Having completed a successful family dinner and family tree, Tric Manu, his cousin Hepalonia, and his half-sister Terwaen of the Horse Clans leave their private dining room and head downstairs to the common room of the Parting Glass. When Tric descends far enough to be visible to the patrons standing at the end of the bar, the sounds of the crowd grow louder and more focused. He hears someone call out, “There he is! There’s the fellow I was talking about.” Various people clap Tric on the arm as he enters the room, and they encourage him to take the stage. He puts up a token resistance, protesting that it is too late. Ultimately, though, he acquiesces to the demands of his audience, agreeing that there is time for one tale.
As Tric moves toward the stage, someone pushes a drink into his hand. Whatever it is, it is certainly not the watered-down house special that Alric provides to performers. Tric resolves to not down it too quickly given the amount of wine he has already had tonight. He takes a sip and then sets it on the stool that is on the stage, addressing the crowd. “Thank you, thank you! Yes, it’s good to be back here at the Parting Glass! Hope you all had a filling dinner. And I’m sure the latrine will be full later tonight.” There is a smattering of laughter. “Some of you had the misfortune of hearing me last night. I am Tric Manu of Estbryn Forest,” he introduces himself. “Remember, whenever there are leaves above and roots below, you are in the forest.” Then he starts in on his act.
The tables are all full, leaving Heppa and Terwaen to find a place to stand at the bar. Heppa notices that Alric is not currently behind the counter serving drinks. Rather, he is circulating among the tables, a tray balanced on his left shoulder and arm, swapping out empty glasses for full and dropping off food. With the large platter fully loaded, he returns to the bar area. The tray clatters down on the counter, and the unusually harried Alric hurries back behind the bar. As he resumes drink service, he calls out toward the kitchen, “Yggy, I need your help out here.”
Through the curtain, a voice squeaks back, “Do you want me cooking? Or do you want me bussing tables? Make up your mind!”
No help is forthcoming from there, and it seems to Heppa that Alric is down a waitress. He finally makes his way down to her end of the bar, and as he is pouring another stout for Terwaen, he asks whether Hepalonia needs anything. “Do you?” she replies. Alric is a little taken aback. He sets Terwaen’s drink down in front of her and asks Heppa if she has ever waited tables before. “Not at all, no!” Heppa says excitedly. This will be a brand new experience for her.
“All right. Come with me.” Alric meets her at the far end of the bar and ushers her through the curtain there.
This is the first time that Hepalonia has ever been in a kitchen. There is a station for cleaning, and piles of dirty dishes cover the counters around it. There are still many clean dishes, though, along with stacks and stacks of loaves with their centers cut out. These bread bowls are all perched near where a short, wide human is stirring an enormous pot full of stew over a fire on the hearth. He is dark-skinned and bald on top, but he has a huge bushy black beard.
More of the large platters are here, the kind that Heppa has seen Heledd, and now Alric, carrying meals out on. Alric grabs one and hands it to her. “This flat tray here, fill it with bread bowls with stew in them. Any table that doesn’t have one, put a bread bowl on for each person. When your tray is completely empty, go around to the tables that have empty dishes and put them all on the tray. Bring them back here.”
“All right,” Heppa agrees happily. That is not the way she has seen Heledd do it—the waitress grabs old dishes at the same time she delivers new ones—but Heppa appreciates that Alric has simplified things for her to try it out. He has even excluded beverage delivery from her responsibilities.
The other human continues working over his pot, but he looks at her over his shoulder, horrified. “This is the night you want to bring new staff on?” he asks, and Heppa recognizes the high-pitched voice she heard earlier. This must be Yggy.
Alric is always so pleasant and accommodating when Heppa sees him behind the bar. Now though, that equanimity cracks a little, and she sees him as not just a friendly barkeep but also the proprietor of a business. “Don’t start with me,” he snaps at Yggy. “This is not the time.” He grabs a tray and disappears through the curtain.
Heppa smiles at the portly man before her. “Don’t worry. I’ve never done this before.”
He is not reassured.
* * *
Up on stage, Tric presents the further travels of Master Edward of the horsefolk—not to be confused with the horse lords. This time Tric details his protagonist’s earliest adventures, when he was just the young foal Eddy. Having learned his lesson, Tric sets the action far across the sea, the eastern sea, so that no one present has any hope of possessing information to contradict his fabrication. Tonight he reveals that Master Edward’s climb to power was actually enabled by him being a brilliant illusionist. As a youth, this magical ability got him out of a sticky situation in a foreign culture that he did not understand. Instead of Eddy being sacrificed to some horrible demon goddess, the priestesses were eaten instead. The way Tric tells the story, it comes across light-hearted but with a thriller aspect.
Hepalonia does not have much attention to spare for her cousin’s tale because she is busy circulating through the room, waiting on tables. It requires all her focus; she does not want Alric’s day to get any worse on her account. Delivering the bread bowls is easy enough because the tray gets lighter and more manageable with each one she puts down. When she reloads the tray with plates, mugs, and glasses, though, things get more tricky. She is perhaps overly ambitious with what she can carry, particularly while the tray is just on one hand. By the time she is returning to the kitchen, the platter has almost gotten away from her, and she has it gripped in both hands in front of her, its momentum pulling her forward. With a mortified expression, she stumbles through the curtains. Yggy steps up and gives her a bit of a shove on the arm, redirecting her toward the basin full of water. She gets the tray to its edge and everything slides in, avoiding a nasty mess of broken crockery. Heppa lets out a sigh of relief.
“I think you should stay there,” Yggy squawks.
“All right,” Heppa replies. “And then?”
“Do they not have plates where you’re from?” he demands. “Scrub!” Yggy instructs her to wash the dishes and not touch anything else back there in the kitchen. It is too late for any more food to go out, so he is now free to bustle through the curtains and help Alric up front.
Heppa looks around to get her bearings. While she has helped a little with clean up around the campsite, she has never washed dishes following a proper meal. She locates some brushes for scouring, as well as some sponges and soap. This is all so interesting to her, and she wonders whether these same materials are used in her own home. She grabs some soap and a dish, excited to try this whole kitchen thing.