Echoes of Invasion: Westward Bound | Scene 9

Tric follows Heledd into the Parting Glass, more careful this time in case there are additional ambushes awaiting him. He has heard rumors of great tavern brawls but has yet to be in one himself. The noise, though, turns out to be from some sort of dance. In Estbryn Forest, dances are solemn, part of infrequent rituals. This is nothing like that.

Tric gives it a try, though, joining in the fray. He can follow the basic partnered movements, but when partners switch suddenly—from his perspective—he does not know what is going on. There is no pattern as far as he can tell, and he bumps into people as he attempts to partner up again. The dancers around him adapt, shuffling him to where he is supposedly supposed to be, but after the next set of swirling and stomping, the same awkward problem crops up. Moves definitely require two people, Tric gets that much, but the partner-swapping is too complex for him to grasp without further practice. 

Once he reaches the opposite side of the floor and finds himself partnerless, Tric decides that is probably for the best. There is an open seat at a table nearby, and its occupants nod agreeably as he moves to take it. They engage in some chit-chat, and Tric shares his unusual mixed heritage, using that as a springboard for relating his newest outlandish story. He regales his erstwhile companions with a tale of the exploits of another half-elf, half-human. “She was… well, you might call her a mercenary. Unlike me, she had a human father, and she was incredibly strong. They say that if she punched you, you would be left in a daze… for days on end. You would lose your wits.” He spins more details, finally concluding, “And that is how she punched her way to victory.”

When asked about himself, Tric says with false humility, “Oh, what do I do? I’m a ghost hunter.” The listeners pester him for a story about himself, but he demurs at first, saying that is for another time. Of course, he then goes on to tell them that he puts down undead threats, relating a version of the recent attack in his forest. “We took them out, and now we’re going to root out any undead we find elsewhere. Who am I? I’m Tric Manu.” Now rumors of his greatness as an undead hunter can begin to spread.

With the topic now current events, the other people at the table tell Tric the latest South Tower news. In a few days time, a caravan will be leaving town, headed into the main part of Wesnoth. “Yeah, it’s pretty rough,” one of them grouses. “The king issued this edict that each city has to donate some ‘workers.’ And, well, South Tower’s not going to send any non-volunteering citizens along, but people they’ve got chained up already, mmmh, might as well move them.” The speaker does not seem so keen on this, which gives Tric new ideas on stirring up more trouble. “There are plenty of other things going in that caravan, but it’s going to include some of Konrad II’s newest laborers. All for some ‘great’ construction project.” The speaker rolls their eyes. “Yeah, Konrad wants to build some legacy thing on the backs of the people.”

“Let me guess,” Tric says, adopting the same disdainful tone, “some statue or a monument to himself or his father?”

“Nah, a bridge. At the Ford of Abez, of all places.”

“Isn’t that place cursed?” Tric says. “And besides, it’s already a ford! You don’t need a bridge there.”

“You’d get soaking wet crossing, though. For all that it’s a ford, it’s pretty deep in some places. And there are naga attacks there. There are some reasons to want a bridge, I’ll grant.”

“Didn’t there used to be a bridge there once?” Tric asks.

“Like five times! But yes, that bridge is cursed! Which is why it is not currently standing.”

One of the others at the table adds, “I heard Gweddry even blew up the last one!”

And so the evening passes, with Tric chatting with the locals while Heppa lingers over her drink at the bar. Finally, once the hour is late enough, Alric announces that it is time for everyone’s parting glass. By this point, the fiddler has already stopped playing and is enjoying accolades and mugs of the ‘house special’ at the bar. With the tavern’s close imminent, customers now close their tabs and funnel out into the night. Once things have calmed down sufficiently, Alric returns to Heppa’s end of the bar and tells her about perry, explaining that it is a cider brewed from pears instead of apples. He also thanks her for the pressed flowers she sent by Aderyn. From his tone of voice, Heppa can tell that he thinks it is endearing that she sent them, though he seems surprised to have received anything from her while she was away. After they talk for a little while about the different ways pears need to be fermented compared to apples, Alric asks Heppa if she wants to dance.

“Yes?” Heppa agrees, a little uncertainly. The tavern has cleared out, and the fiddler is sipping a final beverage further down the bar. But this is Alric, and Heppa is disinclined to turn down anything he suggests. Remembering her manners, she amends her answer, “I mean, that would be lovely. I do not know this!”

Alric sends some coins sliding down the bar towards the fiddler, who agrees to perform one last set. Returning to stage, the musician strikes up another jig. Heppa is curious to participate, this type of dancing being unlike anything she has done before. Heledd has told her in the past that she moves like a dancer, and Alric has commented on her grace. This will put all that to the test. The dance is energetic, but not as chaotic as what filled the floor earlier—since only she and Alric are dancing, there is no partner-swapping. There is a lot of swirling with arms raised and forearms entwined, plus stamping and kicking, with knee and heel slaps. Alric cues her to moves that are coming up. He is genuinely happy to see her and share this dancing experience with her, which Heppa finds gratifying—and fun. 

Heppa was not entirely sure what her reception would be, given that Alric never wrote back to any of her letters. But after their comfortable conversation at the bar and this new learning experience on the dance floor, she is getting some insight into him. While he generally projects the air of someone calm and self-assured, there is an insecurity underlying all that. When they went on their outing a few months ago, he commented that she actually saw him, and she is coming to a better understanding of the significance of that. She went away, but she remembered him, and when she came back, she clearly indicated an interest in being with him. This must be comforting to him, an indication that maybe close relationships are not out of reach for him. His friends growing up were no good, and he had to leave his family at a young age. She can see that things could have been hard for him after that.

Sometime in the past hour, Mate has rejoined Tric. Heppa sees them at the bar, sharing peanuts and knot-tying. The magpie objects to the stupid, stupid idea of tying peanuts together, but Tric insists it is good practice. When the dancing is finished, Heppa joins them, and they book a room for a couple nights. Alric advises the cousins on a nearby livery to leave Butterbell with, since the Parting Glass has no stables. Although the pony is smaller than most of the horses used by humans, she does not get to stay in the elves’ room like Mate does.