Hepalonia jogs up the hill and rejoins her cousin, watching Tric Manu carefully for behavioral prompts. The leader backs away from them, giving them space for her to treat her cousin and quietly discuss the situation. She fishes around in her bag for basic herbal supplies.
“Take your time. I’m not dying,” Tric tells her.
“Does it hurt?” she asks, as she takes a look at one of the cuts.
“Yeah, a little bit. He got me good. And those are not well-made arrows. I think they’re rusty. But it should be fine.” In a hushed tone, he continues, “Hey, do you think the water is bad because of whatever they’re doing, or that they’re a victim of bad water?”
Heppa cleans the wound, presses some herbs into it, and starts binding it. “Well, I don’t know a lot about humans, but it might have something to do with the water.”
Tric reviews the situation in his head. “Dwarves are sturdy creatures, fond of drink, but I don’t know about these guys.”
Heppa is not sure what that has to do with the situation. “Are potatoes currency among humans?”
Tric raises an eyebrow. “No, I think they like coins. But food has value everywhere. You examined those potatoes closely. Would you eat them?”
“Yes,” Heppa acknowledges, “if I was starving. But I wouldn’t shoot someone for them.”
“That’s a good point. But what if they’re not eating them, they’re drinking them?” Tric suggests. “The bottle, remember?”
Heppa nods. “That smoke smells like a peat fire is nearby. This is some sort of distillery,” she concludes. With that worked out, they decide that this cannot be the source of the water impurities, not if they are impacting dowsing all the way down near their own settlement. The problem must be even further upstream. But Heppa is still confused. “Why were they worried about us? Is it illegal?”
“It’s a human thing,” Tric says breezily. “They don’t want to pay money.”
“But who cares about all this? It’s like squirrels arguing over where they buried nuts!” Heppa finishes tying off the bandages.
“Maybe these guys have stumbled across one of the battlefields outside of the forest, though,” Tric points out.
“You speak human. If you want to ask them about it—”
Tric objects to her sloughing off responsibility in this manner. “They speak more or less the same common tongue as us. They adopted it when we gave them the Great Central Plain. Clearly you’ve understood everything they’ve said so far, even if it sounded a little strange. Why don’t we just talk to them a little and make sure they clean things up a bit? We should probably let them know they’re turning out a bad craft if they’re using that water.”
He steps up to the human to perform introductions and then adds, “It’s unfortunate we had this altercation, but I’m glad we were able to work it all out.”
Marvin does not offer an apology, but he nods in acceptance. “So where are you guys based out of?” he asks. “South Tower?”
That is a human settlement in the west towards the River Weldyn, Heppa remembers from her father’s map. “No,” she tells the human, pointing to her ears, “we’re from Estbryn.”
“Estbryn Forest,” Tric clarifies, pointing all around them at the scraggly, spaced-out trees.
“Estbryn? I’ve never even heard of that.”
“You’re looking at it!” Tric tells him.
“This forest doesn’t have a name. It’s just a bunch of trees,” Marvin objects.
“Is not South Tower a human settlement?” Heppa asks.
“Yeah,” Marvin acknowledges. He looks at Tric, puzzled.
“Are there elves there?” Heppa presses.
“Every now and then one passes through.”
Suddenly it occurs to Hepalonia that Marvin must think Tric Manu is human and that she is just with him. That is why it would make sense that they are from a human place like South Tower. Her cousin meanwhile has moved onto the topic of water purity, and she supports him by insisting that the stream is not safe to consume. She pulls out Nasir’s dowsing rod. “We checked it!” she adds to back up their claim.
“Whatever you’re producing, it’s not what you want. You’re just ruining potatoes,” Tric Manu concludes.
That stick told you? Sure. Marvin thinks, but it is clear to him now that these are elves from that unnamed forest they passed on the way up here. They present no danger to his operation.
“We don’t mind you having your little hut here, as long as you aren’t chopping down trees wantonly,” the very unelvish elf insists.
“Nah, we use the peat,” Marvin tells him.
“I don’t think we give two shakes about peat, do we?” Tric assures him, looking over at Hepalonia for confirmation. She shakes her head. Something does not quite add up for Tric, though. “So you haul peat from some far off swamp up into the hills?” he asks. Marvin replies that there are various fen pockets in the area, so there is no need to go all the way to the Bitter Swamp for peat. He digresses for a while on the flavor that the peat lends to the moonshine, and Tric tunes out the discussion of liquids, having had his fill of watery things for the day. Connie returns with the crate of potatoes and starts prepping them. Heppa asks a flurry of questions regarding how they make their alcohol, and Marvin takes her over to the still to show her how it works. As long as they are not going to burn the forest down, Tric does not care what they do.
When the conversation about moonshine manufacture dies down, Tric asks Marvin if he has come across any former battlegrounds in the vicinity. As it turns out, they get their peat from a boggy area further in the hills that is littered with rotting spears and other evidence of fighting. Marvin figures that there must have been a large battle in the area at some point. He and Connie have never run into any trouble there, but they only go during the day, just to be safe.
“So where are we exactly?” Heppa asks.
Refusing to admit that they are lost—or even that they are no longer in Estbryn Forest—Tric reframes the question, “What do you call this place?”
“In relation to South Tower, I mean,” his cousin clarifies.
Marvin explains roughly where they are in the Estmark Hills, and tells them that South Tower is clear on the other side of what they keep calling Estbryn Forest. He and Connie skirted along the south side of it when they came all the way out here. From his description, it finally completely sinks in just how far off course the cousins have gone. They are well into the Estmark Hills and nowhere near the battlefield they originally set out to visit.
Tric has heard quite a bit of grumbling in the village about how humans are taking up more space than they should. This seems a good opportunity to gather some information on that topic. “Has South Tower seemed busier lately? More people?” Unwittingly, he sets off a rant with that question. Marvin tells him that South Tower, built around the old Southern Outpost, does not sprawl as much as North Tower because it does not have as much space to grow. The desert prevents too much expansion farther south, whereas the North Tower has access to both main rivers.
“Yeah,” Connie chimes in, “and that’s why there’s way more taxes now. They think they can charge everybody for everything! It’s a gold piece for a small volume still!”
“And this is Earl Gweddry levying these?” Tric asks. “Or the king?”
That precipitates more grumbling, this time directed at the political establishment itself. “Oh, yeah, I’m sure Gweddry would say it’s the king, but Gweddry is the one collecting the taxes!” Marvin says.
“And what has he ever done for us?” adds Connie. “And why hasn’t he died already? Needs to be space for the new generation. I’m sure his son would be more reasonable.”
Before they part ways, Tric proposes a potential arrangement between the elves of Estbryn Forest and these two humans. He suggests that rather than carry potatoes by cart and shoulder all the way from farmland in the lands around South Tower, that they trade with the nearer elves for brewable substances. Heppa contributes that elderberry would work quite well. This would provide an avenue for news of human activity to reach the elves more directly, helping them keep tabs on just how expansive Wesnoth is getting. Or warning them if any unnatural unrest starts up in the area again. Plus Tric believes having relatively friendly human neighbors in the area would be a good thing, just generally speaking. He recommends they tell the first elvish scout they encounter along the way that they are seeking an audience with Thrandolil. He has the connections to make it all work out smoothly.
Marvin and Connie agree to check it out next time they head back down the hill. Maybe this is a good market for their moonshine as well, and then they can avoid all taxes. And it will probably help them cement the deal when they explain how they got these two lost young elves back on track.