The sun has crested the horizon by the time Tric and Alric return to the Parting Glass. The common room lodgers are beginning to stir, some already heading out for their business of the day. Neither Mate nor Terwaen has shown up, and Tric resolves to yodel for the magpie if the bird stays out much later. Alric proceeds straight through the curtains behind the bar, and Tric keeps pace, wrinkling his nose at the foul smell coming from whatever is boiling on the fire. “I’ll just stick with the stale bread for breakfast,” he quips.
“Ah, actually…” Alric grabs a canvas sack of rolls and hands it to Tric. “Can you take this out there?” He then throws another bag on top of that, this one containing hard cheeses. “Just lay these out on the counter for them.”
“All right,” Tric agrees. “But I’ll have to take the chef’s share,” he mutters, grabbing a selection for himself and Heppa.
Alric strides into his bedroom where Damal and Heppa are huddled over Heledd. “Is there anything you can do to wake her up?” he asks.
“The best I can tell is this is maybe a cuttlefish venom,” Hepalonia tells him. “And I apologize that I have taken liberties with your quarters.”
Alric, who has looked so uncharacteristically serious all morning, chuckles at that, and Heppa sees him again in the relaxed, pleasant state she is used to. “That’s totally fine,” he assures her, taking it more easily than his uncle did.
When Tric joins the others, Alric is kneeling alongside Heledd, and Heppa is standing a little back, deferring to Damal, who is working on the patient. Tric offers the plate of cheese to his cousin. All she can smell right now is cuttlefish antivenom elixir, and the thought of eating anything turns her stomach a bit. She politely declines.
Damal applies another layer of ointments to Heledd’s stitched wounds and then opens a vial under her nose. Heledd’s eyes crack open, and Alric places his right hand on her shoulder reassuringly. Tric leans over Alric, staring down into Heledd’s dazed eyes, and jokes, “Is it too early to order lunch?”
The older Manu shoots Tric a nasty glare, but Heledd croaks out, “Is it lunchtime already?” Alric assures her that it is early morning on the second day of the festival; she has not lost too much time to unconsciousness.
Having woken Heledd as his nephew requested, Damal delegates to Heppa the responsibility of keeping her from getting up while he goes back to monitoring the brewing elixir. Heppa steps up, advising the patient, “You were stabbed; you need to retain your energy.”
After polite questions about how Heledd is feeling, Tric gets down to business. “You were attacked. We saw the remnants of it in the alley going to the sewer. What do you remember?” Heledd’s eyes dart around. Misinterpreting why, Tric assures her that she is safe now.
Alric knows it is not physical security Heledd is worried about. He says quite plainly, “We know it was the Rats.” With that one statement, he communicates to her that she is free to discuss the matter in the present company.
Unaware of this, Tric frowns a bit. He did not include any details he knew in his question because he did not want to influence her response in any way. And as far as he is concerned, they do not know it is the Rats. That is just Alric’s theory. Heledd describes how she was attacked and fought them off. She ran, trying to get back to the Parting Glass, but she collapsed a block or two from the tavern. That is all she remembers. “We think that they hit you with a knife—” Tric begins.
Heledd laughs weakly. “They hit me with a few knives.”
“From the look of it, a poison-tipped throwing knife. That’s why you collapsed. It does seem like you gave them hell, but they… Is there anything missing from your person?” Tric asks.
Heledd starts patting herself down, and then her hand stops at a random place where there seemingly is no pocket. She closes her eyes and swears. Then she starts to sit up, and Heppa intervenes. “No! Save your strength until we can dispense the antidote.”
“Can you describe the people who did this?” Tric asks. “Were they people you know? Do they have names?”
“Please,” Heppa politely tacks on.
Heledd flops her head back down onto the pillow and lets out a disgusted sigh. “It was Sleidr and his thugs.” She turns to look at Alric. “I know you warned me about them, but it was too good—I couldn’t—The captain of the guard was going to be here for hours! It was my best chance to go.”
Tric does not hesitate to ask what Heledd took. Next to him, Heppa is practically vibrating with curiosity. “What were you able to get away with?” He puts a hint of eagerness and excitement in his voice. He needs to allay any concern that he would inform on Heledd. She may not know Tric’s actual connection to the captain of the guard, but she certainly knows he was the one hosting Mhaev last night; he even asked Heledd about her. “Sounds like you might have pulled off a pretty interesting hit.” Surely whatever she has to say will make at least one good tale once he dresses it up a bit. “I was maybe thinking about doing a job there myself while in town, as you might have gathered from me cozying up to the captain of the guard.”
This Tric fellow, he may want to appear all seedy, but Heledd feels she has gotten his number. No criminal worth their salt would have wined and dined the head of Tower security as boldly as he did. That might play well in stories, but it just draws unnecessary attention in real life. No, for whatever reason, he blusters to hide that he does not know the first thing about crime. Maybe he just wants to be able to tell a good story, Heledd thinks. Fortunately for Tric, she needs to tell Alric this information anyway. The wannabe criminal is free to listen in as well. “I’m sorry,” she tells Alric. “I hope none of this blows back on you. That wasn’t my intent. My intent was not to get caught at all. But if the Rats have the rings, I can’t let that stand. I’ve got to go back after them. You know the buyer is expecting the ring. You’re already holding the money for it right now. I need to be able to deliver that. I told him I was going for it.”
Tric looks to Alric. “You had one night without Heledd and it was almost a disaster. You cannot afford to lose this employee. She needs her knees intact! I mean, sure, you could give the money back to the buyer, but Heledd can’t get her kneecaps back if the buyer busts them for not producing the goods.”
Although she is still focused on the patient’s health, Heppa is trying to follow the conversation about what happened. A lot of it does not make sense to her, as if whole chunks are being omitted. Alric is holding the money? He must be more involved in this than just being a waitress’s boss. Heledd starts to sit up again, muttering about her needing to go after them. “Please don’t strain yourself!” Heppa rushes to tell her. She feels that she and Heledd got off on the wrong foot that first night when she was yelled at for being too curious, but she does not want the woman to hurt herself further. “We haven’t administered the antidote yet. The effects of the cuttlefish venom on your human physiology won’t kill you, but you won’t get very far either.”
The way this elf was gawking at typical business the other night told Heledd quite plainly that she is clueless about the criminal underworld. She has no idea what the stakes are here. Heledd cannot just let this slide. But at the same time, she can feel the pain in her muscles at the least exertion. She flops back down and looks up at Alric, morose. “Sleidr has to be stopped before he finds a buyer.”