They entered Normery two days later and reached the capital, Crasa, four days after that. It was a city not much larger than Domica, but where the walled city had been dark and covered in fog, Crasa had wide streets and air that smelled of freshwater. The buildings were tall and shaped in ways that gave Saenni pause.
'Normery has a good relationship with Ardling,' Meriall said as she followed Saenni's gaze. 'The elves helped build most of these. Quite the sight, aren't they?'
'They are certainly different,' Saenni nodded as she kept her eyes on the towering buildings.
The buildings were of varying sizes, some of them only two stories high and others reaching for the sky in intricate twists and turns, the stones that made up the structures shimmered with magic. Saenni took a deep breath, enjoying the very smell of magic in the air. It was different from the few cities in Trouver she had been to. Where their buildings had been low and sturdy, the ones she had seen in Normery so far were delicate and heavily reliant on magic–nothing that humans could construct on their own.
Looking closely at the buildings around her, Saenni could already see some of the older structures losing the magical properties. The shimmer around them wasn't quite as vibrant as the others. As good as the relationship they had with the elves, they were quite as reliant on them as well, no doubt.
Unlike the other stops in cities they had made, this time they didn't go to an inn. A large building towards the outskirt of the city, surrounded by a high fence blocking off access to the lavish garden surrounding it. The guards at the gate bowed and pulled it open for them without a word. As they approached the entrance door, it swung open and a finely dressed man stepped out to meet them.
'Lady Linette, Lord Armant, welcome back,' he said as they came to a halt, and clapped his hands twice. A few seconds later, two young boys appeared from a side door. 'Bring the horses to the stables and the bags to their rooms.'
'Yes, master,' the two boys said and bowed before taking the reins of the horses.
'Nell,' Linette said as the party stepped up to the door. 'This is Lady Saenni, she is our honourable guest. Make sure she's treated well. Is Elder Rowan in?'
'He is taking the air in the back garden. Shall I prepare tea?'
'Please,' she said with a nod. 'And we all could need a decent bath, so please prepare that as well.'
'Yes, my lady.'
'This way,' Linette said and led the way into the building.
The lobby was spacious and bright, with a large staircase following the wall to the right and a large opening leading further into the house. Paintings lined the walls and a lush rug covered most of the floor. The following rooms weren't any less extravagant either, Saenni noted.
Linette pushed open the glass door leading to the large veranda. 'Elder?'
A rattling cough echoed around them. 'Linette. Welcome back.'
Linette motioned for them to follow her to the single table put out, where an old man dressed in green robes sat, back hunched over and a piece of cloth pressed to his mouth as he coughed. 'Elder, we did it. I managed to summon the great dragon,' she said and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. 'This is Lady Saenni.'
He looked up and squinted to see her properly. 'Oh, do come closer and take a seat. I'm afraid I don't have the eyes I used to.' Saenni sat down where Linette indicated, just next to the old man. He nodded slowly. 'You don't look much like I imagined a dragon would.'
'I felt it better to take on an appearance that would let me move around freely.'
He nodded again. 'A wise choice, of course. I suspect you have questions for me, judging by that look on your face. Why don't the rest of you get some rest?'
'Elder–' Linette began, a frown on her face.
'Not today, little Linette,' he said. 'I will speak with Lady Saenni alone now.'
The blonde sighed. 'Yes, Elder.'
He waited until they were alone before he motioned towards the tea set. 'It's still warm if you'd like to try it. My favourite tea, grown out by the coast here in Normery. It's supposed to be good for longevity and health.'
'I'll try it, even if I might not require either,' Saenni said, smiling at his chuckle. 'You're a lot older than what Linette knows.'
'Indeed. My brotherhood, the one that hid Linette as a baby, used to have an Elder who knew how to prolong life. I was one of the few bestowed with this gift.'
'Linette said you were the last one from the brotherhood.'
'Yes. The Magi found us many years ago and, as they called it, purified the imbalance. I had been sent here to Crasa as a diplomatic envoy when it happened, it is the only reason I survived. It was around the time it became known that Linette was the chosen one, and she was kind enough to let me stay here.'
'This is her home?'
'It was officially gifted to her by the king of Normery some years ago, even if the people we gave her to used to own it when they were still alive. She hasn't stayed here much since she set out on her journey, of course, but officially this is her house, even if I'm the one who permanently lives here.'
'I see. How did you manage to keep her hidden from the Magi?'
'By using their own skills against them, magic among humans might be mostly limited to the Magi, but it wasn't always like that. I was born in a time before they were so,' he paused to cough, pressing the cloth to his mouth again. 'Excuse me. No matter how much of the tea I drink, there's no stopping time catching up. Where was I? Ah yes, before they were so fanatic. I have a little bit of magic, or I used to at least, and with the help of some supportive elves, we managed to put protective spells on Linette.'
'Were there other children as well?'
'Yes. I don't know the exact number, but we worked for many years to secure that at least one of them would survive to fulfil the prophecy. Linette was the one who showed the greatest potential, she always did have a lot of magical energy.'
'How does she keep it hidden now?'
'The bracelet, the elves made it for her when she grew older and the barriers we put up around her couldn't contain her energies anymore. It dims the signature, so to speak. Makes it difficult to track for the Magi. As long as she doesn't stay in one place too long, the likelihood of them finding her is small.'
'Do you think she's going about it the right way?' Saenni asked and sipped the warm liquid.
'What an old man like me thinks doesn't really matter. I have lived my life, and I am not far from leaving it. No, I suspect what you think is of more importance to how this will go.'
'You are unusually wise for a human.'
'Wise or apathetic, hm?' he chuckled, which quickly morphed into coughing. 'One can look the other, if you live long enough. As I'm sure you will come to learn sooner or later.'
Saenni leaned back in the chair and studied him. 'How much do you know about dragons, Elder Rowan?'
'Once upon a time, there was more information about your kind out in the world. Hidden in caves, in ruins, all across the world you used to be able to find information about dragons. But today… It has either been lost or destroyed. We don't know by whom, but someone has seemingly gone all over and made sure there was nothing left but the prophecy. We suspected the Magi, of course, but we could never find any proof. Not that it matters anymore, of course.'
'How old are you?'
He shook his head. 'I don't recall anymore. Old enough, that's for sure. I've lived a good life, Lady Saenni, one that I'm proud to say I have no regrets for, and now that time is catching up to me, well,' he shrugged, 'as painful as it might turn out to be, it will have been worth it. Don't you think that is a life well spent, Lady Saenni?'
She nodded slowly. 'One we all should strive to achieve as well. What do you know about the Magi?'
'What do you wish to know?'
'This person that Linette claims is evil. Do you know anything about them?'
'I know his name is Jaque, and that he's a powerful magi that emerged a few years before Linette's powers began to manifest properly. He seems to have gained control of all of Magina in an alarmingly short time, and no one appears to know how. It was our inquiries into who he was that brought them down upon us, and ended the brotherhood for good.'
'You are alive.'
'Not for long, I'm afraid. It doesn't matter now, either way. The Elders before me had abilities now lost to the world, and they stated that once the Great Dragon had been summoned into the world, there would be no need for the brotherhood anymore.'
'You believe in destiny then?'
He sighed heavily. 'If one believes in destiny, does one help it exist? Would we still have tried to save the children, even if there was no prophecy about one of them summoning you? Belief, faith, destiny, fate. Does it matter in the end? I have acted in what my conscious told me was right and good. It also tells me that there is no need for the brotherhood anymore, and that is enough for me.'
'Based on what you found out about this Jaque, what is your opinion about him?'
'I am biased against him, all things considered.'
'Do you believe him to be as evil as Linette seem to think he is?'
'Good and evil,' he hummed. 'A difficult concept, and just as fluid as culture itself, isn't it? I believe we all balance it within us, and some days we lean more in one direction or another. I see him as misguided and foolish, but despite my age, I have never come across someone who is purely evil.'
'Excuse me, Master Rowen,' the man from before, Nell, said as he joined them on the veranda. 'It is time for your appointment with the doctor.'
'Ah yes,' he said. 'Is she here already?'
'Yes. She is waiting in the parlour.'
Saenni stood gracefully. 'I'll take my leave. We can continue this at a later time.'
'Lady Saenni,' Rowen called after her. 'Do not fault the young for the conviction in their beliefs. We are all snotty children to someone,' he laughed.
Saenni chuckled and gave him a nod before disappearing into the depth of the house.