Not that Elina Shestakova noticed any of that. She was still chewing . . . and staring at the wall behind Dagmar’s head.
“But,” the woman continued on, “change is good. Without change comes age and death. We, as a species, cannot have that. We need new blood. Even if it is dragon blood, which according to our Elders is the most evil of all blood. But I am not sure I believe that after meeting Bram the Merciful. Would have still believed that if I had only met the dolt.”
Annwyl leaned back, smiling. “See? You really have to wait for her to finish her thought.”
Elina lifted a puppy off the floor. She liked dogs. They were like small horses you could not ride.
“Your paws are huge,” she told the pup, their noses touching. “Like big shovels. Maybe you will be horse one day.”
“Dagmar breeds those dogs for battle.” The Dolt sat down beside her. The other members of the household had finished eating and were now off in different corners of the Great Hall, chatting or wandering outside to enjoy the night. “Do you like dogs?” he asked.
“You want to eat him,” Elina accused.
“No.” He patted his stomach. “I’m full.”
“What do you want, dragon?” she asked, already annoyed by him. She just wanted to play with the puppy. To spend one night enjoying the decadence of these Southlanders. Without guilt. Without worry. Without feeling like a failure to her people.
“We got off on the wrong claw.”
“I’m sorry I left you—”
He barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes. Rude bastard. “I didn’t leave you to die. If I wanted to do that, I could have left you staked out on top of Devenallt Mountain. Eventually someone would have gotten a little hungry.” He let out a breath. “We’ve got a rather long trip ahead of us, and I think we should start over.”
“There is no starting over. It is what it is.” She stood up, the puppy in her arms. “We tolerate each other because I owe your queen for her kindness to me. I’ll put up with you because of her. But that is all. We will not be friends. We will not get along. We may have sex, but it will be cold and impersonal. Just something to pass time during long nights. So do not come to me with your wrong claws. I have no use for your wrong claws.”
Feeling that they now understood each other, Elina cuddled the sleeping puppy closer and followed a servant up to a room. A room she would not have to share with anyone.
Celyn didn’t know how long he had been sitting there, staring at the wall.
“What happened?” Brannie asked as she sat down next to him. Izzy sat on the table, her long legs hanging over the edge. And Éibhear sat between him and Izzy.
“I’m not really sure,” Celyn admitted.
“What did she say?” Éibhear asked.
“She basically said . . . she does not like me. We would not be friends. And if we had sex, it would be only because she was bored. Long nights and all.”
“The suns are setting earlier,” Éibhear noted.
Celyn gazed at his cousin, but he had nothing to say to him. Because as book smart as the blue dragon was, as battle-ready . . . he could be kind of stupid.
“Are you going to be okay doing this?” Brannie asked.
“Maybe Brannie and I should come with you?” Izzy offered.
“Why not me?” Éibhear asked.
“That’s a good idea,” Brannie snorted. “Bringing a berserker Mì-runach along for a goodwill trip. Maybe you could decimate a few of the tribes to show them how much we care.”
Éibhear glared at his cousin. “Or you could have just said it wasn’t necessary for me to come.”
“Could have.” Brannie shrugged. “Didn’t.”
“You know what we need?” Izzy cut in before a fight could break out. “Information.”
Izzy looked over her shoulder at the back hallway and made a soft whistling sound between her teeth. Frederik, walking along with his head in a book and one of Dagmar’s dogs at his side, stopped and glanced over. He pointed at himself, seemingly surprised by the sudden attention, and Izzy rolled her eyes. “Yes, you.”
“Oh.” He closed the book and walked over to the table. “What is it?”
“We need information.”
“The people of the Steppes. We can’t just send our dear Celyn out there alone with no information.”
“Well, we can—” Éibhear began, but Izzy cut him off by placing her hand over his face.
“Have anything for us, dear Frederik?”
“Not really. I just started doing some research since the decision was made to make an alliance with the Daughters of the Steppes. But,” he quickly added, “I do know someone who can help us. I’ll be right back.”
As he quickly walked away, the dog dutifully following, Izzy and Brannie leaned over a bit to get a better look at the young man from behind.
“He’s filling out quite nice, yeah, Iz?”
“You are aware I’m sitting right here?” Éibhear snapped.
“I’m just looking,” Izzy shot back. “Not licking.”
“Besides,” both females said together, “he’s Frederik.”