On the first day of summer, as the sun begins to dip below the trees to his west, Tric looks out over the scraggly hills east of Estbryn Forest. Once he would have claimed the space as part of that forest, but now he is wiser in the ways of woods. The brush and thickets poking out from the tall grasses are not part of the network that Roombledoombledeur described. As Tric gazes out at it all, he sees Renwick, farther north, leave the treeline and head upslope. The scouting party is spaced out along the border, perhaps to cover more ground, or perhaps to avoid listening to more of Tric’s stories. Baeowin has suggested that they are supposed to be quiet when patrolling.
Tric wonders what Renwick is doing—that is probably the farthest from the forest the fighter has ever gone. He squints his eyes a bit more and then realizes that the gray boulder he had observed in the distance is actually a person in mottled robes that would be more appropriate camouflage in a swamp than a field of grass. They have a staff of some sort, upon which they are leaning heavily as Renwick intercepts them. Tric leaves the treeline himself, sneaking into a position from which he can listen in. He slips out further east, so that Renwick and the traveler are closer to the forest than he is. Mate circles lazily above, but not so close as to give away Tric’s position. Renwick is too distracted by the visitor to notice what Tric is up to.
“Halt!” Renwick calls to the robed figure. The fighter’s arms are crossed casually across his chest; they are not too far from the sword hilts at his shoulders, should he need them. “Who goes there?” This is not one of the three approved humans—Connie, Marvin, and Mari-Elin—but Tric Manu did warn Renwick about another guest coming. He is cautious but not threatening as he goes through his list of questions. “Do you know where you are? What’s your business in this area? Are you sticking to these hills here? Where are you headed? You’re getting awfully close to the forest.”
At least he’s not leading with his bow out like when we brought Glammur, Tric thinks.
The visitor’s hood is up, which Tric thinks would feel too warm out in the open in the summer, but perhaps it is for protection from sunburn. When the voice comes from the cowl, soft and measured, it confirms Tric’s suspicions about the identity. “I have come to visit Hepalonia and Tric Manu. I have a letter indicating that.”
“All right, let me see that,” Renwick says, stretching a hand forward. “No funny business.” Kachen reaches into his satchel and pulls out a long, thin strip of paper. Tric knows how tiny the writing on that letter scribed by Damal is. Indeed, Renwick squints quite a bit, trying to read it. As he unfurls more and more, it flaps around in the light breeze.
Kachen snatches it back and rapidly locates the relevant text, holding it out stretched between his hands so that the border guard can focus on it: Daddy would still like to meet you. He’s very curious about the staff. “This is the staff that your Thrandolil is interested in studying.” Now that he is closer, Tric can recognize the twists and knots in the smooth, dark wood. This is indeed the item Heppa pulled from the Foul Fen along with a couple walking corpses. “Do not trouble me further.”
“That’s Lord Thrandolil to you,” Renwick snaps back.
This impatience is the most emotion Tric has seen from Kachen. He wonders what the reason is. While it might be fun to watch the two spar verbally, Tric decides he should interject before the sparring becomes more literal. Tric strides out of his hiding place, seeming to come from farther into the hills than they are. “Good eyes, Renwick,” he calls, startling the other elf. “This is exactly the fellow who we were looking for.” Tric turns to the human. “Kachen, it’s good to see you again. This is Renwick, one of our most stalwart border guards.”
Tric has noted the way Kachen is leaning on the staff. Probably from malnourishment, he figures. “You must be hungry from your long travels,” Tric says.
“Do you have any donuts?” Kachen asks, with a slight lift of the corner of his mouth.
“I’m short on donuts.” Tric squints up at the sky. “I think I might have a field mouse coming soon, but you’re probably not interested in that.” Though you kind of eat like one, Tric reflects. “Please, I insist you join me in some field rations here before we head into the forest proper.” Tric swings his pack down and starts rifling through it. He hears a sharp, frustrated exhale from Kachen.
“Really? Must we further delay?”
Tric glances up from his bag, snacks in hand, and sees Kachen looking down the hill at the forest, his destination so close at hand. “What’s the hurry?” Tric asks.
“Can we at least get under the shade? I have been walking all day in this hot sun. There is no trouble behind me, but I would like to get to your settlement.”
Tric can see the value in that argument. It is also a better answer than that Kachen is being chased. And while previously Kachen has been hesitant about going to towns, this time he has an actual letter of invitation, which maybe he feels offers him some protection. Tric agrees to not waste Kachen’s time, but he does stretch out his hand with a meat stick for Kachen to eat along the way. Mate swoops down and snatches it; if the strange new human does not want it, there is no use in it going to waste. “All right, we can get a move on,” Tric says. “Renwick, I’ll escort Kachen into town. You remain here to stay on the lookout. Kachen doesn’t think he was followed—he probably wasn’t—but constant vigilance, right?”
Kachen begins to head towards the treeline. After he passes Renwick, the fighter throws Tric a meaningful glance. He has already been warned that trouble tends to follow Kachen, so he knows to be on heightened alert. Tric approves and offers as parting advice, “If you see a ghost, shoot twice.”