Heppa catches up with her cousin as he is crossing the village. “What’s on your face?”
Tric exhales sharply. “I talked with Fenowin. Murky water! She had some weird dust or pollen she threw in my face.” Heppa is surprised to hear that Fenowin would do such a thing, and Tric elaborates, “She wanted to make sure I hadn’t come into contact with any untoward substances.” He wipes his face with his sleeve.
“Huh.” Heppa does not have any ideas on what this would be testing for, though she knows Fenowin has a wide variety of expertise in natural matters. Guess I should’ve gone to more classes, she thinks, still smarting from her mother’s rebuke. “What was she worried about? Did she say?”
“She wasn’t too specific. I asked her, what, dapper inkcap?” Tric says facetiously. “And she said yes, exactly that, and some other things.”
“She seems to have a fascination with dapper inkcap,” Heppa murmurs.
“I don’t know,” Tric says with a shrug. “Maybe she’s been in the pollen a little too long.”
“I was going to talk with her, but it sounds like she may be in a really weird mood. Maybe something happened while we were gone.”
“That’s possible. She said she was working on guarding the forest against metaphysical threats. Maybe she’s actually working with your dad. Who knows?” Tric sets that whole bizarre episode aside and changes the topic. “Did you have a good night’s rest?”
“I did, but I had a weird morning,” Heppa tells him. Tric asks what was so weird about it, and Heppa looks around to make sure no one is within earshot before answering quietly, “I asked about Anador.”
“Oh! What did you find out?” Tric replies eagerly, unsure of why his cousin is speaking in hushed tones.
“I found out that if you ask my father about Anador, Lala will take him out of the room rather quickly and my mother will chastise you.” That makes no sense to Tric, and Heppa agrees that she does not understand either. “She wouldn’t tell me anything in the house. She just said they’d worked on him for a long time and not to say the name.”
“So is he dead?” Tric wonders.
“I don’t know. Mother told me I didn’t stay in school long enough to understand. What did Nasir say when you asked?”
“I didn’t ask him!” Tric says, which shocks Heppa. Tric’s curiosity is tempered by his respect for what Nasir has already been through, though. “The first night back, I did not want to stress him out.”
“Do you think I could ask him?” Heppa tries, burning with curiosity.
“It’s probably better if I do,” Tric tells her. Then, seeing his cousin’s expression, he adds, “We can ask him together if you want.” That brightens Heppa’s mood. Tric knows this might not be an easy conversation to have, but talking with Nasir is better than dealing with Renwick.
Heppa then reminds Tric they still need to take the staff to her father, but Tric is reluctant to do so if Uncle Thran is upset right now. “Wouldn’t want to put him over the edge,” Tric says. “Maybe we should give him some time to recover.”
“I think he would be very happy to see it,” Heppa replies. “If anything will cheer him up, it will be the artifact he’s been looking for!”
“Maybe, I don’t know,” Tric hedges. “Let’s talk to my dad.” Heppa agrees, figuring they can give her house the rest of the morning to settle down. “Yeah,” Tric says. “Maybe tomorrow.”
By the time they reach Tric’s home, they are embroiled in a discussion of their mothers and what an argument between the two would be like (a brick wall colliding with an oak tree). They find Nasir sitting on a log out front whittling a dowsing rod, as is his habit. As Heppa did, he comments on Tric’s face. Tric’s only explanation is that Fenowin is in a weird mood. “Well, she’s been focusing a lot on her project,” his dad says. “The last few weeks she’s been working on some experimental defenses for the forest. Some sort of pollen-based defense… I guess that’s what’s on your face then?”
“That would make sense. I don’t see why she felt the need to test it on me, though. It caused quite a sneezing fit… I suppose that could get bad people to stop what they’re doing, but I’m not sure how effective it would be. Seems to me like she could use a better delivery mechanism.”
“From what I’ve heard, she’s concerned about some potential new weapons that humans might have,” Nasir adds.
“And pollen’s going to stop it?” Tric asks, incredulous. He tries to figure out how to deploy it. One could shoot an arrow carrying a pouch of the pollen, but why not just shoot the arrow at the target instead?
“Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be up to the border guard and the scouts to deploy practically,” Nasir points out.
Heppa wonders if it might be some sort of antitoxin that needs to be breathed in, but Tric says it did not taste like one to him. This leads Nasir to ask how much experience they have had with antitoxins, and Tric downplays the seriousness of their related activities.
“We do have a question. It might be a sensitive topic, apparently,” Tric says, getting to the point of why they are here. “I mentioned that I talked to Mhaev. She’s… nice. She did mention… Anador.” Nasir nods. He has been expecting this. “And I just want you to know,” Tric continues, “that you’re Dad. You’re always going to be Dad. But I want to know what happened. Is he still alive? Was he alive back then? And I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve given you over the years.”
Nasir gets up from his log. “Why don’t we head into the kitchen? It’s not too early for lunch.” He ushers the youngsters into the house and gets a pot of willow bark tea going.
“I didn’t want to even bring it up,” Tric says from his seat at the table. “I was going to ask Uncle Thran, since I thought he might know more anyway, but apparently it’s a sore subject there, according to Heppa.”
“As I learned this morning,” she confirms.
Nasir nods. “Yes, this is one of the reasons why I raised you.”
“And because you’re awesome,” Tric adds, earning a chuckle from his dad.
Sitting down with them, Nasir tells Tric and Heppa that Anador is dead, having died during the elvish retreat from Hisanham. Tric takes the news with equanimity; it is better than a lot of other alternatives, like Anador being a coward who bailed out on him. It crosses Tric’s mind that this might be too convenient, a story being told just to make him feel better, but he trusts his dad not to lie to him. On the other hand, Nasir might not know the whole truth himself. Still, Tric will hear him out.
“Thrandolil had a very—” Nasir stops himself and throws an apologetic glance at Heppa. “There’s really no polite way to say this…”
“I understand. Please go on,” Heppa encourages her uncle.
“Your father, Thrandolil, he had a pretty messy mental breakdown when Anador died. They were extremely close, closer in age than most elvish siblings are. Thrandolil was an unstable mess,” Nasir slowly shares, struggling over his word choice. “It was deemed best by those closest to him to cushion him from this blow as much as they could.”
“How so?” Heppa asks.
“I don’t know all the magics involved or the counselling, but certainly having Anador’s child in the household is something—Look, they made the decision to rake it into the pile of leaves, and part of that meant no references to Anador. Maybe you’ve noticed, Heppa, that your grandparents aren’t around terribly often.”
“That’s not normal?” Heppa asks. “I’d never heard of Anador.”
“That does not surprise me, considering that you were a mere infant yourself at the time. Penna had a lot on her hands. You were just a baby, and her husband was falling apart. She made the decision to soften the blow as best she could, and she worked with some others to remove this distress from your father’s life.” Nasir’s tone indicates that he may not have been fully in support of these decisions. “I am not in a position to judge. It had your grandparents’ approval, but… Yes, as I’ve told you before, it was a very dark time.”
Tric nods, but Heppa’s curiosity is not yet sated. “Do you know how he died?” Maybe he got sick from something.
“We were attacked by undead. We had already decided to fall back from the edge of the forest, back into the core, and just wait out the whole thing with the undead uprising. Our scouts had said undead were moving en masse towards that human settlement. There had already been some attacks and some deaths along the edge there. Our leaders had had enough and made the call. But during the withdrawal, some undead forces set upon us, and Anador was cut down.”
Tric watches his dad closely. Nasir is struggling very hard to maintain his composure and present a detached telling of this story, but Tric can see he is more upset than he is letting on. Nasir is always so even-keeled, but there are some cracks showing in that today. “You don’t have to recount everything right now,” Tric intervenes. “As you said, it was a dark time. But maybe we can slowly start to better understand what happened.”
“I’m sorry,” Heppa apologizes. “I didn’t mean to bring up such upsetting things.”
Nasir nods, appreciating the space they are offering him. However, there is something he wants to say before they set this topic aside for now. “Thrandolil is the one who is still alive, and so taking care of his health and mental state comes first,” he acknowledges. “But it is a shame that no one was ever able to openly tell you what a wonderful person your actual father was,” he says to Tric.
“My dad is a wonderful person already,” Tric replies pointedly.
Nasir cracks a smile and even chuckles a bit, but his eyes glimmer wetly and he continues, “For all his flaws, Anador was a very, very special person. He always had a smile for everyone and was willing to try the craziest things. He brought so much happiness to those around him that even when he was so infuriating, you could not help but…” His voice drifts off.
“So, having met Mhaev now, I have to wonder, how did Anador and Mhaev get along?” Tric asks, amusement in his voice. “Because that doesn’t really make sense in my head right now. Or was she a little more carefree in her youth?” Nasir of course does not know what Mhaev is like right now, beyond Tric’s description. “Imagine Aunt Penna… yeah, that’s probably a pretty good analog. Like Aunt Penna, but her time is much, much shorter.”
“If Mhaev now is like Penna, then Anador never would have been interested in her these days. But humans, they operate on such a different time scale…”
“She fought a whole war between then and now,” Tric does allow. That might have altered her personality some.
Nasir shrugs. “As I understand it, she was just the equivalent of your age when she and Anador were together. She was new, and she was exciting. And he was probably the same for her.”
“Hmm… Makes sense,” Tric murmurs.
“As I said, your father had some flaws.”
Tric does not care about those right now. He gives his dad a hug, grateful at the information he has shared. Nasir pats him on the back and offers one final comment. “Every day I see some of Anador in you, and I would not trade that for anything.”
“I think now would be a great time to go fishing,” Tric suggests.