With the letter finished, Heppa and Tric return to their table, which Mate has been saving for them. As they walk up to it, Tric tells Heppa that he hopes the bird has been practicing. They come upon the magpie all twisted up in ribbon. When he notices the elves, he begins pulling at it, trying to fix it into a fishers knot. “Aww… I didn’t mean for him to get tangled!” Tric says, feeling bad now. The magpie tugs at the ribbon again, and Tric intercedes, with a “Chill out, mate!” He starts unwrapping the creature.
“Well, he’s drunk!” Heppa says, indicating the empty cup that Tric pushed toward the bird earlier. She sits back down in her chair and pours herself another blaand.
“Yeah, that’s on me,” Tric agrees. All that remains of the bread bowls are crumbs, so at least Mate has gotten some food in him, too.
“What a little piggy!” Heppa adds, laughing. “You’re a bad influence.”
“Well he’s a bad bird!” Tric says in his defense. Then he turns his attention back to the magpie. “Calm down, calm down.” He gets the ribbon off. “It takes a while to learn,” he consoles the bird. “Tomorrow we’ll start with a simpler knot.”
Heppa chuckles. “And you shouldn’t get so drunk!” she tells the bird.
“Yeah, we need to get you some water,” Tric says. The sentiment goes for his cousin, as well.
The Parting Glass is even more crowded now than when the elves had dinner. All the tables are full, and most of the booths are marked occupied. Customers are a couple deep at the bar itself. These humans do not look particularly wealthy; most are in casual, well-worn clothes. Heppa looks around curiously. The tables are spaced out, so she cannot really pick out much of the conversations at the closest ones. Given the privacy vibe the establishment has projected so far, the furniture is probably intentionally arranged to reduce eavesdropping. She observes the body language of those around her and concludes that a far amount of business is taking place here. That is not too surprising, considering Damal was here for such a purpose. He has remained in the booth where the elves left him. Heppa notices the waitress Heledd slip in to join him.
The corner of the common room has a small platform that looks to be a simple stage, but there do not seem to be any entertainers here tonight. Not yet, at any rate. Heppa considers asking Alric if there will be any performances, but he looks quite busy up at the bar. She can only see him now and then through the collection of customers at the rail. Heppa keeps an eye on Damal’s booth, curious if Heledd is adding a message for Kachen. The waitress is in there longer than would be necessary to deliver food or refresh candles. Meanwhile, Hepalonia’s attention returns to the bird, and she talks with Tric Manu about how intelligent Mate seems.
Hepalonia is now finding herself curious about different intelligence levels across animals and people. All elves in her forest know how to write; it had not occurred to her that not all humans would. Kachen certainly could, and he also seemed more educated than Connie and Marvin. She looks around the bar, wondering who here is the most or least intelligent. Without being able to hear their conversations, though, she cannot get a good feel for it. She will have to keep this in mind during her interactions with humans in the days to come.
For now, though, her eyes settle on something intriguing. She witnesses a bag of coins exchange hands at a nearby table. Then one of the men uses his foot to push a bag across the floor to the man sitting opposite him. This pair of diners is quite literally conducting business under the table! Heppa leans a bit in that direction, trying to figure out from the shape of the bag what it might hold. Suddenly, her line of sight is blocked. Heppa’s eyes trail up the body, refocusing on the much closer person, and she settles back in her chair a bit. It is the waitress, Heledd.
“You wanna keep your eyes on your own table, here? You’re making some of the customers nervous.”
“Oh! I’m very sorry,” Heppa responds.
“You’ll have to forgive my cousin,” Tric cuts in. “We’re from the forest. It’s a very different kind of place.”
“Oh!” Heppa says startled, and then she laughs tipsily. “I forgot you were here!”
“She’s just really interested in things,” he explains.
“Do they not teach manners in the forest?” Heledd asks.
“It’s a different kind of manners. Very different… And she’s a little drunk. That blaand hit her pretty hard.”
“You wanna keep her eyes on this table,” the waitress advises Tric, “or some other blond is going to hit her much harder.” She tosses her head back a bit, directing Tric’s attention to the table Heppa was watching closely, where two men with straw-colored hair sit.
“Ah. Well, we apologize. You don’t have anything to worry about. We’ll keep the curiosity in check.” She has given him an idea, though. “Maybe there’s something more mundane to hold our attention so we don’t get so distracted. Heppa would find this interesting: we’ve never seen someone with quite your hair color before.”
“Oh!” Heppa looks more closely at Heledd. The waitress has silvery hair with a bluish cast to it, held back by a brown kerchief.
“So pray tell—and don’t feel like you have to answer—somewhere back in your family’s history… are you part merfolk?” Tric asks, trying to lighten the mood.
“Part merfolk?” Heledd bursts out laughing. “I don’t even think that could be possible!”
Heppa gets a good look at the waitress’s teeth now. They seem to all be there and in relatively good condition, backing up the current theory that Heledd is young, as suggested by her skin and ease of movement. Only the hair now remains to suggest she could be much older.
His cousin seems to have forgotten whatever she was staring at before, which is exactly what Tric was aiming for. He continues the conversation, addressing the impossibility of merfolk and humans having children together. “Can’t it?” he says suggestively, lifting up his red bandana so that his ears indicate his own mixed heritage.
“Elves and humans are one thing, but merfolk have fish tails,” Heledd objects.
“So you’ve met merfolk before?” Tric asks. “Perhaps at a family reunion?”
“Not me personally, no, but you hear stories.”
Oh, Tric has stories to tell! But he keeps himself in check, interested to hear what this person has to say. Heledd remains standing between Heppa and what she was looking at before, but the waitress does seem to be in a better mood now. “So, if not merfolk, how did you come by this hair?”
“The fruit?” Tric asks, surprised.
“No, it’s a type of stone.”
Heppa looks alarmed. “I don’t think that can be good for you to eat it.”
Tric indulges himself a little, adding a random embellishment. “Even the dwarves have only modest uses for lime, and they use almost all rock, wasting no part of it.”
“Lime is a soft stone,” Heppa says slowly, trying to reason out how this works. “I guess you could grind it up…”
Heledd shakes her head at this ignorance, but she figures she should not be too surprised. These elves are from the forest, after all. “We don’t eat it or drink it. It’s used to whitewash buildings in the city. But it can also be used to whitewash other things.”
“Does the limewater also add the tinge of blue? Or was your hair blue before?” Heppa wonders. “I haven’t heard of any humans with blue hair.”
Heledd reaches back and pulls a clump of her long straight hair around front so that she can look at it more closely. “I guess you could kind of consider it to have a bluish tint to it… But, no, I didn’t have blue hair before. Blue hair would have to come from merfolk, I would think. Blue or green, something like that. Nah, the limewater must’ve given it that tinge.”
“Blue’s not natural for elves, either,” Heppa shares. She is pleased to find that this sample does not actually deviate from the patterns she thought she had worked out.
Tric notes that Heledd has avoided mentioning what her original hair color was. He wonders if she changed her hair as part of some sort of indoctrination into a group. Or perhaps she is on the run from her past and does not want to be easily recognized. Upon further reflection, that seems more likely to Tric given how evasive she is being. The dye job must have been part of assuming a new identity. “And you like that color?” he asks, continuing to prod for more information.
“It… ah… it’s useful. I bet your bandana’s awfully convenient too, isn’t it?”
Tric puffs up a bit. “Actually, this bandana’s just pretty awesome.” This seems a perfect opportunity for him to tell a story. Heledd is young and human, so maybe she has not even heard of Kalenz or some of the other great elvish champions. Tric goes on to detail some of Kalenz’s exploits as a young fighter. “Before Kalenz was elevated into his place in elvish nobility, he wore such a bandana as a mark of his warrior prowess and great skill as a hunter,” Tric explains.
Heledd looks Tric up and down and then snorts. “Warrior prowess. Right.”
“I’ll have you know I killed a ghost. Twice. With one lucky arrow.” Tric realizes that might not sound as impressive as it could, so he quickly clarifies, “I made the arrow lucky by killing a ghost twice; it wasn’t lucky when I started.” Heledd glances over at his companion for confirmation and finds Heppa nodding.
“Did you hit it in the head?” Heppa asks. “Is that how it went down so fast?” Tric insists that is the only way to kill a ghost dead. “It happened so fast,” Heppa tells the waitress. “I didn’t even have a chance to see. That’s how fast he was. I was screaming in the corner; I think that’s what I was doing at the time.”
Tric considers how else to back up his claim. Heledd probably knows Kachen, given that she slipped in to see Damal, but Kachen was not around when Tric defeated the ghost (though he might have been there when it was summoned). No, the only other witness was Glammur, who actually may have passed through here, come to think of it. This does seem like the kind of place they might visit. “If you ever meet a dwarvish bard by the name of Glammur… Bagpipes?” Tric imitates the sound. “Ask them. They were there.” Mate picks up the tune, producing his piercing mimicry of the skirl. “Oh, c’mon!” Tric exclaims, shushing the magpie. “They’ve been around here, haven’t they?” he asks Heledd.
“Yeah, I know Glammur,” the waitress says with a nod and a raised eyebrow directed at the bird.
“So, Glammur, a trustworthy source, was there and saw everything.”
“I’m not sure I believe everything Glammur tells me, either,” she objects.
“It’s not a matter of believing it,” Tric insists. “It’s a matter of knowing it’s true.” That sounds just like something Glammur would say, he reflects. “Oh! Hey, when did Glammur last come through here, then? We met them… when was that?” He looks to his cousin.
Heppa pulls out her map and looks over the notes on it. “We parted ways in our forest a little over a fortnight ago.”
“It’s probably been a couple seasons since Glammur has been in town,” the waitress says.
“Did they perform here?” Heppa asks. “I noticed you have a stage. Do you have performances?”
“Yes, yes, we have. Traveling musicians and such sometimes perform here, and Glammur has done so.” She looks at each of the elves. “Are either of you musicians?”
At the same time that Tric starts his denial, his cousin laughs and announces, “Tric Manu is!”
“No, no. I’m not a musician. I mean, sure, sometimes I’ll tell an entertaining story, but music is not necessarily part of the equation. Glammur is a musician and also tells good stories. I tell stories; I don’t need the music.” Heledd barks out a laugh. “Plus, the bagpipes? It’s just a little overdone. Plays well in a dwarvish crowd. I suspect anywhere else…” He hisses in a breath, tilts his hand back and forth in a so-so gesture.
“Should I schedule you in for tonight then?” Heledd asks, her voice laced with challenge. “You can see the stage is free here.” This fellow has built himself up so high, and she really wants to see him crash.
“If you insist,” Tric says expansively. “If the crowd demands it.” His cousin bounces up and down in her seat, clapping her hands eagerly.