The tree line stops rather abruptly here at the southern edge of the Estbryn Forest, though the elves can see clumps of trees farther out across the grasslands. The crossed swords they have seen on maps back home indicate there was a battle in this area, but the exact location remains to be determined. This border zone is as good a place to start searching as any. Where the forest meets the plains is also the perfect environment for springy horsetails, or so Hepalonia has read. She has only seen drawings of them and is eager to find one. “We should also look for other people looking for artifacts,” she suggests to her cousin, considering the lessons learned from their first venture. “And also local denizens that are prone to steal things.”
“You’re concerned about bandits?” Tric asks.
“Saurians,” Heppa clarifies. “Or whatever is saurian-like here. Large squirrels?”
Tric recommends protecting their supplies at night by hoisting them up into one of the trees. He selects a campsite to use as their base of operations while they look for mushrooms and signs of past settlement.
“Or undead,” Heppa adds.
“Yup,” Tric agrees. “We’ll be on the lookout for potential threats.” He nods his head, pleased. “This is such a professional, thorough job we’re doing!”
In the morning, Hepalonia makes a plan to grid out the nearby area and go through it methodically, but once underway, she becomes engrossed in details and does not follow through on it completely. She finds no springy horsetails. Disappointed that she still has not seen one herself, she makes some notes on her map regarding whether early spring might not be the appropriate season for them.
Tric recognizes that it would be wise to work together, but now that he is in the general area where he was born, he has little interest in hunting mushrooms when there could be signs of past habitation or current activity. He makes sure to stay within eyesight of Heppa, but he focuses his efforts on his own interests. Adjusting the feather in his bandana, he starts self-narrating his search, making sure to include how dark the night was—though it is broad daylight—when he found the crucial evidence he needed.
The first such material he finds is the scattered remains of a temporary elvish settlement. There are no indications of huts, but he can tell that there was an encampment here, one that was abandoned hastily. This all happened thirty-odd years ago, so there is not much to judge by, but he finds broken pot shards. Tric is certain no elf would leave such litter lying around if there had been time to clear out in an orderly fashion. They may have fled an attack, though there is no clear evidence of that, not here in this thinly wooded section. Tric broadens his search area and begins to see signs of deforestation. The closer he moves to the open meadow, the more stumps he sees, and not the kind left behind by beavers. Some of the stumps have little treelets growing out the sides of them from which Tric can judge how long ago the trauma happened… several dozen years.
That puts this roughly in line with what he has gathered from Uncle Thran, Breda, and his dad. Sometime shortly before Tric’s birth, Estbryn elves came down here to the southern edge of the forest because of a human settlement. Tric has gathered that there was some sort of dispute related to that. Now, as he looks out across the field, he sees shapes in the distance that could be crumbled walls, as well as a few copses of trees. From here, he cannot tell if they are fences or the sides of buildings, but they mean he and Heppa are definitely in the right place.
The clumps of trees near the ruins are rather small, but they are visible, so this is all still forest to Tric. Forest that met an untimely demise. Although elves build out of wood, they are very selective about the trees they choose for that purpose. Orcs mercilessly slaughter trees, but that is not what this looks like to Tric. The humans propensity for cutting down trees to build things out of wood is well known to elves. But humans also mindlessly remove trees so they can have land—as if that is something distinct from the plants that belong upon it.
As the light begins to fade, Hepalonia joins her cousin on the meadow’s edge. Tric Manu is looking down at a stump. He sadly shakes his head and says to her, “This tree was cut down before its time.” Just as she has dabbled in a variety of coursework, he has been given basic schooling in a number of trades, including woodwright. “You’ve got to find the right tree for the right purpose, not this, this wanton…”
“Do you think they were building things? Or were they trying to establish more territory by removing forest?” Heppa asks.
“Yes,” Tric simply replies.
“They think they’re making the forest smaller? It doesn’t matter if you cut it down,” Heppa says, gesturing around them. “This is still part of the forest. It doesn’t change where Estbryn Forest is.”
“But what if you cut down all the trees so that you couldn’t see any of them? Is that still a forest, then?” Tric rejoins.
“Yes,” Heppa insists. “And besides, look, that one’s still growing.” She indicates the hopeful little sprouts coming from the side of the stump.
This cheers Tric up a bit. “Clearly this one is still part of the forest,” he agrees.
Hepalonia considers a bit. “I see why humans might think it would work that way, that they would get the land if they took the trees down, but I don’t think it does.”
“I don’t think they think about it at all,” Tric says. “I think they just think they need some wood to make their house; there’s a tree; they cut down the tree.”
Heppa looks around. “But where are the houses then?” She did not come across any during her fruitless mushroom hunt.
“Turns out they did a poor job of construction. Also, thirty years of not keeping up the area.” He points out across the meadow at the broken structures he spotted, but he does not suggest they investigate right now. The light is starting to fade. Tric has waited his whole life for this; he feels he can wait another night. Those ruins will still be there in the morning, after all.
He and Heppa return to their campsite for an evening of conversation and map annotation. She asks Tric for his initial thoughts on the area, and he tells her that so far he can confirm Estbryn elves were down here, as well as some humans, based on the buildings in the distance. Those are most likely from his mother’s people. He shares with his cousin that he is trying to get some leads on his mother and what happened to her. “I do not expect to find her in this field,” he says, but then a dark thought occurs to him. “I really hope I don’t find her in this field.” There was some sort of fighting down here, after all, and Uncle Thran indicated that elves died. Humans could have, too.
“Yes, we wouldn’t want to come across your mother cutting down trees,” Heppa says with a laugh, lightening the mood a bit.
“The best I can hope for is to find something in this area that points me in the right direction,” Tric says. “Maybe if I can find her people, I can find her. Perhaps someone in South Tower will be able to fill in some details or have more recent news.”
“All right,” Heppa tells him, happy to help out where she can. “We’re looking for more than just artifacts and mushrooms, then.”
“Right, right, we have to find another staff and control crystal combination for your dad!” Tric acknowledges, reminded of their patron’s reason for provisioning this expedition.
“He has a control crystal now,” Heppa points out. “Maybe all we need to find is a staff?”
“Can you mix and match?” Tric wonders.
Heppa shrugs. “He wants the whole thing, but we’ll just see what we can do.” She does wonder though, whether inserting the ice crystal into the rod her father does have would do anything interesting.
“I don’t know if any of the humans here were necromancers,” her cousin comments.
“I think we would probably be able to tell,” Heppa says.
Tric disagrees. “I’m not so sure we would. How could we possibly know?”
“I mean if we find undead.”
“But does that really mean there’s a necromancer around?” Tric presses.
“Good point. There wasn’t one at…” A thought suddenly occurs to Heppa. “Unless Kachen is?”
“I put it at fifty-fifty,” Tric replies, only partly in jest.