After they left the baths Rory called a meeting in her room.
“OK,” she said, “Let’s discuss what just happened. Astra, what’s your take?”
“I think that was an approach. Not a sexual approach, though she totally would have jumped you, but she was sending us a message. The Leader wants to meet with us.”
“Dee?” Rory asked, looking at her.
“I agree. They were waiting for us. When you think about it, where’s a better place than the baths for a first meeting? I mean there’s no way anyone could be concealing a weapon and it was neutral ground. Big assumption, of course, is that your society doesn’t think nudity a big deal.”
“Yeah,” Astra added. “I did talk to a couple of humans as we were getting dressed - that girl running the baths? While nudity here among the humans isn’t a huge taboo as long as it’s same-sex the elves take things waaaaay further than the humans are comfortable. Like public sex for them is NBD and if they find you attractive, they’re gonna hit on you hard. Freaks the humans here out and when you add in to it that this elven group is a war-band, it adds the threat of coercion to things.”
“Have they behaved badly since arriving?” Rory asked.
“Define ‘badly’,” Astra said. “They’ve taken over day to day control of the town. They leave the administration to the mayor and others but The Leader is no doubt in control. He has taken over the town hall and he and his band of maybe twenty fighters more-or-less live there as well. For the rest they don’t cause trouble, they pay for things vs stealing them and they don’t go further than, lets say ‘aggressive flirting’ when they’re attracted to someone. They do take ‘no’ for an answer. In fact, one of the elves punched a human guy out who was NOT taking no for an answer from one of the townswomen. He was a tinker passing through. Beat him pretty badly but literally no one in the town had any problem with it. That being said, The Leader has made himself a mini-king here.”
“So, absolute ruler but a more-or-less just one,” Rory summarized.
“One other thing,” Dee added. “Their women are treated exactly like their men. Seems as if it’s pretty much equality - like home and like in the Settlement but unlike a lot of the places around here.”
“Any evidence of their using magic?” Colin asked.
“No,” Rory said. “I’ve felt no sign of it at all.”
“Then should we bring Rock and Forrest in?” He asked.
“Let’s hold off on that a little longer. I contacted Rock earlier and they’ve been watching. He told me the elves have been skittish about working with the draco in the past. They might or they might not recognize them for what they are. We’re not in any trouble at this point and we’ve got a request for a meeting tomorrow, let’s see how that goes.”
The team went to bed fairly early, doing their part to ensure that Rory’s store of life-energy was topped up and Rory was as good as her promise to Colin and did an excellent job scrubbing him clean, then getting him dirty again. They ate a good breakfast and headed to the town hall. Rory had used up just a little energy to clean their clothes so they appeared fresh and not travel worn.
Unsurprisingly, the elves had turned the town hall into a sort of throne room. A large, well built elf, sat in an oversized chair at one end. He was shirtless and deeply tanned. His head was shaved and he looked to be in his mid thirties. He held a sword in one hand, point down, and a cup in the other. They assumed this was Lugh. He was flanked by Lir to one side and another elf holding a glaive on the other.
“Hey, Rory,” Lir said smiling, “You come visit with you frien’s, eh? Who the guy? He’s not bad. Too bad he wasn’ in the bath.” She placed a hand on the seated elf’s shoulder, “This is my man, Lugh.”
“Welcome to my town humans,” he said in a tenor voice. “My woman tol’ me about you.”
“Thank you for your hospitality,” Rory said, formally. “I’m Rory, this is Astra, Dee and Colin,” she said, gesturing to each in turn.
“Mmm,” Lugh grunted. “You’re welcome here, of course, but what’ your purpose coming here?”
His accent was similar to Lir’s but not as thick. He had very sharp eyes. Rory told herself to be on guard, he wasn’t just a warlord, there was intelligence there.
“We’re travelers, new come to Otherwhere and seeking to learn more about this world,” Rory said.
“That maybe true,” Lugh said with a sardonic smile, “But from your jewelry, you’re friends with the dragon men.”
“Is that a problem?” Rory asked.
“Mebbe yes, mebbe no,” Lugh said with a half smile. “It depen’s on why you’re here. Don’ tell me you’re simple travelers. I was born in the mornin’, but not this mornin’.”
“No, I can see that,” Rory said with a slight smile. “Nevertheless we are travelers, but yes we travel with a purpose. You’ve been very direct, so I’ll be equally direct: How do you feel about The Others?”
“The Skinnies?” Lugh said, raising an eyebrow, then he turned his head and spit on the ground. “If you frien’s with those gray bastards you bes’ be outta town by sunset.” He growled, his accent suddenly thicker.
“No,” Rory said, emphatically, “We are most assuredly NOT friends of The Others. Dee, Astra and myself spent some time in their ‘care’ as captives. We are NOT friends of theirs. We’re here because we’re concerned that they’re becoming stronger. We’re looking for allies to help fight them.”
Lugh looked at the group appraisingly, “If you were their captives, why’ you not dead? The Skinnies don’ keep ‘guests’ around any longer than they need to suck ‘em dry.”
Rory grimaced, “The ‘Skinnies’ have some new tricks they tried out on us. Luckily Colin and one of the draco got us out before things went further.”
“So you’re working for the draco,” Lugh said, his face closing up.
“No. We’re working WITH the draco. We’re from The Settlement.”
“Pfffft,” Lugh said, “‘For’, ‘With’, what’ the difference? They tell you what to do.”
Rory looked sternly at Lugh, “With respect, when you don’t know what you’re talking about, you should say nothing.”
The room went silent. Colin and Dee tensed, ready to fight if needed.
Lugh glared at Rory for a moment until Lir pealed laughter, breaking the tension.
“I tol’ you she was tough,” Lir said.
Lugh smiled slowly, “You don’t expect the Little Ears to act like elves so it surprises when they have a back-bone. OK Rory of The Settlement, educate me.”
Everyone relaxed slightly.
“The humans of The Settlement govern ourselves,” Rory began. She filled Lugh in on the alliance between the draco and the humans.
“Are you allies or are you an energy source,” Lugh said. “Elves respect strength. There can be no partnership of unequals. It sounds to me that you’re buying knowledge and access to magic with your life-energy. That’s not being an ally, that’s being a subject. Elves’ no one’s subject.”
“That isn’t true,” Rory said. “Humans and draco work in partnership. Both gain from the other and both protect the other.”
Lugh scoffed, “De humans I know don’ fight. Yeah you smart people, you make things good. You do stuff, but you don’t fight. Allies need to fight, otherwise they’re a drain. You telling me you’re different? You’ve got a nice blade and bow over there, can you use it or is it just jewelry? No human can stand up to an elf. Prove me wrong and I’ll listen to you.”
“I’ll be more than happy to show you how to use that pretty blade you’re holding,” Colin said.
Lugh laughed, “Maybe someday boy, but I think I surprise you, eh? No, you don’t need to fight me. But if you’re serious, you can fight Keer,” he gestured to the man standing to his right. “You beat Keer, then maybe I talk with Rory some more, eh?”