Echoes of Invasion: There’ll Be Heledd to Pay | Scene 24

Just before midnight, Tric Manu and Hepalonia return to the ruined manor near the river. This time they are undisguised, though they do wear borrowed cloaks. The front courtyard is overgrown with weeds and vines, plenty of material for Heppa to coax up into brambles if necessary. A large mostly-dead tree dominates the middle of the courtyard. A stone well is near it, but if there was ever a wooden structure attached to it for lowering buckets, that has long since collapsed or decayed. The manor itself is as crumbly as the walls that surround the property. The roof is caved in in some places, as are sections of flooring on the second level. The windows are empty and shutterless, but the formerly-fancy metal gate in the front doorway still remains. The area is lit by the full moon when it is visible, but clouds sometimes obscure it. The air is heavy with humidity, frizzing out Tric’s hair more than usual.

Sergeant Henrick arrives with his large bushy mustache and two small squads of underlings. He sends his three archers up onto the roof with the simple orders, “Stop the criminals,” and then heads inside the building to pick spots for himself and the trio of javelineers. The metal grating creaks as Henrick pulls it open, but it holds to its hinges. He loads his crossbow and hides alongside a busted-out window east of the door. Through gaping holes in the walls, he keeps an eye on the javelineers in a mirrored position on the west side of the house. The squad of archers toss up a grappling hook with a rope and begin scrambling their way up two storeys to the roof. There are more holds than finely maintained stone walls would have, so at first the climb goes smoothly. However, stones do slip loose as they go up, and some of their quiet grumbling about instability reaches the ears of the folks still on the ground. Timbers creak underfoot as they delicately pick their way to spots with good coverage of the large courtyard south of the house. They are only too happy to stop moving.

At the base of the tree, Tric lays out a straw-stuffed set of clothes and throws a blanket over them, then places an empty bottle alongside the ensemble. He steps back and surveys his work, satisfied that it communicates the story he is going for: the red mage’s servant has drunkenly fallen asleep while posted on watch. Surely by now, Sleidr has opened that box and found it full of stones good for little else than slinging. He is likely to be bearing a grudge, and this decoy should focus his ire, drawing him into the archers’s lane of fire.

Hepalonia watches her cousin, shifting a little uncomfortably. Before they left the Parting Glass, she flagged down Heledd between customers and got the ruby ring back from her. Heppa wanted it available to use in whatever might happen tonight, but she did not want anyone to see it, so she is currently wearing it on one of her toes. She is not used to foot jewelry though, and it feels a little strange. She hopes nothing she does tonight breaks it, though she supposes Heledd knows a jeweler who could fix it in that case. “What are we doing?” she asks her cousin as he adjusts the empty bottle again.

“Remember, the ambush? Look, just… if I start shooting someone, or someone starts shooting you—or slashing at you—shoot back,” Tric advises, confirming without hesitation that he is the leader when she asks about that. She is unsure if she should have her sword or bow ready, and he suggests maybe taking a position on the ground floor with her bow.

“Do you want some brambles?” Heppa asks.

It seems like a non sequitur to Tric. “Some brambles? No, I think I’m good…” The fake servant looks fine with just hay inside it.

“I mean for a choke point.”

“Oh!” He needs to remember that Heppa’s shaman training covers more than just patching up scrapes. “Use your judgment,” Tric tells her. “If they’re rushing towards us, that’s probably a good idea. Or if they’re trying to get away.” He looks around, considering where he might hide. The tree would be the most dramatic place to be. “Too bad this tree is mostly dead,” Tric says. “There’s not many leaves to hide among.”

“I can make it be more brambly,” Heppa offers. Tric happily agrees, liking the thematic appropriateness of elves hiding in a tree.

Hepalonia places her hands on the trunk of the tree and draws fae energy through the plant, intending to manipulate the branches to a more thicket-like arrangement. However, when she feels the tree’s health responding, she switches her mindset to embrace the new approach. She guides the primal power to accelerate the tree’s natural healing, just as she did with Alric’s arm and Gumreddoc’s knees. Instead of dead limbs changing position, new branches emerge and leaves sprout from them, along with new buds. The existing living branches grow more robust, as well. Heppa smiles, pleased at this new experience of healing a plant rather than a person.

She and Tric Manu regard the tree, considering the life it has had, here by itself in such an exposed position. It will take more than just one infusion of fae energy to solve all this tree’s problems, unfortunately, and Heppa does not have time right now to perform a complete exam. The parts that are still dead sticks remain lifeless, and some do indeed snap off unnervingly as the elves climb into their hiding place. But clearly there is life here, as well, and the tree has not completely given up the fight for survival. Although rain tonight would inconvenience them, Heppa thinks it would be good for the tree.

The two elves steady themselves in the branches as best they can without use of their hands. Those they need for their bows. Mate perches near Tric, and Heppa starts theorizing about types of missiles the magpie could drop on their foes. Perhaps small packets of powder to make them sneeze… She would need a proper alchemy set-up to formulate such materials, though.