In the morning, Tric wakes to a pounding on the front door rather than the antics of a cheeky magpie. Nasir is probably already out in the backyard carving, so Tric stumbles out of bed to answer. Before he gets the door open, he hears his name being shouted through it. “Tric! Yo, Tric Manu!”
“Renwick, what’s going on?” Tric asks, regarding the fighter with bleary eyes.
“There’s trouble with your visitor!”
“What do you mean? What’s he got—What’s happened?”
“Thorny thicket!” Tric curses. “You haven’t been to Thrandolil’s house have you?” Renwick says Nasir’s is the first place he came, since Tric is the one who brought Kachen in. He asks if he should go get Thrandolil, and Tric seizes on that idea. He will run to Kachen while Renwick alerts Heppa and Uncle Thran. Just as they are about to part ways, it occurs to Tric to ask one more questions. “I know Heppa went to see Kachen. Did anyone visit him overnight, do you know?”
“I have no idea what that fellow did last night,” Renwick says. “Baeowin is there with Fenowin,” he adds as he dashes off.
“Forest fire!” Tric seethes. Despite the seriousness of the situation, he still glances around to make sure no one heard his foul language. Then he rushes to the scout area. It has a small central clearing, around which the stables and huts are located. Baeowin stands in the center. To one side of her is a flustered or distraught Fenowin, to whom the rider is speaking. To the other side, sprawled on the ground just outside his lodging, is Kachen. Although he is unmoving, no one is near him checking on him.
Tric races toward the fallen human but pauses at the shouted, “Halt!” from his scout commander. Fenowin also yells at him to stop, but that druid has no sway over him.
“Is it all right? What’s happened?” Tric demands.
“We’re not sure if it’s safe for you to approach him,” Baeowin says with calm caution.
“He’s dangerous! Stay away from him!” Fenowin adds more passionately.
“Did you blow that pollen in his face or something?” Tric snaps at the druid. “Is that what this is?”
“It’s for the safety of the forest,” Fenowin replies. “It’s one thing to have humans come to the edge of our forest and trade. But any human who comes into the village, we absolutely have to make sure it is safe for them to be here.” She turns back to Baeowin, resuming the discussion that Tric’s arrival interrupted. “We should be deploying this on any human who gets within the treeline. We cannot be too safe. What is the cost? There is no cost to doing the test, clearly!”
“There’s no cost?” Tric demands. “I happen to know the value of this man’s life is exactly one hock of ham.”
“Oh my! What happened to Kachen?” Tric hears Heppa gasp as she comes on the scene.
Tric catches his cousin by the arm before she can approach closer. He reins his annoyance in and tries to reason with Fenowin. “We asked him to come here, Heppa and I, in order to assist my uncle Thrandolil with defenses against exactly these kinds of things. But if we treat our visitors this way, we’re not going to be able to get that kind of help. There are only so many of us in our small forest. If we expect to be able to defend against this, we need this kind of assistance. Maybe there’s a place for the pollen; this isn’t it.”
Although Tric’s words are mostly directed at the druid, Baeowin is actually in charge here. “You brought him in,” she says to Tric. “Who did he spend any length of time with already?”
“Only myself, Heppa, and Lord Thrandolil.”
“Hepalonia, how do you feel this morning?” Baeowin asks.
Heppa throws a confused glance at her cousin and answers uncertainly, “Fine?” Baeowin turns to Fenowin with a questioning look, and Heppa quickly adds, “And he was fine when I left last night. He seemed tired, but he was conscious.”
The druid asks Heppa, “Are you able to access the life force today? Can you make brambles perform for you as normal?”
Still not entirely sure what is going on, Heppa extends her attention to a nearby bush and wills it to shake. It responds to her fae energy, and she nods to Fenowin. That seems to be sufficient, as Baeowin decrees that they may approach Kachen. “Does anybody know what happened?” Heppa throws questions out as she rushes to the human’s side. “How long has he been unconscious? Was he complaining of tiredness?”
Tric speaks up. “He had pollen blown in his face that was highly reactive with dapper inkcap. Or it just makes you sneeze. One of those two things.”
Fenowin’s version of what happened is different, of course. She claims she was simply screening whether it was safe for this human to be among elves. “Clearly this has highlighted the imbalance,” she adds.
“That’s what knocked him unconscious?” Heppa asks, and everyone nods. “Sometimes humans take elixirs for trauma,” she tells Fenowin.
“In humans, it’s a medicine in a mild form,” Tric adds, backing her up with a bit more context. “Though I understand your concern,” he tells the druid. This is a completely unexpected idea to Fenowin, that dapper inkcap could have some positive application. “It was a good idea, Fenowin, but clearly this needs some work. Can you help us undo this? Then you get to learn more about how effective it is, too.” He adds under his breath, “Very effective, apparently.”
Fenowin agrees and while they talk, Heppa examines Kachen. He is on the ground, just outside of his hut, dressed in his breeches and the blousy shirt he normally wears under his robes. A powdery yellow substance is on his face and shirt, which must be the pollen in dispute. It looks very much like the sample she sent Damal a month ago. As she looks her patient over, she can tell that Kachen is malnourished, as usual. He does not seem to have suffered any recent wounds, though.
Kachen’s breathing is raspy, and his pulse is slow. He makes no response to verbal stimuli or to her touching him. She even tries pinching his earlobe to test his pain response, but he neither moves toward the pain to stop it nor away from the pain to escape it. Fixed and dilated pupils would be a major cause for concern, so it is a relief to see that Kachen’s pupils both constrict immediately and simultaneously when exposed to bright light. He looks more relaxed now than Heppa has ever seen him, as even his sleep was troubled when they camped together in the Foul Fen. Although Heppa is sure he could use a lot of proper rest, this is not the way to get it. Kachen has not just passed out, he is comatose. She does not think this is something he can sleep off. As she begins to consider how to treat his condition, she wonders how fae magic would interact with dapper inkcap.
“You might need to knock down the dosage a little,” Heppa hears Tric suggest to Fenowin. “This was a little more than you needed to do.”
“It worked,” Fenowin observes.
“It worked a lot,” Heppa agrees somberly, and she shares her findings with them.