“Sinta helped me a little,” Ruzi admitted as he handed Ann the parchment.
Ann nodded. “I know.” Sinta had proofread it and showed him a few grammatical mistakes. She didn’t tell him what to say. This petition was Ruzi’s own words.
“Do you have a mirror so I can scry you if the elders want to talk with you?”
Ruzi nodded and patted his pocket. “Will they really want to talk with me?”
Ann shrugged. “They might.”
“I’ll miss you,” Cari said.
“I’ll miss you too, baby.” Ann hugged her.
“You come back in three days.” Cari held up her fingers.
“I’ll try. It may take longer.”
“You flash back,” the girl insisted.
Ann smiled at the reference. Remmy had started calling transporting ‘flashing’ when he was little since he couldn’t remember the longer word and there was always a flash of light. He had taught his nieces and nephews the term.
“Maybe I can do that.” She nodded and hugged her again.
“I’ll scry you two,” she told Andy. He nodded and kissed her. This was the longest they’d be away from each other since they’d been married.
“Do you have the ring for dampening magic?” He asked.
She nodded. “And my knives if it fails.” She developed a habit of casting lightning bolts at the nightmares that plagued her all her life. When she ran away from home, she’d used a couple of knives as lightning rods until someone had given her real ones. The palace had been fitted with several when she returned home, but she still used the knives when she traveled.
She hugged them each again and transported to Resdelk. She found Captain Miklin waiting for her. He was to be her bodyguard. Ann had misgivings about him being the one to do it. His features resembled a half-elf enough that assassins had been sent after him. She didn’t know if that would bias the elders against them or if it would help them keep an open mind. But he spoke Elvish and had grown up near the border so he was familiar with elven tradition. She contented herself that he wouldn’t be part of the negotiation, just an observer. She then transported them up to Erilu.
“Princess,” Vor greeted her.
“Your highness.” She nodded. Both smiled at the silliness. When they first met she was a homeless runaway, struggling to free herself from Drepal’s control and he was a bartender at an inn called the Dragon’s Wine.
Deyama rolled her eyes.
“The elders are quite intrigued with the foster homes and your school. One even suggested doing a similar competition with the Elven children challenging the Menthanlan ones. He even talked about including the Baj-tisk and Grywell.”
“Grywell doesn’t have schools,” Ann reminded her.
She nodded. “I know.”
“And what about the half-elves?”
“Half-elves? There’s more than one?” Deyama frowned. It was one thing for her to overlook Ruzi, but several could cause a problem.
“Well, Pt’this’s kids look half-elven, and so do a few in Baj-tisk.”
“There’s no law about how kids look. There had been dragons in past that looked half-elven. The high council made a point to let Arlin know they wouldn’t tolerate any persecution of their people based on how their alternate form looked. I don’t think even people like Pisha’s family would want to risk the retaliation if they went after a dragon.”
“Good. Then maybe we can arrange something. I’ll talk with the dragons’ emissary when he gets back.”
“Is Nim visiting Jo’s folks?”
Ann nodded. “It’s a festival day there.”
Deyama frowned. “I’m taking you away from Andy’s family on a festival?”
Ann shook her head. “The actual day was yesterday. We went for a bit. People tend to drag out celebrations there.”
“Good. Family is important and so is tradition.”
Ann raised an eyebrow. “I thought you were a progressive.”
Deyama smiled. “I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate traditions. It just means I’m not dogmatic about them. We shouldn’t keep a tradition just to keep it if it’s lost its meaning. And we should start new traditions if they benefit us.
“You know we don’t have an inn here in the capital. Emissary Rin said you can stay with her while you’re here.”
“I appreciate that.” Ann smiled. “Is she here currently?”
Deyama nodded. “She just returned from Baj-tisk. The high council is interested in the school and homes too.”
Rin was the Dragon High Council’s emissary to the elves. Like Nim, she was originally chosen during the battle against Lyra to be an aide in communication and later was assigned to be a liaison. She was the one outsider to live in the capital in 500 years.”
“Come, the elders are waiting.” Deyama led Ann to the meeting house.
Ann answered questions similar to the ones Deyama had asked.
“So, what about these parents?” One asked. “They get away with what they’re doing?”
“Sometimes,” Ann admitted. “Sometimes the kids are too scared to tell us who their parents are. Sometimes there isn’t enough proof for an arrest. But some end up in prison, and some we work with try to improve things.
“One girl’s mother had been too young when she got pregnant and had limited skills. That’s why we started vocational training.
“When I was a runaway, even though I could read and write and do sums, I had no practical skills so I struggled to find work. My magic and ability to defend myself helped. I was hired as muscle at an inn. The innkeeper taught me bookkeeping, which allowed me to get a second job.”
“Did you say the only job you could get was muscle?” One of the elders asked. “As a child?”
“It’s true,” Vor confirmed. “It was at the inn where I tended bar. The owner tended to hire those you’d least expect, especially for muscle.”
“How do these homes vary from orphanages, aside from the kids not being orphans, of course?”
“Our orphanages are large places that house many kids. There are three or four keepers in charge of sometimes up to fifty kids. The children’s basic needs are met. They’re fed, clothed, healed, and hopefully kept out of trouble. But there’s little by way of love or education, even the basics kids need to get by, like cooking or sewing or lighting a fire.
“The foster homes are families for the kids. They’re learning how to be a part of a family and what a home life can be like. They learn to care for their own families when they come of age.”
“What about kids that do go back home? What guarantee is there that they won’t have more problems?”
“We keep in touch with the kids. The foster families are a bunch of dragons after all. Once you’re family, you’ll always be family. Most of those that go back home do fine. There have been a few who’ve come back. And there have been some who reconciled with their parents but chose to live at the home.”
“Why would they do that?” Rin asked.
Ann hesitated. Deyama had asked her not to discuss Lamdi.
“There was a boy who’d never known his mom. His dad was a drunk. They never had a home or stayed in one town long. The boy thought he could do better on his own. He did, but not by much. He was arrested for stealing, but Remtani decided to bring him to the home rather than put him in prison. He struggled for a bit at first. He wasn’t used to having rules or responsibilities. But eventually, he thrived. He decided he wanted to find both his parents. His dad had quit drinking but had other problems. His mom didn’t want anything to do with him. She wouldn’t even acknowledge he was her son. He could’ve stayed with his dad, but he felt he had a better family at the home. He cares a great deal about the place and has brought in several runaways, including my little brother.”
“Ruzi?” The elder frowned.
“Yes,” Ann said. “And like Ruzi, there have been others who only have one parent who got sick or injured, and couldn’t care for their children and they stayed temporarily.”
The elder raised an eyebrow. “Other half-elves?”
“The children are human, though one appears to have some immortal blood.”
“You will tell us if you find more half-elves,” the elder insisted.
“We’ll see. I respect your laws, but I worry about what my sister might do. Her dragon blood is strong when it comes to protecting children. You all know what she was like, the things she would do. But she wouldn’t hurt a young runaway girl, but rather risked her own life to protect her instead.”
“We’ve been rethinking the death penalty on this,” another elder assured her. “There are, after all, other elves in the world besides Erulian. It wouldn’t do for us to assassinate the son of a prominent foreign elf. We’re discussing possible banishment instead.”
Ann nodded as she saw her opening. Vor indicated it would be a good time too.
“So you would work with foreign half-elves?” Ann asked.
The elder nodded.
“And if one brought you a petition, you would at least hear it?”
The elder hesitated, seeing where this was going.
“We’d hear it,” Deyama said.
“You have such a petition, I take it?” Another elder guessed. “Read it.”
“To the Elven Council of Elders and Deyama, Queen of the elves, I thank you for hearing my petition as I know I am less of a being in your laws.
“My petition is twofold. I would like to request healing for my mother, Pisha tre Vobro. She has been denied help for ten years at the wishes of her family, however only part of her family doesn’t want her to be healed. As her son, I want her helped. Her cousin Sinta also wants her healed. Has anyone contacted her mother to see what she wants?
“Right now, her brother is denying her healing as a punishment, we assume, for having me. But according to elven law, there are reasons she might not be punished. Since we know nothing about my father, we cannot make that determination. All she ever told me was he wasn’t who she thought he was. It was clear she did not like him at the time. We don’t know what happened. We haven’t been given the chance to ask.
“The second part of the petition is if you choose not to heal her, allow one of the palace healers in Sen-gan to contact her. One of the treaty laws states that even Erilu would allow cures to illnesses to be given. A citizen is going blind, and Pisha has the key to the cure. By keeping all healers away from her, you are preventing them from getting what they need to heal this person.
“Thank you again for your time, Ruzi tre Vobro ton Thailyn.”
Ann finished reading and looked up.
“What is this cure only Pisha has?” an elder asked.
“It’s not the cure that she has, but a portion of it and knowledge of where to find more,” Ann said.
“What could a coma patient have after ten years that no one else has?” The elder asked.
“Herself. The person going blind is Ruzi. Thailyn’s been healing him, but the damage is extensive. His sight is getting worse. I’m not a healer so I can’t give you details. Thailyn has a way to extract a minuscule amount of fluid from the eyes. It’s harmless to the person. He can combine the fluid from both parents to make a potion to heal Ruzi’s eyes. But he’ll need to have physical contact with Pisha and be able to communicate with her to find out who Ruzi’s birth father is so we can get his eye fluid too.”
“I think this is a ploy to get a healer near her,” one elder claimed. “Sinta and Shunati have been trying to get her healed for years.”
“It’s not a ploy,” Deyama said. “I saw the boy’s eyes myself. He was at Jaidu’s and Remtani’s wedding. I thought he’d been drinking. The next day, I saw him again. They were noticeably worse and while he was trying to hide it, he could barely see.”
“And that law is part of the treaty law with Baj-tisk,” Rin added.
“The boy’s not Baj-tisk,” one elder protested.
Rin growled. “No, but his sister is. And Bob can do the extraction. Almost any healer can contact her.”
“What happened to the boy’s eyes again?” Another elder asked.
“Pisha put a potion in his eyes to make them look human. It’s only supposed to be used short-term, but because she was beaten, she wasn’t able to give him the antidote,” Ann explained. “Without this potion, the damage is irreversible.”
“The great healer Thailyn can’t heal them?” One mocked.
“Even Thailyn needs tools sometimes,” Ann explained. “And the tool is being kept from him.”
“Would it be possible for another healer to check the boy?” An elder requested.
“After Shunati and Sinta were both attacked by Pisha’s brothers, no one feels safe bringing Ruzi to Erilu,” Ann said flatly. “And personally, I’m not sure I’d trust any healer you choose not to harm the boy.”
“Shunati is a recognized healer and he’s confirmed Thailyn’s diagnosis,” Deyama pointed out. “Besides, Ruzi’s an unreadable.”
“Can we talk with the boy?”
“He’s in class at the moment. He may not be able to talk for long,” Ann warned them.
“We don’t want to interrupt class. You said he only has class every other day?”
“He goes to the college on his days off. Evenings or late afternoons would be best.”
“Thank you.” An elder nodded. “We’ll discuss his requests.”
Ann curtsied and turned to go.
“Princess, before you go, a quick question about the petition,” another elder ventured.
Ann turned back. “Yes?”
“Who actually wrote it?”
Ann nodded. “Sinta proofread it, but it’s in his own words.”
“She translated it for him?”
“No, he used Erulian. This is his handwriting.” She handed the petition to the elder. He looked at it and passed it around.
“Pisha taught him Elven?”
Ann shook her head. “Sinta, Shunati, and Nim have been working with him and Thailyn. Thailyn feels it’s important he learn about elves and Erilu.”
The elder nodded. “Thank you.”
Ann curtsied again and this time was allowed to leave.