By the next morning when the Council meeting resumed, Sean had relegated the memories of the conversation he had observed the previous night to the back of his mind. He had managed to get some sleep the night before, and everyone rose early to partake of the sumptuous breakfast served in their room by silent spirits. Everyone, that was, except Gabriel, who had already left the room by the time the others arose. Either that or he had never returned last night. He’d left a note telling them that he would meet them back at their box but that he had things to attend to. Sean wondered what they were but didn’t ask.

No one talked much during breakfast, and after they were finished they headed off together to the council chamber. As they made their way down the last hallway Sean felt a hand on his back and turned to see Kestrel next to him. She smiled encouragingly. “It’s going to be all right,” she said. “We just have to keep believing that.”

Sean nodded but didn’t reply.

The dragons arrived as they had yesterday: silently and efficiently moving into the hall and taking their seats without discussion—at least without verbal discussion. Sean wondered idly as he watched them settle into their seats whether he would be able to communicate mentally when (or if, a little part of his mind reminded him) he was given back his dragonkin powers. It would be useful to be able to talk without being overheard, but then again it might be annoying to listen to people’s thoughts all the time. He was sure they could block such things out, but they were dragons. He was just a confused 18-year-old kid who’d have to relearn many of the things he’d taken for granted all his life. That was, if they let him live at all.

He looked across the hall and noticed that Minhailreth was there, clad in an elegant but businesslike silk dress. Once again she was watching Gabriel, but when she noticed Sean, her gaze moved to him. She smiled. She knows, he thought desperately. She knows I was there. She knows I heard them. But she gave no indication of it beyond the smile, which was warm and reassuring. Sean forced a smile in return and looked away shyly; when he glanced at her again she was back to watching Gabriel. He was afraid to look at his father to see if he was watching her, so instead he checked to see if Neferet and Uneki were in their places yet. They were. Apparently dragons didn’t show up late for important functions.

Lofwyr was taking his position at the front of the hall. He didn’t speak, but as one all the dragons turned to him. “Welcome, honored Council members,” he said when he had their attention. “We shall now continue what was begun yesterday. Who wishes to be the first to speak?”

To Sean’s surprise, Neferet herself rose. “Honored Chair, I request permission to be the first.”

Lofwyr inclined his head. “The Lady Neferet is recognized,” he said, stepping back into the shadows.

Neferet did not go to the podium, but instead made her way gracefully to the floor and moved around the large area as she spoke. Uneki stayed where he was, Sean noticed.

“Honored Council,” she began, her deep, cultured tones ringing out over the assembled group, “As you know I have chosen to defend young Gethelwain from the accusations that have been laid against him. If you will permit me, I wish to take some of my allotted time to explain to you why I have chosen to do this, despite his obvious guilt.” She paused a moment, looking around, and then resumed. “There is no doubt in any of our minds that Gethelwain is indeed guilty of the creation of a dragonkin. Even he does not deny this, and as you can see his child sits with him now, awaiting your judgment as Gethelwain himself does. But we are intelligent beings—it is a reasonable statement that there are none more intelligent than we in this world—and I believe that as such we are capable of looking at more than mere actions and rather examining intent. These are not the days of old when these Laws were made, but a new age with new situations, new beliefs, and new requirements.” She looked over at Gabriel. “Gethelwain is a child of the previous Age, but only just barely. He was a child at the time he entered the Sleep; a child who, like all children, was shielded from many of the unpleasantnesses of life. This is a common practice: children of our people are expected to live long and have many experiences, so there is rarely a hurry to expose them to the affairs of adults. As the son of a Council Leader and one who was being groomed to be the next Leader himself he was perhaps privy to more of the adult world than another of his age might have been, but the fact remains that he was young and inexperienced when he entered his lair for the Sleep, and despite the fact that he is older now and has coped remarkably well with the trauma of Awakening in a new world with little support from his clan and his friends, I believe that most of you will agree that he has not had the benefit of the experiences that have shaped the lives of most of those present today.”

The red-haired woman who had spoken the previous day looked like she was going to say something, but Neferet silenced her with a look.

“I have not told you anything that you do not already know,” Neferet continued, “but all of this is merely a prelude to what I wish to speak of.” She looked around, her challenging golden gaze daring anyone to speak. When no one did, she went on: “I want to remind you all, because so far no one else has seen fit to do so, that were it not for this young one who has been accused of crimes against his people, many of us might not be here today—or if this is not true, certainly the world would not be as we know it. Have we so quickly forgotten what happened less than twenty years ago? It is a mere instance in our reckoning but yet none care to acknowledge it.”

Sean frowned, looking at Winterhawk because Gabriel and Kestrel were both leaning forward, thorougly fixed on Neferet’s words. “What’s she talking about?” he whispered.

“She’s good,” the mage murmured back. “It’s a long story, but I think she’s going to jolt a few arses with that.”

Apparently Winterhawk was right, because many of the assembled dragons, while still silent, nonetheless appeared—uncomfortable. It was hard to put one’s finger on exactly how this was true, but Sean could tell. Neferet’s words had caused more than a bit of squirming.

Neferet wasn’t letting up, either. “Many of you attended, as I did, a memorial then for Sildarath, Gethelwain’s elder brother, who, as Gethelwain himself came very close to doing, sacrificed himself to prevent the Enemy from completing a plan to bring no less than the Great Hunter himself across the Chasm and into our world.” Her gaze swept the group as they became even more uncomfortable. “The Great Hunter, honored guests. That which I will not name, that which did not appear in this world during the last Age, that which sought to imprison, torture, and corrupt those of our kind, to twist us to its own foul purposes—this young one and his brother, and, I might add, the humans you see here with him, faced nearly impossible odds and nearly certain death—or something far worse than death—to prevent this from happening. And,” she added, pausing for effect, “they succeeded. Against all of these odds, they succeeded. I will not take time now to tell you of the trials they were forced to endure as a result of these actions, the threats to their lives, their sanity, their souls—but suffice it to say that Gethelwain has paid a high price indeed for his sacrifice. I submit that in light of what he has done, the Council should see fit to consider mitigating circumstances that might not be factors in another such trial. While no one here, certainly not I and I suspect not even Gethelwain himself, would say that what he has done here is right or lawful, I believe that we as his people owe him much for what he has done in the past—enough, unquestionably, that he should be allowed his single youthful indiscretion without fear of losing both his child and his people.” She looked at Gabriel, whose head was bowed. “He has lost so much already—his clan, his brother, his mentor Telanwyr—and endured much more than any of us would ever ask one of his age to endure. I ask this Council for compassion, and for understanding.” Again she looked at Gabriel. “Gethelwain,” she said gently.

Gabriel raised his head. “Yes, Lady?” His voice was quiet and tired.

“Will you answer these questions for me, and know that the Council will be aware if you speak any but truth?”

He nodded. “Yes, Lady. Of course.” He rose, facing her.

“Was it your intent to create dragonkin?”

“No, Lady.”

“Were you aware that it was possible to conceive a dragonkin child when you chose to do what you did?”

There was a pause. “I was...aware that it was possible,” Gabriel said softly. “I thought...magical intervention was required in nearly all cases, though.” He paused again, then looked into her eyes. “But...the thought did not enter my mind at the time. It was not what I sought, and not the reason for—what I did.”

Neferet nodded as Kestrel put her hand on Gabriel’s arm. “If the Council chooses to be lenient with you, to forgo the prescribed punishment of banishment and to allow your son to live, do you intend to do this again? Will you seek to create more dragonkin?”

Gabriel looked stricken. “No, Lady. I will not.”

“How can the Council be certain that you speak truth?”

He drew himself up to his full height and met her eyes. When he spoke again, his voice was strong and clear. “I give my word, Lady. It will not happen again.”

There was a low murmur, almost subliminal, around the assembled group. Sean looked around in some surprise: at Gabriel’s words, the expressions of some of the dragons had changed. Not many of them, true, but he saw some of the faces go from stony blankness to a look of—understanding? Affirmation? It was hard to tell, but there was definitely a thaw there. He remembered the other times Gabriel had said that he gave his word on something; it had seemed to him at those times as well that this meant something beyond what he might have expected. He glanced at Kestrel questioningly.

“Dragons don’t go back on their word,” she whispered. “Ever. They might twist it around or make you believe they’ve agreed to something they didn’t, but once you nail them down that they will or won’t do something, that’s the way it is. It’s an honor thing.”

Sean nodded, oddly gratified by her words. Honor was something you didn’t often see these days, and it pleased him that his father shared it.

Lofwyr, as usual, showed no outward reaction to the events in the hall. He addressed Neferet: “Have you any more you wish to say?”

The elegant woman shook her head. “No, honored one. I believe that Gethelwain has said all that needs to be said. His words say to me that his transgression was only that—a mistake that will not be repeated.”

Lofwyr inclined his head in acknowledgement, then turned to the hall at large. “Are there any others who wish to speak?”

For a long moment there was silence. Then Sean was surprised to see the woman Gabriel had been talking with the previous night—Minhailreth—rise gracefully from her seat. “I wish to speak.”

“The Council recognizes Lady Minhailreth of the Celestial Long.”

Sean’s eyes widened. That sounded important. He glanced at Gabriel, but his eyes were locked once more on Minhailreth.

“I will speak only briefly,” Minhailreth was saying in her soft, musical voice. “I have only, in fact, met Gethelwain the previous night, although at the time of our meeting I found myself with the impression that we have known each other much longer. As I have seen him here these last few days, I see only admirable qualities: kindness, mercy, courage—I see that he is willing to do what he must do to protect his son, and I have great respect. Our clan values family highly, as do many of us—and we also value mercy and forgiveness. To destroy two lives—perhaps even three,” she added with a gentle glance at Kestrel “—to vindictively punish an error which the accused has given his word never to repeat, to remove a promising young one from our fold in these days when our numbers are diminishing—seems to me the height of folly. Perhaps my perspective is different than those of some of you, as the dragons of the East were not forced to contend with the trials that resulted in the creation of this Law, but perhaps a different perspective might prove of some value.” She paused, looking at Gabriel for a moment before once more addressing the Council. “Given what we have heard today, I submit that the only civilized response is mercy, and so that is what I ask of you.” She bowed and returned to her seat. This time she didn’t look at Gabriel, but instead dropped her gaze almost demurely.

Sean looked at Gabriel again. He hadn’t moved since she had begun speaking. The faces of the others hadn’t changed—those who had looked receptive still did, as did those who had looked hostile. Most of them were still neutral—too many of them. He was still worried.

Lofwyr’s gaze traveled around the hall. “If there is no one else who wishes to be heard, then let us adjourn until 0900 tomorrow morning, at which point the vote will be taken.”


Everyone looked around, and even those in the box were startled (perhaps even more than the others) to see that it was Kestrel who had spoken. She stood now facing Lofwyr, her gaze strong and unwavering even though she herself looked a bit surprised at what she had done.

Lofwyr’s expression did not change; he looked at Kestrel as if her spontaneous interruption had been included in the day’s script all along. “You wish to speak?”

Kestrel nodded. From the spot next to her Sean could see that she was shaking but trying hard to hide it. “Yes. Is it allowed?”

There was a faint muttering from the dragons, but Lofwyr silenced it with a look. “One of the things we seek to determine here is whether new times warrant new interpretations of old laws. I will permit you to speak, but I caution you to be brief. There are those here who do not agree with this decision.”

Again Kestrel nodded. She glanced at Sean and then at Gabriel, and then turned her attention back to the dragons and spoke. “Honored ones,” she said, “Before you make your judgment of Gabriel and of—our son—” her voice shook a little here “—I want you to know something else that nobody has told you yet. Gabriel won’t tell you because he wants to protect me, but I’m not going to let him protect me if it means that he’s going to be punished for something that wasn’t his fault. Not completely, anyway.” She began moving restlessly back and forth across the front of the box. Sean noticed that Gabriel’s eyes were locked on her, his expression hard to read.

“I don’t know how much dragons get together and swap stories,” she said, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if at least a few of you knew how Gabriel and I met. For those of you who don’t—he got into some trouble with his brother right after he Awakened, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time to help him out. I would have done the same for anyone, because I don’t like to see innocents die, but the fact is it was Gabriel I helped and because of this, he felt like he owed me some kind of debt. I told him he didn’t, but he insisted. We decided to stay together so I could teach him about the world and he could teach me about dragons. We became good friends.” She paused again, looking around. The dragons were all watching her, focused on her words. Sean could see she was shaking a little more than before. “Anyway, one of the things that happened shortly after this was that he showed me his human form. After that, aside from considering him my dearest friend, I began to feel an attraction for him in a more—basic way. I already loved him as a friend, and one night I—well, I asked him if we could take it further. He explained to me why that wasn’t a good idea, because of our differences and all, and we left it at that. I wasn’t happy about it, but that was the way it was. But at the time he did tell me that he still considered that he owed me a debt and that if I truly wanted it, he would go along with it. Back then I told him no, it was okay. If it wasn’t his wish, I certainly wasn’t going to force anything on him that he’d be uncomfortable with. We went on like before.”

She paused again and looked around, but this time she didn’t look at Gabriel. She didn’t look at Ocelot either, Sean noticed. After a moment she started up again: “Neferet has already told you about some of the things he and I and the rest of our group here went through—about what happened to Stefan, about the Hor—the Enemy, and how hard on us all it was. Well, what she didn’t tell you was that the night Gabriel and I—were together—it was my idea. I asked him to. I was upset and feeling lost and I loved him so much that night—he was feeling guilty about hurting me when he hadn’t been himself, and I wanted to show him what it felt like to be alive again. I brought up his promise that he would do it if I asked, and I asked. He was far too honorable to turn me down. I think he needed it too. If you weren’t there you have no idea what we felt like, what we’d been through—but the point of all this is: it was my idea and he went along with it because he gave me his word. So if there was any wrongdoing here, it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t ask me to do it. He didn’t even mention it. I asked him.” She looked beseechingly around at the sea of stonelike faces watching her. “I ask you, please, to keep this in mind when you decide. Don’t condemn Gabriel because of something a human did.” She took one last look at them, then sat back down, shaking.

It looked as if Gabriel might rise and say something then, but Lofwyr didn’t give him the chance. “Thank you,” he said, nodding to Kestrel. “Your words have been heard and no doubt will be taken into consideration.” He paused. “This Council meeting is adjourned until tomorrow morning at 0900. Please do not be late.”

Thanks to DeckerM for letting me borrow Minhailreth.

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