “As I said, we’ll sneak across under the cover of some noise. I was hoping Gerian would save me the trouble of arranging some, but either he suspects something and is trying to keep the border clear of noise so he can spot us or he doesn’t have enough people to distract us from what’s going on. I hope it’s the latter but have a horrible feeling it’s the former. So I’ll have to make sure the noise is at multiple points and I think I’ll take us in by a route I’m fairly sure he won’t expect.”
“I’d be happier if you hadn’t said ‘fairly’,” Lydia said. “So I assume we’re not going through the valley?”
Ilona shook her head. “No, we’re going under it. I’m just waiting for everyone to be in place.” She cocked her head as if listening to something. “Which is right now, apparently. Come on, the entrance to our route is back where we left the others.”