On another occasion, it is Tric’s questions that occupy Roombledoombledeur for hours. “Were your eyes open when the skeletons came through? What happened that the humans left here and the elves, too? Was it that skeletons came in, so people left? And… did you happen to see which way they went? Or even where the humans came from originally?”
The wose tells him, “The skeletons were led by a fancy skeleton. The others called it Mal-Uldhar, and it wore cloth like elves and humans do, though it had no flesh.”
Heppa cannot help but comment on a pattern she has observed. “Perhaps if they do not want others to know they are necromancers, they should not all start their names with Mal.” She and Tric Manu discuss the ones they have heard of so far. Both her father and some of the dwarves they talked with spoke of Mal-Ravanal, a human gone bad who was the main necromantic force behind the large war that tore up Wesnoth thirty years ago. Mal-Brin, too, was a necromancer, although there is some dispute between her father and Breda on whether he really existed or is just a legend. Heppa starts a chart on a section of her map specifically for necromancer names. Some are accompanied by question marks, others by arrows pointing to where they may have been active.
Tric invites Roombledoombledeur to resume its narrative, and it tells him that the skeletons chased off the humans. “The skeletons had axes. Oh, they had plenty of axes. But they did not direct them toward the trees. No, it was the humans who took axes to the trees. However, the elves seemed very upset by the skeletons as well.”
“We have a belief that skeletons belong on the inside of bodies, not walking around on their own outside of one,” Tric explains.
Roombledoombledeur’s information is initially quite confusing. Woses have a very different sense of time than elves do. They pay less attention to day-by-day rhythms than they do to seasons and years. Tric struggles to line up all the events Roombledoombledeur describes in a way that makes sense. He decides to try to reframe it as a story, and presents questions more to that end. Tric takes out his knife and begins flipping it with his right hand, forming a steady rhythm to keep himself on track as he counts out phases of the moon for the wose to describe the events of. One unlucky toss lands in his palm blade side down, slicing this hand, but other than that, the technique works.
Around forty years ago, the woses arrived in this area to investigate why the fungal network had gotten disrupted. Humans had arrived from the south. (“From the desert?” Tric interjects. “The Sandy Wastes?”) They set up pastures and farms, and as a result, trees were getting cut down, which interfered with the flow of communication beneath Estbryn Forest. The woses just observed, but the elves had a more militant approach to dealing with the humans who claimed that the area was unoccupied. The situation devolved into violence. Things eventually calmed down, as the two groups began to understand each other a bit better. Even once swords were sheathed and bows unstrung, the Estbryn Forest elves continued to maintain a watchful presence in the area.
But then people started disappearing on both sides, which caused a lot of accusations to fly back and forth about who was responsible. This was before any hordes of undead showed up, but Roombledoombledeur remembers that black slimy smudges of some sort of creepy ichor were left behind at victim’s homes and tents, rather than the red blood that usually accompanies elvish or human violence. Once again, there was fighting between elves and humans, which did lead to some deaths for which the cause was clearly arguments. Some of those corpses then rose, and elves and humans worked together to win that skirmish.
At that point, the elves packed up and left, saying that undead were rising again and they wanted no part of it. Roombledoombledeur suspects that the elves had more information on that topic than the woses did, since elvish scouts are far more mobile. The elves retreated in the Estbryn Forest, but the humans stayed. When skeletons showed up, they fought them. Now it was more than just a few walking corpses. There were many skeletons, including the fancy one, Mal-Uldhar, who stood around shouting orders to the other skeletons. The humans ultimately fled. Since the skeletons were coming from the east, the humans fled west. Then some of the skeletons did enter Estbryn Forest.
“Where they were promptly put down,” Tric says.
“Where there was fighting with elves, and some elves also died,” Roombledoombledeur corrects.
“Right.” Pretty much all that Tric’s dad has ever said about this period is that it was a dark time.
So far, not much of what the wose has said has been revelatory, but then it goes on to tell the cousins that a couple decades ago—so a decade after the skeletons—some of the humans came back and left a rock over on the side of the area that they had worked.
“A rock?” Hepalonia asks, her interest piqued by this seemingly strange detail. She wonders how large the rock must be for the wose to have noticed it.
“Yes. The humans came back, they put down a big rock, and then they left.” Roombledoombledeur shakes its branches, pointing out to the west beyond the area Tric Manu and she have explored.
“But since then, it’s been all clear?” her cousin asks. “No skeletons? No humans?” The wose has not seen any skeletons. Every now and then some humans will camp in the area overnight. Similarly, elvish scouts occasionally ride through to check on things. In response to Heppa’s questions, Roombledoombledeur assures them that the few humans who come by give the woses no trouble. They are generally just seeking shelter en route to other destinations. None have come with the intention of sticking around. The woses make sure there is enough dead wood from castoff branches that no saplings are in danger of being cut down by such visitors.
Back-tracking a bit, Tric asks, “The spooky-looking, cloth-wearing skeleton, Mal-Uldhar, did you see him leave, or was he struck down around here?”
“These humans did not stop Mal-Uldhar. These humans ran away.”
“It’s a sensible thing to do when you’re being attacked by a necromancer,” Tric replies, a little defensively. The wose does not know what became of Mal-Uldhar, other than that he traveled farther west, just like the humans did.
“I wonder if the woses have seen any artifacts,” Heppa muses. “Or maybe they can tell if there are any other magics in this place.”
“Good point,” Tric tells his cousin. Turning his gaze back up to Roombledoombledeur’s face, he asks, “Under the ground, where we can’t see, have any necromantic tools been buried over the years?”
“Or other magical tools!” Hepalonia inserts. She tries to imagine how such things might feel to a root system and adds on additional details, based on what her father has said he is interested in.
“Artifacts,” Tric clarifies. “Not shovels or tongs—”
“Oh… magic tongs would be interesting,” Heppa murmurs.
“—that we could clear out for you, if you point them out to us,” Tric concludes.
“Mal-Uldhar had something that seemed like what you describe, but Mal-Uldhar left. I do not believe there is anything in the ground like that here.” Roombledoombledeur shakes its branches off to the west. “That is the way that Mal-Uldhar went.”
Tric nods. It all makes sense. That is the way the undead legion left; that is the way the humans fled. The mysterious rock that he and Heppa want to look at is in that direction as well. It is probably time to head to Wesnoth.