Luthe looked at her thoughtfully, cradling it in his hand. “If you bound it into your Damarian Crown, it would make whoever wore it invincible.”
Aerin shook her head violently. “And be forever indebted to the memory of Maur? Damar can do without.”
“You don’t know what you’re saying. A dragon’s bloodstone is not for good or wickedness; it just is. And it is a thing of great power, for it is its dragon’s death—unlike its skull, which your folk treated like a harmless artifact. The bloodstone is the real trophy, the prize worth the winning; worth almost any winning. You’re letting your own experience color your answer.”
“Yes, I am letting my own experience color my answer, which is what experience is for.”
She had been climbing forever; she would be climbing forever. She would be a new god: the God That Climbs. It was no more improbable than some of the other gods: the God That Isn’t There, for example (more often known as the God That Follows or the God That Goes Before), which was the shadow-god at midday.
Luthe snorted with laughter, tried to turn it into a cough, inhaled at the wrong moment, and then really did cough. “Truly,” he said at last, “the poor surka can be a useful tool. You cannot blame it for the misfortunes of your childhood. If you try to breathe water, you will not turn into a fish, you will drown; but water is still good to drink.”
“If it was so important, and the Black Dragon, even in death, so insidious, why did you not come and fetch me?”
There was a little pause, and Luthe smiled faintly. “I shan’t try to bully you again.”
“You have not answered my question.”
“I don’t wish to answer it.”
She could not help herself, and she laughed: he sounded so much like a sulky child. And her laugh rang out, clear and free, as it had not done since she had first heard the name of Maur.
Maur’s ugly black skull had been hung high on the wall of the great hall, whose ceilings were three stories tall. It had been placed there by some other direction, for she had had nothing to do with it, nor would have wanted it there had she been asked. Even in the great hall it was huge; she looked at it, and it she could see clearly, and it leered at her. I am the shape of their fear, it said, for you dared to slay me.
I am the shape of their fear, the thing said.
But I am lame and crippled from our meeting, she replied; I am human like them, for I was sorely wounded.
The thing laughed; the laugh came as a ripple of heavy silence that muffled the uncertain conversation in the hall; but only Aerin heard.
She thought: If this mess really worked, everyone would know of it; they would all use it for dragon-hunting, and would have been using it all along, and dragons would no longer be a risk—and that book would be studied and not left to gather dust. It is foolish to think I have discovered something everyone before me had overlooked. She bowed her head over her burnt twig, and several hot tears slipped down her face onto her page of calculations.
Aerin was not a particularly clumsy young woman, but she was by now so convinced of her lack of coordination that she still broke things occasionally out of sheer dread.
She smiled wryly as Alanna jumped. There were advantages to being a legend; people seldom noticed the obvious when dealing with a legend.
Her grave expression never altered as she left. Very likely she was examining the request for subtleties. Cadsuane preferred to be direct, when possible. She had tripped up any number of clever people who had not believed she meant exactly what she said.
He dismissed his own thinking as slow, when those slow, considering thoughts saw so deeply that she had to dance a merry jig to keep any secrets at all.