The final round of the bow competition has three competitors. To Tric’s right is Hulloc, a retired bowman. He has dark skin and a gray beard and wears a comfortable red tunic with a brown cape. This elderly gentleman stands at complete ease, each draw of the bow as casual and effortless as breathing. To Tric’s left is Yrogin, a trapper of some kind with a gruff demeanor. He is a middle-aged human with tanned skin and dark scruff across his cheeks, but his hair is hidden under his brown cap. There is a similarly colored handkerchief tied around his neck. And finally, there is Tric Manu, a little surprised to find himself still in the running.
Tric has absolutely no illusions that he will win this competition, and he has no desire to cheat. However, if he is going to fail, he wants to go out in style; it is time for a trick shot. He decides to shoot backwards, so he looks around for something reflective to help him aim behind himself. There is a lot of platemail around, that is for sure. Tric waves at one of Owaec’s knights and calls out, asking the rider to shift the horse just a bit. She humors his request and coaxes her steed to take a few paces. He thanks her and asks that she remain very still.
When Tric puts his back to the hay bales and stretches his bow around behind himself, the crowd cheers, impressed with this bold move. Usually it is not the archers who are so brash; they tend to be so calm and careful. Who even remembers last year’s winner? Tric wonders. But people will remember this event for years to come. They will remember Tric.
His shot goes wide, way wide. It hits the target in the next lane over, the one to Tric’s left. Tric blames the distortion caused by the curve of the platemail. He had not realized he was looking at the wrong target when he lined up his shot.
Hulloc, the old hand, wins the competition. The game warden Sneed congratulates him, but Yrogin stomps up, grumbling and calling foul play. “He shot out of lane!” he complains, pointing at Tric. “I should get another shot. This is not fair!”
“You watch yourself,” Sneed advises him. “I have my eye on you.” The game warden then turns away, escorting Hulloc to the blue pavilion. Sneed has acted with impartiality this whole time but his staid expression unnerves Tric.
Tric gets the vibe that Yrogin is a shady sort, like some others he has met in his travels. Sure, he claims he is a trapper, but he could very well be a poacher, given Sneed’s comments. “I’m very sorry that I may have mixed up your shot,” Tric begins, trying to smooth things over.
“You weren’t even looking at the target!” Yrogin yells. “What did you think was going to happen?”
“Well, I thought by taking a blind shot, I could win right away without needing to advance to greater distance. My bow simply cannot shoot farther than this, so I thought that I had to win right now. I understand now that is not in the rules.” Yrogin grumbles more, and Tric changes tack. “Also, you had plenty of time to shoot. I don’t know why you were waiting for me. I took plenty of time, more than enough. I tried to wait for everyone else to go. Your performance is not my fault. In archery, you have to adapt to changing conditions.” They clear the field, continuing their tense conversation on the sidelines, away from onlookers.
“Don’t you tell me how to shoot!” Yrogin grouses.
“Let me ask you this… Were you hoping to win for the prize pouch? Because you don’t strike me as the kind of person who likes to be well-known. I saw the way the game warden was looking at you. You two have probably got some history.” Yrogin tenses up, thinking a threat is coming, and Tric hurriedly clarifies his intent. “Look, I didn’t mean to mess up your shot, but I can tell the local authorities are breathing down your neck. I know some people all the way on the other side of the forest who are in a similar kind of situation. They don’t have a poacher though. They’ve been just bringing in supplies. They could use someone like you, and there’s reasonably good hunting ground around there.” Yrogin looks uncertain. “It will get this warden off your back,” Tric emphasizes, “but let me be clear: you need to go around the forest. You are not to hunt in the forest, just the hills.”
Yrogin nods. It is now clear to him where Tric is talking about. “I’ll just take the tunnels there, then. They come out beyond the forest in the Estmark Hills, probably right around where you’re talking.”
Tric realizes these are the tunnels Mari-Elin the Carter works in. They have an exit a day’s hike from the Foul Fen, pass by Untdunben, and also lead to the area around South Tower. From Yrogin, Tric gets the location outside town where one can enter the caves. In exchange, he explains the location of Connie and Marvin’s still relative to the tunnel exit in the Estmark Hills, such that Yrogin need not pass through the Foul Fen to reach them. Tric advises him that it is currently being contested by saurians and undead. This route will also keep Yrogin away from the Estbryn Forest, since hunting there will get him in trouble with Renwick’s border patrol. Tric does tell the hunter, though, that visits to the border are fine for trading purposes, and that the saurian he met in the Foul Fen is also a fair trader.
Tric starts to describe Connie and Marvin, then realizes Yrogin might already be familiar with their handiwork. “Have you had mountain tea?” he asks the hunter.
“Oh, yeah, the Parting Glass serves that!”
“That stuff is terrible, but this area is where they make it.” They share a laugh and then part ways with no hard feelings. The field is being prepared for duels, but there is still a little time for Tric to smooth things over with the game warden, or at least occupy his attention while Yrogin makes himself scarce.
Sneed strikes Tric as a very dour sort, one who does not put up with any nonsense. Tric takes it as a challenge to try to elicit a response. He tries telling the man a mundane story and then slipping in more and more details pertaining to poaching, to try to get a rise out of the man. Tric hopes to see some reaction, maybe a reddening of the skin or a facial tic. He succeeds and is satisfied with his performance, but Sneed turns his steely gaze onto the elf.
This is someone to keep an eye on, the game warden thinks. He was talking for an awful long time with that poacher. “I don’t know what game you’re playing,” he tells the rascal. “Just make sure it isn’t game you take out of the earl’s fields.”
Tric beats a hasty retreat, feeling the eyes of the warden on him long after the human is out of sight. It is time to watch his cousin duel.