Marcus grimaced, “I appreciate you respecting their dignity and trying to do the right thing, but you might want to bear in mind that none of them can keep a secret to save themselves.”
“So if we were to have a little chat, it’ll be all over the castle.”
“Before lunch. It’s another reason every one of them would be useless in any sort of position of responsibility.”
“I still feel it would be a good idea to meet with each of them individually, get a feel for them and how they’re likely to react to tomorrow night.”
“Maybe ask for their advice on dealing with your dragon since you’re so new to it.”
Sariya eyed him as if he’d grown a second head.
“I wasn’t suggesting you take their advice, just see what they think of them and how they interact.”
“You could hint to the fact you can talk to me and wonder why they can’t do the same with their dragons.“
Sariya looked up. Sure enough, all five dragons had found vantage points in high spots around the room.
“Good idea Mav, let’s lull them with Sariya’s inexperience, then she can give that rug underneath them a nice tug before we pull it out completely tomorrow night.”
“You’re awfully vindictive given most of them aren’t that bad.”
“I’ve been putting up with them for most of my life and I refuse to ransom the future of my kingdom to any of them or their avaricious supporters.”
Sariya pulled him into a hug, “Well you don’t need to so cheer up. We’ll get this out of the way, then gear up and head off to your mountain first thing the next day.”
Marcus sighed, but agreed and they retired to bed.
The next morning, Sariya called a tactical meeting with Moira and Samuel.
“I want to meet with each of the fluffies and their paired dragon, individually, this morning. How can I pull it off and what order should I be inviting them in?”
Moira thought it over, “With most of them, just an invitation to tea will be enough. Maybe start with Lady Aureliana, and promise rose biscuits, she loves them. Then Lady Genevieve, her parents won’t want any of the others getting ahead, so they’ll prod her into coming along.”
Samuel nodded, “Then Lady Penelope for much the same reason. But Lady Rosarina…”
Sariya grinned evilly, “I’m not going to invite Lady Rosarina, which pretty much guarantees she’ll show up.”
Moira chuckled, “Whereas if you did send an invitation, she’d snub it. Very nice thinking milady.”
“Well, then, I supposed we’d better send out the invitations and order the rose biscuits. Samuel would you be so kind as to be my herald? Pressing a guard into service underlines my lack of knowledge but also frees up Moira to sort out the refreshments without having to be in two places at once.”
“I’d be delighted milady.”
Sariya smiled gratefully and the two headed off on their various missions.
It was a bare fifteen minutes later when Lady Aureliana was ushered through the door, Rory in docile attendance.
After polite nothings and tea and biscuits from Moira, Sariya got down to business.
“I can’t thank you enough for dropping by this morning when we have such an important even this evening.”
“Oh it’s fine, mother says I shouldn’t start getting ready too early because when I do I end up crushing my frills and then she gets upset.”
Sariya coughed, “Oh yes, well I can understand. Crushed frills are not a good idea for a ball.”
“And so we can have a lovely chat and I’ll still have lots of time for my dress.”
“Oh good. Because you know I asked you here to see if you could give me a little advice.”
Lady Aureliana’s eyes rounded, this was clearly a novel request.
“You see I’m new here, and we do things differently where I’m from. We don’t have dragons for example.”
Lady Aureliana bounced, “Oh yes and aren’t they the cutest little pets. If only my Pretty Flutterby would let me put ribbons on her. I’m sure she’s a her, I couldn’t have a male pet after all. But it does make life a little difficult as I’m supposed to match with her for the ball tonight and her colours simply don’t go with my favourite dresses. Mother’s had to have three new ones made.”
“Well of course, and thankfully my dress will go quite nicely with Mav’s colouring.”
“Oh how lucky, she’s even harder to match than Pretty.”
“If she calls me ‘ she’ one more time I’m going to put my claws through all three of those new dresses. Dragons are above gender and do not appreciate being boxed up like that.”
Mav sat up and batted their eyes at Sariya, “What colour is your dress anyway?“
“It’s a surprise, now shush.”
“Oh, did you say something?”
“I’m sorry, Mav just wanted to know what colour my dress was and I’m trying to keep it a little bit of a secret.”
“Oh that’s so sweet, I like to pretend my kitty talks to me, Pretty isn’t interested enough.”
Sariya gave her a concerned look so obvious even Aureliana picked it up.
“Lady Aureliana, I’m not pretending. Part of my link as a dragon-bound is being able to communicate with my dragon. Their majesties confirmed it as a normal part of the bond last night.”
Aureliana paled, “Oh my, look at the time, I really must be getting ready. So lovely to chat.”
With that, she was out of her chair and scurrying down the hallway, calling for her mother.
Sariya smiled at Moira, who picked up the largely untouched tea things and prepared for a quick switch.
A few moments later, Lady Genevieve wandered into the room. The scenario played out in a very similar fashion, although Sariya was able to be a touch more subtle in her reactions.
Lady Penelope was a slightly harder prospect. For all her timidity she was intelligent enough to question Sariya’s claims, and Sariya needed some way of proving their truth.
She managed it with surprising ease, having Mav read a section from a book Lady Penelope was holding. Saryia then repeated the words. Lady Penelope paled like the other two but didn’t jump and run. Instead she slumped in her chair.
“I’ve failed again haven’t I.”
“What do you mean?”
“I always wondered, Glint never seemed terribly interested in spending time with me and we’re meant to be paired. I wondered right at the start, and then seeing the way you interact with Mav last night and this morning. I’m not bonded.”
Sariya groped for words.
Penelope looked at her appealingly, “Please don’t tell anyone, at least not until I’m able to find a nice person to hand Glint onto, I’d hate to see him or her go to another like Rosarina.”
Sariya smiled weakly, only the assurances of both dragons that the truth at this stage would be disastrous kept her quiet. She simply agreed and tried to offer comfort.
Eventually Penelope was able to summon a wobbly smile and resolved to go dragon-friend hunting immediately.
“Maybe a little research first, you know, make a list and put some sort of criteria against the type of person you’d like to find.”
The smile strengthened a little, “That’s a good idea, I will, thank you.”
The door closed behind her. Sariya wasn’t even able to collect her breath before it flung open before a venomous Lady Rosarina.