On their way back to the Parting Glass, Tric mentions to Heppa that he needs to talk with Heledd. “Apparently the Book of Rhys is gone. I mean, sure, I did tell Ulf where it might be… So maybe he took it.”
“Did you give him Heledd as a contact?”
Tric shrugs. “Maybe? I’ve kind of lost track of where all I’ve put my fingers.”
“I bet Heledd knows when it left! She may not know where it is now, though.”
“I wonder if she was hired to steal it?” Tric muses. “Anyway, we should talk with Heledd about that book.”
“If I needed to steal something, I would hire Heledd to do it,” Heppa says. “She seems really good, and she’s the only thief I really know.”
“It might be worth talking to Rhaessa at the House of Light, if they know it’s missing. That is something I want to be really careful about, though. If they don’t know it’s missing…” Tric hisses in a long breath. “Yeah, maybe not.”
When Tric and Heppa reach the Parting Glass, it is midafternoon, the establishment’s least busy time of day. Tric takes over one of the curtained booths, intending to work with Mate on knots until Heledd comes in for her shift. He hopes to have a private chat with her before things pick up for the evening.
Heppa perches on a stool at the bar near where Alric is cleaning the counter. He sets aside that work for now and prepares drinks for the two of them, using the tonic she gave him earlier. The base he has chosen is bourbon. As they sip the cocktail, he playfully asks her what they should call it. The two main flavors are honey and mint. They finally settle on calling the new beverage the “fresh air.”
Eventually, Heppa works up the nerve to confront what could be an uncomfortable topic. “So, I’ve written a few letters… Um… Is that all right?” she asks nervously.
“Yes. That was very nice of you,” Alric tells her with a smile.
“But Damal believes that you can’t read them,” she finishes.
“No, I can’t. I don’t read,” Alric says plainly. “Is that… a problem?” he asks, wondering if this is some sort of deal-breaker.
“I’m so sorry! And I’ve just been writing all these letters…”
“You don’t need to apologize for corresponding. I mean, I was surprised, but it’s nice that you wanted to let me know what you were up to.”
“So you know what’s in them?”
“Yes. Damal read them to me.”
“Oh. Oooooh. All right,” Heppa says, now fully understanding how Damal knew the contents of the letters. She feels somewhat exposed, though. “But that’s all right then?” Heppa asks again.
Alric tilts his head, considering her for a moment. Then his tone shifts from concerned person to friendly, patient explainer of new things. “Perhaps you don’t understand how a messenger service works? The scribe is responsible for the correspondence. My birds simply transport the letters. Damal writes them and reads them to the recipients.”
“But he doesn’t write that small,” Heppa objects. “Don’t get me wrong, he does write small, but not so much that I can’t read what he sends.”
“Because you’ve learned to read,” Alric emphasizes. The size of the writing is irrelevant to whatever the issue is. “I’m not understanding what the problem is here. Do you want me to find somebody else who can read?”
“No, that’s fine,” Heppa says. “I just didn’t realize that you weren’t able to read them yourself.”
They seem to have returned to where they were earlier in the conversation. “Is that a problem?” he asks again, low and serious. “That I can’t read?”
“I think maybe I might have mentioned magic a little bit more than Damal would like to read… Is it a problem for you that Damal’s reading the things that I’m writing?” She does not want him to be embarrassed by his uncle reading really personal messages.
Alric reaches across the counter and takes a hold of Heppa’s hand. She still has not really answered his question, and he needs to pin down the issue. Looking intently at her, he asks as directly as he can, “Is it a problem for you that I do not know how to read?”
“Like does it bother me?”
“No!” Heppa assures him with a smile. “But I do feel like I made some trouble by saying some of the things I said in there that Damal was reading. And also I’m a little embarrassed that I was just sending you these things and not realizing that you might not have a way to read them.”
“I do have a way to read them. That’s part of Damal’s job as part of the messenger service. But if that’s a problem for you, then I can do something about it.”
“I think it’s all right if it doesn’t bother you. Is it all right what I write in there?” Heppa asks.
Alric draws his hand back and straightens up. “I think Damal got a little out of line,” he says, tone chillier. This is the most judgmental thing Heppa has ever heard Alric say. Oh no, now I’m causing family trouble for him, she worries.
Alric stands there silently for a moment, thinking. Finally he says, “I think Damal overstepped himself because you discussed alchemical topics and that made him feel that he had more right to the information than he did.” Taking Heppa’s hand again and softening some, he continues as directly as possible, “I like that you sent me letters, Heppa. I didn’t expect that to happen, and it’s very touching that you would think of me. I like knowing what is going on in your life and learning more about what’s important to you. I’m sorry if my uncle has caused any friction, and that won’t happen again.”
“I could be more careful with things I write,” Heppa offers.
There is no reason Heppa should change her behavior because his uncle wants her to; Alric certainly never did. “Don’t you modify your behavior because of what somebody else has done,” he tells her, harkening back to their conversation a couple months ago about her using her magic. “Damal does not get to dictate the terms of our relationship.”
“All right,” Heppa agrees, happy to continue writing to him and secretly thrilled that he feels so strongly about it. Despite this, she resolves that there are probably some things that should be reserved for saying in person.
For his part, Alric is just glad she does not dispute the fact that there is a relationship.