In the morning, after a final application of herbal poultice to Kachen’s spear wound and a breakfast of doughnuts, the elves head toward their meeting place with Hezzis. Hepalonia is a little worried about how their injured friend will fare by himself for a few days. It is true that he was on his own before the elves ever showed up, but he was not as badly hurt then and she does not want his recovery taking steps backward in her absence. After all, he is under my care. It is reasonable to worry. It does not mean I am responsible for him or anything like that, she tells herself.
Conversation along the way focuses on preparation and preservation of wild hog meat. Tric bears a second haunch as payment for their guide. When Tric and Heppa reach the sunrise side of the swamp, she is already waiting. In addition to her quiver of small spears, the skirmisher sports a simple pouch on her belt with supplies for the day-long hike. Upon seeing the elves, she turns and begins scurrying through the wilderness. As they travel, Tric looks around with great interest, wondering what sorts of tracks he might find along the way. Hoofprints would be ideal for continuing to build his stable of horsefolk tales. Hezzis does not dally at all though, and the pace is too swift for him to examine anything long enough to identify it. Tric is amazed at how fast her short legs carry her through the rugged terrain.
Heppa is attentive to their surroundings as well, but she is more focused on learning the route so that they can retrace their steps later. The saurian is not going to linger around while they inspect the caves, so the elves need to be prepared to find their own way back to the swamp once they are done there. Hepalonia takes a wide view of the areas they pass through, making note of interesting rock formations and other landmarks. As they increase in elevation, she is able to see more and more of the surrounding countryside, finally even as far as the Sandy Wastes. She really gets her bearings now on where they are in relation to Estbryn Forest and the southern battlefield that they had intended to visit first.
Meanwhile, Tric works on his memoirs. In his previous dealings with Hezzis, he has gotten some vague hints about saurian culture, such as that there is some sort of gendered assignment of roles. However, he needs more details to really flesh out the stories he intends to tell in the future. He prods Hezzis to speak about her people. “So you’re a hunter… I’m also a hunter.”
“That’s wrong,” the skirmisher says.
“I get that a lot, believe me. But I assure you it’s true. I understand that among elves and saurians, there are very different divisions of labor.”
Heppa wonders how Hezzis knows that Tric Manu is not female. Then it occurs to her to wonder how they know that Hezzis herself is female. She goes back through the swamp events in her mind and settles on Kachen as the source of information about females being warriors in saurian society. So far, Hezzis has shown no uncertainty about their own genders. Maybe she has seen humans and elves before, Heppa supposes. When she tunes back into the conversation, Tric Manu is asking Hezzis if saurian men are astrologers.
“You’re saying that wrong. It’s augur,” Hezzis corrects him. “Men cannot be very great, but the greatest among them are oracles or soothsayers. Oracles are particularly impressive, given how physically feeble they are. Soothsayers, too.”
“Do they really tell the future?” Tric asks.
“Yes! The future is already there, and the oracles and soothsayers let us know what it will be.”
“Is your soothsayer pretty good about this?”
Hezzis ducks her head down a bit. “I don’t have a soothsayer,” she reluctantly admits. “But I have given your elvish weapon to the augur to study.”
“Well, maybe one day he’ll make it to soothsayer,” Tric says encouragingly.
What elvish weapon? Heppa wonders. The halberd? Oh! The dowsing rod! She must think it is an artifact of some kind. Hepalonia’s curiosity has gotten her in trouble back home for asking too many questions. It is a relief to be out here with her cousin who does the asking for her. She remains content to just listen in and absorb the new information.
“Best of luck to him in uncovering its mysteries. So… Augurs can tell the future… They can read omens and dark portents…” What other wacky types of magic can I ascribe to saurians? Tric wonders.
“And they curse our enemies,” Hezzis proudly declares, straightening up to her full height, short as that may be.
“Oh! That’s pretty good. What’s the go-to saurian augur curse?”
“Saurian magic is superior. It can enervate the victims, making them more feeble in all ways. And you warm-bloods cannot withstand our chilling magics.”
“Well, I’m glad we’re not on opposite sides today,” Tric says with a smile.
“Not today,” Hezzis agrees. “We have a deal.”
When they reach their destination in the late afternoon, Heppa slumps against a tree outside the cave entrance, catching her breath and giving her weary feet a rest. Hezzis does not linger. She will be able to travel faster without the elves, and the oncoming night is of no concern to her. Tric hands over the additional hog haunch that was the agreed payment, still peppering her with friendly questions. “Does your augur like the same cut of meat as you?”
“My augur knows better than to question the quality of meat that I provide to the clan,” she declares.
“Wait… Does he know how you’re getting this meat?”
“What does it mean to hunt? You go out, you get meat, and you come back.” With that parting wisdom, the saurian scurries off.
“See? This is why I like Hezzis,” Tric tells his cousin, grinning broadly.