Tric heads to the appointed place for his meeting with his mother, but as he approaches the small tent, he finds his way blocked by two men in padded armor wearing long quivers containing javelins. They each have one of the weapons in hand. The one on the right is examining the tip, while the one on the left gives his weapon an experimental heft.
“Uh, yes, I’ve got an appointment with the captain of the guard,” Tric says, when they adjust their spears across his path.
“Now, don’t think you can mess with the captain of the guard and nobody’s going to come after you when they find out,” one of the men says, his self-important attitude just like Renwick’s back in the border patrol. Tric does not find these two fellows too threatening—after all, they are just spearmen who stand back behind others and throw weapons out—but they have made their point that Mhaev has forces on hand. Ah, Mom’s safe. That’s good, Tric thinks, giving this a positive spin. Of course, this also means their conversation may not be private, depending on where else she has backup hidden.
“I’m pretty sure she would come after me personally, but I appreciate the good work you guys are doing here.” Tric leans in to look more closely at one of the strange spears. “Is that a javelin? Wow. I didn’t see any javelineers out there,” he gestures in the vague direction of the parade grounds.
“Yeah, that’s because we’re too important to go around parading and entertaining the masses,” the other fellow says.
“They should totally add a javelin category to the competitions,” Tric says.
“It’s too specialized of a skill.”
“There’s a hand crossbow category. There were like four people in it! There’s two of you right here. I’ll tell you what, I can talk to the captain about it, maybe she can put in a word with the earl to get that pushed through. I’ll put in a good word for you guys; don’t worry.”
Both sides have done their posturing and are satisfied. Tric views these two as a form of border guard. They are telling their own kind of story, in a way. A story with pointy sticks instead of words. I suppose it is better than a story told with bagpipes, Tric reflects. At the thought of that piercing sound, he reaches up to his ears and adjusts his headband. Some of it is nerves, but also he makes sure his ears are concealed. Then he walks past the javelineers to the pavilion where his mother waits.
* * *
Mhaev stands under the canvas roof, arms folded, waiting for the Estbryn elves that Serces told her about. Finally one of them arrives, the fellow who Serces told her did most of the talking. She openly wears her chainmail and her mace; her bow and quiver are on her back. An ambush in this setting is unlikely, but the elf might as well be reminded that she is no pushover.
“Captain, I won’t waste your time,” Tric says, noting the businesslike posture as he walks up to her. “There are only two things I wish to discuss, uh, with you, both of which I think are very important but for very different reasons.” Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Mate strutting around through the grass nearby, present for support but not getting in the way.
“Two things?” Mhaev asks, showing a modicum of surprise.
“Yes. Well, let’s just start with the first thing, which I don’t know if Serces already indicated to you. Uh, he did a very excellent job setting this up,” Tric finishes in a mumble. Straightening up a bit, he continues more boldly, “Ah, I encountered—I don’t know if you’re familiar with the dwarvish fortress of Untdunben… It’s to the northeast, past the forest, in the Estmark Hills… Lord Knutan?” Tric is definitely not at his most eloquent.
Mhaev nods. “It has been decades since I have been through there, but I do know the fortress.”
“Yes.” Feeling more confident, Tric continues, “Uh, they have an impressive set of forges there, and they’ve been forging a very large number of weapons there recently.”
“I understand that’s what dwarves do.”
“Yes, and that’s entirely normal. It’s a matter of who they’re selling these weapons to that I think would interest you.”
Mhaev nods again. “That is what Serces indicated, that you have some information that you think is… what?”
“I have seen on their ledger who they are selling the weapons to, and it is someone in South Tower who is not of the earl’s house. And please forgive me, I am not a soldier—but I would think that one does not buy that volume and quality of weapons unless one is intending to equip an army of some kind. I saw the name on the ledger,” Tric reiterates. “I talked with a person who transports the goods—who smuggles the goods into this city. I heard the name, and I understand that’s probably Sir Owaec’s daughter. I’m not casting any aspersions; I’m just presenting the evidence. At this point, what you want to do with that… is what you want to do with that. I’m telling you this, not because I have any interest in gold or station, but because what the dwarves are doing is also upsetting the local balances. This commotion doesn’t necessarily just put South Tower in danger, it puts the forest in danger.” Tric takes off his headband, displaying his somewhat pointed ears amidst his unruly hair. If he was hoping for that to be his grand reveal, though, he is disappointed, for Mhaev does not connect this ageless looking elf with the half-elvish infant she last saw three decades ago.
To Mhaev, these are all just words, ephemeral words, and she wonders how many of them are true. Are these just elvish lies to stir up trouble for dwarves? Or for the survivors of Hisanham? This self-titled emissary of the Estbryn Forest is a clever showman, and this could all be another act. Mhaev does not know why, though, so she allows the conversation to continue. “You’ve used this term ‘evidence,’ but you don’t actually have evidence. You haven’t brought me the smuggler. You haven’t brought me the ledger. You are going to take me to one of those two things or produce some other physical evidence before I will accept accusations against the daughter of our visitor and Knight Commander of the King’s Horse.”
“Forgive me for not performing the duties of the captain of the guard,” Tric retorts. “It is not my position, nor even within my capability, to drag such people before you. I can, however, point out to you where they exit out of the secret tunnels to get into the city. Then you can find them yourself, as they make the trip every week or fortnight. Please, though, do not treat ill the person merely transporting the cargo. They are just doing a job that they have been contracted to do, as any soldier would. I understand that you need a lot of evidence if you’re going to investigate a noblewoman. But those are the most important people to make sure are on the level! And if she’s not, bringing that to light is going to be probably the most important finding in this area.”
This… this could be really big, Mhaev considers. If true, this is a scandal of country-spanning proportions and might even draw her to the attention of people in Weldyn. Captain of the guard for Gweddry is good, but is it as high as she can go? These are the things that Mhaev finds running through her head. On the other hand, this is the daughter of Sir Owaec, a man with whom Mhaev served during the war. A war which this elf spent hiding in his little forest… Thinking of that, she cannot resist a jab or two. “Now you’re concerned with the larger world? Some rebel humans creating some weapons, that’s what gets you out and actually doing things? Not undead armies marching across the countryside? It’s so nice to see that you’ve actually grown a backbone!”
Tric lets out a long breath. Once again, the elves of the Estbryn Forest have been disparaged, but he is not just going to let it slide this time. “At least they don’t abandon their own kin. Mom.” The magpie makes a strangled trumpet fanfare and then takes off in a flutter of black and white, but Tric only has eyes for his mother.
Mhaev maintains her composure at this revelation. “I have not abandoned any of my children. I have simply left them in locations where they can be raised in stable environments that this war-torn world doesn’t allow. Anador’s people had already stated that they were leaving. It made sense for you to go with them.”
“I understand why you had to leave in a hurry then and that there was animosity between the two peoples. But in thirty-odd years, there was never a chance to see what happened?” Tric demands.
“I didn’t think your father wanted to see me again. He didn’t even pick you up himself; he sent Nasir to get you!”
“Wait… what?” Tric is totally bewildered. “Sent Nasir? What are you talking about? Nasir is Dad.” Maybe she needs a prompt to remember him? “He’s a water-dowser, dreadfully dull…” But his mom just… laughs. “Well, if not, then who?”
“Your father is Anador,” Mhaev states.
“No, c’mon now, you’re yanking my vine. You’re just trying to get me riled up. I’ve never even heard of Anador.”
“Well then that’s on Nasir; that’s not on me,” Mhaev says flatly.
Tric throws up his arms in disbelief at this whole situation. “This is all the more reason that you really should have checked in! I could understand if you had died in the war or were totally destitute…”
Something suddenly occurs to Mhaev, and she frowns, putting her hands on her hips. “Is Merriver even having weapons made, or is this all some elaborate ploy?”
“Yes and yes. They’re really doing that. Good luck with that. I guess,” Tric says flippantly. “Anador,” he mutters, then raises his voice to demand of his mother, “Who’s this Anador guy?”
“He’s an elvish lord. I can’t help it if his people obscured things. Look, I was fighting a war. Having you strapped to the back of the horse would have done nobody any good.”
“I understand. But the war ended thirty years ago.”
“Yes, but there was still a whole lot of cleanup to do. Owaec’s people had to go around the whole nation mopping up problems. Just because Gweddry was settling down didn’t mean the rest of us were willing to.”
Tric delves into what little he knows of Owaec’s people to try to gain the moral high-ground here. “Now, I don’t want to speak out of turn,”—Tric definitely does—“but it kind of sounds like horse lords fight each other a lot, which doesn’t really seem that productive. Kind of sounds like maybe some of them were taking advantage of the chaos of the situation trying to snag some more for themselves.” Tric folds his arms. “But like I said, not my place to say that.”
“It’s not your place to say that,” Mhaev shoots back. “They were given the task by the king.”
“To fight each other?” Tric asks, perplexed.
“No. To secure the borders and instill confidence in the people who were still terrified by the undead threat that your father’s people hid in the woods not fighting.”
“Look, if you had a secure place to hole up in, a secure keep, would you not defend it?”
“I wouldn’t let the whole country burn while I did so.”
“If the whole country was the keep…”
“It isn’t! Your little forest is not the be-all and end-all of the world!” Mhaev shouts, reliving every argument she ever had with Anador.
“Well, maybe I would have known that earlier, if someone had, you know, sent a message. Or come visit. Or taken part in any of the regular trade that occurs…” He is silent for a moment, the accusations hanging between them. After a moment, he quietly tells her, “You put up a very nice memorial at Hisanham. I thought that was very tasteful. The area is doing better.”
Mhaev recognizes an olive branch when she sees one. She takes a deep breath and recenters herself.
“Mistakes have been made,” Tric says. “It was a chaotic time. But we’re here right now.”
“Perhaps we can start over,” Mhaev suggests. “Actually maybe get to know each other a little bit.”
“I think that’s a good idea, but you probably have a lot of duties today. I don’t know if you know Alric of—I guess our ‘clan’ is the right word. He runs the Parting Glass in town.”
“That clan doesn’t exist, however much some people might want to keep claiming it does. That way of life is over.”
“That way of life never started for me,” Tric points out, “so I’ll enjoy the stories that I can. If you have time this evening, perhaps we can catch up under less tense circumstances. The food there is bad but serviceable. Not as good as dwarvish feasts, I’ll say. Dwarves make a culinary art of pub food.” He is rambling again, and he tries to refocus. “I did meet…” He glances down at the favor tied to his arm, but the name escapes him. “I met a member of Sir Owaec’s company. She might have more information, but I don’t know her allegiance in the matter. She might be there tonight.”
“Perhaps you can sound her out,” Mhaev suggests.
Tric lets out another long breath. “I think we’re all going to need a drink later.”
“Need a drink!” the magpie echoes, flying into the pavilion to alight on Tric’s shoulder.
His mother may think the bird poorly trained compared to a falcon, but the magpie is perfect for Tric. “That’s right, Mate,” he agrees. He leaves the tent, mind awhirl. I’ve got to track down this Anador guy; he’s a real deadbeat. No, I’ve got to ask Dad—Nasir about him. First though, I should get a drink and find Heppa.