Heledd turns away from the elves’ table and addresses the room at large. “Guests of the Parting Glass, you are in luck tonight, as here among our clientele is one of the most renowned storytellers of the elvish world.” Whoa, I was just going to say Estbryn Forest. This is even better! Tric thinks. The waitress turns back to him, dropping her voice. “How would you like to be introduced?”
“That was perfect, Heledd! Thank you so much.” He supplies his name and starts to stand.
“Tric Manu, for your listening pleasure!” Heledd concludes, gesturing him up to the stage.
Tric mounts the platform in the corner and surveys his audience. Conversation is quieting down, and people at the bar are turning around to watch him. Behind them, he sees Alric looking a little taken aback, not having any advance notice on this. He sets down the bottle he was pouring. With his left arm he reaches up and hooks a ring, then pulls it downwards. A network of ropes that Tric had not noticed extends through the rafters. With the tug, the cords move some well-placed mirrors, which in turn concentrate more light on the stage area. I can see why Glammur played here, Tric thinks, impressed.
“That is so clever!” Heppa exclaims. She looks all around the ceiling, trying to figure the mechanism out, but in her tipsy state she cannot trace the lines with her eyes. She wonders if this system has anything to do with the luminaries that Damal mentioned.
“Thank you, thank you so much, Heledd! As she said, I am Tric Manu, elvish storyteller. Actually—this is right next-door—I’m from Estbryn Forest. You’ve all heard of it. It’s a wonderful place.” Aside from Heppa’s giggles, there is silence, as none of the audience seems to know where he is talking about. Not even Mate makes a comment; the bird is now hunkered down sleeping off his full meal. Tric considers what will play well with this group. Bats? That story is pretty good, but given their magic dispute with Damal, this might not be the right crowd for that. Horse folk? Sure, he has learned a bit more about the Horse Clans in this town and knows how far off his horse folk imaginings are, but that just means he needs to adapt the tale. Something with naga? He has not really gotten around to refining that idea. The ghost? He does not really want to start with a story about himself.
“Let’s thank Alric, too. A big round of applause for him providing this meal. I called it garbage earlier; I was correct.” There are some laughs, and Tric quickly adds, “But very edible, very good! Even the bird ate it.” He gestures to the lolling magpie. “Thank you, thank you,” he says to the chuckles and few claps.
“So what’s the deal with horse lords? I know, I know, they’re guys on horses. They have amazing armor. They can charge right through a line; they can’t be stopped! But, you want to be called horse lords? It makes you think that they’re horse people, like they’re horse folk. And you know what? There are horse folk.” Diners look at their companions in confusion. “No, not hidden between each one of you! Far, far to the east, where no human has ever ventured, live the horse folk. Think of a creature, I would say half-elf, half-horse; you might say half-human, half-horse. We don’t know what the other half is, but half of it is horse.” Tric has gotten the attention of the room, he is pleased to see.
“These horse folk are ruled by a powerful monarch, one Master Edward. He does not go by king; he does not go by prince of any sort. He is merely master over all mares and stallions. He rules his land, not with an iron fist, of course, but with an iron hoof.” Tric closes his hands up into fists and dramatically clashes the middle knuckles together to simulate the sound of clopping. “We should all be very thankful that we live on this side of the mountain, for whoever passes through the Bitter Swamp must treat with the horse folk,” he says ominously, leading into his first tale.
He follows the story with more jokes. “But Master Edward was not always a master. Long ago he was a young foal, still suckling his mother’s milk. But his mother’s milk was stolen from him!” Tric works in a new bit centered around the blaand. The crowd is lapping it up, having a good time, as is Tric himself. As he continues spinning his tales, though, he sees Serces enter the bar. Naturally, this is right at the point where Tric is making a joke about horseshoes.
Serces stands just within the door, annoyed to find that the person he has come to speak with is otherwise occupied and in a very public fashion, too. He folds his arms over his broad chest, waiting impatiently, hoping this joker winds down his performance soon. However, when the elf is finished and steps off the stage, he is quickly surrounded by audience members jabbering at him and slapping his back. They guide him up to the bar, and there is no way Serces can make his way through that crowd to quietly deliver his message. The blacksmith shakes his head to himself. Stupid elves. Stupid Estbryn elves, constantly ruining everything. He does see, though, that the elf’s taciturn traveling companion is at a table by herself, clapping. She was so quiet during their earlier meeting that he thinks she is an underling of some kind. He walks up to the table and tells her that Mhaev cannot see the elves tonight, but she is willing to meet with them tomorrow at the festival during a break in her duties. He gives her a time and location, and the elf replies with thanks and empty politenesses. “The pleasure’s all yours,” he flatly says and then leaves.
People laugh; they clap. Most everyone seems to have enjoyed the show, and Tric basks in the adulation of the crowd. Many are telling him what a ridiculous story that was, but the very laughable nature of it is what so entertained them. No one tosses coins at him like Ifan the juggler described, but one scarred old fellow tells Tric, “I’ve been past the Bitter Swamp! I was with Gweddry’s forces. There’s no horse folk! But that was great, that was great. Here, let me stand you a drink!” He ushers Tric right up to the rail. “One for me and one for this witty fellow!” Others around them express similar sentiments.
Alric looks Tric in the eye and asks, “Would you like this all to be the house special?” The way he weights the words, Tric gathers there is a message under the surface. With the amount of drink offers being thrown at Tric right now, he will be floored if he accepts them all, but clearly it is in the interest of Alric’s ledger to fulfill them. Ah. He’ll charge them the standard amount but not give me the alcohol, and we’ll split the profits later. Tric figures. So that’s how entertainers make money. He nods, and the barkeep passes an extremely watered-down ale to him, weaker than even what Kachen was drinking. The veteran though, receives a frothy mug.
Heledd resumes bussing the tables, torn between disappointment that this Tric fellow did well and grudging admiration over the same thing. She does not think that he played her into getting him up on the stage, but nor is he the complete braggart she thought he was. She wanted him to make an ass of himself, and he turned out to be quite competent. Maybe Alric will give me a finder’s fee.
And so goes another night at the Parting Glass. Customers savor their beverages and conduct their business. They enjoy the performance and the atmosphere. Damal eventually emerges from his booth, having met with no one other than the elves and Heledd. He turns a tiny scroll case over to Alric and then leaves. With the hour growing late, Alric pounds on the bar. “It’s time for your parting glass,” he announces. People get their last drinks and then start drifting out. When not many remain, Heledd begins dragging tables off to the side to prepare the space for its next function. The floor of the common room serves as the lowest tier lodging space at this establishment.
Tric gets up and heads over to Heledd. It is true that she tried to throw him under the cart, but he bears her no ill will. “I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to perform here,” he says good-naturedly, as he grasps the opposite side of the table she is moving.
She accepts his help. “Are you in town to perform at the festival?” she asks.
“I’m in the archery contest,” he tells her. “The bit about the ghost, remember? But, you know, it wouldn’t be fair to have an elf really compete, so I don’t know if I’ll go all out,” he adds, hedging his bets on his performance in that area.
“Oh?” Heledd arches an eyebrow. “Is that because elves would win automatically?”
“Look, it’s just not fair. Elves are just naturally more dexterous and perceptive, with superior craftselfship of bows and arrows…”
“Is that true of you too?” Her eyes drift up to his bandana.
“Some would say that’s true,” Tric responds with his own evasive answer. “I certainly got that training. Every single elf is trained in bow and arrow. Every single one.” The only full elf that Heledd has seen here tonight is a little tipsy and probably not the best paragon of elvish archer. Tric tries to think of some comparison he can make to help Heledd understand this as more than idle boasting. “So, it’s like how dwarves are amazing miners. Elves are amazing archers. Uh… humans are pretty good at building structures, I think. No one builds buildings as tall as humans do. Like that House of Light? That place is huge.”
Heledd smirks. “That’s not as well built as you might think,” she says coyly. Then she sets down her end of the table and turns to Alric. “See you for my shift tomorrow.” With that, she leaves.
So… someone is sneaking into or out of the House of Light. Interesting. Tric rejoins his cousin. “I’m going to have to work on that analogy; not every human is a mason,” he tells her. Heppa is trying to untangle Mate again. She suggests that maybe humans are prolific procreators, given the number of children they have seen in the city, but Tric thinks that is a more appropriate descriptor for orcs. Once the bird is loose, Tric asks, “What did you think of the story, Mate?”
“You’re drunk, bird!” Tric shoots back.
Heppa gasps. That is the first time they have heard the magpie use that word. Looking down at the bird, Tric demands, “Who called you clever?” His cousin admits to having used it within the bird’s hearing. “Yeah, well… Stupid!” he says to the magpie. “You’re not allowed to go out tonight or you’ll get eaten by a hawk.”
“Dragon-pixie,” the bird croaks back.
“Pixie dragon! You can’t even remember word order, bird,” Tric says as he heads up the stairs with his new animal companion.
“I like your little bird! He seems so cute,” Heppa says.
Tric shakes his head in mock-despair. “I tell you, that bird is going to get himself in trouble…”