Valeria woke up in the middle of the night to a rattling sound from the balcony. She tried to ignore it but it came again, louder. She considered covering her head with her pillow but she doubted that would help. She rose with a sigh, pulled on a robe and opened the shutter slightly. Dariad was standing there fully dressed, if slightly dishevelled – he must have climbed down the tree rather than using the ramps. He probably wanted to talk with her in private. She wasn’t really surprised; he’d looked very stressed and pensive when the discussions had broken up that night. At a guess, he was still worrying about Alaryia. She would probably be worrying as well if her mother’s presence inside her head hadn’t been so serene about the matter.
“Sorry to wake you, Val. Can I come in?” he asked.
“Of course.” She stood aside and let him enter. “You look miserable.”
He sighed and slumped into a chair. “I know she said she wouldn’t hurt my people and I know the unicorns said it was true, but can we really trust that?”
“Hum,” Valeria began, then jumped as her mother gently pushed her mind aside with an apology. “No one can lie to a unicorn, Dar. You know that. They can deceive them if they’re clever enough – like she did about her being a goblin, but I don’t think she was being tricky in this case. So far she’s done nothing but help.”
Dariad raised an eyebrow but then enlightenment dawned on his face as he realised who was speaking. “But she’s a dragon, aunt El! Everything I’ve ever learned said dragons were evil.”
She who was Elaranor gave a soft chuckle. “I’ve learned a lot since I became a guardian. Things I never would have suspected as a speaker. We talk about the Dragons being evil as something we’ve understood since the block went in, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case. In fact it’s fairly recent – no more than a couple of centuries. Before that most – for the best part of several thousand years – dragons were seen as capricious, dangerous and untrustworthy, but not downright evil. After all most of them keep to themselves except when they need to feed. That’s why our ancestors were willing to put up with the diplomatic illusion of goblins notÂ working for dragons. Sometimes you needed a dragon’s help. We avoided them, called in the warriors when one of the courts got out of hand and tried to ignore the fact that most of them are participating in holding the world together. The dragon’s palaces are just like the thrones – I can feel them both now and I’d swear the same person built them.”
“A couple of hundred years?” Dariad asked. “What-” he began but Valeria knew the answer.
She pushed herself back to the front of her mind and blurted, “The Battle of Moritah Plain. What the yellow and black ones did there would convince anyone they were evil.” She paused and then added. “Sorry, mother.”
It’s okay, Val, her mother said. I was rather excluding you from the conversation. It’s just sometimes voice is better than mind, and I only have yours. She expanded her thought to include Dariad instead of taking over Valeria’s voice again. But, yes, Moritah Plain – not just the battle, but the events leading up to it and the aftermath. The fact that they tried to destroy the world and the fact that the others did nothing to stop them was like acid etching away the fact they could sometimes be helpful .
“And that’s exactly my problem,” Dariad snapped. “She’s helping while it suits her! What about when it doesn’t? Never mind what the yellows and black dragons tried two hundred years ago, where was she thirty years ago when they succeeded?”
Holding the world together, Elaranor replied. It was obvious once I became a guardian. All the first dragons except those two, even the ones who are certainly our enemies, were in their palaces and concentrating on holding the barrier and stopping the Yellow one reaching the Core long enough for us to replace the guardians.
“It sort of makes sense, Dar,” Valeria allowed. “I mean, they do live here as well.”
Dariad favoured her with a thoughtful look. “I wonder if you’d be so calm about this if Aunt El wasn’t in your head?”
Valeria shrugged. “Probably not. But we can’t let our fears rule us. I did that with the humans and look where that nearly lead. Look what fear of dragons lead Elapyron City to do. I will not make the same mistake twice.”
“I know,” he said miserably. “But- Stop being so reasonable, Val. You’re not helping.”
Oh, I see what the problem is here, Elaranor interrupted. You aren’t worried about the fact she’s a dragon and you can’t trust her. You’re worried about the fact she’s a dragon and yet you find you trust her. You’re trying to talk yourself out of trusting her, aren’t you?
“No!” Dariad snapped, then he sighed. “Yes, I guess I am. She seems to care so much, but…” he trailed off. “I want something to still make sense. A few weeks ago I knew what the world was like: dragons were evil monsters, the Core was good and protected us, and by enforcing the Heart Laws it ensured Speakers had the moral high ground. Why is everything changing? Why is it changing now?”
I think because the Heart woke up. Nothing has really changed; it’s just that its presence, while somewhat limited at the moment, is shaking things up.
Valeria barely heard her because the mention of the heart law set her mind racing. “Actually, something has changed. But I’m not sure when it changed. The Core doesn’t seem to be enforcing the Heart Laws any more.Â It never punished Sirin for attacking Andrew either. I’m trying to remember the last time I heard of anyone being punished for a breach.” She blinked and frowned. “And something worse is happening. To precipitate an injustice such as what happened at Elapyron was surely a crime against the Haltia heart law. But not only did the Core not punish them, for all our outrage we never stopped to consider how deep the crime went. The heart laws are so ingrained in us, but…” she trailed off.
“Some people seem to be forgetting them? And not just the ones who broke them?” Dariad scowled at her thoughtfully. “You’re right. I think the last time I heard of a punishment shocking enough to provoke gossip was a couple of years ago, not long before the Warriors came. I’d say it was distracted by the Heart but it was focussed enough to attack Ema and Alban when they tried to talk to us.”
Valeria nodded. “And I’m pretty sure it would have attacked us by now if mother weren’t protecting us. I have bad feeling that Ema’s right that it’s always been broken, but it seems to be breaking worse at the moment.”
Dariad scowled at the floor. “Is Alaryia still manifesting through Halia? She said she was going to talk to Ema…Â I think we need to talk to her as well.”