Echoes of Invasion: Closing Time | Scene 9

Tric Manu’s final performance at the Parting Glass is not a tale of Master Edward. “Now, this is not a darker story, but a story from a darker time,” he begins, trying out some new material. “I know many of you fine veterans helped cleanse this land. A lot of dark things happened back then. Maybe some of you have heard the tale, maybe some of you saw it yourself… There was a skeleton that Mal-Ravanal could not control. They called her Madam Bones. And she could dance! She would drum her chest.” He demonstrates, rapping his knuckles against his sternum. “There was nothing this necromancer could do to tame Madame Bones.” Tric wonders for a moment whether Mal-Ravanal was a lich, not a necromancer, but then he plows onward with the story he has got going. Accuracy in details is not so important to him. “Could not tame her,” he repeats with emphasis. “She danced and drummed her way all across the Bitter Swamp. Played her ribs, even. Some say she could get other skeletons to follow her, but we all know that’s just silly.”

This is not a story with any sort of moral or purpose, just a set of amusing descriptions intended to entertain the audience. “Most skeletons have got two arms, two legs, one spine, just like you and I. Madam Bones, sometimes she had three legs, no arms. Madam Bones, sometimes some say she had two heads. I don’t think that’s true. Some say she herself was a lich, and that’s why she could not be controlled. But you look at her? Just a skeleton. You try to fight with her? You can hack off every limb, and she’d still be a spine, hopping around. She’d always get away. But she never caused any trouble to the living. Just always a thorn in the side of Mal-Ravanal, the skeleton he could not control.”

The lukewarm reception this performance receives is enough for Tric to finally get the message that talking about necromancy is inappropriate. The audience has been chuckling at the story, but it is an uneasy brand of laughter. Tric did not personally experience the war, but for a lot of the older folks here, his story probably brings back uncomfortable memories. As he heads across the room from the stage, he hears some of them murmuring that the very idea of a skeleton who never did anyone any harm is far-fetched. Tric recognizes a few faces in the crowd, folks who have heartily congratulated him on other nights. But no one approaches to buy him drinks tonight. People will remember this story, Tric thinks, but only in contrast to his other, more successful ones. 

Heledd is loading drinks onto a tray at the bar when Tric steps up to the counter. She shoots him a glare over her left shoulder. Stupid elf, bringing up skeletons right after we talked about Kachen not being a necromancer. Once again, indicating he has no idea about the gravity of the situation! Heledd grabs her tray and slinks off, letting her body language send the message she knows it is not safe to speak aloud.

The group of customers to Tric’s left drifts away as he places an order with Maebl. A voice speaks up from that side and a little down. “Noo why would ye be tellin’ a story like that, laddie?”

“I thought people could use a little bit of levity about dark times,” Tric replies with a sigh, looking to see who he is talking to. It is Glammur!

“Hae ye learned nothing?”

“I try not to.”

“Might want tae work oan that.”

“What kind of story would you tell to raise people’s spirits about—”

“Aboot raisin’ people?”

“Ah, that’s a good one. You got me there,” Tric acknowledges. “ I don’t know… I thought it would be different to hear a more upbeat story about a dark time, but maybe it’s a little too soon for them for that.”

“People like ye and me, we can wait another fifty or so years. Maybe then the story’ll play. Naebody will be left here who remembers.”

“I suppose,” Tric allows. He takes a drink. “So what brings you to town?” he asks Glammur.

“Well, I’m done—”

“You’re done being… You’ve been undone being…” Tric tries to make a pun on Untdunben.

Glammur laughs at the attempt. “All right, yer doin’ better thare,” they say. “As fer what brings me tae toon, I’ve finished tippin’ the hat tae both sides. Yer folks are talkin’ with the other folks.”

“Well, that’s better than usual,” Tric observes.

“So I figured I’d come back here fer, I dae nae know, maybe a month or so. That’s if the hoose is free tae play again.”

Tric tells them that he and Heppa are headed out tomorrow, but assures them that he would not mind if Glammur and he were both there at the same time. “Now that would be a sight: you see an elf telling a story and a dwarf telling a story… It would be some sort of story duel, which would itself be a story, the most important tale of all.”

“And then we hae the human audience, so that we hae the three species combined in some sort of alliance fer when we’re retellin’ this later?”

Tric laughs. “You just stole that from my story about the grand alliance!” Glammur joins the laughter, glad their reference was recognized. “Get your own alliance!” Tric demands in jest. “One of saurians and nagas and trolls or something.” When the chucking fades away, he observes, “You missed the festival.”

“Would nae say I missed it exactly,” Glammur replies. Tric comments on their word choice, and they add, “Ye seen one, ye seen them all.”

“Oh, yes, you’re right,” Tric says with forced nonchalance. “So many festivals… every season. Like ten a year…” He feels a rustle on his back, and Mate pops his head out with a stupid, stupid call. The magpie hops the rest of the way out onto Tric’s shoulder and thence to the countertop, where he snatches up a peanut from a nearby bowl. 

Maebl swats at Mate. “What’s this damn magpie doing in here again?” she demands. 

“Don’t worry about it; I’ll be taking him away,” Tric assures her. “Just put it on my tab.” Mate snatches up another peanut, and once he has swallowed it, makes a little bagpipe yodel.  

Glammur remembers now that Tric is actually not that old by elvish standards and is relatively under-traveled. They feel a certain responsibility to help him out, given the commonalities they share. “Perhaps I was a bit too hasty thare,” they suggest. Glammur then gives their assessment that humans have so many festivals because their lives are so short and unspectacular. 

Elves do not need to celebrate every passing season because their lives are so long. And dwarves live underground, where there are no seasons. But humans, they do not have much time, and their lives are full of drudgery. There is so much more richness and vastness underground. Humans are just clinging to the surface of the world, scratching at it. But where does everything they need to live come from? The richness of life lies down below. Their crowded, dirty cities are nothing compared to the glory of Knalga. Tric had a glimpse of dwarvish construction in Untdunben, but that is just a fortress, not a full-blown dwarvish stronghold. 

As Glammur waxes eloquent about the grand halls of Knalga from which they come, Tric begins to feel the heartbeat of the very planet itself echoing through his chest. He realizes then that Glammur is tapping their foot to that cadence. There is power in these words, Tric thinks, power in these beats. He decides to engage the bard on this topic. “I’ve been telling more stories lately,” he begins. “Like you said, stories with a point. And it is amazing what you can sometimes convince people is true. We had a run in with a local thug. He had stolen some things that didn’t belong to him, and we needed to get them back. I bought them from him by giving him a box of trinkets and baubles that that idiot,” he nods at Mate, “found interesting. Rocks, maybe an old nail… I tell you, to that fellow, they looked like glittering gold when I merely told him they were valuable. I thought I would just distract him for a moment, but…”

“Ye’ve got the gift of the gab, ye dae.”

“The what of the what?”

“The gift of the gab.”

“You made that up.”

“We both did.”

“I see what you did there,” Tric acknowledges. He and Glammur do both certainly make up a lot of stuff. “You’re telling me that it is not that the fellow was daft… He didn’t seem that way.”

“When ye gave him the box, he was nae wrong tae take it. It was what ye said it was, when ye said it was.”

“What I said it was, was what it ain’t,” Tric objects. “But it was what he wanted to see. That just seems a little unreal… I can understand making people feel a certain way, but making them see what is not there?” He lets out a breath of puzzlement. “How does that even work? Because it does work!”

“People are already inclined tae believe what they want tae believe,” Glammur tells him. “Sometimes it just takes a forceful personality tae push them over that line. But it’s a delicate operation, and it’s a skill that requires practice tae hone. And, aye, yer right tae feel a little uncomfortable aboot it because it could be used the wrong way.”

“Yes, but I suppose almost any skill is like that,” Tric observes. “I learned to shoot a bow. Some people who do that are murderers.”

“Fer people like ye and me, lingerin’ in one place tae long is a good way tae get in trouble.”

Tric nods. “Yes, I get that feeling. Is that part of why you move around? Well, and also so you can reuse the same stories with different audiences, naturally…”

“Naturally, naturally,” Glammur laughs. “Aye, and weather tae.” Then they sober up and add, “Ye want tae entertain people, aye, but ye never want them tae start questionin’ yer technique. And so it is wise tae move oan before then.” Glammur admits that how long they feel comfortable staying in a place depends on the audience and the nature of what Glammur is doing. “There was a reason I left Untdunben with ye when I did. Yer talk with Knutan was nae completely mundane. I applied power there. It was nae just a conversation. If I had stayed in view of Knutan, it would hae made it more likely that he would be reminded of that evening and thought more aboot it. That is when this sort of power can begin tae unravel. Emotions can rapidly swing in the opposite direction.” 

“Oh, oh, yes. I noticed that, too…” Tric clears his throat, takes a drink. “The fellow who took the box of rocks… He came back. And he brought some friends, heavily-armed friends. Thankfully, we were waiting for them with our more-heavily-armed friends. But, yes, I think it makes sense to be cautious with applying this power. Use it in the right kind of place when the need arises. It’s just another tool. If you’re lying to someone—”

“They could also get mad, aye. But the swing of emotions there does not necessarily hae the same force behind it,” Glammur says. “It’s sort of like when ye release a bow string from full draw versus a tiny draw—right?”

“Not an analogy I expected from you!” Tric laughs. “Maybe like when you play a bagpipe starting from a little bit of air versus a lot? Is that how it works?”

“I was tryin’ tae use something ye’d understand, even if it was nae something I did.”

“I understand it twice as much now,” Tric shoots back, as he sets down his mug and pulls the two bows off his back. They share a laugh, and Tric assures Glammur that the floor is open for them. He adds sagely, “The crowd here is pretty hard to win over, but I think you’ll manage.”

“Enjoyin’ yer stay here, are ye?” Glammur asks.

“I’ve stayed at worse places. Haven’t gotten attacked by a ghost here. Hence,” Tric points at the blue and gold ribbon suspended above. Glammur nods in understanding. “Finally!” Tric says. “Some people around here just don’t believe in ghosts…”