Tric takes Glammur to where the scouts stable their horses and keep their own accommodations. He expects that, as frequent travelers themselves, they will be a bit more accustomed to dwarves than the average villager. Hopefully they will respect that Glammur is a traveler too and treat them with some courtesy. After all, the scouts themselves are often afforded safe passage when traveling between the great forests of the continent. They can return the favor.
The scout Endathalas is assigned escort/guard duty and takes up position just outside the simple one room hut while Tric helps Glammur get settled. “It’s not much, but it’s a place for you to drop your pack. And the axes. Axes in particular make elves nervous,” Tric advises.
The dwarf is very understanding and complies without protest, although they do ask his opinion on whether it is all right to keep the bagpipes with them. “I think it is totally fine to have the bagpipes,” Tric declares, “but I don’t think most elves are going to enjoy the sound. But, hey, maybe that’s the point! The tambourine, that I think maybe they can get behind.”
Tric then delivers Glammur, instruments on hand, to Breda’s story circle. Endathalas tags along, hovering in the background and not getting in anyone’s way. Tric clumsily introduces Glammur as a traveling dwarvish traveler. Having had enough bungled introductions for one day, Glammur gently clarifies, “Bard is the word we use.”
That is a new word to Tric. “Barred from what, I don’t know!” he jokes. “But they have some interesting tales to tell. I have some interesting stories, too, but that will have to wait until later.” As he backs away, he points to both Breda and Glammur and delivers a parting quip. “Don’t believe a thing this person says!”
Next, Tric heads to the simple cabin that he shares with his father. Although Tric told Knutan he would bring up matters with the Estbryn Council, in reality, he has no intention of doing that himself. He plans to tell his father about how they solved the water problem, which will get the information into the hands of someone who can deal with the council. And maybe make his father proud of him, too, even though he is no water dowser. When Tric reaches home, he finds his father sitting on a log bench out front, long blond hair tucked behind his attenuated ears to keep it out of his way. His calloused hands are sanding rough patches along a forked willow branch, and his whittling tools lie nearby. Tric assumes this new dowsing rod is to replace the one that went missing.
Nasir hears Tric approaching and gets up to give him a warm fatherly embrace. “How is the scouting working out for you, my boy?”
“Great, actually! There are so many things to tell you about. Heppa and I got along really well; it was good to get to know her better. And we met so many people! I don’t know if you heard: we brought a dwarf back with us.”
“That’s… different,” his father says hesitatingly.
“They’re a traveler. They’re sort of like an elvish scout but not on horseback. It takes a little bit longer…” Tric’s words drift off as he sees his father’s pale face lose what little color it normally possesses.
Nasir fires off a barrage of alarmed questions. “Are there movements of troops? Are the humans arming themselves? The dwarves have scouts they are sending out, and they are coming to treat with our leaders?”
“Well, no, then yes, then sort of.” Tric tends to think of scouts as people who get to travel to far-off places and see the world; he often forgets their military function. He tries to calm his father down. “Heppa and I visited a dwarvish fortress. It’s more like this dwarf got bored underground, and I thought there would be more interesting things here to entertain them.” Tric considers that maybe traveling storyteller might be a better term to use than scout moving forward. Or maybe bard, like Glammur said. “Dwarvish bard is a respected guild position among the dwarves,” he assures his working-class father. “Much like water dowsers are an important part of our society, bards are an important part of dwarvish society. There is definitely no army mobilizing from Untdunben.” For a change, Tric includes some unembellished truth as he continues, “The humans are purchasing a bunch of dwarvish weapons, but I think that is for a rebellion they are planning against their own people. It didn’t seem like our problem.” Then Tric plays his trump card. “But—you’re going to love this—I think Heppa and I solved the water problem. You’re not going to believe it!”
Nasir relaxes more. “Tell me, my boy! How did it go? I saw you took an extra one of the rods!”
“Ah, I gave that one to Heppa. I didn’t think you would mind. She seemed interested in it, and she actually took to it really quickly. She was able to detect some bad water to the east, the direction where you said the dowsers were having trouble. We traced back the flow of bad water…” Tric slips into full-on storyteller mode, trying to sprinkle his descriptions with whatever water terms come to mind. “At first we thought it was perhaps some moonshiners we found in the hills, but no. They were a friendly sort, if a bit quick to draw. But they were not the problem; they had only bad potatoes. We carried on with our trek…” Here Tric begins to tap a rhythm with his hands, like Glammur did, trying to evoke footsteps or hoof clops. “… all the way to the Foul Fen. There we met a human—a mage, believe it or not. Versed in magics, frail of body. Also a saurian: quick and nimble, but eager to bargain. And we fought undead in the swamp.” Tric sees his father starting to grow alarmed again. “Fear not! We bested them. Not once, not twice, but thrice, in fact! On three separate occasions we fought back undead.” That ghost totally counts as twice! Tric thinks.
“But the swamp itself was not just rotting, it was tainted. Bubbling up from the very bottom of the swamp was foul water. So we did what no elf ever likes to do: we went underground. There, deep under the earth, we came upon the dwarves forging many arms. The forges were so hot, you would think they could reach the center of the world. The dwarves were not just mining, they were stripping the underground with great blasts of fire, nearly bringing down their own home upon their own heads. We were able to quench their fire and get them to agree to perhaps strip-mine somewhere else. For their own sake and our sake—and the sake of the saurians.”
As he moves into the more mundane part of the story, Tric abandons the bardic flourishes. “But… it’s going to take a lot of movement, a lot of carts for them to start mining somewhere else. I said we would try to provide what support we could for them to move their mining operation. It’s good for them; it’s good for us. I understand I don’t have the authority to agree to that, but if we don’t have to go searching so much for water, we can at least help out some other way. They didn’t know it was causing a problem. And they did give us some pretty good food several nights in a row.”
Nasir listens attentively to the well-told story and assures Tric that he will pass the information along to the appropriate people. Many in the water dowsing community will be relieved at the resolution of this mystery.
“Oh, there’s one detail that I left out,” Tric adds. “When we were fighting the undead, our human ally and our saurian ally did not get along. To save our new friend’s life, I had to barter away my dowsing rod. My precious, precious dowsing rod.”
“I’m impressed that you would make such a sacrifice,” Nasir says.
“And I thought,” Tric continues, “that if I’m going to become a scout now, it’s not the right tool for that position. It wouldn’t be appropriate for a scout to go dowsing all over the place. And to save a man’s life, I felt like that was a fair trade. And we also got our food back too.”
“Seems like a good deal. I understand that water dowsing is not your path,” Nasir tells Tric, without pushing a replacement dowsing rod on him. “It sounds like this scouting is really working out for you, my boy,” he says happily.
“I think so! Heppa and I had a great time. We only almost died around three times. I think that’s an expected number.”
“And you’re finding your place along the edges of the forest.”
“We traveled to the very edge of the forest, which is extremely far away. And then beyond the edge of the forest. But I think we didn’t get exactly what Uncle Thran wanted us to, so I think we’re going to have to go back out again. He has some really specific tastes. We’re going to head south next time. Don’t worry; we’ll take our dwarf friend along with us, since they were interested in checking out things that way. We might go to South Tower, too. Have you ever been there? Or it was so long ago, it wouldn’t matter?”
Nasir’s good mood evaporates at the new topic. “No, I never went as far as their outpost,” he says. “Our settlements were all along the edge of the forest. We didn’t go off across the open space.”
“I guess that makes sense…” Tric steels himself and presses on. “I thought that if I was going to a human town, I thought it would be good—if you had any leads—if I could try to find Mom. I know it’s not a happy topic for you. But I’m going out into the world, and I feel like it is something I should find out about.” Nasir starts to respond, and Tric hastily assures him, “I’m not going to ask you to recount tales of back then. That wouldn’t be appropriate. But I think I should be able to find out on my own.”
“I… I…” Nasir stammers, blindsided. “I don’t really have anything to tell you about her, my boy. Leads on her would be thirtysome years ago.”
“I could find out what happened to her, at least.”
“There could be signs of what became of her people down where the fighting was,” Nasir allows.
“Was she of Wesnoth?” Tric asks. “Was she part of the Horse Clans? I know literally nothing about her, other than that you two broke up. And probably she has darker skin than you,” Tric adds holding out a brown hand next to his father’s white one. Nasir purses his lips and looks away. Something about how Tric has framed the few things he knows about his mother is particularly troublesome to his father. Nasir seems uncomfortable rather than sad or angry.
“I don’t think those humans would have viewed themselves as part of Wesnoth,” Nasir finally says. His comment makes sense to Tric in a way it would not have a couple weeks ago. Now that he has learned some history and met some outsider types of humans, it is far more understandable. “But a lot has changed since then. If there were any survivors from their group after the whole war with Mal-Ravanal, it is possible that they did get folded into Wesnoth.” Tric asks what their group was, and Nasir’s answer slowly comes out in fits and starts. “They were a mix of many humans who had set down at the edge of our forest and tried to build a settlement there. This is part of the reason that our contingent was sent down, to make sure no humans intruded upon the woods. They were folk of mixed origins, and, yes, your mother was darker-complected than elves are. The humans that she lived with were of a wide variety of sorts, probably of many different origins, bonded together in the common purpose of settling on the edge of our forest. But where they all were originally from, I don’t know that any of us ever learned.”
“Did they fight in the war?”
“As along any edge of peoples with different backgrounds, there were skirmishes between the elves and the humans as we all struggled to work out the situation. But then Mal-Ravanal rose with his forces and the undead swept through. And we retreated.”
“So we don’t know what happened,” Tric observes.
“We were attacked by the undead on our retreat. I do not know if that is because they overran the human settlement or if they circumvented it. Or if they headed that way after a human retreat. It… it was a very dark time.”
“I know. I didn’t mean to make you relive it. But I think that’s where Heppa and I are going next to look for what Uncle Thran is interested in.”
“You know, my boy, that you belong here in the woods with us,” Nasir says almost entreatingly.
“I know I always have a place here,” Tric assures him. “And you know, I think I’m finding that place. But that place is also going outside and finding what is there, then bringing the things that we need back inside.”
“But this is your home,” Nasir insists.
“Yeah, this is my home,” Tric agrees. “Sure, I’m a thirty-three year old half-man who lives in the basement,” he jokes.
Nasir throws an arm around Tric, giving him a hug and then patting him on the shoulder. “You’ll always be my boy,” he says, smiling.
“I know, I know. And I’ve never felt out of place at home. You and everyone in the village have been super awesome.” Then Tric grows a bit reflective. “You know, I didn’t feel out of place in the dwarvish settlement, either. Nor with the moonshining humans, or the kind of creepy human, or even the saurian. I’m sensing a pattern. Maybe it’s me! I’m just an easy-going guy.” He delicately returns to the previous topic one last time. “In case she or her people have moved on… what was her name? I feel like I deserve to know my mother’s name or whatever she called herself.”
“Your mother’s name was Mhaev of the Manu.”
“Well, that explains some things. Thanks, Dad. Do you want to go fishing?” Sitting by a pleasant pond in companionable silence together sounds great to Nasir, and so they head off to a secluded pond. Tric doubts he will catch anything—that is not the point of fishing, after all—but already he is mentally preparing a rainbow trout that he will tell Heppa about.