Mari-Elin pulls her handcart through the tunnels, guiding the elvess to the dwarvish settlement. Tric offers to help, but she turns him down. The cart is not much, but it is hers. She tells them that people laughed at her when she said she was going to get into the carting business, but she has been doing all right. Hepalonia asks if she built the cart herself. While Mari-Elin has fixed it up numerous times, she actually acquired it through salvage. The original owners abandoned it after it got stuck in a river. Given her recent experience, she wonders if that was also the result of one of these washouts.
Heppa’s next set of questions focuses on naga. Mari-Elin just says they are river monsters. Heppa then asks Tric if he knows anything about them or other river monsters. It pains him to admit ignorance, but he is also burning to know about this new subject, so he presses Mari-Elin for more details, and Heppa joins in. They ask about tentacles, swimming, thumbs. The human describes them as vicious swimming monsters about the size of a person. Tric decides monster is not the proper term for a creature with thumbs and suggests that they could be likened to water-dwelling orcs. Mari-Elin grants that as a fair description. Under further questioning, it becomes apparent that she has never seen a naga herself. Tric takes that admission as license to fabricate stories himself, since everything he has just heard is hearsay anyway. He tells Mari-Elin that he heard that the gaze of a naga can turn someone to stone, but only if viewed through water.
Any suspicions Mari-Elin may have harbored about the elves and their motivations completely dissipates under the barrage of silliness and blatant curiosity about everything that they exhibit along the way to the dwarvish fortress. It is night on the surface by the time the group reaches their destination. The tunnel opens up into a cave and then broadens even farther into a cavern. Structures are carved into the stone including ramparts around a gate with dwarvish guardsmen atop them.
Elves and dwarves have fought several wars over the centuries, but right now there is a peace between them, uneasy as that might be. The cousins do not fear for their lives coming here into the heart of a dwarvish settlement, but they are a little nervous about the treatment they will receive. “I hope those greedy dwarves aren’t going to be jerks,” Tric mutters to Heppa, and she nods in agreement.
The dwarvish guardsmen call down a challenge as the party nears the gate. Mari-Elin handles this, speaking on behalf of the elves and then demanding, “You need to tell Trigadur that whatever he’s doing is interfering with the trade routes and it cost a crate! I’m here to get a replacement.”
Tric Manu backs up her claim, as he said he would. “There’s been a lot of flooding going on, below and above.” Hepalonia holds her tongue. Yelling up at the guards does not seem very polite or dignified.
“Och! Park yer cart aff oan th’ side thare, lassie. Ye’ll talk tae Trigadur if he feels like talkin’ tae ye.”
With no more fanfare than that, they enter the fortress. Although it is late, dinner is still being served. They each grab a bread bowl containing meat stew and a mug of ale. As travelers, they offer payment in the form of news from afar. Tric looks around at the long tables, dismissing ones that have too small an audience. He settles down on a bench with half a dozen dwarves and regales any who will listen with the tale of a great battle they fought in recently. “It took a grand alliance of elves, humans, and saurians to defeat the shambling swamp corpses,” he claims. The scale certainly sounds grander than it was, and he plays up how they narrowly convinced the saurians to assist. He sums up the species as, “small and scaly, adept negotiators,” so that his deal with Hezzis seems more impressive. Heppa is happy to listen to the story, even though she scarcely recognizes the events from a few days ago.
A few tables away, a dwarf smoking a pipe listens in, annoyed at first that their own audience has drifted away. Who is this upstart elf? Slowly, though, they begin to appreciate a fellow practitioner of the bardic arts. Certain parts of the story are definitely ridiculous. An elvish-saurian alliance? Really? Others are old, tired tropes. Ah, but tropes are tropes fer a reason. There are enough good ideas mixed in that the dwarf sees potential. A triple alliance, that’s clever. They make a note to keep an eye out for the elf on the morrow.