After Heppa has seen to Tomos’s and Henrick’s injuries, everyone gathers at the campsite Tric has established. Following the dinner of crunchy eel, Heppa checks with Knots about whether he needs any stitches or bandaging. Zlek did land some hits on him, after all. The mercenary is not overly-concerned about his injuries, but he agrees to a checkup.
Knots has the darkest skin of any human Heppa has treated so far. Humans come in so many colors of skin and hair and eyes, but the more she examines them, the more Hepalonia finds they are all essentially the same. Franny and Ffion’s family exhibited at least three different hair colors, which Heppa finds more remarkable than the variety of skin colors that exist. She wonders if somewhere other than her own forest there are elves who are not so white and blond as her entire village (Tric excepted). Heppa has always assumed that Tric’s non-standard pigmentation comes from his human inheritance, but maybe there is also a wider variation of elves than she is aware of.
Heppa asks how old Knots is, and he has no qualms about telling her his age. He is thirty-five and guesses that the Beard is a year or so older. “And he doesn’t have hair?” Heppa says.
“What are you talking about? He’s got that monstrosity that hangs from his chin!”
“But he’s bald on his head.” This does not seem incongruous to Knots. “So… as you get older, it falls out,” Heppa says, checking her understanding.
“It doesn’t always?”
“Not in my family,” Knots tells her. “The Beard has been bald as long as I’ve known him, though.”
“So maybe that’s not from age, then,” Heppa concludes. “These things don’t happen to elves,” she offers as an explanation for her questions.
“What a magical life you must lead,” Knots replies with a twisted grin.
“For a while. It goes downhill pretty quickly toward the end, as I understand it. But yes, I guess it is very magical. Thank you for answering all my questions!”
Heppa turns her attention to Knot’s injuries then. His current wounds are rather minor, but she finds that he bears a lot of scars from his many years as a mercenary. Still, he is in much better shape than most of the other patients she has had, except possibly the Beard. Heppa has worked on comparatively weak mages, and the farmer she treated, Gumreddoc, was rather old. She only healed a minor cut on Alric’s arm, so she does not know quite how fit he is—though the fact that he could climb a house in the dark and rain suggests he is in quite good shape. Heppa tells Knots that he seems to be in much better health than others she has met around his age, like the brewers Connie and Marvin or the farmer Tilyn.
“Yeah, working in the fields will run you down,” Knots says.
“I don’t think you’re wrong about that,” Heppa agrees.
Knots has a very active lifestyle, being a professional fighter. Although guard duty on the caravan has involved some sitting around, a mercenary’s life is far from sedentary. After she finishes treating him, Knots continues to chat with her on the topic. She had earlier told him that the caravan is her first job, so he advises her that making a career just from caravans is doable, though probably very boring. “The Beard and I, we don’t spend all our time guarding caravans. It’s what we do when we need a break or an easy way to get from one place to another while earning a little cash. If you really want to build up a nest egg, though, it’s not going to work. It just doesn’t bring in the amount of money that doing jobs for nobles does.” Seeing a look of confusion from Heppa, he clarifies, “Like dealing with whatever petty disputes they have or putting in time on the borders. That’s definitely not as safe as caravan work.” Given that Heppa is packing up her healing supplies now, he adds with a chuckle, “Not that caravans are entirely safe. But bandits are one thing, whole brigades are another.”
Knots is very relaxed and casual as he talks about his career. He and the Beard have worked together for years, traveling all over and offering their services to whoever needs them and has coin. It sounds like a very fluid life to Heppa. Knots shares that he and the Beard use the monikers they do because they travel around so much. “We only work with units for the length of the current engagement. When you’re under a new commander, there is no reason to burden them with your name. They’re not going to remember it. When they are shouting orders across a battlefield, it is so much better for them to just have some physical thing they can grasp. Hey! You there with the beard! You there with knots in your hair, do this thing! Believe me, you get much clearer orders that way than when they are stumbling around trying to remember your name. By the time they’ve dredged it up, that side of the battlefield has collapsed.”
“Is that why you wear your hair like that?”
“No, the hair came first. The name came later. I wear my hair like this because it’s cool.”
“Do you think…?” Heppa pulls at her own hair a bit, rubbing it between her fingers pensively.
“Like I told you last night, your hair is rather fine. But we can try, if you’re game. Henrick said we’re not moving on until morning.”
That is an invitation for experimentation. With all the injuries taken care of, Heppa has nothing else to do tonight. She is not really invested in getting a beautiful hairstyle out of this, but after a long day, thinking about alchemy is a relaxing diversion. She fetches her kit from Butterbell’s saddlebags. With help from Knots, she spends the next few hours working on various approaches to prepping her hair. This includes weaving some of the local grasses into some sections and coating others with various oils, muds, powders, and alchemical concoctions. Knots twists each section independently, twirling it until it wraps entirely around itself and then tucking the end into the knot. He ties them into place with reeds, since many do not seem inclined to stay on their own. He doubts any of them will hold until morning and suggests she wrap her head with a light scarf before going to sleep on them.