Echoes of Invasion: Wesmere Welcome | Scene 8

The elves hear the party at Dancer’s Green long before they see moonlight streaming down into the sizable glade. The music is mainly flutes and percussion, and as they finally reach the raucous group of young elves, they see that the musicians are in among the mix. There are more elves jumping around here than the entire population of Estbryn Forest’s central village. Heppa wonders if the reason that they do not have dance parties back at home is that there just are not enough young elves to support the practice. “It was so kind of you to invite us to this!” she tells Neia.

The flautists are bobbing and weaving through the crowd, but some of the percussionists are just jumping straight up, striking sticks together above their heads. In Estbryn Forest, dances are solemn, part of infrequent rituals. This is nothing like that, but nor is it like the predetermined coordination of the human dancing in South Tower. There is a grace and a rhythm to what is going on here, but the energy is wild and chaotic.

“Can you imagine Renwick at a party like this?” Heppa says to her cousin.

“Get some alcohol in him, and I think he’d have a good time,” Tric replies. Already, open bottles of wine are being passed around among the dancers. The King’s Choice ale that Tric got from Osian in Weldyn is intended for Alric, but there is nothing stopping him from sharing his mead here. He pours a cup of it to share with Neia, and then joins the fray, where Heppa is already tentatively dancing along the outskirts of the mob. Tric gets his feet stepped on a little more than he would like. Lacking the “otherworldly grace” of everyone else, he falls back to the treeline around the green where his toes will be safe.

After a moment, Tric speaks, assuming Ash is nearby. “Did you dance much when you were younger?” He glances up to his left, looking for a response.

Ash drops down from a tree, landing on Tric’s right. “I was never really one for this sort of activity. It’s… quite crowded out there.”

“Then you should never go to a human city. Just don’t do it. Give them a wide berth, like I’m sure you do.” All jesting aside, Tric adds reflectively, “But there are places to hide even in human cities. You might be surprised. Then again, maybe you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that shadows are literally everywhere.”

“The natural ones are easier for me to work with,” Ash says.

“Sounds about right.”

“So… your neck.” Ash looks more closely at Tric’s scars, the bright moonlight being sufficient to examine them. 

Tric requests that the branching scar be used as the base and adapted into a tree. He desires something aesthetically pleasing, rather than something practical like Ash’s tattoos. “I’m going to be going to a lot of different places. I already get enough looks when I walk into a human city. If my face is also camouflaged, that’s going to bring even more questions that I don’t want to answer. I’m sure you know what it’s like to have questions you don’t want to answer.”

Ash’s life is primarily spent out in the wilds away from other people. “Usually I’m not being asked questions.”

“Well, I like to have a backup plan,” Tric says. “Sometimes camouflage is blending in with trees. Sometimes camouflage is blending in with people.”

“Hrm.” Ash wrinkles his nose a little bit in distaste at the thought of that.

“Different missions,” Tric says.

“Ah.” That, Ash can understand.

Tric has green pigment from Hepalonia, which Ash mixes into the carrier he has brought along. He does his work with a steady hand and a fine-tipped bone needle, adding in small leaves. With another set of pigments, he reinforces the branch from the lightning strike, accentuating some of the lines over others to make the entire area look more tree-like. As he works, Tric asks, “Is there anything I can do for you? I’m certainly no tattoo artist, but…” Ash’s brow crinkles; clearly this is a question he was not prepared to answer. “Well, think about it,” Tric tells him. “We’re hoping to get back east before too long, but we’ll be here for a couple more days at least.”

“Do you spend all of your time in towns?”

“No, definitely not in towns. There’s a lot of time spent traveling from place to place, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. If you wanted to travel with us for a time, you’d be welcome to do so.”

“Do you need to go into the Heart Mountains?”

“No. We were planning to travel back through Wesnoth itself. Do you travel much in the plains? Ouch! That stings!”

“It’s a needle,” Ash remarks without much sympathy. He continues his delicate work while explaining that he would be most useful to Tric and Hepalonia if their eastbound travel were north of the Great River.

“There’s no reason we can’t go that way,” Tric says agreeably. That route would actually put them on the southern bank of the Great River near the Horse Plains, so he might even be able to stop in to visit Terwaen. “Yeah, that could be fun. I’m sure you’re already aware that humans are building more settlements in that region. They’ve been calling them ‘baronies.’ But, whatever, it’s just a bunch of plains.”

“They periodically do that,” Ash says, with little concern. “So far they haven’t been trouble, and they are another buffer between Wesmere and the dangers out there. Provided they themselves do not become dangers.” 

“That is always a risk,” Tric agrees, thinking of how dead humans can provide fuel for undead armies. “But they’ve brought in some capable mercenaries—that’s not a bad word to them—so I think they will be doing all right, as far as keeping dangers away from themselves.”

“There are numerous routes we could take eastward. If you want to see what undead activity there is, I can guide you there.”

Surely we’ve seen enough activity to fulfill High Lord Volas’s charge, Tric thinks. “I don’t think we need to go seek more out,” he says.

“Hepalonia seemed very curious.”

“I’ll have to double check with Heppa. We’ve encountered a good amount already. I have to report back to High Lord Volas what we’ve seen. So, if you’re all right with me sharing with him what you’ve told me about the undead…”

“Yes, though, perhaps do not say who you heard it from.”

“Frankly, he is not interested in that level of detail, anyway.”

“And I will not be escorting you all the way to your home. I’m not supposed to go to your forest.”

Tric wonders whether Heppa’s mother really has the authority to banish someone. “If you want,” he offers, “we could delicately ask around to find out if you really need to stay away. Maybe it’s just that Aunt Penna doesn’t think it would be good for you to come in.”

“It was by Lady Quaemilya and Lord Cleomithir that I was told these things. If this Penna has power over them…”

“Penna is Heppa’s mother. She’s… really driven.”

“Overbearing?”

“I don’t know if I could say that…” Heppa probably would. “She has a goal, and she’s going for it. And don’t get in her way. When her goal is protecting her husband’s mental well-being… well, you’ve felt the effects.”

Ash shrugs. The details of this all matter far more to Tric than they do to him. “Well, if I am to guide you east, perhaps that will give me some more time to think of what boon to ask of you.”

“Would there be any novelties from a human village that we could acquire for you? Obviously there’s nothing that you need. You look like someone who can provide entirely for himself. But if there was a luxury that you might find interesting…”

“Arrows.”

That is not the answer Tric was expecting, and it comes much faster than he anticipated. “Human arrows?”

“Yes. I would be interested in seeing them. To evaluate their craft.”

Tric smiles. “That is easy to do. Any town of any significant size will have a fletcher.” Ash steps back, tools down, and Tric pulls out his mirror to look over the area. The area is inflamed and needs to be treated with ointment for a few days, but Tric likes what he sees. He thanks Ash, who promises to stop by again in the next few days. “Absolutely,” Tric says with heartfelt pleasure. “And now I’ll leave you to enjoy your night.”

“This is for you,” Ash says abruptly, holding out a bundle of cloth. 

Tric takes it, and when he looks up from the brown garment, his brother is gone. Tric smiles. It is a hooded shoulder cowl, much like the one Ash wears. For now, it can protect his healing neck from exposure. In the future, it can help him blend in a bit better with the forest around him.

* * *

For her part, Heppa also retreats to the edge of the glade, finding the dancing too raucous for her tastes. Maybe if Alric were here it would be more fun, she thinks, missing him particularly at this moment. There are some other elves on the edges doing more talking than dancing, but Heppa keeps to herself, watching everyone and comparing them to the elves back home. They are all as pale of skin and hair as she is and practically glow in the moonlight. Fashion-wise, the styles are similar, but there is more ornamentation than back home. It might be that Wesmere’s larger population allows people to specialize even further, or it could be that they have more trade with human cities.

Generally speaking, they all look healthy. She sees no signs of battlewear, not on these young elves. They are getting progressively more drunk as the night goes on, though, and some of them occasionally bounce off her. They seem to be needing to unwind some, and this is their opportunity to do so. She realizes that she just skips out on school when the pressure gets too high, but these elves probably keep at it. No wonder they need some release.

“Whoo! Full moon dance!” an elf cheers, as he stumbles into Heppa. She gently redirects him back into the fray. Things are wild out there, but they have not turned into a brawl, so at least there is that.