Tric and Heppa pass through the gates of South Tower in the evening. The moon is just a sliver, and the hot air is heavy with humidity and the odors of far too many humans and animals living in close quarters. The streets are not bustling with a festival population this time, but South Tower is still a more populous and crowded place than the village the cousins call home. The contrast to the open countryside they just passed through is significant, and the heat amplifies the smell. Mate flies off, perhaps to go visit some of his old haunts.
Tric teasingly suggests they go stay in at the Swamp Hen again, just to see the look on Heppa’s face. Of course they are going to go to the Parting Glass. They hear the tavern before they see it; strains of fiddle music and sounds of stomping and raucous cheering drift down the street. Heppa sets Butterbell’s reins on the post outside next to a few other horses. The pony is a head shorter than all her neighbors but looks healthier. Heppa takes her pack off Butterbell and leads the way inside the Parting Glass. There are crowds inside and a fiddler up on the stage. The tables, still quite full of patrons, are all pushed up against the sides, clearing a dancing space in the middle which is the source of much of the noise. Heppa just has time to register this different entertainment function of the tavern when suddenly a tray stacked high with dirty dishes is thrust in her arms.
Tric is shoved, too, but out of the building and back into the street. For a moment he thinks that this is the seedy underworld of South Tower striking back for his attack on the Rats or perhaps one of Merriver’s thugs getting revenge for his disruption of the supply chain. But no, Heledd sends her fist right at Tric’s face. He jerks back out of the way just in time, stumbling into the middle of the street as she cries, “You bastard!”
Tric remains jovial, treating it as sparring. He takes a bare-knuckle swipe at her, leaving his willow knuckle dusters tucked away. He does not actually want to hurt Heledd, just engage in some friendly fisticuffs. He lands a solid blow and quips with a grin, “I didn’t know you wanted to be this active.” His tone remains joking, but he keeps his arms up in a defensive stance.
Heledd shakes off the hit and takes another swipe at the full-of-himself meddler who is laughing in her face. “How could you! I thought you understood!” She connects with Tric’s gut this time, but his elvish leathers offer more protection than her own outfit.
Now that Heledd has gotten her hit in, Tric considers that they have had their good fun. He relaxes his guard and says quietly, “Kachen is fine.” Heledd hooks her foot around his ankle and sends him sprawling, but he is still all smiles. This is a good show, as far as he is concerned. From his place on the ground, as Heledd comes swinging down at him, Tric adds, “He was even smiling, last time I saw him. He asked how you were doing, Heledd. After I prodded him a little bit, of course. He’s a little secretive about that.” Tric does not know whether there really is anything other than business between these two, but he figures it cannot hurt to try this approach. “He’s doing fine,” he reiterates, “and is in better spirits than he was before. He’s departed our forest.”
This gives Heledd pause, and she holds her strike, still crouched over Tric. “Not in chains?”
“Oh, no, no, no. In fact, my uncle gave him a new staff to help him walk around. And we set him up for the night with Connie and Marvin. I don’t know if you know them; they make the mountain tea. Kachen looked like he had some new direction to help him deal with his… issues.”
Heledd relaxes her fist, offering her hand to pull Tric back up to his feet. Tric accepts it at face value, not using the opportunity to get back at her. He is not the vengeful sort, and if he is honest with himself, he probably deserved this. While they remain out in the street with no one else around, he drops his voice and asks, “But I am curious about that book you showed him in the House of Light. Is there any way you can get me in there? We don’t have to talk about it right now, but…”
“I could get you in there, but that’s not going to help you.”
“Because it’s not there anymore.”
“Hunh.” Tric is actually impressed Ulf worked out how to get his hands on the book. “When did it go missing?”
Heledd smiles slyly. “Sorry, I’m still on the clock.” Then she heads back inside to finish her shift.