Echoes of Invasion: Look Who’s Coming to Dinner | Scene 5

When they crest the top of the staircase, Heledd is just finishing laying the food out on the table. She sets down a bottle of wine and then spins away from the party entering the private room, beating a hasty retreat toward the servant door. Tric does not blame her for her caution; she is probably on a wanted list somewhere. He ushers everyone to the table, which is laden with fancy cuts of meat and many types of vegetables, sitting Mhaev at his left and Terwaen at his right. 

Hepalonia takes the seat across from Tric Manu and pours everyone a glass of dandelion wine. Unlike the jug of mountain tea, this bottle is fancy enough to have a label, which has a drawing of the familiar salad flower. Although this is a common elvish drink, she appreciates that Alric keeps the variety coming in what he offers her. She wonders how this will taste compared with the vintages she has had back home.

Tric cuts off a small piece of meat. He knows Mate is around here somewhere, so he figures he should get the food stealing out of the way. Sure enough, the magpie swoops through. Tric flings the snack up, and Mate snatches it midair, then settles on a high shelf to enjoy it. Tric hopes the bird will recognize this as the bribe it is and not cause any trouble during the dinner.

“What sort of meat do you think this is?” Heppa asks as she begins to cut off her own first bite.

“This is steak,” Terwaen tells her.

“Like venison steak or something else?” Heppa wonders what the humans hunt around here. “It’s too large to be rabbit…”

Mhaev restrains herself from rolling her eyes, but she cannot quite keep the frustration out of her voice. “No, humans raise cattle. Cows.” These stupid, insular Estbryn elves… Mhaev believes the people of Hisanham might still be peacefully raising such animals if this elf’s people had not tried to chase them away, but she holds her tongue. For now. That is not what she is here for.

“Ah, that explains that then,” Heppa murmurs, recalling the fields she and Tric passed on the way to South Tower. Just wait until I tell Daddy about how I ate a cow steak! “They seemed rather ungainly for riding,” she observes.

This conversation has also provided her some data for another theory she is developing, which is that the Manu, at least, seem to grow more crotchety as they get old. Hepalonia is not sure if this is a cultural thing, a biological matter, or an outcome of traumatic life experiences. Serces had a cloud following him, and Damal was pretty sour. Terwaen is almost effervescent, but Heppa has not met enough of the Horse Clan to know if they are all jolly. Alric and Tric Manu, of course, are quite friendly. Maybe it is more general, just the grind of human life, the knowledge of how few years they have left, that gets them down. Or that they were forced out of their old way of life by the Great Storm and then had their second way of life devastated by skeletons before going through a horrible war and finally being dispersed as refugees. Yes, maybe that has something to do with it.

Tric had not expected the topic of food to be so contentious, and he starts some small talk to smooth things out a bit as they all dive into their dinners. Taking a small, cautious sip of his wine, he asks his mom if she saw any good recruits in the archery contest. “That young person next to me, she seemed to be doing pretty well,” he says, trying to draw Mhaev’s attention to the launderer’s daughter to whom he gave his lucky arrow. “I don’t think she has appropriate equipment for her skill level though.”

“Yes, yes, you elves are all great archers,” Mhaev says with a wave of her hand. Tric wonders if that is what bothered her earlier downstairs, discovering that a second elf was present. Elves seem to be a sore point with the Hisanham humans.

Mhaev is here for two reasons, to get to know her glib son better and to learn more about this Merriver plot. She does not need him spinning stories for her. However, he did do quite well in the archery competition, so she files away his assessment, adding it to her own that the girl has potential. Nevertheless, she goes on to say, “But I’m not here to talk about my work.” Then she turns away from Tric, looking across the table at Terwaen. “What have you been getting yourself involved in?” she demands. “What’s this about weapon smuggling? And are you seriously going to be acting against Gweddry, you and your friends?”

Heppa, working her way down an ear of corn, her mind caught up on Anador and who he might be, pauses, mouth and eyes wide. Her mind goes from, Do they think cousin means the same thing we do? to Wait, what?

Tric sees Terwaen’s eyes also go wide. Her right hand leaves her cup and heads down toward her sword hilt. Tric leans forward, throwing a hand out across the table in each direction, towards her and towards his mother. “Whoa! Let’s all cool it!” Terwaen stills, and Tric sits back, downing the rest of his wine in one throw. “Whoa!” he says again. “Let’s back this up a bit here. Terwaen, Dame Terwaen. Mhaev, Captain Mhaev. Let’s step back a second and try to share information first, so we can understand where we are all at. Just so everybody’s aware…” 

Tric lays out once again what he knows about the dwarves of Untdunben selling an army’s worth of weapons to someone who is smuggling them into South Tower, someone who, according to the dwarvish ledger, is named Merriver. “I thought that people here would want to know about this. That it would be important for people who are close to Gweddry and close to Merriver to be informed. If there are things they need to sort out, then there are things they need to sort out. It is not my place to meddle in these affairs…” He concludes fatuously, “I don’t understand your human culture.”

Terwaen returns her right hand to the table, satisfied that this is not the offense to her honor that it originally seemed.

“I understand everyone has strong feelings about this,” Tric adds. “That’s why I wanted to bring it to everyone’s attention.”

Maybe the Manu clan are just a little hot-headed, Heppa thinks. Maybe bringing in some non-emotional data will calm things down. She sets her corn back on her plate and interjects, “If I may, I got a good look at the dwarvish ledger.” She recites the list of weapons and their quantities. 

Mhaev and Terwaen, both experienced warriors, listen, nodding along. The information Heppa provides is enough for them to estimate how many squads could be equipped. They also agree that these are real weapons and ones that groups fighting alongside each other could be expected to have, although Terwaen objects that some of them are dishonorable.

That comment confuses Tric. “What’s a dishonorable weapon from this list?” he asks. “Poison arrow wasn’t on there.”

“The morning star,” Terwaen says, and she provides a description when that is meaningless to the elves. Dwarves would not be wasting their forges and skill to produce clubs with nails in them, but the morning star seems like a glorified version of just that. Also on the list were picks and mauls, enormous hammers with spikes incorporated into their heads. To the elves, these sound like weapons that do not require much finesse and may be geared toward taking down knights. Terwaen has a low opinion of people who would wield such weapons that pierce and crush. “Those are weapons for thugs,” she says with disdain. “No honorable warrior would be fighting with those. Certainly no member of the Horse Clans.”

“That’s your father speaking,” says Mhaev, sitting there with a mace at her side. “There is nothing about a weapon that says anything about the user. Any type of person can wield any type of weapon. Particularly in times of war—” She turns to Tric and adds, as an aside, “Yes, I understand that we are not at war anymore.” Back at Terwaen, she continues, “Particularly in times of war, you take the weapons that are available, and you use them. It doesn’t say anything about your honor that you are using a particular weapon. It’s a tool.” For once, Mhaev’s scorn is directed at some group other than the elves of Estbryn Forest.

“This is an excellent philosophical debate to have at another time,” Tric says with forced joviality, trying to calm people back down through his projected mood, “about the morality of particular weapons.” Oof, he thinks. This is more contentious than Tric was expecting.

Hepalonia picks up on a different aspect of what Terwaen has said. “So, assuming it is this Merriver, do you think she has allies that are not of the Horse Clans?”

Tric runs with that idea. “Maybe she’s arming some local mercenaries to cause some trouble, and then she can come in and save the day?”

There is no doubt that the name Merriver is involved. The elves saw it on the ledger and heard it unprompted from a delivery person. Heppa provides another possibility, which she considers neutral, that Merriver is just involved in trade as a go-between. 

Terwaen rejects that idea flat-out. “No. We are not mere merchants.”

As they discuss the ledger more—with much praise from Tric on the quality of dwarvish accountants and hospitality—they realize that it included no armor at all. This is further support for the theory that the weapons are for people being hired to do dirty work rather than for equipping a proper army whose fate actually matters to its leader. Tric highlights this but reminds everyone that he is no tactician and has never himself considered how to plan an insurrection. Heppa presents the counterargument that maybe Untdunben’s specialty is weapons, and the armor is simply being sourced from a different provider.

With all the information summed up, Tric reiterates his intentions. “I wanted to get all this to you two as representatives of affected parties who might know better how to handle this—and frankly, who have a lot more at stake in this than some outsiders like us do.”

Terwaen looks across at Mhaev says, “So you are wanting me to spy on Merriver for you?!”

Harkening back to what Tric said to her earlier in the day, Mhaev replies, “Well, don’t you think that if the highest of the horse lords is being dishonorable, that is the most important matter to bring to the light of day? To cleanse them from the clan’s ranks?” She lays it on a bit thick though, and some of her scorn for Horse Clan society bleeds through. Tric wonders if this is an army versus cavalry matter. The way she scoffs at Horse Clan honor is reminiscent of how she scoffs at the forest for being the most important thing to the elves. He imagines she has had to fight for everything in her life and that has left some scars.

Yes, Heppa reflects, these older Manu sure are rather salty. They don’t like magic. They don’t like elves. They don’t like horse lords.

“I will do this,” Terwaen says to Mhaev. “But I will do this for the honor of the horse lords. I’m not doing this for you.

“That all sounds good. And, hey, maybe Merriver is just some pseudonym someone is using in order to cast aspersions or deflect blame,” Tric says encouragingly. “Maybe at the same time Terwaen does that, here in South Tower, some official personnel can check out the tunnel I told you about. You could talk to the people bringing goods through there. But again! I ask for leniency. These are merely people doing their jobs. And maybe… maybe just observe them for a while. Don’t let them know that you know,” he suggests.

“Don’t tell me how to do my job,” Mhaev states flatly.

Tric throws up his hands. “Right. I won’t tell you how to captain the guard… I won’t tell you how to parent your kids…” To his right, Tric hears Terwaen choke back laughter. 

“I have no desire to go after people just making deliveries,” Mhaev assures Tric. “We’ll leave it at that. Consider the matter settled as far as you are concerned.”