When Heppa and Tric get back to the site of the destroyed bridge, they confer with Rhodri, Henrick, and some of the more experienced guards on how to deal with the current situation. The caravan manager approves the counter-ambush to ensure that no further risk comes to the civilians or the cargo from this source. Rhodri then leaves the tactical discussion to the others and goes to talk with all the cart drivers.
The naga had swords and bucklers. The ferry workers, being just common tradesfolk—or at least pretending so—had small cudgels on their belts. Possibly they had slings as well, as those are easy to conceal. It just does not seem like a very powerful force to Heppa. “I’m a little suspicious that there are more than just two naga,” she says, wondering how such few attackers expected to take on the whole caravan. Maybe naga are fearsome, she thinks.
“Yes, that’s a very good thing to be suspicious about,” Henrick agrees. “But if their plan was to strike as we are going across, then they would not need a large force.”
“They could just wait until the raft is in the middle of the river, and then float the prisoners on down,” Tric observes.
“That is probably their plan since nagas can swim. But then you shoot and we pop-out,” Knots says with relaxed confidence. “No big deal.” He and the Beard have fought nagas before, and they share some insights. Tric injects some of his own fanciful ideas, such as that nagas are afraid of stone. This is based on his wild misinterpretation of some dwarvish comments made in Untdunben. Henrick, in charge of the overall operation, issues the order that at the very first sign of a naga moving threateningly toward the raft, the elves are to fire.
Discussion moves to other potential threats in the area. Henrick shares that cuttlefish do live in the River Weldyn. It is possible some of them might also be in this tributary. At the mention of cuttlefish, Heppa is initially concerned about the poison made from their ink. She saw what it did to Heledd; if their opponents are using it, that would help explain why there are so few of them. The Beard informs her that it is not customary for nagas to poison their weapons. The real threat of the cuttlefish is just that an unwary person in the water might run afoul of one by bumping into a tentacle.
Based on the elves’ description of the marshy bank, Knots suggests they also look out for mudcrawlers. Like cuttlefish, they are not intelligent creatures, just environmental hazards. Some people do not even believe they exist, attributing mud attacks to mere clumsiness. Knots, however, says they are quite real and will lob mud at people who step on their nests. “They’re not poisonous, but mud in your face during a battle is certainly inconvenient,” he adds.
This planning session has been happening quite out in the open. All the while, Tomos has been listening from nearby, and now he steps up to insist on coming along to be the magic support for this action. “Aside from my ability to sling arcane fire missiles, I just finished an internship at the House of Light. Rhaessa taught me a lot. If there are any injuries, I’ll be able to mend people.” This sounds fine to Heppa, as long as Tomos does not run into the fray where he himself could get hurt.
Tric looks to Henrick, expecting the sergeant to turn down the offer, but their leader does not intervene. Provided necromancy is not at issue, it seems that mages are a power unto themselves among the humans, regardless of their age or experience.
Once the broad strokes of the plan are in place, Tric and Heppa play off each other for a while, coming up with more and more outlandish ideas on how to deal with the nagas in the reeds. When they begin debating whether a large boulder could be rolled down at them—since nagas allegedly fear stone—the Beard declares that he has had enough and climbs into the lock-up wagon. Knots joins his friend, though he found the elvish antics more amusing. Tomos steps toward the wagon as well, with an eager cheer. “Let’s go! We’ve got this!”
Tric’s eyebrows shoot up at the thought of this hapless young mageling joining the raft crew. It is true he puts on a flashy show, but this action is a bit more serious. Tric exchanges a worried look with his cousin. The humans might not want to tell Tomos what to do, but magical elves can certainly get away with it.
“I don’t think that’s a good place for Tomos,” Heppa says quietly to Tric. “I think he should come with us.” He nods, and she speaks up, addressing the mage, “Um, what weapons do you use?”
“Arcane power!” he answers, with a familiar twirl of his wand.
“So… do you have a melee weapon?” Heppa asks.
“You don’t even have a staff,” Tric points out.
“A staff?! No, certainly not,” Tomos says. “That’s for the masters.”
“Or a dagger?” Heppa suggests.
“What, for cutting meat?” Tomos sounds confused by how that would be relevant.
“What are you going to do when everybody jumps out of the wagon?” Heppa asks far more directly than is her wont. Her indirect questioning does not seem like it will keep this young man alive.
Tomos answers with a small display of fireworks.
“I think you’re more of a ranged fighter, and you’d be better suited being near us,” Heppa tells him.
“Clearly, you have never seen a mage in battle!” Tomos says in a rather grandiose fashion. Tric wonders if Tomos has, either. Heppa and Tric have seen what sorceresses and druids can do, though it is true they did not see much from Kachen. “I’ll have you know I won third place in a spellcasting tournament two years ago,” Tomos adds. He climbs into the prisoner wagon and pulls the door shut behind him, ending the discussion.
Heppa lets the matter drop, though she is concerned about that tactical situation. Those little fire missiles do not look very damaging, and she has yet to see Tomos actually hit anything with them. “Fire? In the water?” she says to her cousin.
“Well, at least he won’t start a forest fire this way,” Tric replies, imagining Tomos launching fire missiles at the water with the same gusto that he has previously attacked the air.
“We don’t know that,” Heppa shoots back.
“It’s really damp near the ferry, and anyway, it’s not really a forest,” Tric says.
With the lock-up cart fully loaded, Henrick and his recruits start escorting it south along the river, headed to the ferry. Heppa and Tric lead a few of Rhodri’s people back to the northerly ford so that those folks can plan a route for all the cargo wagons. Then the elves continue on across the river and ride Butterbell south again to get into position for the pincer maneuver, ready to ambush the ambushers.