In the morning, before they head out on their errands for the day, Tric and Heppa check in with Alric about what they owe him. Alric makes it clear from the beginning of the conversation that he did not set out to have a banking relationship with them. He understands that they did not have any choice in this happening. Damal told him about what they had contacted him regarding and what they needed, and Alric fronted the coin for it because it seemed urgent and he trusts them. How much they owe is based on what Damal has said; Alric has not added any surcharges. With that out of the way, he gives them the shocking news that they owe four hundred gold pieces. When Heppa and Tric hear this number, their eyes go wide. “No wonder you thought I was working it off!” Heppa says. Between consultations with a master alchemist and the purchase of rare reagents necessary to rouse Kachen from his coma, they have racked up quite a debt.
Alric is quick to explain that if they have objections to the sum, Damal is the person they need to negotiate with, not Alric, who has already paid Damal that much. But negotiations are not on Heppa’s mind, apologies are. “Thank you so much for doing that for us, Alric. I’m so sorry you had to. I feel bad that we didn’t bring more money.” If only she had known ahead of time, she would have asked her father for more.
The tavern owner shrugs it off. The sum is not really a big deal to him; he has plenty of funds going in and out of his accounts each day. “From what I heard, it sounded like the need was both great and immediate.”
Heppa trusts Alric; she has no qualms discussing the elves’ financial standing in front of him. She empties her pouches and totals up her money: one hundred thirty-two gold. Tric did not spend as much as Heppa last time they were in South Tower—she was the one who paid for the ruby ring. When she remarks on how much he has in comparison to her, Tric observes, “I actually earned coin on that trip.” Alric informs him that his stage is fully booked right now. “It’s hard to compete with that fiddler,” Tric acknowledges. “People looked really worked up about that dancing.”
“Depending on where you’re headed next, there may be some opportunities I could hook you up with,” Alric suggests. Tric mentions their interest in Dan’Tonk but then insists on paying down at least some of the debt right now. “I’m not looking to cripple you financially,” Alric hastily adds.
“It’s fine,” Tric says. “How about we pay a hundred and fifty now as we work on what else we can do. We’re going to be heading further into Wesnoth, so we’ll probably also pay some more on the way back. And depending on what we do in town, we may even have more to pay down before we go.”
Alric agrees to that. “There are work opportunities headed west,” he says.
“I heard something about that,” Tric agrees. “Sounded like some people were being sent to work. Something about a caravan?”
“Yes, they generally have guard positions available and other things like that. Scouting, too.”
“Oh, maybe they need a cartographer!” Heppa says brightly.
“A caravan transporting prison labor… Yes, you definitely need to watch the goods, in more ways than one,” Tric comments.
“That’s actually why they’re looking to hire more guards than they usually do. It’s a regular caravan route, and there are regular goods shipping out on it. This time, there’s also more.”
“Need to watch both inside and out,” Tric observes. “Not just bandits, but their own cargo.”
“They’ll be bringing bandits along with them,” Alric agrees. “What with transporting people under guard, they need more guards than the caravan usually does, and they’ll be looking to hire extra workers. I can certainly put in a good word for you, if you need me to.”
“I was thinking of going to talk with the captain of the guard about it. See if she has any ins into that.”
Alric acknowledges that is a valid approach. “If you’ve got your own connections, that’s fine too. It’s a mix of official guards and temporary hired hands.”
“Mercenaries,” Tric says, savoring the sound of it. “You can use the word mercenaries.”
Alric drops his voice a little. “I’m just saying, I have seen you fight.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen you fight, too,” Tric replies, equally quiet.
“I’m busy,” Alric says. Tric laughs at that, while Heppa wonders what her qualifications are, given that she fell out of a tree during that scuffle.
“At any rate, I would feel better making a down payment.” Tric pauses, then reconsiders his words, “An after-the-fact down payment.” He turns to his cousin, “So, Heppa, if you can put in fifty, I’ll put in a hundred right now.”
“Oh, definitely. If that’s all right with you, Alric?”
“Yes, paying off your debts is all right with me,” he says with a chuckle.
“How did you get involved?” Heppa asks as she hands over her share of the coin.
“Damal’s my uncle,” Alric says. When that does not seem like answer enough, he elaborates, “And I was here when your bird brought the letter.”
“He runs the post office, which is also a bank, which is also a bar,” Tric observes.
“I wouldn’t think that would end up with you also paying debts,” Heppa says.
“Like I said, the need seemed urgent. And my uncle…” Alric draws the word out, and it is clear he is considering how to word his sentiments. “My uncle would not have sent you what you needed without payment. He already felt like he was doing a lot on speculation.”
“Well, thank you. Again,” Heppa says gratefully. “Damal did do a lot. He was very helpful.”
Alric frowns a little. “You’ll probably want to talk with him about your bill because I think there might be a misunderstanding between you and him regarding what is labor that deserves pay.”
Heppa considers this for a moment. “I think he’s thinking that we’re doing consultations,” she concludes. “So I just need to figure out what he charges.”
Alric nods. “There’s at least four consultations that he charged you for.”
“We can definitely smooth this over,” Tric says confidently, while Heppa tries to count out when all those consultations took place. “There’s confusion, perhaps,” Tric tells her. “Maybe he’s mixing us up with another customer. And his prices are not clearly advertised.”
“Maybe we can get a bulk rate?” Heppa wonders. She knows she will certainly have more things to correspond with Damal about.
“I think he might also be applying surcharges due to…” Alric huffs in irritation. “Heppa, you know he’s not fond of magic…”
Heppa agrees, and Tric wonders, “Is this about the patient in question?”
“No, I think he’s charging you extra because he’s holding that against you,” Alric says, directing his response to Heppa.
“Oooooh. All right… I… I guess I could see that.” Heppa’s words stumble out as she tries to be understanding. It is hurtful that Damal dislikes her so much that he would charge her extra for something that is part of her nature. With their inherent connection to the fae, elves are unarguably magical creatures.
“We can talk to him,” Tric encourages her. “Maybe make him see or decide for himself whether that is a breach of his professional conduct.”
Heppa shrugs. “I’m not a merchant. I don’t know if it’s common. Hopefully he’s not mad at me.”
“I highly doubt he’s mad at you for paying an extremely significant sum of money,” Tric huffs.
Alric adds another possible explanation for Damal’s behavior. “I think he might view it as him having to work under duress.”
“He could have said no,” Tric shoots back, his annoyance with Damal adding an edge to his voice.
Alric holds up his arms in a whoa-there gesture. “Like I said, this is a matter for you to negotiate with him. But I wasn’t going to let it fall on the ground.”
Tric holds his temper in check. “We appreciate your intervention on our behalf.”
Heppa’s mind has followed a different chain of thoughts. “I’m so sorry about how I rigged up that one letter on Aderyn,” she suddenly declares. “I couldn’t write small enough…”
Alric laughs at that, and the building tension dissipates. “It definitely looked like it was slapped together, but it did give Serces some good ideas. You saw the revision when she came back to you again,” he says.
“Oh, that was new?” Heppa asks.
“Yes! We needed to send the reagents to you so she had to transport more than just a message tube. Serces was able to rig something up. She’s not very fond of it, but she does her job.”
“She’s a good sport,” Heppa says. “And she looks so cute in it.”
“At least she had something to chase on the way to the forest,” Tric says, looking down the counter to where Mate is enjoying a breakfast of peanuts.
Alric follows his gaze. “I’m impressed how far you two have come so fast.”
“Believe it or not—and it is hard to believe—he’s not as stupid as he looks. Or sounds. Or smells.” Aware that he is being talked about in a non-positive manner, Mate sounds a quiet stupid, stupid rebuttal.
“Oh! I have something for you!” Heppa says abruptly.
Alric raises an eyebrow. “Something else?”
Something else? She wonders for a moment what he means, and then realizes he must be talking about the pressed chamomile she sent him. It was just a flower and pales in comparison to him buying reagents for her, but it seems to have made an impression on him. “Yes!” She fishes around in her backpack, muttering, “We’ll have to see how well it worked out…” She pulls out a corked bottle. “It’s made with ingredients local to the Estbyrn Forest. Hopefully it has flavor and nutritional value.” She holds the bottle up to the sunlight streaming in from one of the open windows and frowns. “Hrm… So that’s all the bee pollen that I thought would dissolve…” She touches her tongue to the liquid, which at least tastes of the spearmint she added. “I’m not sure what you can do with it, but…”
Alric takes the bottle and sniffs at the contents. Then he looks pensively at the array of liquors filling the shelves behind the bar. “I have a few ideas for what might complement it,” he says distractedly. Clearly his mind is already at work on potential new cocktails.
“I guess you could put the pollen in a porridge or something…” Heppa suggests.
Alric laughs and turns back to her. “We’ll come up with something better.” He meets Heppa’s eyes. “Thank you,” he says sincerely.