Chapter Twenty Two
The throne was shielding him, Dariad realised. He’d be vulnerable as soon as he stood up. His people weren’t faring as well as he was. Brita was on her knees, sobbing, and Hried had curled up into a ball. He looked at the rest of the crowd and saw that they too were collapsing.
Isn’t there anything we can do? he asked the throne.
I’m afraid not, it replied. A solution to the Core is not something we’re designed for. It didn’t even exist when we were created.
Hush, Dariad, Alaryia interrupted. I’ve got it. She rose to her feet and raised one hand above her head. After a moment a soft glow diffused out from her hand and surrounded the crowd before sliding into the walls. That will protect them temporarily but I’d call Matthias and your father if I were you. Your people may be willing to work with me temporarily but I doubt they’re ready to become official renegades. He who was Indirian should be able to protect them.
She’s right, Valeria said. Mother says the Core is trying to attack my people as well but she’s stopping it. She also suggests that Morvena makes contact with the metal guardian – She who was Khryseis should be able to block the Core from having too much influence over the lake while we’re organising things.
I’ll do that, Morvena said. I think I know how.
Matthias is coming here to discuss the plan, Valeria said. Do you want me to talk to him then?
Yes, please, Dariad said. We’d better end this conversation now. I need to see to my people.
I’ll call you later, Valeria said. I’m glad I found out about this. It’s quicker than Imps.
Indeed, Dariad said and broke the connection. He stood and looked out at his people. “Is everyone okay?”
The initial response was groans but Hried slowly uncurled and nodded. “Thanks to the first dragon, yes. It really meant to kill, you know.”
“It was frightened,” Brita added. “So very frightened. It heard what she said to us and it is terrified it’s true so it’s lashing out at anyone who believes it.” She gave Alaryia a sly glance. “It’s kind of human that way; do you think you could have infected it?”
Alaryia chuckled. “Not I and not accidentally, but it does suggest that whoever broke it may have been human once… or maybe they still were. I wouldn’t discount it. Mainly because it can’t really have been Speakers and who would that leave?”
“Goblins,” one of the dwarves suggested. Alaryia chuckled again.
“There were only a double handful of goblins in existence at the time. None of them were strong enough.”
“I’ve always thought it was the Yellow one,” another said. “She was the one who attacked the Heart after all.”
“Shalriya?” Alaryia said. “Well it could have been but I think I would have recognised her touc- what do you mean you’ve always thought? How would you have known?”
“Uh.” The dwarf backed away, even though her tone was just puzzled, not threatening. In a flash of ephiphany Dariad realised that it was because he’d slipped up and not because he was afraid of her. Alaryia’s eyes narrowed as she realised the same thing.
“Who do you work for?” she asked sharply.
The dwarf didn’t answer. He shot towards the door, only to be stopped when two of his fellows grabbed him. He didn’t struggle as they dragged him back towards the dais.
“Bring him up here,” Dariad said. “Let’s get to the bottom of this.”
“I’m loyal to you, your majesty,” he said sullenly. “You tested me yourself after the attempted coup.”
That was true. The mirror had confirmed both that Vaettir had been under the influence of the Elapyron refugees and that he was loyal to Dariad. Which made this whole thing very strange indeed.
“I remember,” Dariad said, “But I need to find out how you know what you know.”
“My mother told me when I was child,” he said. “She was a secret renegade.”
“He lies!” one of the unicorns yelled, though Dariad had already guessed that from Vaettir’s desperate tone.
“I’ll say he does,” Alaryia said. “While it’s not impossible his mother may have been renegade, I find it highly unlikely her patron would have told her enough to form an opinion if she were – and that’s assuming her patron knew.”
The dwarf twisted, trying to get loose from his captors as Dariad offered him the hilt of a short knife and jerked his head towards the mirror. “I think you’d better tell us what really happened.” he said.
The dwarf winced. “I- I- I don’t know how I know, I just always have,” he said. “And I’ve always known no one must find out what I knew and that I had to hide how if they did. But I didn’t realise the Heart was still alive.” He sounded utterly defeated as he sliced his palm and let the blood flow in to the mirror. It took it only seconds to confirm what he said. The unicorn who had called him on his lie also confirmed it.
“Vaettir, come here,” Alaryia said softly. He cowered back and she sighed. “I’m not going to hurt you. I just have an inkling what’s going on with you and I’d like to check it.”
Vaettir stared at her for a moment and then tottered towards her. She smiled at him reassuringly, laid a gentle hand on his forehead and closed her eyes. After a moment she made an enlightened noise.
“Interesting,” she said. “You grew up near a Core Gate, didn’t you? It seems you developed a sensitivity to it. That’s how you knew.” She sighed. “The Core realised that you knew and it was responsible for the compulsion to hide it and lie about it once you did slip up – which would never have happened if I hadn’t been shielding you.”
“I did grow up near a Core gate,” he conceded after a long moment. “And that makes a crazy kind of sense.” He turned to Dariad and bowed.
“Forgive me, my king, for trying to deceive you.”
“There’s nothing to forgive, Vaettir,” Dariad said. “You had no choice.” He frowned over at Alaryia. “How many speakers who grew up near gates do you think this sort of thing has happened to?”
“Far too many. Especially since the heart started to awaken,” she said. “And he’s lucky it only terrified him into keeping it secret. I’ve known it kill some of the others. I have several renegades who fled to me in similar circumstances.”
Dariad frowned again. “It’s out of control?” he asked.
“Unfortunately yes,” she said. Which is why we have to support Matthias-idan in reining it in, she appended mentally. And why it mustn’t know that that’s what we are planning. If it realises it’ll move to block us.
I know, he agreed. Though Val has been discussing it with Ystelyan.
Valeria has her mother to help her, she said. It can’t hear what’s happening there. Once we have the help of Matthias and your father we’ll be able to block it as well. Until then we need to keep it quiet.
A/N: If you are a regular reader of my other serial Haventon and would like to see it in ebook or even dead tree form please visit this post on my dreamwidth blog about a potential IndieGoGo campaign to raise the money. Thanks!