Mhaev lets out a long breath and searches around for something to say. “We’re here for a nice family meal, and we’re all supposed to be reconnecting…” she starts, but she is at a loss for how to make casual conversation with this group.
They turn their attention back to their plates, where the steak has gotten only a little cold during the heated exchange. Tric asks Mhaev about her bow. He has seen a variety of bows among the elves, but never one like that before. “Where is it from? Did you make it yourself?”
Although Mhaev knows how to make such bows, the one that Tric saw today is actually a family heirloom from before the Great Storm. “I only take that one out for important occasions,” she says. “It was your grandmother’s bow.” She has preserved it through all these years, but she does not use it regularly. For daily use, she has a similar bow that she crafted herself. She explains that it is a composite of several different types of wood, but she does not bore Tric with the details. He relaxes a bit, relieved that this conversation is not turning into a treatise on wood the way some dowsing rod discussions have in the past.
“Is your knife a family heirloom?” Hepalonia asks Tric Manu, trying to forge some sort of connection between him and his mother, to highlight some evidence that she loves him.
Tric pulls out the knife he has had forever, and Mhaev confirms that it is just Serces’s handiwork—as were most of the knives in Hisanham—and nothing particularly special. She indicates that he has always had it because it was with his things when he was picked up, even though he was too small to use it yet.
Terwaen leans forward and asks to see the knife. As have so many before her, she comments on its need for better maintenance but recognizes the quality of the implement itself. “How wonderful that you made sure he was armed even as a child,” she tells Mhaev. Tric admits that the bow is really more his style and he mainly uses the knife for survival tasks like butchering wild boar. Terwaen returns his knife to him and takes a few more bites of her food, then says to Mhaev, “So, you left him as a baby?”
Hepalonia is way too polite to ask such a forward question, but she is thrilled that someone else is willing to. Maybe she’ll ask about Anador, too, Heppa hopes.
Tric interjects, trying to cut his mother some slack, “She left me in safe company during the war. As you can imagine, traveling with an army… I wasn’t then the astute, primal hunter that you see now.” There are snickers all around the table. More than the people are amused, too. Mate swoops down from his shelf with his familiar stupid, stupid call. “For example, I’ve tamed this incredibly stupid bird,” Tric says. “No longer does he steal from people; now he only steals from me.” The magpie snatches a bit of food from Tric’s plate. Tric does not even try to stop him and in fact gives Mate an affectionate stroke with a light finger.
Emboldened by Terwaen’s question, Hepalonia asks, “So Mhaev, how did you meet Uncle Nasir?” Tric Manu casts his eyes down at his plate and comments on the potatoes. Sensing some awkwardness, Heppa hastily adds, “If you don’t mind me asking.” She knows Nasir was with the same large group of elves that her father was, defending the southern edge of the Estbryn Forest against the human incursion that the woses told them about. But that does not really explain how Tric Manu came to be.
Mhaev manages to respond in a polite and nonjudgmental fashion. “There were some elves who… took issue with the settlement of Hisanham, and there were some conflicts. Your Uncle Nasir was part of that group. As far as I know—I didn’t know him terribly well—he was one of the water dowsers.”
This is sounding to Heppa more and more like Nasir is not Tric Manu’s father. She prods for more information. “So, you may have met my father as well. I believe he was also in the scouting parties around that time. Thrandolil?”
“Oh yes,” Mhaev says, “I met Thrandolil.”
“Well, great!” Tric says, hoping to change the discussion away from this awkward topic that he is still struggling to process internally.
Tric Manu told Hepalonia that Anador was an elvish lord, and downstairs, Mhaev asked if Heppa was related to him when Tric Manu introduced her… This name that she only half-recognizes continues to niggle at Hepalonia, and she asks, “Is that when you met Anador?”
“Well, Anador introduced me to Thrandolil,” Mhaev says.
“The name seems familiar but… He must have been a friend of Daddy’s?”
Mhaev’s brow furrows, and she gives a bemused shake of the head. “He’s your father’s brother.”
“Wh—I’ve never—” Heppa stammers, startled. Daddy has no brothers. Maybe she did overhear the name in her household one time, long ago. But these Manu seem to use family terms rather loosely; maybe Mhaev means something different from what Heppa would when using that word. “Do you mean a biological brother?”
“Yes.” She turns from Heppa to her son and says, “I think your people have a lot to answer for.” Sure, someone could consider what Mhaev did to be abandoning her child, but it seems to her that Estbryn elves have erased Tric’s father.
“We’re not perfect,” Tric deflects. “But we try to take care of what we have.”
“I’ve never met… Maybe he died?” Heppa apologizes for any awkwardness. “I guess I have some questions for Daddy. I was not aware he had a brother.” It occurs to Hepalonia that she and Tric Manu really are cousins, just in a different way than she thought, through Anador and Thrandolil, not through Nasir and Penna. Tric Manu’s social status is also much higher than he thinks it is, she realizes. Grandmother Quaemilya and Grandfather Cleomithir are Tric Manu’s grandparents, too.
Into the silence that follows, Mhaev asks Tric about what he does for fun, which moves the discussion to fishing and storytelling. “Some people tell stories around a campfire,” Tric says. “I might tell one downstairs later tonight, we’ll see.”
Terwaen perks up. “Are you a herald?”
Tric has no idea what that means, but it sounds cool. He makes a snap decision. “Yes.” Herald, bard… he wonders how many jobs are really just storytelling. “But sometimes I like to slum it down here,” he continues, assuming that if heralds are associated with horse lords they are somehow higher in standing than bards. “Yes, I tell stories, spread news around, things like that.” He decides to give Terwaen a chance to share. “So, are there any crazy family trees in the Horse Clans?”
“Crazy family trees? In what sense?” Terwaen asks. “What would make one crazy? More crazy than ours?”
“You’re right, it is pretty crazy,” Tric acknowledges. “Is there anyone who thinks someone is their parent and then realizes that someone else is their parent?”
“I’ve always known who my parents are,” Terwaen replies.
Still thinking of the mysterious Anador, Heppa asks, “How about your uncles and your aunts?”
Terwaen turns to Heppa, answering, “I have an uncle. He’s a noble fighter. He was a knight in Konrad’s army, and he married my father’s sister.” As an aside to Mhaev she adds, “That would be Inyc. I don’t know if you knew that they got married.” Mhaev shrugs, indifferent.
There is some joking around about crazy trees and the Estbryn Forest, leading to Heppa and Tric telling the humans about the druid Fenowin growing a tree—or possibly just a branch—in her hair. Terwaen is amazed to hear this, but Mhaev rolls her eyes at what she thinks is pure fabrication on her son’s part.
“When certain elvish druids become more attuned to their faerie nature, they become literally in tune with it. Rather than just commanding the power of nature, they become it. They embody it,” Tric tries to explain. Neither woman shows the level of distrust of magic that Damal did, so at least that is good.
Terwaen shares that there is not much magic in the Horse Plains. Sometimes mages pass through, but not many reside there. The young folks at the table resume their previous game of discussing how hard things are to do ahorse compared to afoot, this time focused on magecraft. Terwaen has never observed a mage on horseback and so does not have a good answer for this.
It occurs to Hepalonia that she has never seen an elf cast while on a pony, either. Druids and sorceress tend to be on foot. This realization distracts her from her dining companions for a while, as she begins to wonder whether physical contact with the ground is somehow required for elvish magic to function. Heppa herself has never tried to cast from a pony or a cart, experiments that would be easy enough to run. Magic might scare the mount, though, particularly if the spell went wrong, as hers sometimes do. Heppa has not tried casting while jumping, either, so that is another thing she could try. She did disperse Tric Manu’s drunkenness inside the dwarvish tavern. The floor there was hewn stone, which might or might not count as ground. The really advanced elvish casters, the shydes and sylphs, have wings and can cast while flying, but they have become one with the fae as much as an elf can, so maybe they are an exception.
“Perhaps it is too much for the rider to be thinking of at the same time,” Terwaen suggests. “The mages I have met seem very wrapped up in their thoughts—”
“You don’t say!” Tric comments, looking at Heppa’s unfocused eyes.
“—and one must be very much in tune with one’s horse in order to have it understand what you want without directing it.”
Mate tilts his head at Tric and sounds his stupid, stupid call again. “That must be nice,” Tric says drily. “How long have you known your horse?” he asks Terwaen. She says that she and Gloam have worked together for ten years. The horses kept by the clans can live up to around thirty years, but their lifespan depends very much on how much battle they have seen and how skilled their rider is. This might cover a knight’s entire career, but horse lords such as Owaec have certainly seen more than one mount. Tric shares that elves have much longer lives than their ponies, so although the scouts care for them well, they know they will outlive most, if not all, of their mounts.
“I take care of Gloam, but I understand that I may have other mounts, and perhaps Gloam will retire before I do from the field,” Terwaen shares. “And your bird? How long have you had your bird?”
“You know, it feels like years,” Tric replies, narrowing his eyes at the magpie. “Magpies don’t live that long, so as to the measure of the rest of his life… depending what he does… It may be very short.”
“Clever bird!” Mate rejoins.
“Some days I wake up and I think, I don’t think that bird’s going to survive the whole day…” Tric says ominously.
“Pixie dragon!” the magpie responds.
Tric shakes his head. “I don’t know where he learns this stuff.”
“It is a new relationship,” Heppa offers as explanation.
Having listened to these bizarre conversations long enough for one night, Mhaev clears her throat and says to Tric, “I was going to offer you a tour of the earl’s tower, but it sounds like you might have an engagement tonight. You mentioned performing your storytelling job. Would you like the tour of the tower tomorrow?” Tric agrees to that, this current day already having been busy enough.
“That would be wonderful!” Heppa says. Anything that gets her closer to the library sounds good to her!
Mhaev looks across at Terwaen, who declines the offer to join. She has already seen the tower and does not need yet another tour of it. The rest of them set a meeting time for the following evening after the festival activities that Mhaev must attend. With that, she stands. She looks to Tric and to Terwaen and says with a bit of resignation, “I will leave you two to compare notes.” Then she exits.