What better to follow a meeting with one grumpy Manu than another? Tric entertains notions of his mother either being too busy to see them—and them having to meet with just Henrick instead—or of her welcoming them to join her for lunch. The reality ends up being somewhere in between. Mhaev does not make time to meet with them, but she does allow them to join her on her perimeter walk around the Tower grounds. Tric’s reasons for coming are two-fold. For one, he feels he in some sense owes her the news of Anador’s fate. Of more immediate usefulness, though, is getting a position on the caravan headed out of town. It seems the best way to head west and certainly more entertaining than just the two cousins walking alone. If there is no trouble, they will just be along for the ride; if there is, they will take care of it. Either way, they will have earned some money for Alric and maybe gotten some new story material.
As an opener, though, Tric begins by expressing some professional interest. “Have you had any more trouble from the Rats?”
“It’s a city. The rats are always a problem of one form or another,” Mhave says, the play on words delivered with far more understatement than Tric himself would have used. “There seemed to be some sort of internal fighting going on in the organization for a while,” she continues, referring to the power vacuum left by Sleidr’s death and Efa’s imprisonment. “There hasn’t been as much of a dustup as what you were involved in, though.” Tric inquires about how the javelineers are doing, and Mhaev tells him they have recovered from the injuries incurred in the collapsing building. “The Rat that survived the encounter will soon be gainfully employed elsewhere,” she adds.
Tric seizes the opening. “You know, I was going to ask about that. I heard that there was a caravan heading out that might need some extra help because the cargo itself might be on the run.” Mhaev confirms this. Henrick and some of the other guards are on detail for that, but the caravan itself does not view that as sufficient and will be hiring additional help. “Heppa and I were looking to head west, and we figured that might be a straightforward way to do it,” Tric tells his mother. “We thought we did reasonably well in the dustup with the Rats, as you said.”
“Henrick’s report of both of you was very favorable following that action,” Mhaev agrees. “And Tric, you were runner up in the Full Bloom archery competition—”
“Well, I didn’t want to take all the glory in my first year,” Tric interrupts with false humility.
Mhaev waits him out, aware that her son’s version of events is not always accurate. “You have credentials, is what I’m saying. I think you could reasonably be hired as mercenaries.” She does not offer to intercede on their behalf, but she believes Henrick will vouch for them with the caravan, and Tric’s reputation from the Festival will also help.
“That is good,” Tric says. “We’ll probably check that out. Also… I don’t know if you care to know or not, but I did find out what happened to Anador. He died in battle that very day, week, whatever. When the undead attacked thirty-odd years ago. So… I just thought… I would share that.” Tric’s tone is level, as though he is relaying news. There is no particular emotion to it; Anador is a stranger to him, after all. But neither does he treat it like a story to prompt a response. He does not know how Mhaev will feel about this, but he thinks it is good for her to know.
“I can’t say that it’s good that he died,” Mhaev says, “but at least he died well, defending his people.”
“He burned bright, as I understand it,” Tric says. “He bought everyone else enough time to get away and get back to the village. Including me.” Tric pauses a moment in quiet reflection. “That does, however, bring up the topic of undead. Some attacked our forest. We dealt with it, but—”
“When?” Mhaev asks. If this is about an incident thirty years ago, she does not care.
“Just a couple weeks ago, at the start of summer,” Tric tells her. “We were curious if you’ve noticed increased levels of activity in the South Tower earldom?”
“I have heard that there have been some undead sightings in the tunnels underneath the city. I wasn’t sure how much credence to lend towards that.”
“Yes, I saw some down there!” Tric cuts in immediately, talking over Mhaev. “We ran into them. There was a rowdy group of skeletons.”
Mhaev looks to Heppa for confirmation. The other elf has been quiet for most of this conversation, but she is a more reliable source than Mhaev’s tongue-wagging son. “So, tell me about these skeletons.”
Heppa pulls out her map and goes through the wide-ranging presentation she already delivered once at the inquest. “As I understand it, if they’re not properly destroyed, they can come up again,” Heppa concludes.
“It’s the ones near South Tower that I care about,” Mhaev says. Heppa points out the battle locations in the fields around the city, the ones Jedeth told her about, and suggests those might be places where undead could still arise. In response to further questions from Mhaev, Heppa details the number and armament of the skeletons they fought with Ulf.
“Those skeleton archers are nasty fellow,” Tric adds.
Mhaev nods in agreement, having spent many years fighting them herself during her time in Gweddry’s army. Under her breath, she mutters, “Maces are superior for them.”
Tric hears the comment and suspects it was more a jibe at Terwaen than at him and Heppa. “But think of all the honor you would lose!” he says with a chuckle. Mhaev crooks her lips to the side in a sort of pursed frown. “Now, now, if she wants to be a Horse Lord, she’s got to follow the Horse Lord rules. Horse Lords don’t use maces, so you can’t use a mace if you’re going to be a Horse Lord.”
“Oh! Maces would break all the bones. That would definitely help,” Heppa interjects. “Then even if they come back, they can’t do as much.” She goes on to theorize about the best targets in a rather detached and clinical manner. The femur is likely the most effective, she suspects. “Or maybe just burning them, I think…” she trails off in thought.
“At least the horses can trample,” Mhaev says. “They are good for something. The lords, maybe not so much.”
“The next skeleton I see is getting punched in the face,” Tric says, taking a swipe at the air before him with his new knuckle dusters on. It sounds like the only recent undead activity here has been what they recently experienced themselves. Tric is unsure of a safe way to ask about theft attempts in the House of Light, so he lets the matter of Ulf and the Book of Rhys lie untouched here. “Good, good,” he says breezily. “So nothing else undead-wise in a couple of months.”
“I don’t know,” Heppa says, sounding far more anxious than Tric does. “That’s a lot of activity for thirty years!”
“Nothing that people didn’t dig up for themselves,” Tric points out.
“Is that what happened under the city?” Mhaev asks, making Tric regret his choice of words.
Tric admits that is the case, and Heppa chimes in with, “I guess we did disturb the area. But the ones in the village just showed up. So that means that if you don’t disturb them, they’re still there, waiting.”
“Yes,” Tric agrees, growing more reflective. “Break the bones apart… We’ve got to find a way to give these bones a final rest. We’re still working on that part,” he tells Mhaev.
“Sounds very proactive of you,” she comments.
Tric is somewhat affronted now that elves rather than Horse Lords are the topic of her low opinion.
“Well, they started burning down trees!” Heppa exclaims, trying to make Mhaev understand the gravity of the situation.
“Forest fire!” Tric seethes.
“Oh, is that what it takes? Yup, once the precious trees are affected, that’s the time to act,” Mhaev says, her disdain clear.
“If someone was burning all of your wheat, you would feel similar,” Tric insists. “If someone was burning your stables, how would you feel?”
Gathering her courage, Heppa adds quietly, “We did lose some people.” It is not quite the same as talking back to Mother, but it still requires bravery.
“My apologies,” Mhaev says solemnly.
“It’s very fresh in memory for us right now,” Tric says.
The walk back toward the front gate is more quiet. As they near it, though, Tric tells his mother that the bow she gave him is working great. He has spent several months practicing the thumb-draw technique with his off hand and is now quite comfortable with it. She invites him to demonstrate, and he lands a shot, closing out the at-times awkward visit on a higher note.