Echoes of Invasion: Closing Time | Scene 8

Alric buys food for him and Heppa from a street vendor, and they eat their bread-wrapped meat as they walk along the bank of the River Weldyn. He mentions that it makes a nice change from Yggy’s fare, and Heppa asks Alric if this is his favorite thing to eat.

“It’s a convenient thing,” he tells her. “As for my favorite… There’s a certain spice blend that my mother would use in a rice dish back in Weldyn. Damal’s is somewhat similar. The individual spices are common enough in Wesnoth, but the blend itself is not. The combination of them is a Dunefolk flavor, and that rice dish is my favorite food. I don’t have it often, though. I’m not much of a cook myself. I’m better with the liquids than the solids,” he adds with a self-deprecating chuckle. “Sometimes I can get my uncle to make it for me, but only now and then.”

“You have to catch him in a good mood?”

“Yes, which is not very common,” Alric says. It does not surprise Heppa to hear that. Maybe she and Tric Manu are not the only ones Damal gets grumpy at.

They stroll along the riverbank, leaving the commercial area and following walking paths. The festival is over, but it is a beautiful clear evening, and plenty of other people are out enjoying it as well. Heppa does not want to dim the pleasant mood with touchy subjects, but she is very curious about Alric and wants to get to know him better. Given her tipsiness, this comes out as a string of questions about how he got involved with the Parting Glass. “Does one found a bar? Or start one? How did you end up at the Parting Glass? Did you build it yourself? Do you own it?” She clamps her mouth shut then, realizing how she sounds, but then squeezes one more onto the list. “Am I asking too many questions?”

Alric laughs and assures her she is not. “When I first came to South Tower, I was kind of at loose ends. I stayed with my uncle for a while, but I’d already failed at being an apprentice apothecary as a child, and that was not going to work a second time.”

“Why did you fail? Did you not apply yourself?” Heppa asks, reminded of her mother’s scoldings.

“Well, that’s what Damal would tell you.” They both chuckle at that, and then Alric tries to articulate the situation without dampening the mood. “I wasn’t… Ah, I wasn’t really good at focusing on things like that. I mean, I remember stuff, and I would insist to Damal that I do apply some of my learning in my current job… Just to make things that taste good, rather than things that are disgusting. There’s not so much difference between being a bartender and being an apothecary, right?”

“It’s just a different property that you’re highlighting,” Heppa says encouragingly. “Your potions do different things.”

Alric smiles at that. “Yes, so, getting back to your other question… Damal was glad to have somebody else to deal with the falcons, but like I told you, that’s not really a full-time job. So I started working at the Parting Glass. This is when Maebl and her wife were running it. I just started with basic stuff, serving tables, cleaning up, all those sorts of basic things.” Just like he has Heledd do these days, actually. “They were happy to have somebody young around to drag heavy chairs up staircases. Over time, though, I started taking on more responsibility there. And then about five or so years ago, Maebl’s wife died, and Maebl was not interested in continuing to operate the business all on her own. By that point, I had saved up enough that I could buy in as a partner. And it was less than a year later that Maebl decided she’d had enough of it. It’s long days and a lot of work. They’d saved up enough over the years that she felt secure with that decision. She still stops in now and then, and she’s happy to help out when I need someone to cover me for a day off. So, yes, that’s how I became owner of the business.”

“Everybody’s welcome there. Did that come from Maebl, or is that something you brought?” Heppa asks.

“Well, when Sharee and Maebl were running the place, they wanted to make sure that there was an establishment in town where, if you got kicked out of everywhere else, you still had one place left you could go. That’s definitely a spirit I have tried to maintain there. But also… it hit close to home. During the war there were a lot of refugees in Weldyn. And when the war was over, they didn’t all go back to their fields. The city was still full of displaced people for a very long time, and that included my family and me. And… there was a lot of contention. People who had lived in Weldyn their whole lives were wanting all these new people to get out of there and saying they were dragging everything down. Meanwhile, those who were displaced by the war were just trying to live their lives. I probably got into more trouble as a child than I would have if I hadn’t felt so… unwanted.” He is quick to add, “And I know it was hard for my mother. She was dealing with that herself, but also dealing with a kid who was getting into far too much trouble.” He looks off across the river for a bit before continuing, “So, it’s something that I try to continue to provide here.”

“Is your mother still in Weldyn?”

“She is. She continues to operate the falcons out of there, the few that she has. And… um… after I really screwed up, it was not wise for me to stay,” Alric admits slowly, glancing down at his left arm and ending with a sigh. “My dad was not very happy, and it was just going to make things more difficult. Yes, so that’s when she packed me off to Uncle Damal. And I brought Aderyn with me. My mother had entrusted her to me at the beginning of my recuperation. Once I was well enough to travel and Aderyn was big enough to fly, that’s when I came here. Damal had been in Weldyn when I was very young, back when they had tried to apprentice me to him. But he had left Weldyn and moved back here. I think that since this was a new town building up for the first time, there wasn’t as much—Well, everyone was kind of homesteaders, instead of it being like a bunch of people moving in who had no business being there, according to some.”

“There’s a lot of movement across Wesnoth, it seems. Is there?” Elves tend to be very tied to their forests. There are stories of great adventuring elves like Kalenz, but most elves do not change their home woods. Refugees are not common in elvish society, as they rely on stealth in their forests for protection.

Alric shrugs. It is what he has known, being the child of someone who fled a war, and even before that, wandered the countryside separated from her home. “So, what about your career?” Alric asks, wanting to learn more about Heppa. She has just asked him about his business, so it seems a natural follow-up question. He does not know that it could be a sore point. “Are you a mage?” He uses the human term for a magic user, lacking knowledge of how elves order their casters. “Or is that just a thing you do? It seems like you were here—Well, why are you here? Tric was here looking for his mom. Did you just come along for moral support?”

“Well, I haven’t really chosen a career,” Heppa equivocates. “Mother wishes that I had, and I think she feels some disappointment about how I haven’t settled down and chosen a path. How much do you know about elvish society?” She chuckles as she realizes she is asking more questions, and he tells her that it is not much. He has met a few elves who passed through Weldyn or South Tower, and he has heard stories from people who have met elves or gone to school. Heppa, though, is the elf he has spent the most time with. “Well, usually by now an elf has chosen a path,” she explains. “I haven’t. There’s just—I don’t know, there’s just so many different things to learn. I don’t want to really commit to one career. Mother, I think, wants me to be a sorceress like she is and like my sister.”

“But you’re not?”

“No, I’m not, so—”

“But you heal things and you held a building together!” he points out.

“Well, I know a little magic, yes.” Alric laughs at her modesty. “There’s other magic tracks I could go down,” she clarifies. “The druid track would be more of the healing track. Sorceress would be more of what I did with the building… I think… That sort of thing doesn’t usually come up in the forest. But it’s more of a protective role, as opposed to the healing of the druid. So, no, I don’t have a career. Daddy, I don’t know that he cares so much if I pick a career right away. He’s kind of a dabbler himself. So he sent Tric and me on this quest. He said he was looking for specific artifacts to study, but I think he was just trying to help buffer me from Mother and her disappointment. So, we’re really supposed to be looking for some artifacts to help him with his studies, and I’m not exactly sure why we’re here in South Tower. I think it’s because of Tric’s mother.”

“Oh! You’ve just reminded me. There was a delivery for you this morning. You left without me seeing you. When we get back to the inn, I have to make sure you get it.”

“Was it from the Lady Sabine?”

“Yes. Your mention of the artifacts reminded me that they delivered a package for you.”

“She was very nice!” Heppa says of the lady. “She was mostly interested in artifacts though, I could tell.” There is a little disappointment in her voice, which Alric does not understand, not knowing that Heppa had been hoping to discuss magic theory with the mage. Heppa goes on to tell him that her father will be looking at an artifact for Lady Sabine, and maybe they will work out some sort of research agreement. The diplomatic side of things is beyond Heppa’s experience. “So yes, we mostly came here for Tric’s mother, but then we heard about the festival! And, I’ll be honest, I was very curious about humans and the different varieties. We met some farmers on the way in.” Thinking of Gumreddoc, she admits, “When we first started to come this way, I was very intrigued by the aging process of humans. I was able to learn some things about that,” she concludes happily.

Alric is not surprised, given how she has been asking about ages, but he is amused. “That seems such a very specific thing to be interested in.” 

Heppa explains that she met some people who told her that when humans age, their teeth fall out and their hair turns gray. “That is not what happens with elves, so I didn’t believe them at first. I wanted to see for myself.”

“What are you finding?” Alric asks. “Are humans so very different from elves?” He lightens his serious question by adding, “Aside from the whole teeth and hair thing?”

She admits she still has trouble telling apart age ranges, though she thinks she is getting the hang of it. “But there are some things I have noticed that are different,” she tells him. “I had never seen a parade of carts covered in flowers, for example. So there are some cultural differences, I think. But I don’t know…”

“Do you think humans and elves are compatible?”

The very existence of Tric Manu is a testament to the physical compatibility of elves and humans, but it seems to Heppa that drawing attention to that is a bit too forward. Besides, Alric knows of Tric’s mixed heritage, so maybe his question is about something else. “How do you mean? Diplomatic relations seemed a little strained, from what I can tell.”

“Do you think that matters on a more personal level?”

“As far as I can tell, it depends on the person. What do you think?” Heppa asks back. “You’ve been around humans much longer than I have!”

Alric is interested in what one very specific elf thinks regarding one very specific human, but it seems Heppa is concerned more with generalities here, so he answers along those lines. “I think everyone is a person and should be evaluated on their own standing, regardless of what culture they come from.”

“I think there’s merit to that,” Heppa agrees.

They have finished their food and are reaching the edge of greater South Tower, so Alric turns them around to start heading back upriver, toward the Parting Glass. “I will be sorry to see you go tomorrow,” he says, tone more somber now.

“I’ll be sorry to leave.” While she insisted to Tric Manu that there are more things to do in South Tower, deep down Heppa knows there really are not. She would have liked to spend more time with Alric, though.

“There were a lot of people in the bar the night Heledd vanished, but you’re the only one who saw me as anything other than a service provider. That’s something special, Heppa, and that’s not something that I encounter often. So thank you for your help.”

Heppa is curious about what he is getting at with his service provider comment and why that is important. However, she is not really sure how to approach that without admitting that she has been studying him enough that she can now recognize him in a dark alley. Unwilling to commit to the bold act of telling Alric just how much she sees him, Heppa falls back on her customary politeness. “You’re welcome. It was a very fun experience.” 

“Heledd never describes it that way,” he replies, chuckling as Heppa once again surprises him with her unique perspective. “She has many choice words about her job, but that is not one of them.”

“I had never seen so many dirty dishes, honest!”

Alric smiles at Heppa and tells her a little shyly, “I have something for you.”

“What is it?” Heppa asks immediately.

“It’s at Damal’s.” He looks across the river at the setting sun. “I guess it’s probably too late today for you to go there.”

“I was thinking of going there tomorrow,” she tells him, then admits, “I know Tric wants to leave.”

“There’s a set of starter materials for continuing along the line of work that Damal does, that you seem to have a knack for already.”

“Alchemy?” Excitement suffuses Heppa’s voice.

“Alchemy, apothecary, potion-brewing, whatever term you want to use for it. My old apprentice kit is there. Clearly, I have no need for it, but I think it would suit you well.”

“Thank you! That sounds wonderful!” She gives him a kiss on the cheek, delighted.

“Hopefully it finds more use in your hands than it ever did in mine.”

“What did you do with it?”

“Oh my goodness…” Alric shakes his head at his younger self. “Made horrible smelling things on purpose…” The rest of the trip back to the Parting Glass is full of stories of what a mischievous seven-year-old can do when unleashed with alchemy supplies.