Alric’s uncle looks up from the cuttlefish antivenom when he and the two elves enter the kitchen. As much as he did not want Heledd to hear what he has to say, he wants Damal to even less. Fortunately, he has a convenient way to get rid of the man, and it does not even require deception. “Aderyn came back yesterday with a response. I need you to go see who it is for.” Damal does not protest, but he sighs heavily and mutters about all the flights of stairs as he leaves.
Once they are alone, Alric tells Tric and Heppa, “Yes, I know where Sleidr’s base is, but it’s an awkward situation for me because there’s a danger of retaliation here.”
Tric is understanding. “Well, that’s why it shouldn’t be you who gets involved. You have a policy that everyone is welcome here. If Sleidr walked in the front door right now… is that policy still in effect?”
“Everyone is welcome here,” Alric insists earnestly. “This is a safe space for anybody who wants to relax and get away from everything else. Heledd wasn’t attacked here, and I don’t want to risk Sleidr endangering what I’ve built here. But I also don’t want you two walking into something you don’t know how to handle.”
“A month ago or so, the two of us—elves—walked into a dwarvish fortress and told them how to run their mining operation.” Heppa nods, backing up her cousin’s claim. “This? This is not a problem,” Tric declares.
“But are you saying we should just leave it be?” Heppa asks.
Alric shakes his head. “I’m not trying to tell you what to do. That’s not my place. You’re free to make your own decisions, I just don’t want you making those decisions uninformed. The criminal elements in these cities are not the same as whatever you would have encountered in your forest.”
“Do you think they would retaliate against our forest?” Hepalonia is still not sure what the full scope of the situation is.
“No, I’m just worried that you two will both end up with poisoned knives in your backs.”
“Ah.” Heppa does not entirely understand how human society works, but that does make sense.
Tric’s mind is whirring with all the possibilities. “You should brew up some extra antidote!” he tells his cousin excitedly.
She checks on the bubbling elixir, giving it another stir, but she still needs to improve her understanding, so she asks Alric, “Who are these guys?”
“Sleidr’s gang,” he says, adding, “They run with the Rats.” His words seem not to clarify much, based on the follow-up questions.
Tric Manu wonders if it is like a guild or a union, but Heppa asks, “Are they rats? They’re people? Humans?”
“They’re humans,” Alric confirms to her. Turning to Tric, he responds, “I don’t know how you organize things among your people, but for example, in human armies, there are small subunits that go out on sortees and such. It’s that kind of thing. The Rats are a group of criminals, and they have smaller groups within them. Any large organization has to have subunits.”
“A band of bandits?” Heppa suggests hesitantly. “Is that…?”
“That’s a very good way of looking at it, yes,” Alric agrees. “Sleidr in particular, he’s pretty greedy. I don’t think he would necessarily tell his higher-ups that he hit on such a score. Particularly because it is not one that they sent him out on; it’s not a job he did for them.”
“How do you know that?” Tric asks, watching the man closely. There is a lot of information coming out here. Is it all just from standing behind a bar, or is there something more? Words come tumbling from Tric’s mouth, faster and faster with each guess. “C’mon, you used to be a Rat, right? Or you secretly still are? No, you’re some sort of secret crime-fighter, aren’t you?! Too much is adding up here!”
Heppa looks up from the bubbling cuttlefish antivenom, astonished. Tric Manu’s outburst comes out of nowhere from her perspective. This must be related to the time he and Alric spent together investigating the evidence outside. “What did you two do out there?” she asks. “I thought you were just looking for tracks.”
“Look, nobody has a bandolier of knives unless they know how to use them!” Tric concludes triumphantly, as if this proves his case.
“I do know how to use them,” Alric says defensively, but he gives no more ground than that.
Tric presses on, insisting that crossbows are more in line for barkeeps. Heppa debates the point a bit, given that the dwarf who ran Untdunben’s tavern had axes. This derails Tric momentarily, and he counters that all dwarvish babies are born with a hammer in their hand.
“Is it not common for human barkeeps to wear weapons?” Heppa asks, looking at the knives slung across Alric’s chest right now. It is true he has not worn them while serving behind the counter, but she has only been to one other such establishment, the Swamp Hen, and that is not really enough data from which to make a determination. And that tavern certainly did not have any falcons.
Alric waits out the rambling flood of questions, coming to terms himself with what he will tell them. When the elves run out of suppositions, he speaks. “For starters, I know it was not a job that Sleidr was sent on because Heledd was taking advantage of an opportunity last night that she hadn’t known would be available. So Sleidr couldn’t have planned in advance to intercept her. It was opportunistic for him.” This is all just logic.
“And how do I know Sleidr is greedy? That’s a different story.” Alric lets out a long breath but comes clean to the elves. “I ran with Sleidr in the past, back when I was disappointing my mother in Weldyn.” He gives a small, rueful smile but then continues more somberly, “It didn’t turn out well for me, but I got out of that line of work.” He gestures toward the closed door to his bedroom with his left arm. “Heledd is free to make her own decisions on what she wants to do with her life. That’s fine; it’s not a problem. But…” He sighs. “But she’s a friend, and I don’t want anything happening to her out of this, and I also don’t want anything happening to what I’ve built here.” He looks at each of the elves in turn, concluding earnestly, “And I don’t want you two getting hurt because you’re going into a situation you don’t understand. Which is why you need to know that, yes, not every human barkeep has a bandolier of knives like this, but Sleidr does.”
“What are those knives for?” Heppa asks. She did not come across any that small while doing the dishes last night.
“They’re for throwing,” Alric states plainly. Heppa nods in understanding; that certainly explains the number of them. In one quick movement, Alric brushes his right hand across his chest, and suddenly there is a small knife plunged in a ham hock strung up in the corner of the kitchen.
“That’s good!” Tric breathes out, impressed by the fluidity of the movement. Alric crosses the room and pulls the knife back out from where it has sunk deeply into the meat. He shows it to them, and they see how pointy and sharp it is.
Heppa saw firsthand what a similar knife did to Heledd, so the keenness of the blade is no surprise. “I don’t put cuttlefish poison on mine,” Alric says, but she notices some oily residue there, which from his description is a soporific. His knives are to incapacitate anyone who decides to start a brawl in his barroom. Yes, the knife sinking into the flesh will hurt someone, but it will knock them out without the pain that cuttlefish venom induces. A person hit with one of Alric’s knives just needs to sleep off the effects, not take any sort of antitoxin.
“This is the kind of weaponry you’ll be going up against,” Alric tells them following his demonstration. “Sleidr also has some thugs who he’s got some authority over. At most three, I would think. Heledd did injure some of her attackers, so they may not all be operating at full capacity. And they’re not going to have this type of gear on them.”
“They’ll have some cudgels and other ‘dishonorable’ equipment?” Tric asks lightly. At Alric’s quizzical look, Tric brushes it off as a horse lords joke. This reminds him that Terwaen really should have been here by now, as well as Mate, and he mutters, “Where’s Terwaen, and where’s that bird?” Unbeknownst to him, the magpie is still at the fairgrounds, yodeling and swooping at the knight. Terwaen takes it in stride, willing to spar with her brother’s bird in the absence of her scheduled opponent. “Ah, well, can’t do anything about that now…” Tric murmurs, but this has reminded him of the fair. “So is Sleidr going to be working the festival today, do you think? Even if it’s not part of his normal work, it would be a good place to find a buyer, someone who’s not going to be in town long.”
Alric thinks that is actually a good idea. He does point out that Sleidr was busy with his attack on Heledd overnight, so he probably is not up yet. Checking his lair down in the cave systems might yield results if Tric wants a direct confrontation. The elves have an advantage in that Sleidr does not know to be on the lookout for them. Tric asks about Yrogin, but Alric does not know the nature of the poacher’s relationship with Sleidr. Alric has no real insight to provide on that front, other than that he generally only comes to town to make a sale and resupply. It is because Yrogin uses the cave systems that he could be helpful. Tric resolves to talk with the man about helping them locate Sleidr. Even though he is staying here for the night, Yrogin is not connected to the Parting Glass the way Alric is, so his involvement should cause no blowback on the tavern.
“I would never have guessed this about you, Alric,” Heppa says quietly.
Alric presses his lips together and tilts his head, regarding her. “Does that change how you think of me?” he asks, wondering what difference his criminal past will have in their interactions.
“Yes, but not negatively,” Heppa reassures him. She does not know why he thinks she would care that he can throw knives, but she feels honored that he is concerned about how she thinks of him. “I did not expect you would be so good with knives.” Alric gives Heppa a small smile, but at that point, Damal tromps through the curtains, interrupting the conversation.
Tric leans in and whispers, “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of this, Falcon.” Alric never did address the topic of whether he is a secret crime-fighting vigilante. Tric thinks Falcon would be the perfect name for his alter-ego.