After two more days of travel they had still not reached the migratory path. Tipper was surprised she had been so off on her estimate but she also knew the borders of the territory of the wild folk were not uniform. Besides the physical variation there was also the fact that the borders were as much magical as physical and that the use of the ways often distorted the physical lands through which they ran.
The plain sloped downward before them and levelled out again a bit over a yat away, a distant smudge on the southern horizon indicated what was likely a hill and trees but at that distance it could have been a town, a large building or even a small forest. They would find out tomorrow. Tipper looked back along their trail, there was still no sign of pursuit, which was good. The sun was low to the west.
Mokha was at ease on his horse while Adwin was still suffering, his salve was nearly gone but he had kept the lead for the other horses and tended to them each night, despite his discomfort. Mokha was looking southward as well, his expression hard to read.
“What’s on your mind?” she asked.
“Lots of things.” He looked over at her, raising an eyebrow, “You’re sure we’re going the right way?”
“Their land runs from the coast of Elquin to just past GreensBridge. We can’t miss it.”
“Did we ride through it already, unknowingly?”
“No. No, I’m sure you will know when we are on their land, more so than either of us.”
“Oh? How so?”
“Those with a natural ability to manipulate magic or manna can sense a higher level of it, I’m told. I’ve heard it said that the case is more so for plant and animal related magic. I’ve also heard it said that the magic has been affected by the wild folk, the way they have shaped the land and the care they have given it over thousands of years.”
Mokha looked thoughtful but did no further comment.
Adwin, gingerly turned in his saddle to look back at them and piped up, “I’m tired. Are we stopping soon?”
Tipper shrugged, “Sure. Here’s as good a place as any that I can see.”
After they had settled and the food was cooking Tipper asked Adwin if she could look at his sword. He fished it from his gear and passed it over hilt first. “We’ll make a scabbard for you, much better way to carry a sword than stuffing it in your bedroll.”
“I don’t know much of swords, but it looks like a nice blade and the handle feels nice, good grip.”
“Pommel. We should practice a bit. Come on, get up and grab your staff. I’ll show you why you’d be better off with it, than this.”
“Really Tipper? Do you know how not mobile I am? The pain I feel just moving normally? I can’t fight you, even at my best I wouldn’t know where to begin.” He pulled his hat down over his eyes and lay back, hands behind head.
She looked at him and felt tempted to knock some sense into him. On the other hand he had been increasingly distant since Lekas, and more so over the last few days. She suspected he was having a hard time dealing with the violence and death. She did not want him to withdraw, but she was not going to mother him either. So she tried a different approach.
“Adwin, I’ve been meaning to tell you I’m nearly sixty years old. My ancestry is such that I am longer lived than most humans. On my mothers side there are bloodlines tracing back to the half elves. On my fathers side, the Eldra or the Ellodran. The holdings of our extended family were settled by the Rovers, once servants of the Eldra. I’ve been meaning to tell you all this for a while. I thought you should know.”
For a long moment Adwin did not move or say anything. Then he pulled his hat back from his eyes and looked at her. “Sixty. Really? You look no older than mid twenties. Are you even human?”
“Mostly yes. The blood of the ancients is very dilute, many generations ago.”
“Okay then. I’m still not fighting you.” He pulled his hat back down over his eyes and resumed his brooding sulk.
She gave up at that point, a bit disappointed by his muted response. During the exchange she had not missed the curious look Mokha had beheld her with. She smiled and walked away, feeling a little sad. She circled their camp, alert for any dangers but her thoughts wandered towards her family and her home. After a while she sought out a high point on the plains, she moved through the grass until she found a good spot to gaze west, towards the setting sun. She calmed her mind and breathed deeply listening to the birds and insects, the wind through the grass and the beating of her own heart. She sang quietly, until the orb of the sun had sank below the horizon.
When she returned to camp, there was a bowl of food waiting for her, Adwin was asleep and snoring while Mokha was tuning his lute, sitting by the dying coals of the small fire. The early moonlight bathed the landscape in a soft green light. Mokha started to play quietly, she stood near her gear listening to the clear notes of the lute and slowly ate her food. It was a pretty piece, she assumed it was a Tannican song, a different scale and beat compared to what she was familiar with.
The song ended and she cleaned out her bowl with a twist of grass. She went to the fire and sat. Tossing the grass on the nearly dead coals. In the brief light from the burning grass Mokha watched her intently. She expected questions.
“You said you have a direct linage to the half elves. Do you know much of their lore?”
The light from the fire slowly died and did not allow her to read much of his expression, though she sensed the intensity of his curiosity, “Not much of it. What is your interest?”
He considered her question for a long moment, “Longevity.”
“I was actually on my way to Elquin, as I might have mentioned, in the hopes of being able to study their magic, their ancestral lore and the history of the high elves. As you might imagine, Tannican accounts of such are scant and usually contain a heavy bias against Elquin. Words being what they are. “But I’ve heard much of the alchemical values of elvish blood and learned that the Elquin mages and their priestly orders have, or had, an understanding of necromancy dating back to the First Kingdom.”
Tipper laughed, “Well, a couple of decades ago, an alchemist once convinced me to give him some blood. I needed some of his wares and he had somehow figured out my ancestry. He was disappointed though by the lack of any special vibrancy that my blood should have contained. Also, I don’t think the Elquin priests and mages are the same nor share any special fellowship. Unlike the Tannican priesthood.”
“I see. Have you ever been to Elquin?”
“Not really, Not in the way you mean. Though some would say that we are in Elquin now, though that is a romantic notion from long ago. Further east of here, especially when you get past Hadden’s Fort, there are more people of Elquin descent and much of their culture remains. The Elquin Kingdom of today is a strip of land along the eastern coast only reaching inland a couple hundred yat. As well, the islands in the Els’Vasla Sea. So, no, I’ve not been to Elquin in the proper sense, never visited the Third Kingdom.
“I’ve heard it said that the oppression of their people by the hereditary nobility and their priests, as well a bad tradition of inbreeding has left the kingdom on the brink of ruin. Also, it’s been said that they treat women horridly, so that’s a fairly important issue when I consider where and how I might be travelling.”
Mokha seemed to consider her words for a while, “I had read that during the Second Kingdom the half elves had defeated mortal death and discovered ways to regain the immortality of their ancestors. Have you heard anything along those lines?”
Tipper gave a bit of a shrug, likely unseen, “That I had not heard, though there are many tales of the follies of the Second Kingdom. The elves began to war against humans towards the end of the Second Kingdom, differences in opinion on how and when magic should be used. Or so I’ve heard.” She sensed that his questioning might continue through the night. So, before he could ask anything further, she told him to take the first watch and she would sleep. She lay on her bedroll, next to Adwin and listened to Mokha quietly play his lute.