OK, here's chapter 3 for you all. Politicking you shall have, Bee.
I haven't decided yet how the tear crystals work--it just seemed a little more dragon-like not to have watery human-like tears. I couldn't tell you why, though--haven't figured that one out yet.
Cirrid's brown eyes glittered in anger. “Ambassador, I would strongly advise you not to make rash accusations. Houses that have made it clear that they do not wish to be a friend of the Elani have experienced what it means not to have our protection against the Fest'ari. I will not have my fighters falsely accused of something this heinous.”
“My dear Elan'or Cirrid, what are we supposed to think, when your forces are called to help an obscure mountain village being attacked at the exact same time the army was on maneuvers, and at the exact same time my niece is kidnapped by Fest'ari?” She waved a broad questioning hand across the room. The amber gems in her large rings sparkled in the light.
“We were called to help by Daerved and Ta'lith'ra, Ambassador.”
She arched an eyebrow. “Perhaps more evidence of Elani involvement? I'd like to speak with Daerved.”
Cirrid's jaw tightened. “Daerved was killed by the Fest'ari, Nourin. That should be proof enough that he wasn't involved in any plot.”
“Oh my dear Lord. May his soul be cradled in the arms of our God.” The ambassador quickly traced a sign of a triangle on her forehead, then bowed her head a moment over clasped hands before looking back up at Cirrid. She placed a hand over her heart. “Forgive me for my hasty assumption, Cirrid. I mean no disrespect to the dead, of course.”
Cirrid nodded once. “Of course.”
“You must have lost his dragon as well, being so far from the fort for bonding.”
“We were fortunate that Ta'lith'ra bonded a new airinu. Daerved's sister, Jailyn, gave her kae.” Cirrid made a motion towards the two.
Nourin turned to the bonded pair, eyes widening. A flattering smile crept up her lips. “Congratulations to both of you. I've only heard of one other person who bonded in that way without dying. Your kae must be unusually powerful. My condolences on the tragic loss of your brother, too.”
Jailyn bowed her head to acknowledge the sympathy, but held the woman's eyes. “I had no choice but to bond with Ta'lith'ra. She was in a death fury and was about to take the kae of a wounded soldier. He would have died if she had, and a little girl would have been without her father then.”
Nourin tipped her head in sympathy, eyes glistening. “It is a beautiful act of courage, Jailyn. You bring honor to your brother's memory, and I know the Queen would send her personal thanks for such a sacrifice.” She turned back to Cirrid, tears gone. “It pains me even more to bring this note to you, then. We found it on one of the Fest'ari we killed during the kidnapping. It says one of the the Elani would arrange to keep a squadron 'busy' in Cordinarre fighting a contingent of Fest'ari,” Nourin held the letter up for the entire room to see. “It's signed by Tirius, and sealed with the Aldamar signet.” Cries of disbelief erupted in the amphitheater.
“That's a lie!” Tirius jumped up, clenching his fists. He took stairs two at a time as he strode straight to Cirrid.
Cirrid held up one hand for Tirius' silence, then held it out to Nourin for the letter. She took a step away from Tirius as she handed it to Cirrid. He scanned the paper. “The seal looks real enough, but this isn't Tirius' writing.”
Nourin frowned. “If the seal is authentic, someone in House Aldamar is still involved,” she insisted. “My sister is interested in pursuing all diplomatic efforts, but if Her Highness is not returned to us safely, we would view this action as an act of war, and protect ourselves accordingly.”
Cirrid searched the ambassador's face for several moments. “Nourin, I don't have to remind you that House Aldamar would never stand for such a hostile posture. Your Houses would be at war in a single beat of a dragon's wing. I propose you allow the Elani to mount a rescue mission. We will do this only under the condition that both Houses will maintain peace while we search for the Princess and find the people responsible for this crime.”
Nourin thought for a few moments, one finger absently stroking her jawline. “If you can convince House Aldamar to agree to this, House Dy'udh will consider this an acceptable compromise, so long as Her Highness is returned to us safely.”
Tirius stood military-straight, chin lifted high. “I will speak for House Aldamar as one of its sons. We will agree to those terms. We are not guilty. We will clear our name, and find the ones who are truly responsible. If the Princess is harmed, the Fest'ari will pay with ten thousand lives.”
The ambassador narrowed her eyes and stepped closer to Tirius. With quiet menace she said, “If the Princess is harmed, it will be the Aldamars who pay with all their lives.” She turned back to Cirrid, her face a politician-neutral mask once more. “Elan'or, I will convey our agreement to Her Majesty. You have one month to return our Aelina to us.”
“Nourin, that is not nearly enough time to research the situation, infiltrate the Fest'ari, and mount a rescue operation, and you know it,” Cirrid said.
“The Elani are more than talented enough to accomplish just that. I will see you in one month at the latest, Cirrid, but hopefully sooner with good news.” Nourin's robes swirled and swept the floor as she turned and walked out of the amphitheater, guards in tow. The door echoed shut through the meeting chamber. Angry conversation erupted in the room.
Tirius turned to Cirrid. “Elan'or, I request assignment to the rescue mission. I must clear the Aldamar name before this erupts into war.”
“Granted, though that may play into whatever Nourin is scheming.” Cirrid looked at his training leader. “Seann, who are you assigning as Jailyn's mentor?”
Seann rubbed his chin. “I was thinking of Andris, but in view of Ambassador Nourin's visit, I think someone with more familiarity with the Dy'udh...mindset might be more appropriate.”
“Jory doesn't have a kor-inu currently, does he?” Cirrid asked.
Seann grinned. “No, he doesn't. I think it's time he took on another one, don't you?”
“Oh, it's definitely time.”
“What if he sends her back like he's done with twelve other kor-inu?” Maedleigh asked.
“He won't. Anyone who can bond a dragon with no preparation will have no problem being his kor-inu,” Cirrid smiled, satisfied.
The Elani leader searched through the crowd of warriors that was milling around, then pointed to one and waved him over once he got the man's attention. The dark gray-haired man pointed to himself with a questioning look on his face. Cirrid nodded, and the short fighter made his way down the stairs with a hint of a limp. His wind-weathered face was a dark tan from the sun. The bright gleam in his deep brown eyes escaped from under unruly gray eyebrows.
“You wanted me, Elan'or?” the older man asked.
“I need you for a little project, Jory,” Cirrid said.
Jory's eyes lit up, and his face creased into a wide smile. “If it's anything remotely related to giving Nourin what she deserves, I'm in.”
“I'm assigning you as Jailyn's raik-inu. She needs a good mentor.”
“Well, thank God you're wise enough not to assign her a bad mentor. We hardly need any more idiot kor-inus flying around and getting themselves killed.”
Jailyn coughed back her laugh. I think I like him already, Ta'lith'ra.
He is sassy, just like his dragon
, Ta'lith'ra said.
Jory continued, “So, do I get to do something constructive, or are we stuck doing kiddie stuff?”
Cirrid said, “I'm sending several teams out to search for Aelina. I'm assigning Tirius and Jailyn to your team.”
“Oh, good. Let me get this straight. You're sending me into Rat-land with a hot-head and a new-bond, you want me to rescue a princess, and then make it back here with all of us in one piece.”
“Preferably unharmed, too.”
Jory rolled his eyes. “A beer-addled bard couldn't make this stuff up. This is going to be impossible”
Cirrid clasped Jory's shoulder. “Why do you think I'm assigning you to the job, my old friend?”
“Because I'm too crazy to say no to you, Cirrid, and you know it,” Jory said. He waved for Jailyn and Tirius to join him. “Get your gear together. We're heading out. Jailyn, I'm your raik-inu, you're my kor-inu, I'm not into flowery speeches and ceremonies about this like some of the other Elani are. You're going to get training on the fly rather than here at the fort. We'll see just how much you managed to learn from your brother. Listen to me and you'll be just fine. If you don't do what I say, I'll send you flying right back to Cirrid, here.”
Jailyn nodded once in agreement.
“Good, you're making an excellent start,” Jory said. He looked up at Tirius. “Boy, you've got a lot to learn. Should have kept your mouth shut when Nourin was speaking. You need to learn that throwing flames at a forest fire doesn't do squat except make it burn hotter. I was waiting for her to say a kernel of something useful in the middle of all that pseudo-diplomatic dragon-doo. You played right into her hands. I suppose if you're going to get used, though, at least you can console yourself with the fact that you got used by a master manipulator.”
Tirius flushed bright red, but said nothing.
They rushed to get travel packs ready, and Jory double checked to make sure Jailyn properly placed Ta'lith'ra's battle-harness. He pronounced it adequate, and showed her a few adjustments to make the fit perfect.
When they had all mounted their dragons, Jory said, “All right, my young friends, we're going to Shigallin.”
Tirius said, “Shigallin isn't in Fest'ari lands.”
“Tirius, I'm old, but I'm not senile. I know Shigallin isn't in Fest'ari lands. We're going there to meet up with a friend of mine who has information that we can't get through more...regular channels, one might say. Plus he has the finest radabeast steaks.” Jory closed his eyes, licked his lips, and rubbed his belly. He opened his eyes up. “Well, what are you waiting for?”
“Your signal, Jory,” Jailyn said.
“Oh, right. Let's go!”
Tirius' blue and Jailyn's white followed Jory's amethyst dragon into the cloudless sky. They banked on wingtips, then arrowed north.