Heledd generally arrives at the Parting Glass just before the dinner shift, but today she shows up early in order to complete her transaction with the Estbryn elves. Maebl tells her that the woman is out with Alric, but the man has not come back downstairs. Heledd locates Tric in his room. Heppa has already reclaimed the ruby ring; Heledd now hands over Kachen’s emerald and takes the coins that were promised. All that is left is for her to tell this wannabe criminal about how she did the job.
Tric invites Heledd to the one chair in the room. She hovers near it, arms folded, but does not sit down. “So, how did you get into the supposedly unbreakable fortress of South Tower?” Tric asks, laying it on a little thick.
The Tower itself is connected to the House of Light, which is just next door. Once inside the House of Light, one can get inside the Tower without going outside. “It is not a matter of breaking into the Tower,” Heledd tells Tric. “It’s a matter of breaking into the House of Light, which has lower security than the Tower.” She has previously mentioned to him that the architect who designed these buildings deliberately worked in some access points.
“But why would you need to break in? Just get injured with an overnight case.”
Heledd shakes her head at the idiotic suggestion. “Yeah, great. Then they’d know you were there!”
“But you’d be ‘too injured’ to have done anything, clearly,” he counters.
“And if they went looking for you?” Heledd presses.
“Just say you didn’t think of it, it’s fine,” Tric says, sounding a little full of himself. This is mostly a game to him, as he is not intending to rob the Tower himself. He is curious whether she did anything that they could have easily guarded against, but even if everything she tells him is lies, he will still get a good story out of all this.
Does this elf not know anything? Heledd marvels. “They have medical knowledge there! They’d know you weren’t really injured!” The gaps in this fellow’s criminal education are so wide they would require a pole to vault across.
As Heledd describes how she carried out the job, Tric is impressed with how patient and methodical she was. Alric said that Kachen has not been in town for about three months, so clearly Heledd was biding her time on this theft. She is also still kicking herself for having gotten attacked by Sleidr’s group. She blames herself for it, having acted on an impulse to complete the job right then, instead of continuing to wait for the ideal time. “Gah! I should have stuck with the plan!” she groans more than once. “I thought it was a great opportunity, having the captain of the guard otherwise occupied. No! That was not how I was supposed to proceed. I told Kachen it could take months.”
“So what was the original plan then, that you were deviating from?” Tric asks.
Heledd had intended to move while Gweddry was out on a tour of his demesne. His retinue would have had to accompany him, leaving a lower guard presence in the Tower. This sounds like excessive caution to Tric. After all, it was not the guards in the Tower that caught her. And also, Tric thinks Mhaev would be completely aware of the danger of leaving the Tower less protected and would take her own steps to reinforce it. Henrick would be paying extra close attention, Tric is sure.
Heledd had the decoy rings made by providing her jeweler contact with detailed sketches of them. She herself produced these drawings. “So you went into that tower multiple times?” Tric asks. She nods. “Secretly, each time?” She nods again.
“I had to sketch the rings accurately enough for my jeweler to reproduce them faithfully enough to fool the owner.”
“Fwoof. That’s a lot of risks!”
“As long as the rings weren’t being transported anywhere, the only risk was being caught where I wasn’t supposed to be,” Heledd says unconcernedly, “and that was no risk at all.”
“So you were confident that the guards would never catch you, given your precautions and skills?” Tric asks, a bit taken aback by her casual manner.
“Yeah. If anyone came upon me, I’d be able to convince them I was supposed to be there.”
“Oh, that’s a different matter.” That makes perfect sense to a fibber like Tric.
As for the rings themselves, Heppa knows nothing about the ruby ring other than that it was next to the emerald ring in the case. “The emerald ring is what Kachen wanted; it was the target all along,” she tells Tric. The ruby was a crime of opportunity, though granted, a lot of effort still went into it.
“Do you know how Kachen knew about the emerald ring?”
“Before any of this Tower stuff, back when Kachen was still in town, I broke into the House of Light on his behalf. I’d say we did it nightly for several weeks, at least. I escorted him in each night because there was a book there he needed access to.”
“Ugh, that sounds miserable!” But it does suggest Heledd has a lot of experience breaking in there. It also could be where Kachen got his dapper inkcap supply. “Was he reading a couple pages each night?!”
“Yes. He didn’t want to take the book out, so he had to go to it. Each night he would study a few pages. But also Rhaessa’s desk is in that room, and I helped him go through it, lifting things carefully out of position and making sure everything was set back as it should be. Took us a week or so to go through the whole thing that way, but no one would ever be able to tell that we did. Anyway, going through Rhaessa’s stuff is how he learned Lady Sabine had the Ring of Gritta.”
“The emerald ring. It’s named after some mage, Gritta. Yeah, the ring’s name is Gritta, the book’s name was Rhys. All these things seem to be named after somebody,” Heledd says dismissively. “Kachen saw in Rhaessa’s notes that Lady Sabine had the Ring of Gritta, and something about it seemed like it could be able to help him. So that was when we made the plan that I would get the decoy made and exchange them, and he gave me the anklet to help it happen.”
“Gave you the anklet?” Tric echoes. Heledd slips off her left boot, revealing a thin gold anklet. “Huh. That’s different,” Tric murmurs.
“And this is what it does,” Heledd says. She stomps her left heel into the floor. A pale woman with blonde hair and white robes now stands before Tric. This is the woman Heppa talked with briefly at the House of Light, the white mage Rhaessa. Heledd is gone.
Tric’s heart skips a beat, but he quickly realizes what must have happened, and it is very cool, indeed. “Well, that’s unexpected,” he says calmly.
The woman before him stomps her foot again, and she is once again Heledd. She lets out a breath and now sits down in the chair Tric offered her earlier. “Takes a bit out of you,” she admits, slipping the boot back on.
“Does it only do Rhaessa?” Heledd confirms this. “And Kachen helped you set this up?”
“Kachen made it.”
“Hunh. He did not strike me as an artificer, but you know, he was interested in part of that necromancy staff… So, let me ask your opinion,” Tric waffles briefly before blurting out, “do you think Kachen is a necromancer? Does he seem like a necromancer to you?”
“Bah! He’s gotten that crap from people for years,” Heledd growls. “I thought you guys were his friends.” She stands back up again, body language tense. “He said it was all right to have Heppa deliver the ring to him, but are you guys just going to turn him in to somebody? What is this about?!”
“Whoa!” Tric defensively throws up his hands. “Take it easy, all right?” He gestures for her to sit back down. “I was just asking about the man’s magical inclinations.”
“I understand your question,” Heledd bites back.
Moss below, has she gotten worked up about this! Tric thinks. “Look, Heppa and I are looking for ways to turn necromantic artifacts towards defense. Is that what he’s into? I mean, I don’t really trust the dwarves’ opinion that he definitely is one. That’s malarkey. But, there really was a ghost in the ruin that we stayed in after he left. It could have just been there, I suppose. Could’ve been. Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and three is, I don’t know, a wizarding conspiracy.”
“And what’s your three?” Heledd snaps.
“That’s why I was asking you if there was a third!” Tric says. “Then we’d have thrice, conspiracy, which would be interesting. But it sounds like we don’t?”
“Do you not get it?” Heledd demands. “Do you not understand that talk like that could get him executed, and none of this is his fault?”
“That is correct,” Tric acknowledges his lack of understanding. Now that she mentions it, he does remember Glammur saying that necromancy is punishable by death in human circles. “I’m an elf. I live in the woods,” he says lightly.
“You elves have no clue! You can’t be bandying around these baseless accusations!”
“Sheesh! I just wanted to know if the fellow was rooting around in undead things…”
“Why? So you could turn him in for some reward?” In Heledd’s experience, everybody has their price, and this elf is likely no different.
“To who? For what?” Tric says, still not fully grasping the seriousness of the topic. “To the saurian? Yes, I guess she was interested in eating him or something… But no! We didn’t do that. See? We already had the opportunity to turn him in once, and we didn’t. In fact, I traded a hock of ham for his life. Ask him about it sometime.”
Heledd shakes her head at his flippancy, worried for the life of her client, her friend.
“Look, I thought it was fair to ask, and now I see that it’s not. I’m sorry.”
“Even just asking questions like that about somebody can ruin their life!”
“All right! I know now. I won’t ask anymore. Yeesh.” To lighten the mood a bit, Tric tries to come up with a ridiculous story about it. “Maybe he’s cursed, and undead are following him. Did he have a tragic youth?” He barrels onward, answering himself and not giving Heledd a chance. “Probably, otherwise he wouldn’t be living alone in the hills for several months. Yes, I wonder if he’s cursed.” Tric’s voice takes on more of a cadence, and he starts punctuating his statements with flips of the emerald ring. “I bet he actually is cursed. It’s not his fault. He’s haunted, quite literally. Probably isn’t even anything he did. He’s a pretty young fellow. Could be some sort of family curse that he needs to somehow overcome. I bet he’s the last of his family. Poor fellow. So there’s something he has to do or find or learn to overcome this curse of ghosts that haunt him, corpses that chase things in his wake wherever he goes. And then there’s all the prejudice he clearly faces from horrible people like me. So we’ve got to rally around him and help him complete his quest to lift this curse. That poor, poor man.”
This actually fits a lot of what Heledd knows and has observed about Kachen. She relaxes a bit because the elf is clearly open to alternative explanations. This one could be true, and Heledd hopes it really is, for Kachen’s sake and her own. Being associated with a necromancer is just a step down from being one yourself. “That would make sense! That would explain so many things!”
Really? Tric marvels. He just made that all up. “Yes, yes,” he agrees hurriedly.
“Yeah, ‘cause he was kicked out of school… Everything you’re saying there makes sense. So now do you see why it is dangerous for you to be making accusations? Other people just won’t understand. They’ll jump to these erroneous conclusions when it’s really not his fault, and he’s actually trying to stop it from happening.”
“I think I’m starting to see what you’re saying… He must know, and that’s why he lives like a hermit in the hills…”
“You know, he wouldn’t even go out during the day when he was here,” Heledd adds, one more juicy detail for Tric. “That was probably to keep people safe from these things showing up.” She nods to herself, quiet for a moment. Then she starts for the door to head downstairs for her shift.
Tric stops flipping the emerald, catching the ring in his hand. “I’ll entrust this to Heppa since she understands these things way more than I do. We’ll make sure it gets to Kachen when we see him in a couple months. And you, don’t spend all your gold in one place.”
The hardened exterior returns. “You’ve got no say in how I spend my coin,” Heledd tells him. She lets herself out.