On the second full day of travel, the elves get their first taste of excitement. A panicking woman comes hustling down the side of the caravan, moving against the direction of travel. Her coloring is pale white with light brown hair, and the heads of the half-dozen children stringing out behind her range from a similar shade, to auburn, to strawberry-blond. She calls out frantically for someone named Ffion, and when Tric and Heppa take an interest in her problem, she pauses to enlist their aid.
“How big is this kid?” Tric asks, holding his hand at waist height, then raising it a little more, before dropping it to knee height. “About down here?”
“Ffion is nine years old,” the woman, Franny, tells him.
“How big is that?” Heppa asks. Their experience of human children is rather limited. A nine-year-old elf might be able to get into some trouble, but not much.
Franny grabs the arm of one of her children. “Ffion is a little taller than this and just as rail-thin. She’s in the same drab home-spun as the rest of us. She was last seen near the goats. I’ve checked the carts between them and here, but if she’s going up the other side while I’m coming down this one, I could miss her…” The older children are minding the younger ones so that nobody else gets lost, but clearly this mother does not want to take any chances.
“We can help you,” Tric says. “Does Ffion have anything unique?” He wonders if Mate might be able to spot her from the air. It might be a tough request, though, since the magpie and the child have never met.
“Oh, she’s a red-head. Like that one,” Franny adds, pointing to another one of her offspring.
Red hair is certainly one of the less common types the elves have seen among humans, so that does give Mate a chance. Also, Mate likes food… Tric asks, “Is there anything that Ffion likes? Any particular type of treat? Or something that makes noise?”
“A treat that makes noise?” Franny sounds perplexed. “What do elves eat? Very crunchy food?”
Tric shrugs. He had moved on to thinking about toys because a particular sound might attract Mate’s attention. “Nuts? Their shells can be loud…” Before the conversation can get derailed into comparing human and elvish foods, though, he clarifies that he is just looking for distinctive things that might help them find Ffion.
“Well, she’s quite enamored of magic,” Franny says.
“Is that common?” Tric asks.
“Yes, children are delighted by things like disappearing coins and such,” Franny tells him.
Little Myfi, Gumreddoc’s granddaughter, also liked his antics. “Interesting,” Tric notes. He shuffles his backpack around so he can access the roost where Mate is resting. “Is this your child?” he jokingly asks, grabbing the magpie by the scruff and pulling him out. The children behind Franny giggle at the sleight of hand. Mate is not as amused. He flies up, does a circle, and then heads off. Probably found something to eat, Tric figures, doubting that the bird has located Ffion. Ah, well, that’s what I get for yanking him around.
A sudden thought occurs to Tric. “Wait, she’s not trying to run away to Alduin, is she?” He begins fiddling with his pair of willow knuckle dusters, flipping them around in his hands. The younger children appreciate this fingerwork as well.
“No, no, we raised enough money for Ffion to try a year there,” Franny says. The whole family is traveling west from South Tower, but Ffion is going to continue past Weldyn all the way to the isle.
That is not the response Tric was expecting, but it fits what he has heard about the age at which humans start studying magic. “Oh! That’s very impressive. She must be a sharp kid if she’s going to go to mage school. You’ve got to apply to get in, right?” Tric tries to sound knowledgeable on the topic, though he is just guessing at this point.
“You have to have enough money,” Franny says.
Tric hastily covers up his error. “Right! You have to apply yourself in mage school.”
“It certainly is a lot of work from what I’ve heard,” the woman agrees. Tric has heard the same.
Heppa speaks up. “Are there mages in this caravan?” she asks, not considering that some might think she fits the bill. Although she can do magic, that term is reserved for human magic users. Franny is not sure if there are any mages, but she thinks it is reasonable that Ffion might be with them if there are. Maybe I can cast Falcon Sight and look for one… Heppa considers.
Tric meanwhile has a wild idea for a different approach. “Was Ffion carrying a waterskin with her?” he asks.
“Yes, of course. We’ve all got skins with rose water.”
“Great, so it’s not like river water…” Tric desperately tries to remember any lesson his dad taught him about water dowsing over the years. There is some magical component inherent to this, Tric now understands, something he had never quite realized when out with Nasir in his younger days. What Tric is attempting now, though, is rather ambitious, looking for a small quantity of a specific type of water in a large space. And it is among a caravan transporting numerous liquids that is itself traveling along a large body of water. “Let me consult with my cousin for a moment,” Tric tells Franny.
He explains his plan to Heppa. “I want to try to dowse for this flavored water,” he tells her.
“Oh! That’s very clever.”
“Or it’s outrageously stupid. One of those two things. Anyway, since dowsing is in some way magic…”
“Well, of course!” Heppa says. “But I don’t have very much experience with dowsing.” She did it a few times on their first outing together but not much since.
“No, but you do have a lot of experience with different variations of liquids,” Tric points out, thinking more about her alchemy interests than all the alcohols she tasted in South Tower. “Maybe something about how rose water is magically different?”
“Well, you would just sense for the difference in the fae energies, focusing on the essence of the rose, right?” Heppa theorizes.
“All right…” Tric says a bit uncertainly, continuing to play with his knuckle dusters.
“But you’d have to be very specific because it’s a much smaller amount and it’s within all this,” Heppa continues, gesturing broadly at the caravan and the River Weldyn. “It’s fortunate that they used flowers, since that’s a very natural source. Plants are closer to the fae.” This seems like a very fascinating experiment to Heppa.
Tric borrows a waterskin from Franny to try to set a baseline for detecting Ffion’s. Heppa holds it as Tric concentrates. He continues absentmindedly fiddling with his knuckle dusters, flipping them around and tapping them lightly together. They lurch in his hands, pulling toward the east, where the powerful River Weldyn is. “Yes, I know,” he mutters, admonishing them. It is, after all, a huge river, the largest source of water he has ever seen. Of course it is drowning out the rose water’s tiny signal. Suddenly, Tric realizes what the movement of the willow implements means: he has successfully dowsed for the first time ever. Dad would be so proud, he thinks. Yes, I was able to find a river when standing right next to it. Well, you’ve got to start somewhere…