“That makes sense,” Alise said quietly, recalling what she had heard of an excavated room called the Crowned Rooster Chamber. “The place where Tintaglia hatched was a chamber with large doors and heavy glass panels. It would have admitted sunlight year-round, but been a shelter from the rains of winter. It has been speculated that there was a great earthquake or other disaster, and some of the dragon cases were dragged into the chamber for protection. Instead, when the city was buried, the dragons were interred with it.”
“So.” Leftrin’s brow was furrowed. “What do we have here? The buried remains of a city? Kelsingra?”
“No.” She was decisive. A thrill shot through her. She knew, really knew what this was. “The platform the dragons are warming themselves on is below water level, but I think it’s plain that the water rose to cover it. And it isn’t covered deeply at all. If we anchored here and searched, I daresay we’d find other signs of Elderling habitation—the remains of old stone foundations, and perhaps more dragon-warming spots. But this wasn’t a city. Kelsingra was a place of many palatial stone buildings, fountains, courtyards, towers. If this were Kelsingra, or even the outskirts of it, we’d see the remains of those building still, for the dragon-warming spot is scarcely covered at all. No, Leftrin, we are at the site of an Elderling habitation, but not Kelsingra. Sedric! Wake up. We need to take measurements and make notes. Before the light is gone, we need to survey as much of the area as we can.”
“I’ll be making notes of my own on my charts,” Leftrin observed. They were grinning at one another as Carson came alongside them in another small boat. The hunter’s face was flushed with excitement.
“There are other ruins here. I pushed back into the reeds and looked around a bit. Just downstream from here, there’s a long structure that might be the remains of a stone pier that ran out into a river or lake. It’s underwater now, but you can feel the shape of it. Exciting, eh?”
Alise was surprised by the answering grin on Sedric’s face. “This is why you wanted to come on this expedition, isn’t it? To find something like this?”
“It’s a start,” the hunter replied. “But now that we’ve seen this, it makes the possibility of finding Kelsingra more real to me.” He glanced up at the darkening skies, and Alise followed his gaze.
More stars were appearing. The simmering river water was giving off a ripe green smell. The unearthly bluish light limned the dragons against the gathering night and changed their colors. Eyes closed and heads drooping, they looked more like statuary than real creatures. “Are they going to cook themselves there all night?” she wondered aloud.
“Oh, yes,” Sedric replied. “I think this is the warmest that Relpda has ever been. I never realized how chilled she always felt.” He paused and then added, “It may be hard to get them to move on tomorrow.”
“Perhaps we could take a day here,” Alise suggested. “To chart what we’ve found and explore a bit more.”
Everyone was startled when Mercor opened his eyes and lifted his head. “No. We have gone too slowly and been delayed too often already. Tomorrow we move on. Summer is gone. When the fall rains come down, the river will rise. We need to be in Kelsingra before the rains come again.”
THYMARA CAUGHT HER breath and Tats’s hand in the same instant. “No,” she said. The word came out much more decisively than she actually felt about his touch. She sighed reluctantly as she pulled back from him. The sound he made was much more frustrated.
It was very late at night. The two of them were standing at the stern of the barge, in the relative privacy of the deserted deck and the night. The other keepers were sleeping, some on top of the deckhouse and others in the galley and on the foredeck. She’d agreed to meet him here to “talk,” knowing that that was not at all what either one of them wanted to do. She tried to regret how she tormented both of them by allowing him to touch her, but her blood was still racing with the sensations that his kisses and touch could awaken in her. It was harder to say no to herself than it was to deny him. Their encounters always followed the same pattern. They would talk, and one or the other would give in to the impulse. There would be kisses, followed by touches. And it always ended the same way.
“Why?” he demanded abruptly. “Why do you let me touch you and then make me stop? Do you think it’s funny?”
“No. I just…” She was flustered by the anger and hurt in his voice. She took a breath and opted for honesty. “I love how it feels. I know I shouldn’t let you touch me at all, but…”