When Tric and Heppa enter the Parting Glass, there are already some customers around, one of whom shouts out, “Hey, look, everybody! It’s Tric Manu!” It is an older, scarred human whose name Tric did not catch last night; the reverse does not seem to be true. The fellow comes up to Tric and slaps him on the back. Over his shoulder, he calls to Alric at the bar, “A drink for my friend here!” Then he turns back to Tric. “Are you going to take the stage tonight again?”
“Well, I can’t make any promises…” Tric equivocates, startled by the greeting. Mate flies up past them all, taking his position on the central chandelier. “If the crowd’s into it enough, I think. But if the crowd isn’t into it, well, that’s just no fun for anybody, right?” Tric sees Alric take the “house special” off the shelf to pour into one of the cups. Something far more expensive goes into the other.
“Hopefully you’ll be telling us more about those horse folk, right? The ones that live beyond the Bitter Swamp.” The eager fan elbows Tric playfully, then reaches over and scoops his mug off the counter.
Tric remembers this is the veteran who last night mentioned having accompanied Gweddry’s forces that far east. “Yes, beyond—far beyond the Bitter Swamp, ruled by Master Edward—”
“Oh, don’t blow all your material here! Wait until you’re on the stage!”
Tric tells the man that he is planning a story from when Master Edward was just a young foal, Eddy, but he is not sure there will be time for it tonight. The man presses Tric’s mug into the elf’s hands, and then, taking note of Heppa, requests another drink for the performer’s friend. Tric introduces her as his cousin, and Hepalonia extends a polite greeting, courteous as always. The man happily slaps money down on the bar to cover the drinks and then leaves Tric to his relative’s company.
“Here’s something you haven’t had before,” Alric tells Heppa, passing her a sparkling golden drink.
She gives him a smile as she receives it, pleased that he seems to get as much pleasure out of her experiencing new human drinks as she does out of trying them. Heppa takes a sip and enjoys the sweet bubbly drink. “This is amazing,” she tells him.
Alric explains that it is a fermented honey beverage called mead. This particular one is mulled with a variety of spices: cloves, cinnamon, allspice. Since it is Tric and Heppa he is talking with, he adds that it is a traditional drink of the Manu. This surprises Heppa. As far as she knows, the Manu are from the Sandy Wastes, where she would not have thought there was enough vegetation to support honeybees. She wonders if the Manu include beekeeping among their trades.
“I personally have not been to the Sandy Wastes,” Alric tells her. “I really only have my family’s oral history to go by. But the Sandy Wastes… well, I think it is a bit of a misnomer, maybe even intentionally so, to keep people away. Maybe the edges of the desert here are very sandy, but it is not just a giant pile of sand. And life there cannot be as dire as rumors may suggest. After all, the Dunefolk manage to live there, somewhere. To hear my mother tell it, deserts have plants. Deserts have floodplains. Deserts have animals. They are not the same type as we have in the plains around South Tower or in your forest—not the field of blossoms you see this time of year—but there are flowers. Whether or not beekeeping is a profession there or people just forage for wild honeycombs, I don’t know, but fermented honey is a traditional drink.”
Heppa opens up her map, spreading it across a section of the bar to annotate the area far below Estbryn Forest with information about the landscape. “Sandy Wastes” makes it seem like there is not anything, but clearly there is enough plant life to sustain colonies of bees.
Tric asks Alric, “Do you know if anyone has been back to the Sandy Wastes? Or into it to any significant degree?”
Alric knows of no regular trade routes connecting Wesnoth and wherever it is the Dunefolk are. The Manu who got cut off from where they lived before the Great Storm were not able to navigate back there. He thinks it is possible that some of the Hisanham survivors who fled across the River Weldyn when the armies were coming through then later decided to once again try to get back to a comfortable home after the war. “If that’s a question you want pursued, I can send some falcons for you,” Alric offers. “Or include it with the next sets of birds going back west.”
“Sure,” Tric agrees. “It’s definitely not time-critical, but if anyone has done so, that would be interesting. If not, that would actually be more interesting.” Then Tric could be the first Manu to retrace a path across the Sandy Wastes… or claim that he has.
Heppa looks up from her map. “Wait, birds going west? Is that where Kachen is?” She looks at Alric. “Do you know where Kachen is?”
Alric shakes his head. “I haven’t talked with Kachen since he was here months ago. You two have seen him more recently than I have.” He thinks a moment, then seems to reach a decision. “When I last spoke with him, he was headed to the Estmark Hills, which it sounded like was near your forest, so maybe that’s around where you met him?”
“Yes,” Heppa acknowledges. “But he didn’t tell us where he was going.”
“If he replies back by Aderyn, maybe he’ll indicate where he is or where he is going,” Alric offers.
Heppa looks down at her map. “I wonder how far he made it off to…”
“Well, how far can he walk?” Tric says. “Pick a direction.” He crowds in, shoulder to shoulder with his cousin, and looks over the heavily annotated and definitely not-to-scale map. Even on foot and tired, a month is enough time for a human to reach the Great River, the Bitter Swamp, the Sandy Wastes, or Weldyn.
Heppa notes that Alric resumes quietly wiping down the bar and cleaning glasses, not contributing any more information on where Kachen might be or who might know more on that topic, not even speculating. Partly, her questions were gentle prods to test how much is public versus private information, and perhaps she has hit that wall. “I don’t know if he just didn’t say where he was going, or if he didn’t want us to know,” she murmurs.
Tric has not studied the letter to the extent his cousin has, but he does recall a detail or two. “Well, he was concerned that we might hate his guts, so I suspect that’s why he didn’t mention it.”
“That would be an interesting theory, that the dwarves would dislike him so much that we would track him down to find him!” She laughs at the ridiculous thought. “Or even tell somebody where he went… I wonder what really happened down there.”
“You know, Glammur told us necromancy is punishable by death among the humans,” Tric reminds her quietly.
“Right, right,” Heppa says, nodding. The elves still do not know terribly much about how human society functions. “Maybe tax evasion, too.” She looks down at her map, considering a bit, but she does not have much to go on. She asked Kachen so many questions over dinner, and he provided so much information. Would she even have been able to tell if he had evaded any of them? All he told her regarding where he was from is that it was much farther west and that he was born within Wesnoth. In response to Tric Manu’s questions about the king and his heirs, Kachen said he was not from any sort of noble line. But was that him being secretive? Or were there just too many other questions to answer to go into more detail on those?
Alric steps back up to the cousins after having distributed drinks to a few other customers. “You two are back rather early, so I’m assuming you’re eating here tonight?”
Tric tells him that they will need a table for four, actually. He supposes Alric spent the whole day here at the tavern, serving lunches and such, and so would not have seen the joust. “Dame Terwaen might be swinging by…” Tric leaves an opening for Alric to comment, but the barkeep does not know her. Tric elaborates, “She’s also formerly of the Manu.” He frowns; that just sounds odd when put that way. “What do people say? They just don’t talk about it? Or she’s kinfolk?”
Alric chuckles. “Just because I don’t introduce myself as Alric of the Manu does not mean that I am ashamed of it. It just doesn’t fit the cultural setting we’re in. It is meaningless to people around here to tell them that.”
That makes sense to Tric. “Well, she’s another distant cousin,” he settles on. “And… I hope it’s all right if Mhaev, captain of the guard, is joining us?”
“Everybody’s welcome here,” Alric says, but his oft-repeated refrain sounds a bit more strained this time. Behind the friendly demeanor, wheels are turning as he evaluates how to handle having both his regular clientele and a representative of the earl under the same roof. “Might just need to rearrange a few things here tonight…”
A booth would provide some privacy, but far better would be to keep various groups completely separate. Alric calls back to Heledd that they need to set up the secondary dining room, and Tric quickly volunteers to help with that. Only after the fact does he learn that it is on the second floor and that they will need to carry a bunch of tables and chairs up there. Faced with that, Tric offers to rent out that room himself for just his party. Four chairs and one table, he can handle. This dinner is not covered by the regular room and board fee, but Tric can easily pay for it from his earnings the previous night.
“All right, Mate,” he says to the magpie up among the rafters, “help me carry some of these plates.” Tric joins the waitress in lugging furniture upstairs, leaving Heppa at the bar with his bow and quiver.
The magpie, while not able to help with any of the manual labor, at least keeps Tric’s spirit’s up through all the heavy lifting. Sometimes the bird sits on the table yodeling; sometimes he flutters in front of Heledd to slow her down when she goes too fast with her end of the table. As they wrestle it up the stairs, Tric demands to know why it had to be made out of oak. He gasps out a list of lighter woods that could have been chosen, willow, yew, pine, and so forth.
Although dragging furniture upstairs is no fun, at least the location of the dining room ensures that Tric will be able to usher his guests immediately away from the common room so that they will not know what kind of business is going on in the rest of the tavern. Terwaen strikes him as rather upright and law abiding, possible rebel connections aside.
When they get the table up onto the second floor, Tric pauses to catch his breath against it. “Mhaev, the captain of the guard, is going to be here tonight,” he tells Heledd. “Whew!” he gasps in some air. “You know, I had a discussion with her earlier today. I don’t know if you know much about her… that other people wouldn’t, maybe?”
“I’m pleased to say that I do not,” Heledd replies, shutting down that line of inquiry.
They head back downstairs to get chairs that are, again, way heavier than they have any right to be. As they pass Heppa at the bar, it sounds like she and Alric are talking about the House of Light. Tric makes a comment about it to Heledd as they get the chairs onto the second floor, and she admits she was a little flippant about the building the previous night.
“I suppose it is an impressive structure,” she allows. “It’s architect sometimes hangs out here, an older fellow who just goes by the Engineer. If you or your cousin are asking around about the House of Light, he knows a thing or two about it. Not very polite for me to be scoffing at his designs when he could end up hearing about it. Really, it’s not that it was poorly built that makes the building so accessible. It’s more intentional, I think.”
Tric’s eyebrows go up. “Well that’s a mite interesting.”
“A back door, if you will.”
“Yes, it’s always good to have an escape plan,” Tric says. “I hear Gweddry’s good at that.”