The first stop of the day is Damal’s Apothecary. As they approach, Heppa asks her cousin, “Do you think he hates me?”
“I don’t know that he has the capacity for that strong an emotion,” Tric says.
“You don’t think it’s normal to charge more if you don’t like somebody?”
“I think that is normal, unfortunately,” Tric tells her. Heppa wonders if maybe they just need to get Damal to like them more, but Tric thinks the best approach is to get him to recognize that it is professionally a bad practice. He hopes that they can just go over the breakdown of charges and help Damal understand that he can get more of their business by being more reasonable.
“Maybe the charges really do add up,” Heppa says. “Maybe I just didn’t realize the work was so labor-intensive, but maybe it is.”
“Maybe. And maybe we’re getting swindled,” Tric replies, pushing open the door to Damal’s shop.
The elves lead with thanking Damal for being able to answer their urgent need to treat a patient. His rapid response is what saved the patient’s life. Tric shakes Damal’s hand enthusiastically, ignoring how uncomfortable that might make the man.
“Yes, I know the patient responded to the treatment,” Damal says, extricating his hand. “Hepalonia did send a follow-up.”
It still bears saying again in person, Tric feels. “Thank you so much,” he reiterates. Keeping his tone grateful rather than accusatory, he continues, “We have talked with Alric. We understand he fronted the money, and we thank him for that. But because Alric handled the payment, we didn’t see the full breakdown of everything. We want to make sure we understand that for when we inevitably need to purchase more things from you. We’d just like to have a clear readout of what’s what so that there’s no confusion about anything.”
Damal explains all the charges, citing multiple contributing factors to the grand total. Regarding the letters that Aderyn delivered from Heppa, those are more laborious consultations than in-person ones. Damal has to read through Heppa’s wandering thoughts and suppositions without being able to actively dialogue with her to clarify. That takes more time and more effort than a simple conversation. Delivering his own response by writing consumes even more time, as well as materials. And the inks and paper used for falcon messages are specialized products themselves. An alchemy correspondence course, which is what the letter exchange really amounts to, is quite different from a few appointments at Damal’s counter.
Additional charges are related to the emergency nature of Kachen’s treatment. Damal worked all night in his lab conducting experiments in order to send the best ingredients to address the problem. Not having access to the patient himself made this even more tricky. The materials themselves had a cost, as well. After the discussion, the elves are now aware that, while it did indeed cost more than they expected, there was also more work involved than they had thought. As someone with an actual job, Damal does not have all the leisure time that Hepalonia does. Original research was required; Damal was not just copying out an answer from a reference tome.
As the conversation goes on, and Damal talks about Heppa’s opinions on how various reagents work, she comes to realize he is not just referencing things she wrote to him. She made a special point to avoid any discussion of her magic in her letters to Damal, but she told Alric all about her primal insights from some of the dapper inkcap work. Damal mentions those ideas and complains about dealing with that—from his perspective—drivel. The only way Damal could have gotten that information is if he read it or Alric told him about it. Maybe Damal could have found the letters or gotten to Aderyn before Alric did? She thinks that is unlikely, given that the Parting Glass is the falcon’s base. “How clever it was of Alric to think to tell you about these things I wrote to him, that he thought it would be useful for you to know them,” she observes. “He must have learned at least something during his alchemy training.”
“No,” Damal says with a frown. He retains a certain amount of bitterness regarding his nephew’s failures. “Alric learned very little during his apprenticeship. Not even how to read.”
“Oh,” Heppa says quietly, cringing inwardly. Ooooooh. She hopes she has not gotten Alric into any trouble with his uncle. She wonders how long she would have to stay in South Tower in order to teach him how to read… probably longer than their current task for Daddy would allow. Maybe once this whole undead business is dealt with she can spend some time here really studying alchemy and teaching Alric. Wait, but if Alric can’t read, does he even know what was written in the letters? she wonders. Maybe the flower is all he got out of them. She could ask Damal right now whether he read the letters out loud to Alric, but she would much rather have that conversation with Alric—he likes her more. She resolves to ask the bartender later.
Listening in on this awkward exchange, Tric finds himself wondering about Heledd’s ability to read. He knows she used Damal to send a message, presumably one to Kachen. That could be because she cannot write herself or else just because Damal can write so much smaller than anyone else around. Damal later delivered a message from Kachen to Heledd, but she was recuperating in Alric’s room at the time, so Tric does not know whether she read it herself or was read to.
By the end of their visit, Tric gets across the idea that, regardless of how Damal personally feels about magic, other people use it. He acknowledges that magic is distasteful—perhaps even abhorrent—to Damal but insists that since it is there, it needs to be addressed. Customers may come to Damal with magic-related ailments, and he needs to be aware of how his reagents interact with those kinds of things. After all, Damal does not deny the existence of magic, he just believes it should not be used. He might very well have non-magical antidotes for magical conditions, and he could provide a great service with more knowledge of them.
Understanding that the elves were not in a position to negotiate when they made demands of him, Damal agrees to knock fifty gold off the bill. He and Heppa settle on a standard fee of fifty gold per letter-based lesson from this point on. He does not require payment upfront via Aderyn—the falcon would object to being weighed down that way—because Alric can carry any such debt until the next time Heppa is in town. Damal seems to think that will be relatively often.