After a restful night’s sleep—during which their new magpie friend did not cause any trouble—Tric and Heppa prepare to head to the Full Bloom Festival. When they reach the first floor of the Parting Glass, Alric is already at the bar. He brings them their breakfast, a hearty slab of bread and a very weak beverage, probably the same as the “house special” Tric had the previous night. Tric is just beginning to wonder what his cut of the profits is when Alric passes him a pouch. Tric tips it out and counts up fifteen coins. “Whoa! Okay, then!”
“I didn’t realize that you were a showman,” Alric tells him. “If you’d like to continue this arrangement, that is fine with me. I’m not sure how crowded we’ll be in the evenings; a lot of people do stay out late at the festival. But some people like to get away, too.”
Tric says he will keep that in mind. He is not sure how late he will be out, himself. He assures the barkeep that there will be no hard feelings if he finds someone else to whom to give the stage tonight. Alric provides the elves with directions to the fairgrounds but assures them that none are really needed. The crowds will make the way obvious.
As the elves travel the streets of South Tower, the sound of people grows louder. More and more folk fill the roadways, all streaming toward the location of the Full Bloom Festival. Mate does not stick around on Tric’s shoulder; the magpie flies off to avoid the bustle and pursue his own interests. Occasionally they hear his yodel or catch sight of him and the short blue and gold ribbon still dangling from his leg.
Barricades funnel the crowds to the entryway of the fairgrounds. There are tents and carts set up, but in the center is a large open expanse with bleachers and scaffolding along the sides. That parade ground is roped off, and city guards with basic helmets and short spears stand watch to ensure no one goes onto that part of the field. As Tric and Heppa are passing this area, they hear a trumpet fanfare and a thunder of hooves. They hope Mate is not nearby, or they may end up hearing that trumpeting mimicked over and over again for the next few days. Turning toward the sounds, they see a contingent on horseback bedecked in gleaming metal plate.
Given how splendid they look, Tric is surprised that there is no announcement about this being the earl’s guard. People around the elves are stepping aside, though, giving space for one of the riders to approach the spearmen. The large black horse comes to halt in front of the guards, and Tric hears a woman’s voice ask, “Where would you like Sir Owaec’s group staged?” They tell her to go to the north side of the field, where her group will be given the order for the activities. She wheels her horse, rearing it up onto its hind legs to negotiate the turn in the crowd.
Tric elbows his cousin, who is staring at the rider. “Horse lords,” he says, gesturing.
The woman apparently hears him, for when the hooves of her mount hit the ground, she flicks her visor up. He sees a young-looking face with dark eyes and light brown skin like his own. “Not yet,” she says, “but I’m working on it.” Then she kicks her heels in and charges off.
Tric smiles. He had been braced for a tongue lashing! “She’s got some ambition,” he notes.
Hepalonia watches her go, amazed. She has never seen such armor before, and her mind immediately begins assessing it, wondering how heavy it is, for both the person and the horse. Butterbell and Petunia, the horses in Heppa’s household, are ponies; that woman’s steed looked enormous compared to them. The saddle is also different from an elvish one, with a more built-up seat and stirrups hanging down.
The elaborate metal outfit is surely armor of some kind, but not any that an elf would wear. It is loud, shiny, and heavy, nothing that an elvish scout would want for sneaking around in the forest. Heppa wonders if it is purely for this special occasion and whether the wearer is capable of walking in it. Maybe it is not worn for fighting on foot. The rider’s arms do have some freedom of movement, given how she lifted her visor and managed the reins. The more Heppa thinks about it, the more she suspects that the woman inside need not be exceptionally strong. If the outfit has a good internal harness like Glammur’s enormous travelpack, then the weight could be distributed.
Heppa comments on the metal armor, and Tric makes an unfathomable statement about pine trees versus oak trees. She asks him to explain, and he tells her that oak is really strong, while pine is soft. They are both used for building but for different purposes, much like both leather and metal can be used for protection.
While Heppa continues to theorize about metal armor and its weight, Tric ruminates on what someone who is not quite a horse lord would be called. Perhaps a horse dame or just a horse knight? These matters occupy the elves’ thoughts as they make their way into the spectator zones adjacent to the parade grounds. Having now seen plate armor, Heppa is quite eager to watch the joust and see it in use.