The blacksmith signals the barkeep and then joins him at the counter for a quiet conversation. Hepalonia has been eating her bread bowl while watching this whole exchange between Tric Manu and Serces, curious to find out where her cousin is going with it. At this point, she wonders whether this has all been to get them access to the earl, though she is still not sure how it will all connect up. She keeps quiet, enjoying the show. Her cousin is attentive now as well, trying to hear the hushed conversation at the bar. She bends her ears that way also. Is he arranging to have them killed for knowing too much? Or just ordering another bottle of mountain tea?
“We’re going to be needing to move ourselves over to a booth. Don’t worry; I’ll take care of the bowls and such. But you might want to bring us another drink or two to be in a position to listen in. I don’t know what they’re getting at, but some of your friends might be involved.”
“Everyone who comes in here is a friend,” the barkeep replies. “I don’t pick sides.”
“All right then,” Serces replies, “but you should be aware of what’s going on. I don’t know what they want.”
He probably thinks we want to extort him… I just want to know if he knows Mom… and to follow up on this Merriver thing, Tric thinks.
“If you don’t feel safe with them, leave, and I’ll handle it.” The barkeep says this matter-of-factly, without an edge of malice. “I’ll handle your departure.”
“No,” Serces replies with a sigh. “I know these types. I’ve got to hear this out.”
He thinks we’re looking for money, Heppa concludes.
The friendly barkeep’s demeanor darkens, and he snaps, “Hey! None of that talk here.”
Serces nods and starts to turn away, but then he looks back and says, “I appreciate what you’re doing here, but don’t forget where you came from, too.”
The elves try to act casual as he makes his way back to the table. Tric adjusts his headband, and Heppa examines her stew. “He says this one is free,” the blacksmith announces, nodding to one of the curtains. He gathers up the lunches, and the elves hold aside the drapes for him to transfer them to the more secluded table. Serces uses a taper from the common area to light some candles inside the booth, and then they all slide in, letting the curtains drop.
In the cozy confines, Tric resumes their conversation. “I mentioned someone is smuggling weapons in. Do you know someone by the name of Merriver? Perhaps she’s… disgruntled? Or disagrees with local authority?”
The blacksmith’s eyebrows shoot up. “I only know of one Merriver.”
But who’s Merriver?! Tric desperately wants to know, but he feels he has to continue to play it cool. He searches for something to say that will prompt a more complete response without revealing his own ignorance. “Yes, exactly,” he says archly.
“Surely you’re not suggesting Owaec’s daughter…”
Heppa’s eyes widen. Owaec is the horse lord they heard about earlier!
“I’m just saying that’s what I heard… and read,” Tric replies smoothly. “Dwarves keep very meticulous records. Their warriors are top-notch. And their blacksmiths. And their accountants.” His cousin nods in agreement, recalling the enormous ledger slate in Untdunben. “They are nearly slaves to their own inventories. These dwarves make not for war themselves; they make for profit.”
Serces folds his arms. “Are you suggesting that Merriver is equipping an army?”
Tric will not say it outright, but he is happy to continue implying it. “Well, someone by that name—as you indicated there is only one person by that name which we all know—is purchasing a large number of high quality weapons to be discreetly brought into South Tower.”
Hepalonia gasps. “Oh wait, that’s where we are!” She has been trying to figure out Tric Manu’s angle in this engrossing encounter, and now she has put a few more pieces together. How do we keep ending up in such places!? she marvels, hoping there will not be an uprising to endanger them.
Tric is not sure whether his cousin is saying this sarcastically or to make an extra point. He goes on, “I don’t know what someone would attempt to do with such an amount of weaponry. But I think you would agree that it would be unusual, would it not? To acquire such material on the sly?”
The blacksmith presses his lips together and shakes his head to himself. “Why are you poking outside your forest over this matter?” he asks.
Heppa turns to regard her cousin. What do we want from this? she wonders.
Tric can hear the annoyance in what is a very fair question, all things considered. The long answer is that the dwarves doing all that extra mining is ruining the water, which in turn is ruining the forest. Economically, if they have nowhere to sell, they will have to slow down the mining, which will make the water quality improve dramatically. He does not really feel like getting into all that though. “Relations between elves and dwarves are always tense at best. I’ve known many good dwarves,” he is quick to add, “and I hope some of those dwarves have known some good elves. That our latest dispute is not one of arms but one of water does not make it any less important to us, particularly in the forest. And suppose this is the craziest thing it could be, an army to depose Gweddry. Suppose that. Gweddry has been pretty reasonable from the elvish point of view. He hasn’t impinged upon the forest. We know what we are getting with Gweddry. But if the leadership changes, who knows what will happen. It’s a risk that needn’t be taken.”
“Why are you bringing this to me?!”
Tric has taken a lot of license in this conversation, blowing mere speculation way out of proportion, and it cannot all be blamed on the alcohol. The council did not send him here; a month ago, Tric had barely even heard of Gweddry. He is playing with politics he has no business touching, but with his flair for the dramatic, he presses on, fully embracing his adopted role. “We heard you were a trustworthy person, and I suspected, given your army service, a very loyal one. You’re a good first point of contact; I’m not asking you to deal with this personally. What I’m asking is, do you still keep in touch with Mhaev, the captain of the guard?”
Now it all becomes clear to Hepalonia. This is such an elaborate plan for Tric Manu to meet his mother!
Serces nods. “I’m the only one she trusts to shoe Zhamayba.”
Tric takes a moment to muddle through that and realizes the blacksmith must be talking about a horse. Aided by the mountain tea, the perpetual storyteller within him cannot help but ruminate on whether there is any horse lord in him, and he pictures himself being half elf and half horse. But Serces is still sitting across the table, glaring at him, so Tric focuses back on the performance at hand. “I think we can agree that she’d be someone who it would be appropriate to bring this up to,” he says seriously.
“She is really busy the next few days,” Serces replies.
No, no, I am so close, I cannot let him just push this off! He needs to raise the stakes. “Well, let me ask you this: if you had potentially equipped an entire army, when would you strike?” Tric asks. With his thumb and forefinger he quenches one of the candles on the table, dramatically dimming the close space further. It does seem the perfect time for an uprising; the town’s defenses seem lower and they are letting everyone in for the festival. If Sir Owaec is coming to town, his daughter probably is, too. “When the iron is hot, you have to strike.”
The well-chosen words foster a feeling of urgency in Serces, who mutters to himself about how he might get a message to Mhaev. The elf suggests some fresh new horseshoes to show off at the festival and look more important. Serces barks out a laugh, an edge of desperation in his voice as he protests, “You don’t know Mhaev at all then! When has looking right ever mattered to her?”
“If I knew Mhaev, would I be talking to you?” Tric points out smoothly. “Appearances may not matter to Mhaev, but they probably matter to the people around her. High as her station is, it becomes a practical matter.” This approach does not seem to appeal to the blacksmith. “Look,” Tric says, “I don’t need you to have a good reason to reach her. It just has to be a reason.”
Serces agrees to do the best that he can to gain access to Mhaev for the purpose of setting up an audience, but he is not sure he will be able to accomplish that today. When he asks where he will be able to find the elves, Tric makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to take up accommodations at the Parting Glass. It seems a nice enough place, and they have other business here as well. “You can find us here when the sun goes down,” he tells Serces.
The blacksmith nods wordlessly and departs with no further comment. Heppa watches him go and wonders again about the convolutedness of her cousin’s plot. It seems to her that they are meddling in affairs beyond their purview. Then again, Tric Manu is half-human, so maybe he feels he has some duty related to the weapons, since that is a human issue.