Serces leads Tric and Heppa down streets that get narrower and darker, moving the conversation away from his place of business and to a less public location. His quick pace makes conversation difficult, so they keep quiet. They pass buildings that look less well maintained. It is a part of South Tower the elves have not been through yet, and initially they are concerned that he might be leading them into an ambush of some kind. Have they been asking too many questions? Maybe what he told his apprentice was a coded message of some sort. They relax after a little while, though, as no shady people step out of alleys to attack them. Heppa looks around with interest, absorbing the city. Tric doubts he will be able to retrace their steps, but he finds the maze-like quality of the city interesting in its own right.
Serces finally slows down in front of a building whose wooden sign shows a glass splitting apart. The elves follow Serces into the Parting Glass. Although it is a bar, eatery, and lodging place like the Swamp Hen, the interior is rather different. There are no long bench tables. Rather, they are much smaller and spaced out. Far fewer customers could dine here, but they would have greater privacy. Lining one wall are several sets of thick, floor-length curtains. No daylight seeps through their cracks, suggesting that they conceal booths rather than windows.
The barkeep greets the blacksmith by name when he enters. Like everyone else they have seen, he is human, and he has very similar coloration to Tric as far as skin and hair color go. He is of slim build and cheerful demeanor. In the crook of his left arm he holds a glass, which he is cleaning with a cloth in his right hand. The left arm has a leather armguard on it and terminates in a tied-off sleeve. Heppa wonders whether he was born without a hand or lost it some other way, but she cannot see any evidence to support either theory. The man appears to be a young adult, of an age with Connie and Marvin, perhaps.
Behind the barkeep are shelves with a wide array of bottles of all shapes, sizes, and colors. A rope stretched across the ceiling above the bar likewise holds an assortment of flags, ribbons, and pennants. There is no blue and gold one; Tric will need to evaluate the place before he is willing to label it a friend to elves. Among the mix is the red triangle that they have seen all over South Tower, but more interestingly, there is also the green rectangle of Untdunben.
“Ah, Serces! I was not expecting you today… Stew?”
“Make it three and give me some of the mountain tea.” A few tables are occupied with diners, and the blacksmith chooses a table in the corner distant from them. He sits down and gestures for the elves to make themselves comfortable.
Shortly thereafter, the barkeep comes out, a tray balanced on his left arm. He sets down a bread bowl of stew in front of each of them, as well as three small glasses and a bottle. “You let me know if you need anything else,” he says to Serces. “Same goes for you two, as well,” he adds, addressing the elves.
“Thank you!” Heppa calls after him as he steps away. Then she picks up the bottle and pours everyone’s drink like a good host. “I have not heard of this mountain tea. Is this your favorite drink? Is there something special about it?”
Serces picks up the small glass and throws the shot back in one go, then sets it down empty. “Definitely not my favorite. But it’s a good, stiff drink to brace yourself.”
“Let’s see how this compares to that dwarvish piss,” Tric Manu mutters.
Heppa is not sure if he is referring to the beer they had in Untdunben or the weak ale Kachen bought from those dwarves. Both those drinks were all right to her. The elves drink theirs as quickly as Serces did, as that seems to be the way this beverage is imbibed. “Oh!” is Heppa’s reaction.
Tric gasps as it hits him. When Serces asked for the mountain tea, he briefly wondered whether it was a coded message for poisoning them. Now that he has tasted it, he is sure it was, though maybe not deliberately. This tastes very much like what Marvin and Connie were distilling. Tric picks up the bottle and examines it, but there is neither label nor etching. He smacks his tongue, trying to clear the flavor. “The taste doesn’t improve from the source, I’ll tell you that much,” he says. “It leaves a sting. Bleh! Those fellows need to get better potatoes.”
“You know the brewers?” Serces asks.
“Yeah, they shot me,” Tric says with a hiccup, “but they’re decent fellows.”
“Well, if you had entered my establishment slightly differently, I might have shot you, too.”
“Yes, and you seem like a decent fellow, too, so I wouldn’t hold it against you. No, they were worried about,” Tric drops his voice low, “taxes.”
“Aren’t we all?” the blacksmith replies. “Well, perhaps you two aren’t.”
“We are a little bit now,” Heppa says.
“We just pay our taxes in a different way,” Tric adds.
Serces pours himself another shot, and this time just takes a sip. “So, you want to know about the last battle? Is that what you’re after here?”
“Yes, let’s start there,” Tric says. They begin eating their stew.
“You think maybe he’s back? You think maybe he wasn’t defeated? I mean, he turned into this plume of black smoke and rose up into the sky. It was like a hand clawing for the clouds, and then it dissipated and all his forces on the field collapsed.”
That is some really great detail, right there! Tric thinks, but what he says, with a knowing tone, is, “Collapsed, but didn’t turn into dust, did they?” It is guesswork on his part, but he wants to sound knowledgeable. Serces flounders, unsure of how to respond. “I’m not saying it’s him and he’s back,” Tric adds, “but he had a lot of necromancer cronies.”
“They told us… They told us it was done!” Serces says, incredulous. “You’re telling me something different? I’m too old to go back to war.” He throws back the rest of his drink and heavily returns the glass to the table, then picks at his stew.
“I’m not asking anyone to go to war. Rather the opposite, I hope. I’m trying to get a better understanding of what’s out there.”
Serces shakes his head. “I’m no expert on those things. I mean, I learned how to shoe horses to keep Owaec’s men on the field…”
“And how many skeletons were felled by a horseman’s lance? How many walking corpses were held back by a cavalry charge?” Tric tries to put the blacksmith’s contribution in context. Such support is how one wins wars.
These elves, who spent the war hiding in the forest, have no idea of the scale of it. Serces tries to make them understand. “The final battle was the siege of Weldyn, their capital, which is a ways from here. I suppose it is possible something was left behind there, or that some of Mal-Ravanal’s henchmen fled. But that’s a very populated area, so signs of them would be noticed. However, Wesnoth itself was torn asunder by the war. There were battles fought all over the place. We tried to end it early,” Serces insists. “We did go as far east as Mal-Ravanal’s secret lair.”
He had a secret lair? That is new information to Tric. Of course he had a secret lair!
“But we weren’t a strong enough force to deal with that, so we had to turn back. Then we skirted the top of your forest again. We crossed the Great River to the north and fought things up there.”
Tric nods. Every great story has a crossing of the Great River. He needs to get that way sometime himself…
“So, if you’re looking for signs of them in uninhabited places… I certainly hope his old stronghold is uninhabited, but there could be goblins out there or any sort of swampy denizens. That is way farther east beyond the Estmark Hills, though.”
And will soon have bad water, Tric thinks. After all, he encouraged the dwarves to head that way for future explosive mining. Hopefully that does not come back to bite him later.
“After the war,” Serces goes on, “Owaec’s forces continued to ride the land and restore order and confidence in the Wesnoth leadership among their people.”
It occurs to Tric that Serces is using language that sets himself apart from Wesnoth. It is clear he had a sense of belonging in the army during the war, but he still views himself as other when it comes to the country itself. “Before Hisanham was founded, you weren’t from Wesnoth,” Tric observes. “Where were you from?”
“Me and maybe about three-quarters of the people in Hisanham were from the dunes. Due to a great storm that sprang up, we got cut off and were not able to return to our settlements. The sands had shifted too much. We ended up in the hills, where we encountered others who were trying to find a way home, or just a way to make a home. And so our group of wanderers grew at that point to include more than just the original Dunefolk. We thought we had found a good place, and we settled and were starting to build farms and such when you all took issue with that.”
“You know, it can be hard to tell where the edge of the forest is,” Tric says lightly, perhaps a little tipsy from the hard liquor.
“Things were seeming to finally be working out but then… Then the undead started, and it wasn’t just the elements that were an issue anymore.” Serces sighs. “This is as good a place to settle down as any, I suppose, in the long run,” the blacksmith says, gesturing around himself.
“You seem like you’re doing reasonably well for yourself,” Tric comments, trying to be encouraging.
Serces’s tone remains defensive. “I have a business. It’s sufficiently profitable. I’ve been able to stop making so many weapons and focus more on useful materials.”
Tric sits up and leans forward, seizing on a convenient opportunity to transition the topic to other questions he has. “You mentioned that you don’t have to make many weapons anymore… I know the dwarves of Untdunben—under the Estmark Hills, they have a great fortress there—they have been making many more weapons recently.”
Serces sees nothing sinister in this. “Well, if undead are around, people have got to be prepared.”
“Weapons for sale.”
“Everybody’s got to run a business, right?”
Tric realizes he is being too coy and needs to more clearly express his concern. “Somebody is smuggling large quantities of weapons. More than would be needed for general civilian use. You’re a blacksmith. Has anyone approached you about forging more weapons recently?”
“No, decidedly not. But you’re suggesting somebody’s bringing weapons in… Do you know why? If this isn’t related to the undead, then what business is it of yours?”
“We… might want to move to a booth,” Tric suggests.