The inn was half empty and yet to fill with the lunchtime trade. Rell found a booth tucked away and sat in the corner without removing his coat despite the warmth of the roaring fire.
"Three coppers," the barman said as he dumped three wooden tankards and a jug of ale on the table. "I'll not have the trouble you caused last time so from now on you pay upfront."
"What trouble did I cause?" Rell asked indignantly before a scene of debauchery flashed before his eyes. "Oh, that."
"Yes, that." The barman narrowed his eyes at Rell. "I had to do the scrubbing."
"I apologise even though that wasn't my fault." Rell sunk a little deeper into his coat. "Ari's paying since this is her idea."
"Let me," Sabler said as he withdrew a coin and passed it over. The barman glanced at it approvingly and left the jug on the table.
"Thank you, Sabler. That's very kind of you." Ariella gave him another of her smiles before taking the pitcher and filling Sabler's mug first.
“Ariella just failed to become a dragon rider,” Rell said grumpily. Ariella’s angry glance gave him a little happiness but not enough to lift his mood.
“Is that so?” Sabler asked in surprise.
“It’s done with.” Ariella made to set the ale down but Rell snatched it from her and sloshed some into his mug. “If they don’t want me then I’m not interested. But tell me have you come from outside the valley?”
Rell sat back in his corner and took a slow sip as he watched Ariella over the rim. He knew her well enough to see the interest in her eyes but wasn't sure why she was bothering, Sabler was far from her type.
“I've travelled far, yes, but I'm only here for a short while before leaving once again.”
“Doing what? A merchant perhaps, selling grain or a travelling cobbler?”
“Does he look like a cobbler?” Rell said snidely.
“Perhaps you’d like to be off somewhere else, Rell? Barris might lend you his hammer so you can knock yourself over the head with it,” Ariella snapped.
“No, no I’m happy here,” Rell said and smiled at his sister.
“I’m a soldier,” Sabler said not noticing the sibling quarrel. “I heard of work in Talidar, so I decided to stop by the kingdom on my way.”
“A mercenary? Do you think I could do that? I’m good with a sword.” Ariella’s statement brought a snort from Rell. “Well, I can’t stay here. I’m not going to become an apprentice like you.”
“That’s not what I find so funny. You were obviously eavesdropping on the meeting with father so why pretend?” Rell closed his eyes and rested his head back against the corner of the booth.
“I did not, well a little but it’s your own fault. I'd come down to talk to father when I heard you all enter. I didn't know it was a private conversation,” Ariella said innocently.
“What did you hear?” Sabler fixed Ariella with his cold eyes but she met them calmly enough.
“Relax. All I heard was that you had dragons and that you’re forming an empire.” Ariella kept her voice barely above a whisper. The pub was almost empty but the crackling fire covered their conversation.
“We do,” Sabler said cautiously. “We have more than your father thinks.”
“If I come with you, will I get a chance to fly?” Ariella asked and Rell snapped awake, he looked around at the inn but saw no one watching them.
“Ariella,” Rell hissed.
“We only have so many, there are others that have served with Lady Mira since the beginning.”
“What if I was to bring my own?”
Rell’s jaw dropped, he wanted to reach across the table and slap her, but he found his arms unresponsive so instead, he just gawped and willed her to shut up.
“Your own? I was under the impression that your family no longer have any dragons.” Sabler looked to Rell for confirmation.
“That is exactly right, Sabler, we don’t and since they don’t just grow on trees my sister was obviously joking.” Rell gave a nervous laugh and raised his mug in mock salute to his sister.
“I’m doing this for you, Rell.” Ariella shot back.
“Oh really? Do I look like I want a noose around my neck? You may think I have a crummy life, but I happen to like it.”
“No, you don’t, you're just drunk all the time so you can’t remember how pitiful your existence really is.”
“That’s uncalled for, possibly true but uncalled for.” Rell took another drink to cover his annoyance. It was one thing for him to think he was a failure but another for his sister to say it. "I have plans."
“Could you get your hands on an egg?” Sabler asked ignoring the sulking Rell.
“I’ve given it some thought.”
“When? Sabler only just arrived. You can't decide on something that quick.” Rell was warming up and he tried unsuccessfully to shrug his coat off, but the shoulder was stuck. He battled with it while Sabler and Ariella continued talking.
“I know how to gain access to the vault. I’ve already thought about it but didn’t go through with it,” Ariella said.
“Why not?” Sabler asked.
“Where would I go? Until you arrived, I was unaware of any safe harbour where I wouldn't be chased by the eyrie. No king would give sanctuary to a rebel for fear of retribution.”
“Can we stop talking about this in the pub please?” Rell was redfaced and his usual barely contained anxiety was peaking. The front door opened and Rell popped his head above the table dividers to get a look. It was just an elderly couple coming in for an early lunch but Rell glared at them anyway. "Spies."
"Sit down, you fool." Ariella reached over the table and pulled at his sleeve. "You'll get us thrown out again."
“Ariella, I promise you that the Lady Mira would protect you. She can teach you many things including how to ride your own dragon.”
“This is crazy,” Rell said. He managed to get an arm free just in time to point at his sister. “What you're talking about is turning you back on all of this.”
“A family that doesn’t want me. A nation that has condemned me because of the choice of my father. I’ll be damned if I spend the rest of my life here. Rell, can’t you see that this would be an opportunity for both of us? I wouldn’t leave without you.” Ariella reached a hand across the table and looked softly at Rell, he, in turn, tried to sneer but he couldn’t be mad at her. He grumbled and cursed and picked his mug up and put it down. Her hand stayed where it was. Still grumbling he reached out and briefly tapped the back of her hand before withdrawing and clutching his mug.
“Okay then. Are you serious about your offer, Sabler?” Ariella asked.
“I am but I would make a change to your plan.”
“We don’t have a plan yet so ask away,” Rell said before draining his mug. He could feel his hangover resurfacing and rubbed his temples with his free hand.
“When the lady left, she was forced to leave behind many treasures, but one was of more importance. She has regretted its loss ever since.” Sabler paused as the door opened and a stocky man walked in but the newcomer made straight for the bar and struck up a conversation with the old couple. The light was low in the pub, with only candlelight on the tables and the odd lamp hanging from the ceiling. Confident that they weren't being observed Sabler turned back to the conversation. “Her dragon, Segarus, laid an egg before leaving the city. It was a union with a wise old dragon nearing its termination year and was meant to be the start of a new bloodline but instead, it languishes in the vaults.”
“Will it still be healthy after a decade? Won't it have rotted?” Rell asked but Ariella shook her head.
“Some have lasted a hundred years and more, slowly soaking up the volcano's magic all that time. In the vault, it could theoretically lay dormant for longer.”
“Oh, like wine then?” Rell said.
“Nothing like it.” Ariella rolled her eyes at her brother. “Sabler, do you know the name of the egg?”
“Segaren,” Sabler said.
Ariella thought upon it for a while and then took a drink before talking.
“It’s going to be further in but if I can get past the doors then it won't be a problem.”
“No problem she says, just going to break into the monastery and then get access to the caves below. Oh and then escape and flee over the mountains. I assume we’ll have to walk through the gates and then trudge over the mountains or are we going to fly? Have you seen the weather?” Rell shook his head and reached for the jug. "May as well just chop our own toes off and get it over and done with."
“I would meet you but only at the pass, there would be no point in all three of us risking capture in the city but once in the high places we can hide from the patrols and travel at night.”
“Is it far to your home?” Ariella asked.
“Three weeks, maybe more. We'll have to skirt the Chanet, but the road is well travelled and the marsh elves are wary of tackling with strangers. We three will pass quickly and I am known.”
“I think we should talk about this,” Rell said to his sister.
“Of course,” Sabler said glancing at the bar. “I have a room at the Crescent Inn. Do you know where that is?”
“By the third bridge. I know it and look I don’t know what father will agree to. He’s reluctant to do anything that interferes with his profits.”
“I delivered my lady’s offer, what more can I do? I will leave this city on the next full moon. If I do not hear from either of you before then I will assume that your father has no interest in my offer and that you have reconsidered your own plan.”
“I’m not changing my mind; I’m done with this city,” Ariella said and Sabler nodded in understanding.
“Until we talk again.” Sabler slid out from the booth, retrieved his coat and left the pub.
Rell and Ariella sat in silence for a while, Ariella lost in her scheming and Rell in his anger.
“I know you’re going to say it again so why don’t we just skip it? What is there here for you, Rell? What gets you out of bed in the morning? You aren’t meant to spend the rest of your life toiling under Kynon, he’ll make your life a misery and you're worth more than that. Think of it, an adventure, you could see the world, even visit the Jurati you’re always reading about. If you can give me a good reason not to do this then I won’t, I’ll forget about it.”
“One thing?” Rell hunched forward and lowered his voice to barely a whisper. “It’s treason and they kill people for that.” Satisfied with his argument he sat back and watched Ariella closely.
“Are you alive now?” Ariella asked and Rell snorted.
“My head is attached to my shoulders so yes I am very much alive.”