I recognized the Elders from Riverfork and Achelos, and nodded greetings to them. Their brows furrowed, bushy eyebrows growing closer above eyes as stony as those of the Hierarch. Only the Eldress of Dymrak showed any sort of favorable reaction, if you can call quirking a gap-toothed smile, only to hide it behind long-nailed fingers “favorable.” Her black eyes glittered, hungrily, it seemed, lingering on the bracelet and lead.
The crone sucked in a sharp breath when those eyes finally flicked towards the twins. Another smile crept across wrinkled lips, and she darted a sideways glance a the Hierarch.
“My apologies, Gregorev.” The woman’s words — she spoke in the Druid’s Speech — came out sounding like broken glass, her breath trailing a hitching wheeze that I presume was a laugh. “It would seem that legends do, indeed walk.”
“Children?” Elder Ivonov rose to his feet. “We discuss ill omens and events that could see an end to all the work we have done over the past thousand years, and you would interrupt that for… for these children?”
“The druid and his… sorceress I could forgive,” the Elder continued, “since we will be dealing with them shortly. But we have not come to consensus about the meaning of the missing star above the eastern mountains.“
“Ivan, before you say anything more,” the Hierarch said, not without the slightest of smiles, “you should know that the golden-eyed of the twins—”
“Is fluent in what you call the ‘Druid’s Speech,’” Aurora said.
Elder Ivonov’s eyes widened, but he did not sit back down. “Children should address their elders in the appropriate manner,” he said, biting off each word.
“Yes,” Aurora said, nodding. “Yes, they should. You may start by bowing.”
The Elder’s cheeks did color, then, but it was a flush of anger, not embarrassment.
“Before you dine further on your foot, Ivan,” the Hierarch said, before the other man could open his mouth, “Thorn, would you be so kind to introduce your companions to this Lesser Council?”
“My Lords, and Lady,” I said, bowing to each of the three Elders, “I introduce to you those with whom I have been traveling these past few months: Warrior in the tradition of the new generation of Karameikan, Varis, formerly of the Grand Duke’s army.” He stepped forward and gave a bow, then fell into the military parade stance.
“Beside him,” I continued, “Gilliam, of northern Thyatis.” He nodded towards the council members.
“The Servant of the Flame is Ana, of the Citadel in Sundsvall. We are all of us in her debt, as we would not have survived the troubles without her aid.”
“Flame shine upon you,” she murmured.
To my surprise, each of the Elders responded with a soft “And on you as well.”
“The weaver, Seraphina of Glantri, recently freed from captive service of the Iron Ring.”
“And taken of a new shepherd, it would seem,” Elder Ivonov growled.
“It was by necessity. My choice, not his!” Heat flared up my arm at Sera’s outburst.
“That will be discussed later,” the Hierarch said, silencing Ivonov with a look.
I waited for the girl’s anger to ease, and then gestured towards the twins. “My Lords, my Lady, I will have to allow these two to introduce themselves.”
Aurora glanced at her sister, and then took a step forward and away. “Elders, Eldress, Hierarch.” She nodded to each of them, then drew a deep breath. “I stand before you, Shrike of the Fourth Guard of the House Defender, attached to Colony Bellerophon, thirty-seventh iteration of the Progenitor’s fifth shard. I have been so named in this incarnation as Aurora, as was She who came before me.
“And this,” she continued, taking Silva’s hand, and pulling the girl to her side, “Is the Heiress of the Second Empire, Stewardess of Thonia, Conquerer of the Afridhi Rose of Dawn, Guardian of the First Throne of Stars. Rise, and bow before Princess Rowena Andahar of Blackmoor.”