The following morning, their camp all packed up, Tric and Heppa thank the woses for their hospitality and excellent advice. Tric in particular appreciates his improved understanding of the forest. He pulls out a length of blue and gold ribbon and asks if Roombledoombledeur will accept it for being such a helpful host. The wose grants permission, lowering one of its limbs down within Tric’s reach. He ties the ribbon on as a mark of friendship, and it flutters in the breeze when Roombledoombledeur raises the branch.
All the woses in the area are appreciative of the assistance from Tric and Heppa, but they remain otherworldly creatures, with only half of their attention in the space that the elves occupy. They have been content to talk with the young elves—after all, it does not impede their work of casting shade upon saplings—but they do not particularly crave news of events elsewhere. They have not talked with any of the elvish scouts that periodically come through, perhaps because those elves do not notice the woses or do not wish to disturb the ancient beings. All things being equal, though, the woses have no objections to other elves coming to visit them, not even quirky druids like Fenowin. Before jotting some more things down about the woses onto her map, Hepalonia makes doubly sure that the woses do not mind them telling people back in their village that the woses are here. Then, the cousins having done everything they can think of for the esteemed creatures, they make their farewells.
They head westward through the meadow, both eager to see the rock that Roombledoombledeur mentioned to them. Heppa is bursting with curiosity simply about what it is like, but Tric hopes it will hold some sort of useful information for his personal quest, finding his mother.
“It is great the woses were able to help us determine there are no artifacts around here. That really saved us some time,” Hepalonia says. They were here for about a week, but even so, the space that they dug up helping the woses was small compared to the size of the human settlement.
Tric is happy to leave the digging behind. “I’m not a master ditch-digger, that’s for sure,” he says.
It seems to Heppa that water and earth are not her cousin’s domains. “I think your element is air,” she tells him.
“Blowing a lot of it?”
Heppa laughs. “Depends on the story.”
Juggling takes place in the air, too. He takes out his knife and tosses it a few times. The activity focuses him again. “These people were farming and raising animals. They didn’t sound like a military unit.” To Heppa, it does not really sound like there was a major battle here. “Skirmishes, at best,” Tric agrees. “Though from what you found, they seemed to have skilled mounted people. The digging did turn up some old rusty weapons. Axes, swords…” He puts away his own knife and takes out the rusty one Heppa found. “Knives. Pitchforks weren’t their only weapons.”
Heppa pulls out her prize, as well: the tongs. She happily clacks them together a few times. She is in a good mood; walking through the sun feels great, though her cousin appears to be moving a bit stiffly, perhaps from all the shoveling. “Let’s find the rock!” she urges him, wondering if it might be a sign of some sort.
“I think that’s it,” Tric says, pointing ahead at something the height of an elf. “But that’s not a rock, that’s carved stone. Somebody did a lot of work here.”
Upon a plinth sits an overgrown obelisk made from gray stone. The elves walk around it, examining it. Heppa sees nothing of interest on the smooth eastern face, but on the opposite side, Tric notices that there are letters carved into the stone. He brushes away some moss to get a better look. The characters are straight and neat, but not flowing like elvish script or blocky like the dwarvish writing he saw in Untdunben. “This is human writing,” he concludes. The monument is a memorial commemorating those who died in Hisanham, whose lives were cut short by Mal-Ravanal.
“That’s not who the wose said was here. That was Mal…” Heppa looks over her map. “That was Mal-Uldhar.”
“Maybe he was one of Mal-Ravanal’s lackeys. It makes sense that they would charge this to Mal-Ravanal’s account; he was behind the whole war.”
“Does it say anything else on it?” Heppa asks, moving aside vines and trying to find words on her side. The stone facing the ruined village is blank.
“It asks the reader to respect the sacrifices made at this location and discourages settlement here, so as not to belittle the loss. To let the ground lie fallow.” Tric pulls some more of the vegetation away, following it around to another face. At that point, he realizes there are words there, too. The northern-facing side has the same message, but in the more swirly letters that elves use. “Look at this, Heppa. Do you think a human carved this? Or maybe it was a joint project.” His cousin joins him and they examine the work. The letters do not flow smoothly. There are starts and stops, as though the carver were pausing to check a reference while working. Although the work is a bit sloppy, Tric still respects the effort humans put into it and the sentiment it implies.
The southern face, once cleared, reveals the same message. It takes some time and study to convince themselves of this, as the letters have ornamentation they have never seen before. The two elves clear away the rest of the overgrowth, and then Tric kneels at the obelisk’s base and respectfully lays his lucky seven-leaf clover on the plinth.
“It seems odd that if a necromancer killed everybody, that you wouldn’t want life to come back,” Heppa quietly comments.
Tric stands up and brushes off his knees. “Maybe they view this place as a bad omen, and this is both a memorial and a warning, a caution.” He looks off to the south. The Sandy Wastes are not visible from here, but that is where the wose said the humans came from, the desert. There is no knowing how they think, not without meeting them. “I don’t know,” he says with a sigh. “But the forest will slowly come back.” The sun is growing heavy in the sky, casting pinkish-purple light across the rolling grasses. “Do you want to get a start tomorrow heading west? Find out more about this necromancer?”
Heppa agrees since they do not know of any other specific battlefields in the area. Following the direction the undead army took seems like a good approach, though. The war with Mal-Ravanal covered a lot of territory. She reviews what leads they have. “The dwarves did mention Gweddry leading the undead to Untdunben, so he and his forces must have gone through the tunnels under the Estmark Hills.”
“Right. And those tunnels pop out somewhere near South Tower,” Tric adds. “Mari-Elin the Carter said so.”
“There may have been battles along the path the undead army took to South Tower,” suggests Heppa. “We might as well follow it until we find another source of information.”
“You’re right. It would take but one lucky blow to strike down this Mal-Uldhar, or maybe he had a lackey necromancer who dropped his staff along the way.”
Hepalonia nods in agreement. They have followed shakier plans before.